Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: John Keto, Unsung Hero Who Preferred Teaching to Politics!

JOHN Keto is a legendary name but history has ditched the man and his name and undoubtedly the young generation may even not know who he was.

Keto is one of those few Tanzanians who can rightly be described as unsung heroes, who died quietly at his home town Korogwe in Tanga on Boxing Day, 26th December 2012 at the age of 95.Professionally a teacher of long standing, known to have taught several retired government officials and ministers among them including former Prime Minister John Malecela, Bishop John Ramadhani, Justice Lewis Makame, Paul Rupia, Julius Semwaiko,the late David Wakati, Jackson Makweta, Horace Kolimba, Julius Sepeku and several others at the then St. Andrew's College Minaki.

He was among the first holders of Master's degree in this country together with Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, whom they had been together at the Edinburg University in England.Upon coming back home they also happened to be both teachers while Mwalimu was at St. Francis Secondary School Pugu Mwakanga, Keto was a few distance away from Pugu at Minaki in Kisarawe, both working in those prestigious missionary secondary schools.

The only big difference between the two was that Mwalimu Nyerere had been a political activist up to his death, while Keto in essence was a teacher-cum technocrat and remained so.Mwalimu Nyerere tried to pull Keto into politics and he briefly won him particularly at that time when Tanganyika was agitating for her independence. The frequency of sharing ideas of the two teachers from the neighbouring schools made it possible for Keto to briefly fall in the political bandwagon at that time when he was needed most. To him, politics was a king-size boot which could not fit well in his legs.

It was not surprising for Commander of Youths, the late Rajabu Diwani when he used to make those fairy tales on politics that Mwalimu Nyerere and John Keto were the only holders of Master's degree in the country yet Mwalimu could effectively mobilise people and talk politics but John Keto could not even address a room of ten people on politics.

However John Keto served briefly as Tanu Chairman of Kisarawe District in 1954 while still a teacher at Minaki. He also received that warning from his Principal, Canon Nash that it would not be possible for him to serve two masters! Keto's name came to prominence at that very crucial Tanu Annual Meeting which took place in Tabora on January 21, 1958 that discussed on a very controversial Tripartite System of racial elections. This meeting has been dubbed as meeting of 'Decision of Wisdom'.

It was called the meeting of wise decision because it could escape the trap that was set by the colonial administration to vote for members of parliament on the basis of racial lines.And the conditions for voting and to be voted were very prohibitive that one should have a total annual income of not less than 400 British Pounds, fully employed, and at least should be educated up to standard twelve!

The tripartite election decision had an adverse effect on the party's solidarity and found defection of Zuberi Mtemvu from Tanu to Congress Party.The Legislative Council's (LegCo) election was crucial as could see the smooth process to internal government leading to the independent Tanganyika after the second election of 1960.

Had the Tabora Tanu Annual National Meeting opted to boycott the election, Tanu would have given a lee way to the settlers' party, United Tanganyika Party (UTP). Following this endorsement, these names as Tanu members were nominated to stand for the LegCo elections, Julius Nyerere, John Keto, Solomon Eliofoo, Chief Abdallah Fundikira and John Mwakangale. They became members of Parliament two years before independence.

With exception of John Keto, all his colleagues who happened to be members of LegCo and eventually after independence became full time politicians being either Ministers or junior ministers while John Keto was nowhere in politics and virtually lost in opaque of the country's political arena.

According to his hand written biography, Mr Keto was persuaded by Mwalimu Nyerere to turn down teaching profession and join in politics but declined because of two things. First he was committed to teaching and had an obligation of preparing the future leaders of this country, and secondly St. Andrew's College Minaki was in dire need of teachers of his calibre, he thought he had a mission to fulfil to the nation rather than going into politics.

However, after Independence Mwalimu also wanted to offer him a post of being Chairman of overseeing the process of Africanisation, but once again he reminded him of his former excuses. However Mwalimu promised him to get two European teachers who would be sent to Minaki. He agreed to this and was offered a post as the Chairman of Public Service Commission in overseeing the Africanisation process which more less can be equated to teaching.

Later he was appointed as the Post Master-General based in Nairobi and after the creation of East African Community in 1967 was transferred to the headquarters, Kampala, Uganda till 1976 when Uganda's leader Iddi Amin did not want him to continue working there. That is when he retired from public service.

Born from a humble family, the son of an Anglican priest, Canon Ernest Vuo, from the slopes of Mount Usambara, the late John Keto attended Primary School at St. Martins Magila before moving to Central School at Kiwanda in Muheza where he met the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, the late Steven Mhando. Then he proceeded to St. Andrew's College Minaki before being admitted to Makerere College in Uganda.

One of his former students Timon Msangi, the former official of Tanzania Cigarette Company, on behalf of the late Keto's students, paid glowing tribute by reading a very moving eulogy of Mwalimu John Keto at the graveyard... May the soul of this great teacher rest in eternal peace!!

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