26 April 2014

Tanzania: Union Here to Stay, Many People Behind It


IT was joy all over the country in 1964 when Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form Tanzania. This happened about four months after the January 12, Revolution which toppled the Sultan of Zanzibar and his mainly Arab government.

We were very little children when all this was happening so, the events didn't mean much to us. We did not even know which was the neighbouring region in our hometown, so Zanzibar sounded like a distant country. That didn't however neutralize our desire to know the Isles and the people's culture.

The dream to travel to Zanzibar became true when I took up a four-week field attachment at the Isle's Institute of Kiswahili and Foreign Languages. More and more trips followed and these led to a lot of findings about Zanzibar. The Islanders are a special people when it comes to customs and traditions.

Adherence to what is generally agreed upon by the community cannot simply be disobeyed. Women for example are expected to wear dresses that cover the body, including their hair, legs and arms. Tight trousers, low neck and short dresses cannot be won in Zanzibar.

Any woman who goes against this dress code will find herself completely out of place and on the whole, feel very uncomfortable. Men too, are expected to dress decently. 'Dropping trousers,' a common but weird style loved by the youth in urban centres, is not a favourite among the Zanzibaris. The practice helps explain the decency and values enshrined in a people's culture.

The latter has managed to sustain its status even after so much contact with Mainlanders who are rather flexible in styles and norms. Even the westerners and easterners who visit the islands as tourists have to adhere to these values.

The good cultural practices also manifest in the way Zanzibaris welcome their visitors. You are in good hands if a resident shows you around in the Stone Town. There will be plenty to eat and drink if he or she invites you for lunch or dinner at home.

If you would be lucky to get such a unique chance, it would be a time to experience the tantalizing aromatic cuisine of the islanders. The Isles' adherence to cultural values echoes similar practices on the Mainland in our rural areas where modernity is yet to ruin the old practices inherited from our ancestors.

We indeed are one country. Another trait that makes us a strong one people is Kiswahili language. Indeed many of the speakers in Zanzibar don't know any other language except Kiswahili. On the Mainland, especially in urban areas, Kiswahili is widely used among the folks, beside the fact that it is the national language.

Some neighbouring countries envy Tanzania for this achievement and praise Mwalimu Julius Nyerere for championing the language which has united Tanzanians of all walks of life. While on a trip to Zanzibar I became familiar with the social problems that people, especially the youth are grappling with.

I was able to interview a couple of them and came up with an idea that unemployment is a thorny issue. The issue of the Union also came up in the interviews. The main problems in Zanzibar, just as is the case on the Mainland are dwindling employment opportunities.

This situation has driven many youth into drug abuse and Jang'ombe area seems to be a hideout for youth who easily get the stuff from dealers. I managed to interview some of the drug addicts after a long and tedious attempt to persuade them to talk. Generally, they would not talk to strangers for fear of being caught or simply being used by someone for his or her financial gain.

The drug consumers said, they had opted to use drugs as a last resort. They had no employment or any other source of income. How were they expected to survive in today's harsh environment where even those who have money complain?

"We are doing drugs out of desperation, nobody likes this kind of life," said one of them. Another youth had three children, but he was being helped to feed his family by his mother as there was nothing else he could do. During the interviews, I came across businessmen and women. We charted a few things on politics. Were they supporting the Union? Did they benefit from it?

The answers have always been positive. The people of Zanzibar are not opposed to the Union. Their desire is to improve their living condition, where children have enough food to eat and can go to school without a hitch. "To us, the Union isn't a problem. Our markets are full of goods from the Mainland and we are free to travel to and from the entire republic.

However, unemployment among the youth is one big problem," says a woman who runs a small restaurant in Unguja. Right from the outset, I learnt that the Union was strong in the minds of many ordinary people and their main concern was whether or not they would be able to get their next meal.

That concern, which is shared by many other Tanzanians on the Mainland, should be the focus on the Constituent Assembly in Dodoma.

A good constitution must listen to the voices of people and give them hope for change. As we celebrate fifty years of the Union, we expect that the peaceful environment which has prevailed for many years will be sustained by all, including politicians opposed to the opinions of the majority.

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