On Sunday, 31st October 2010 Tanzania voted for president and legislative members. The East African country’s elections have passed relatively unnoticed, this is untypical of many African elections. While there have been reports of unease between a section of the media and the government (something African governments clearly need to clean out), the elections lacked the “usual” tribal and ethnic tensions that make most African elections “newsworthy” for the most international media.
The Guardian had two paragraphs on the Tanzania Government’s threats to the media, albeit quoting a press release published by AllAfrica. The BBC (fair play to them) had 2 minutes and 3 seconds voice-over interviews with Tanzanians to find out why there were no ethnic and tribal tensions attached to these elections. The interviewee’s dominant answer was that they were all Tanzanians. One interviewee pointed out that the tribal harmony that exist in Tanzania today was the legacy of the country’s founding president, Julius Nyeere’s.
Indeed. Nyerere’s emphasised on national building over personal interests, “UJAMAA”, which can loosely be translated as familyhood (Swahili speakers may translate this better) – one person for another. This formed what has come to be know as African Socialism; an ideology that has never been popular with most westerners, whose idealism and economic model(s) Nyerere objected. Consequently, Nyerere is mostly portrayed in negative terms: a socialist dictator. His association with communist China only cemented his reputation as “anti British” and “anti European.”
As explained here, Nyerere took strong international stands on African economic and political independence. In particular, he supported freedom struggles in South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Angola and Mozambique. He dared to speak against the CIA-backed corrupt dictator, Mobutu Seseko and sought a better a administration in Mobutu’s Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). Nyerere also picked fights with IMF as they sought to impose free market economic policies on Tanzania.
These were “crimes” Nyerere committed. He stood up for his country and his African folk. Interestingly, Tanzania faired far much better, politically, socially, and economically, under Nyerere than his critics would have the world believe. According to Raya Dunayevskaya (1973)
“…Tanzania achieved the highest literacy rate in Africa (83%) and also experienced major advances in health care. The single party system Nyerere founded under the Tanzania African National Union (TANU) was hardly undemocratic, since open debate and competitive candidacies were permitted. Nor did Tanzania experience the pervasive corruption of so many post-independence African states.”
They say “bad news is good news.” This rings true on how African affairs are covered in the western mainstream media. This cliche may well explain lack of coverage for Tanzania elections. The elections are devoid of tribalism and ethnic tensions, which would qualify it as “newsworthy”. Given that tribalism has been a constant feature in the region’s (east African) elections, Kenya and Rwanda, in particular, the lack of ethnic tensions in Tanzania is an interesting development – a development that would interest not only media organisations but historians and social scientists alike. Therefore this is a genuine story, a newsworthy material. Kudos to the BBC for their attempted coverage.
The real problem with this story is that it is difficult for much of the international community to highlight these ethnic tension-free elections without giving credit to Julius Nyerere. Meanwhile, Nyerere remains dear to the hearts of many Tanzanians; whether one likes it or not, Tanzania today thrives on Nyerere’s legacy.
Julius Nyerere: 1922 – 1999, RIP.