Earlier in April this year my sister Aikande suggested that I should read George Orwell’s books- in particular the Animal farm and 1984. She also suggested Chinua Achebe’s memoir - ‘There was a Country’. I did. These books among other things have informed and helped my understanding of the socio-political trends of what is happening in Tanzania and elsewhere around the world. Indeed, these books offer valuable insights and a perspective to view current events in a new light, which enables us to see core problems rather than the surface view of current trends. In this entry am going to reflect some of the insights that I learned from Chinua Achebe’s memoir – with an insight from Orwell’s books mentioned above.
Achebe starts by explaining how his parents engaged with the early missionaries. The missionaries spread Christianity and provided formal education. Achebe critically evaluates the pros and cons of Christianity versus the traditional beliefs. This reminds me of the missionaries who came to our area (Machame). My great grandfather, Solomon Nkya, was one of the early converts and one of the first black pastors in Tanzania. Evidently, the work of missionaries had a positive influence on his family and in the community. Likewise, the work of mission produced writers such as Achebe and Wole Soyinka who went on to develop African literature. It is fair to mention that Achebe and Wole among others learnt European literature, which did not reflect their environment. The missionary and colonial education went on to produce African leaders who fought for independence. Important thing to note from the work of missionaries is the role of education in transforming a society. Education is a soft power of producing change to an individual, family and society in general.
Soon after independence, most African leaders strived to live the lifestyle of their colonial masters. Nevertheless, Achebe observed, that they did not have the same diligence of managing the new independent states specifically due to politics that allowed incompetent people to be in position of power. The mismanagement and oblivious lifestyle of new leaders engendered coups. In Nigeria, coups and tribal contentions within the new state led to progon, which some suggest it was a genocide. The tribal persecution of Igbo, led to secession consequently producing a civil war - Biafra. The war was also fuelled by ego of leaders from both conflicting sides, who had a chance to avert and end the war. In such circumstance, the secessionists determined to rule themselves and fight for their survival. Conversely, the federal government did not want to lose its mandate and resources. Allowing secession would have triggered further disintegration, the government thought. This stance was supported by the majority members of OAU. Tanzania did not. It was the first country to recognize Biafra as a state. Unfortunately, the desire to preserve the colonial boundaries and protecting power denied other new independent states to see justice and enjoy their rights of self-determination.
From Achebe’s memoir, we also learn about innovation. During the course of the civil war, the Biafrans had to develop means of refining oil. The British had told them it would have taken more than five hundred years to be able to refine oil. Other innovations were on weapons and telecommunication gadgets. One example is the notable Ogbunigwe, which was an effective bomb that struck terror among the enemies. Likewise, the Biafrans had to develop their own tanks from range rovers. There was research on medical side. Despite these innovations, war is destructive. It led to deaths of many soldiers and civilians in both sides of the conflict. It also gave rise to humanitarian crisis such as hunger and death of innocent children. Furthermore, war had psychological effects to many people consequently giving rise of mental health problems to many people who were affected by the pressure of war.
Considering the inhuman effects of war, Achebe documented and narrated the reaction of individual, governments, regional and international bodies on conflict. The Western powers, UN and OAU, which had the powers to avert the war, played a neutral role and sometimes supported the oppressor by selling Arms or failing to mediate. Particularly, the UK government under Harold Wilson failed a moral test in undermining the reality. Despite the role played by these governments, individuals from Western countries, media, faith groups and non-governmental institutions played a significant role in helping the starving children’s. Some employees even resisted to board arms, which were sent to the conflict. This to me shows how individual values are important in human crisis that sometimes may seem distant to us. Also in the book, Achebe showed the role played by Nyerere then Tanzanian president in recognizing the Biafrans and their right to self-determination. This reminded me of the basic principles of our country and the noble foreign policy we had. I personally, feel ashamed when we are drifting away from such novel humane diplomacy to economic diplomacy increasing with disregard to our values.
Lastly, Achebe suggested that children should be taught their history regardless of how dark it is to prevent recurrence of such atrocities. Furthermore, Achebe noted that democracy should be institutionalised and practices beginning with free and fair elections. Having proper checks and balances as well as free and fair elections will curve out the current tendencies of violence and rough plays, which prevent decent people from participating in democratic processes. Tolerating violence and rough play is a nursery, which nurture incompetent and corrupt leaders. The emphasis should not be on the education level of the leaders but more the moral, ethics and values. This can be done when proper democratic institutions are in place. Today African countries are facing authoritarian leaders who are produced from poor democratic institutions. These types of leaders have no regard to democratic process, rule of law, and human rights. As a result, they produce tribal and political polarising nationalists sentiments. Our generation has to fight for this course in our own countries and at regional level. Furthermore, we are challenged with global trends such as growing income inequality and infowars that jeopardise our trust in democratic processes.
Normally I start my day by peeking social media platforms especially WhatsApp and Twitter. While doing so today I came across the trend #nationalwritingday. Therefore, I designated to honour the day by writing a short entry to my blog. The decision was out of guilty for operating inactive blog, when some (particularly) in my home country do not have the freedom to run a blog freely due to the new law The Electronic and Postal Communication Regulations. Thus, we should not take writing for granted especially when considering the power it has on society. Writing can change the way society thinks, it can also change the power dynamics in the society. Hence, writing is threat to those with power and interests to safeguard. Let’s continue to write!!
In the past, I was a firm believer of providing free education funded by the state. However, more recently, my view has shifted to the opposing argument. I now believe that both the individual and the state should fund education. To be clear, everyone should have a right and an opportunity of getting the best education, regardless of their income or background. I believe education can be given at differential prices, wherein the government subsidises the fees depending on set factors, such as income level for example, where by some students can get free education, some a subsidized one and others that cover their own fees.
In the 2015 presidential campaign, the opposition promised free education as opposed to the subsidized one by the government. I believed these to be a superficial promise that would only diminish the quality of education. My reasons being that first, accomplishing this would need a lot of funding and no one knows where it would have come from or in expense of what. Secondly, the prevailing government system had its own responsibility while individuals and local community had their responsibility. What I mean by this is for example the government paid teacher and for the cost of running the school whereas the community had to build school. The truth is that both the government and the community have failed to fulfil their responsibility to a point of taking others responsibility. Thus, the promise of free education is at least with the prevailing socio-economic condition an immature one.
Soon after the election, the president announced free education, which was a demand from the masses of the public. A lot of effort has been channelled to ensure that children get free education for instance the desk campaign. Nevertheless significant challenges on free education have occurred. Today the president has given clarification on what free education means and directed two minister to ensure that it is implemented. The president’s announcement comes as a response to former PM Sumaye’s view on the state of free education in the country. The biggest question on free education is whether there are enough funds to provide uncompromised education.
I think the government should not remove people from the responsibility of providing education to their children. There are different ways that people can contribute on education apart from fees, through firstly providing moral support, secondly, physical support – parents and guardians can physical supports schools in different ways that can be directed to improve the quality of education provided and the educational resources available. Lastly, I suggest the government should return the notion of charging fees so that people should know the cost of education. Then, the government can provide waivers to schools in certain areas depending on the ability of the surrounding community to meet fee requirements. A school in town should not get the same government support as a school in a rural village. All in all we should think on better ways that we can redistribute our resources in a fair and responsible way that will allow us to make a step forward in the right direction as a united nation. Equal distribution of resources taking from those capable and giving to those in need.