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Are Tanzanian Leaders Living In the Country They Purport to Lead?

Of course, physically, we have the example of Paul Biya, who somehow manages to run his country –or not– while living in Europe.

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In The Caucasian Chalk Circle, German playwright Bertolt Brecht shows a rapacious governor and his wife. They throw money to the poor to show how much they care while appropriating more and more land for themselves to have a bigger garden, thinking individual charity will cover up their exploitation. However, the Governor is overthrown and ‘The Singer’ comments:

O blindness of the great!
They go their way like gods,
Great over bent backs,
Sure of hired fists,
Trusting in the power
Which has lasted so long.
But long is not forever.
O change from age to age!
Thou hope of the people!

This quotation has always fascinated me. Every line hits home. They go their way like gods. How can they do that? By trampling on the ‘bent backs’ of the people. And why don’t the people react? Because of the ‘hired fists,’ their security forces are used to silence them. But despite all that, there comes a day when people straighten their backs and say no way. Change will come.

Brecht was talking about leadership in Germany and Europe, but it remains one of the most powerful statements of blindness leading to downfall. I am sure some of our current leaders read this text as it was on the A Level Literature syllabus until literature was downgraded –why, I have always asked. However, I wonder whether the lesson went home to some of our dignitaries.

‘E’ millionaires

For example, I was reminded again last week when we were told that we have never had it so good as every other car has an ‘E’ numberplate, etc. I was quite impressed that this dignitary, as he sat in his MaVee 8, could look out of his tinted windows and count the numberplates as he sped past in his ministerial convoy. 

I am an inveterate numberplate watcher, but at a certain speed, there is no way I can read them as they flash past. Of course, I had to do some research on my own. Even in ‘E’ areas, my proportion was far lower. 

READ MORE: Are Tanzanians Becoming More Intolerant?

In my home area, I also discovered that most times of the day, the number of bajajs between Kibada and Kigamboni exceeds the number of all other vehicles put together, excluding bodabodas, let alone the ‘E’ population. 

I don’t know what this says about our prosperity or that on my way home every evening, I pass by more than 100 bodabodas, most of whom are carrying mishikaki passengers. Do these passengers who far outnumber the ‘E’s have plenty of money to spare?

I also took the time to visit the interior of Manzese, Tandika, Buza and Mbagala and, surprise, surprise, these ‘E’ cars were very few and far between. You will see a big difference if you compare the numberplates to those in Mbezi Beach, Masaki and Oyster Bay. 

And anyway, what does the large number of millionaires in the U.S. say about the living conditions of millions of poor people there? Maybe there is a direct correlation between the millions of the ‘E’ people there and the poverty of the millions.

That also made me remember the final novel by Ousmane Sembène, The Last of the Empire when one of his characters wondered whether many leaders lived in the countries they led. Of course, physically, we have the example of Paul Biya, who somehow manages to run his country –or not– while living in Europe. 

READ MORE: Motorcades And Bodabodas: The Green Saviour Complex?

But Sembene’s point was that when you live in air-conditioned houses in very affluent, and probably gated, communities and only leave the comfort of those houses to travel, escorted, in air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned offices or hotels and, for longer travel, often in planes, business class only, high above the reality of the people, are you really living in the country to purport to lead?

sugar shortage

Another example is when we are told to rejoice in the sugar shortage since it is good for our health. Of course, that is true for the affluent community, who probably use far too much sugar –and I doubt whether they were affected by the sugar shortages– but not for the vast majority, which use very little sugar anyway but do at least enjoy reducing the bitterness of their tea or uji with a spoonful of sugar even if it does not reduce the bitterness of the daily struggle of existence. O blindness of the great!

Still, I cannot really blame these dignitaries as their blindness only reflects that of the class to which they belong, a class which believes that, provided that they can get what they want, everyone is happy. 

Private education, private health, private amenities, and private everything make them blind to the reality of the millions who cannot afford such privatisation. Not only blind but even antagonistic to attempts to enable access to these goodies by the rest of their fellow countrymen and women. 

I realise I have talked about this many times, but it continues to pain me that our two-tiered language of the education system allows a small minority to thrive at the expense of the vast majority. 

READ MORE: Stakeholders Rattled As More Govt Primary Schools Transform Into English Mediums

Of course, there will always be disparities in education, and the better off will access better education and more opportunities than the vast rest. Still, it is only in a few countries that these disparities are exacerbated by a cruel language policy which deprives the majority of proper access to education. 

Educational enclaves

And rather than addressing these disparities, the good government decides to add another tier to them, allowing the middle –and lower-middle?– class to access English medium in its own schools –for a fee, of course, but nothing like the fee the upper class pays for their educational enclaves. 

And I wonder whether the children of this privileged few will ever know the reality of the rest of our people. Where will they ever meet?

When I go around the country, I talk to teachers and education officers. Almost everyone admits the current policy is not working for most of our children. Still, they are powerless to say or do anything in the face of the relentless pressure of the haves, who happen to have English.

At the same time, the number of children dropping out of school and of parents who may love education but see no value in the current system of incomprehension must surely act as a warning that people are waking up to the fact that schooling for them is not education. Their eyes are opening, but what about us?

O blindness of the great!

Let me end with a quotation from the great civil rights activist, W.E.B. Dubois: “We should measure the prosperity of a nation not by the number of millionaires, but by the absence of poverty, the prevalence of health, the efficiency of the public schools, and the number of people who can and do read worthwhile books.”

Public good and public education for all lead to prosperity for all.

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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