Tanzania; A Conflicted Society

We are a society, uniquely conflicted, when compared to our neighbors on either side of our borders, I believe, primarily because of a transition that has and continues to take place between Ujamaa, which was borne out of a socialist economic framework, to this unique form of 'capitalism' that we have come to embrace for almost twenty years now.

Consequently, we have two sets of Tanzanians: 1) the ones who built their lives during Ujamaa and 2) the ones who are building their lives after (which includes those who built their lives both during and after).

This makes the generational conflict that usually plays out in most societies more colorful in our case as we have to couple these conflicts with the drastic cut-over consequences of changing economic engines midair, as it were.

Those who built their lives during Ujamaa are technical victims of this transition, as the drastic change in models has made even someone who was relatively successful by Ujamaa standards look quite mediocre by the standards of the system of the day.

Everything from their saving habits, career planning to lifestyle preferences could in no way or manner have prepared them for this moment and rendered them obsolete almost overnight as a result.
This holds true, more so, for those who stuck to the script that underpinned the values of Ujamaa and forewent self in favor of a collective good.

Sadly, in a society that quickly white washes over even the most valuable of histories treasures, we often look at these people in ridicule as remnants of a past that we would rather hold them responsible for as if there was a choice to begin with and had we been in their place we would have done any different.

In effect, these people had given or in some instances even willfully sacrificed their ‘lives’, in a way very few would do today, so that Tanzania could become the nation state we have come to know today and should in many ways be honored for their exemplary commitment to astute citizenry.

As if to add misery to sorrow, the erosion in values and explosion in illicit streams of ‘additional’ income that trickled in with an economic transition that was managed more like a ‘revolution’ of sorts against that which was (throwing the baby out with the bath water so to say), has created a situation where even a junior officer in government can amass more material wealth in five years of service than someone who is five times their senior and most likely reared through the values of the Ujamaa error.

In actual fact, if you ask me, one of the most humane gestures undertaken by any of our governments thus far, leave aside the abuses that resulted, was to offer to sell government houses to these type of civil servants, many of whom served to build this country more than they did to build themselves and consequently saving them from the bitter fate that was knocking vigorously at their door.

So blame the junior officer for flossing spoils of an error for which he is equally a victim.

Maybe not.

The greater challenge is for this country to be cognoscente of this and other challenges that are unique to Tanzania when compared to Kenya and even Uganda which have both enjoyed more than 50years of a near consistent economic framework for giving birth to many societal norms that we often undermine the importance of in Tanzania as we rush to keep up in a race that may have not been meant for us to begin with.

For instance, when I graduated from university, now more than a decade ago, it was uncommon for a serious graduate to opt for employment in the private sector as at the time it was readily associated with the ‘Mangi’ or ‘Gabachori’ type enterprise as opposed to more respectable employment in government or parastatals and international organizations.

10 years on, corporate Tanzania has taken root, growing significantly, but is still a cultural enigma posing more questions than answers. For example, it is almost impossible to find someone in Tanzania who started out after university up to retirement age in the corporate sector as we know it today. What do our young people model their career prospects around then?

I go further and argue that this is why Tanzanians, and young Tanzanians in particular, are so keen to gamble in a ‘future’ in entrepreneurship and form ‘chicken-feet’ syndrome as they either job-hop or job-avoid outright, not because entrepreneurship offers better prospects or more security in the long term, far from it; but because, I believe, unlike Kenya and Uganda, where they have had 50 years of being twice beaten, we are barely 15 years of being just once shy!

I can guarantee you that after another 10 years of false starts and busted dream bubbles we will see a more resilient work force and combative entrepreneurs.

Seeing this gap, I have dedicated my next book - Ubishi Komaa na Maisha and a number of articles to addressing this often unsung hymn, at least, in the literary space.

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