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Things Are Not As Simplistic As Our Politicians Would Have Us Believe

History and society are complex, but politicians always want to simplify them to suit their own ends.

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Some people have short memories, so let’s remind each other. Before the last election, do you recall all the statements against ‘the northerners?’ Northerners this, northerners that. We don’t want the northerners.

The northerners are traitors, and God knows what other filth was spewed, largely because a certain political party was perceived to have its power base in the northern part of the country. Unbelievable! 

The party which continually preaches peace openly fomented division, hatred and violence against a huge part of our country simply because they were afraid of the popularity of an opposition party. They shamelessly sowed the seeds of discord and hatred.

And now, is the boot on the other foot? Is it ‘the northerners’ against ‘the islanders?’

This is where I have such difficulty with politicians. History and society are complex, but politicians always want to simplify them to suit their own ends. 

Anyone who has read Development as Rebellion: A Biography of Julius Nyerere

Issa Shivji, Saida Yahya-Othman, and Ng’wanza Kamata will understand that history is complex and that major historical events cannot be reduced to one simple observation. 

READ MORE: Yes, Singling Out Leaders’ Ethnicity For Support Or Opposition Is Unacceptable

When complexity is addressed, events have to be understood in a different light. That is why I have said several times that our history textbooks need to be rewritten in light of what we learn from this biography, along with the autobiographies of our presidents and others who are finally giving their own version of events in our history.

Interplay of forces

First, the book shows that any historical event involves the interplay of many different forces, internal and external, debates among the decision-makers, and pressures from outside. Understanding the interplay, the pressures, and the internal driving forces is necessary for understanding the decisions.

Secondly, there is no such thing as a single motivation. This concerns me when discussing sensitive political issues such as the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar and renaming Tanganyika to Tanzania Mainland—even to declare that Tanzania Mainland gained its independence on December 9, 1961. 

Tanzania Mainland was not born in 1961. Its mother was not even pregnant. The Union that gave birth to Tanzania came three years later. 

When you look at the multitude of forces at play that led to the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, you cannot say that it was just the work of these individuals, that organisation, or some other pressure from outside. We need to embrace and understand that multitude of forces.

READ MORE: Should Tanzania Include ‘Samahani’ in the New Curriculum?

In hindsight, it is also not very useful to judge negatively what might only have been dimly perceived at the time. An event’s after-history may show that its impact was less than expected, but that does not mean that the persons making those decisions knew all that in advance.

Narrow nationalisms

This is one reason I find the narrow nationalisms at play so disturbing. What happened to the generosity of pan-Africanism of the past? In those days, who cared about colonial boundaries that split peoples, economic zones, and societies? I don’t know what else. 

What happened to the impetus for unity and justice for all that permeated people’s thinking in those days? Ordinary Tanzanians even donated their blood to be used by the freedom fighters of southern Africa. 

Their blood literally flowed in the veins of those freedom fighters and I am sure they will never understand the historical revisionism that now claims that Tanzania should never have wasted its resources in supporting the freedom struggle. 

We welcomed the freedom fighters and refugees to our land. After our neighbours to the North rejected our generous gesture to delay our freedom in order to unite with them, we at least showed an example through the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar to form a new country.

READ MORE: Without Organised Citizenry, Strong Institutions, Tanzania’s Democratic Ambitions Will Remain Far-Fetched

There is no denying that many serious issues threaten its existence after the marriage. Nor is the perverse denial so evident on one side of the political divide, or an insistence that the marriage must continue at all costs without addressing what is causing the friction to increase that threat. 

Marriages can and do often end in divorce. People change, move on, and get tired of one another. And when they do, they are so hell-bent on fomenting a split that they often forget the implications of their actions on their children, their families, and their communities.

Of course, one of the signs that a marriage is in danger of breaking up is when each side spends its time looking for faults in the other without ever considering that behaviours on both sides cause any break-up. 

Of course, that is easy to do since no marriage partner is perfect, and once the bond is loosened and the estrangement sets in, all you see is the other side’s weaknesses or infamy.

Beating rain

Should we allow such a situation to continue? Is this not when people should step in, bring the two sides together, and analyse in depth what the problem is, where the rain began to beat us, as the great Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe said?

READ MORE: Surely Tanzanians Do Not Want to See Their Beloved Leaders Being Humiliated on Their Behalf, Do They? 

Of course, it is still possible that the final decision is that divorce is the only answer, but such intervention often restores the link. Each side recognises its weaknesses rather than just harping on those of the other side. 

But if left to their own devices, the breakup is usually messy and violent, as opportunists looking for short-term gain will dominate the discourse. Julius Nyerere, our founding leader, was very clear about this. 

Once the virus of division and violence is let loose, who knows where it will stop. With the northerners? With the pastoralists? With this or that religion? With you and me?
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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