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Outbullying The Bullies

When we talk about bullying, are we sure that many parents and schools are not actually number one bullies of children in their care?

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Anyone following, at least the Swahili press and social media will have seen the debate about ‘chipukizi’, the little kids in green being expected to behave like adult politicians (God forbid!!).  Why on earth should we expect kids to go through the appalling, excessive, bureaucratic, demeaning rigmarole that adults have imposed on themselves?  Seriously?  And all the way from the bottom to the top.  

Please, my fellow elders, correct me if I am wrong.  As I remember, the chipukizi programme was introduced really as an antidote to the scout movement, or should I say a nationalisation of scouting (nationalisation was all the rage at the time of course, before people realised that many nationalisations were actually elitisations).  

After all, wasn’t Baden Powell, the founder of scouting, an imperialist and maybe scouting was disseminating pernicious imperialist ideas. So let’s have similar activities and skills building but with a Tanzanian touch.  

Opening Pandora’s box of child abuse

I certainly don’t remember any chipukizi beauty … whoops sorry leadership contests in those days.  Not even the children of our Father of the Nation!  Chipukizi had their own activities.  Yes, they were  within the context of a one party system but nothing more.  I would guess it was more of a patriotism building system than anything else.

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So came the multi-party system (or as I am reliably told what Malawians call the ma-teaparty system).  Chipukizi now became a programme within one of many parties.  No longer a national system but ‘partyisation’ of the programme.  Party political no longer national Duh!  Was patriotism now to be confined to the wearing of green, within the context of one party?  Can you not be a red and blue, or a purple patriot?  

And what would happen if every other party now started formal politicization of children of the adults in their party?  No wonder a former President railed against the idea, saying children should be children not carbon copies of their parents.  And they even passed a law forbidding politicization of children. 

While I agreed with him, it seems that what was really meant was that politicisation of our children was the prerogative of one party only.  Other parties adhered to the new law but green is green.   And now we have the spectacle of national elections of little kids within one party!  And no prizes for guessing who benefits from that.

Now apart from this political indoctrination (which I fear is also happening in our schools),  apart from the frightening spectacle of watching these kids being forced to perform in this manner,  and while I do recognise the talents of some of these performers, I would really like to take issue with such exposure of our children.  

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Anyone who has been following the debate online cannot fail to have noticed the bullying that has taken place, appalling negative comments about children either because of their appearance, or because of the nature of their parents and even the nature of questions asked to them by the media.

I wonder how this will affect their psyche as they move on in life. We decry online abuse of children but have we not opened a Pandora’s box of abuse by these very elections?  Why put the spotlight on children at such an early age?

Let children be children

This relates to another issue.  Why can’t we let children be children?  Why do we want to adultify (and stultify) them before their time?  This is not only in the political arena.  Our kindergartens have become mini-universities, emphasising academics over play, discipline over creativity, silence over interaction, facing the teacher in the front instead of learning to build relationships with their fellow children. 

From kindergarten onwards, parents obsess over grades and class position in exams rather than education as a liberating experience for the growth of their kids and their talents.  Schools that do well examinationally on a diet of silence, the cane, sleep deprivation and endless exam practices are eagerly sought out by parents etc.  

Many years ago, people had already identified this as a major cause of mental problems among children in the USA for example, continuing into their adult lives but we continue with the same process. When we talk about bullying, are we sure that many parents and schools are not actually number one bullies of children in their care?  Institutional conniving of such bullying is no excuse.  

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Of course, this is not a phenomenon confined to Tanzania.  Not only the excessive behaviours in school but in life as a whole never cease to amaze and terrify me. Elsewhere we even have beauty contests and fashion shows for 4 year olds upwards.  Parents bully their children into sports and entertainment from an early age in order to fulfil their own personal wishes.  

We may have been amused or disgusted by some of the behaviours of Michael Jackson but one of the most telling of his comments was his complaint that he had never had a childhood.  How many sports and entertainment prodigies have ended up having mental problems in or just after adolescence?  How many were subjected to abuse, even the greats like Simona Biles, in order to fulfil their talents?  And then these guys from other countries turn round and start blaming us for going to work in the farms with our children.   

So of course, where do we draw the line?  Of course, when we turn our children into labourers at the expense of their personal education and development, that is child labour, in whatever area.  Of course we want our children to develop, we want them to show their talents but when does facilitation of their talents become an obsession with grandeur? 

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The other day I watched an interview with Evonne Goolagong, the first native Australian (aboriginal) to be world number one tennis player and winner of countless tournaments, including the biggest ones of all.  She said that whenever she left the house to go to a tournament when she was a child, her mum would say “have a good day”.  And when she returned, her mum would ask her “Did you have a good day?”.  She never asked “Did you win?”  And Ms Goolagong said that that has stayed with her all her life, no obsession with winning but ensuring that in playing, and maybe winning too, she was having a good day.  She was enjoying life, and in doing so her talents developed. 

I guess Richard and Oracene Williams got it right as well, not just obsessing over the tennis talents of their daughters but ensuring they got a good education as well, all round education not just the exam-cram parody we call education these days.  

So, in addition to saying that the law applies to all colours not just non-green, why don’t we use this opportunity to think and discuss seriously what is the best way of ensuring that our children enjoy being children and grow into adults on the basis of a fulfilling childhood, and how do we create the environment in our families, in our schools, in our communities and in our nation to ensure that all our children can grow and fulfil their talents to the full?

Richard Mabala is an educator, poet, and author. He is available at or on X (Twitter) as @MabalaMakengeza. These are the writer’s own opinions, and they do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further inquiries.

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The Chanzo is hosting Digital Freedom and Innovation Day on Saturday April 20, 2024 at Makumbusho ya Taifa.

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