Kenya: Chaos, an African perspective
The on-going political violence in Kenya has been on the front page of Tanzanian newspapers and on the tongues of the Tanzanian people. While waiting for a cobbler on the street to repair my Dansko sport clogs (all for 500 shillings – 50 cents!- and saving me the $110 of purchasing a new pair), I sat on a worn wooden bench with three older Tanzanian men. They were speaking animatedly in Kiswahili. I couldn’t understand all of what they were saying, but recognized enough to know that they were discussing Kibaki and Odinga’s strategies to end the conflict.
Today (my “lazy day”) I purchased English versions of two Tanzanian newspapers, The Citizen and The African and curled up in my sitting room wicker chair to read what they had to say about the situation in Kenya. The front page articles were quite opinionated, much more openly so than the western press coverage I have seen online (BBC and CNN).
“Washington behind Kibaki’s arrogance,” proclaimed The African staff reporter.
The article proceeded to describe how US economic and political interests are pressuring the Kibaki camp to be more forceful in staying in power. A couple of professors at the university in Dar explain that Kibaki has been willing to give in to US interests of establishing a base there from which to monitor eastern and southern Africa’s “terrorist” activities. Apparently the US doesn’t like the fact that Raila Odinga (of the ODM party, the group in opposition to Kibaki’s government) has been building alliances with the Muslim communities in Kenya. Many folks in Kenya (except in the ruling Kikuyu, Embu and Meru tribes) generally see that as a good way to unite across tribal factions, which is one of the reasons Odinga has popular support.
From what I can tell, the Tanzanian papers have been criticizing Kibaki for inflaming violence, for not taking Odinga’s support seriously, and for not conceding to the popular vote – and at least a recount or revote. They view Odinga’s party as being more organized and more a representative of “the people.” They can’t see how the violence will resolve if Kibaki is stays in power.
Tanzania vs Kenya
I have often felt a subtle undercurrent of desperateness and restlessness in Kenya. Everyday folks have struck me as always trying to get on up, perhaps because of its long and deep history of wealthy wazungu (white people) colonizers. This subterranean anger manifests itself in all sorts of ways, and the current political conflict may reflect that.
On the whole, I’ve found Tanzania to be very different from Kenya, its Swahili-speaking neighbor. Royce and John think that it might be related to former Tanzanian president Nyerere’s principles of ujamaa, familyhood. Ujamaa was part of Nyerere’s African socialism and self-reliance: resettlement of rural households into centralized and collective villages. It brought different people together in a way that forced them to work with each other. Indeed, Nyerere, known here as Mwalimu (“Teacher”) and Baba wa Taifa (“Father of the Nation”), had the enormous task of pulling 129 different tribes out of the ruins of European colonization and uniting them into a cohesive African identity.
Sadly the policy turned out to be an economic disaster, as it left lots of fertile land unused and bred corruption probably like that I’ve seen in China. However, it served the function as nation-building- and folks here seem to some amount of access to education, clean water and health care. The literacy rate is over 90%. And people have less of the tribal and religious conflict I’ve seen in Kenya.
“We are very different here in Tanzania,” said Amos, one of the EGPAF officers and medical officers based here in Tabora. “Totally different from Kenya,” he emphasized.
Tanzanians are proud of this history, one in which people have learned to retain their tribal heritage but not become ruled by it; one in which people have seen the good that comes from collective hard work.
I am putting 100% DEET on my hair and face at night. That’s BAD. The mosquitoes here in Tabora during the rainy season (as it is now) are numerous and aggressive. They have a strong will to suck my blood and make eggs and reproduce and suck my blood in increasingly exponential quantities. And they like my blood. I get huge welts as a result of bite, so you can imagine how ugly I get with 20 mosquito bites fighting for space on my legs.
All I have to say is: hurray for DEET, hurray for malaria prophylaxis!