Sunday, 15 May 2011


During last week’s Diaspora 3 conference in London two fascinating trivial things occurred. The bigger things have already been reported in various sections of the media. Speeches and pictures of Foreign Minister, Mr Bernard Membe expressing how the nation values the economic and technical contribution of overseas based Tanzanians; promises of government involvement in speeding the process of dual citizenship was amongst highlights of his applauded speech. The Foreign Minister was simply, spot on. I spoke to several Tanzanians during the conference. I spoke to those who support such events. They warmed up to the man. I spoke to a chap who had asked a question and was impressed by the answers he got. I spoke to a lady who distrusts political leaders.
“That Minister is excellent,” she said shaking her head. “It was like attending a University lecture. He defined things and elaborated stuff without sounding pompous.”

One of these elaborations was Diaspora. A London based student had stood up and claimed those studying should be amongst the list of Diasporans, if there is such a word.  He sends a thousand pounds (around 2 and a half million shillings) home monthly. He thus contributes to the economy and therefore can join this club of overseas based citizens.
 Mr Membe said no. Students, civil servants, diplomats and those who come abroad because they are sick do not qualify the definition.
“Mlowezi” or a person who travels to a foreign country then decides to stay there and makes it her new home is the right description.
Meanwhile our Ambassador spoke of census. Tanzanians should register themselves. “If you ask me how many Tanzanians live in the UK, I have no clue...”
Traders, bankers, MP’s made speeches too. Sometimes questions from the attendees were unsettling. Joyce Mwainyekule for instance expressed distrust for the employment system which promised jobs to those who have come back but were unfavoured in red tape and innuendos. Or the guy who alleged that dual citizenship will only benefit corrupt politicians and their families. Or the defender of foreign born children whose Tanzanian mothers are refused citizenship.
But some smaller, minute almost insignificant things need be noted, too.
One was the MP from Zanzibar; he only spoke once during the 6th May Friday conference. I noticed his grey hair and heard his unique words very well. Later, Mohammed Ibrahim Sanya; told me he represents Mji Mkongwe, internationally known as Stone Town.
Burning issue was Gongo La Mboto bomb victims.

A family of Gongo la Mboto bomb  victims fleeing the scene early in the year, pic by FullShangwe Blog...
Money and goods collected in good faith here in London is allegedly being kept in storage and has not reached intended recipients in Dar es Salaam. London’s Mr Bernard Chisumo, who spearheaded the fundraising three months ago, expressed his disappointment at the Conference.
Someone else gave a ridiculous legal defence that only victims of natural disasters are given aid. Gongo La Mboto was not a natural disaster, he said.
So? Up stands MP Sanya and says this is not right; he will not rest until he finds out what happened. Gongo la Mboto victims have to be assisted.
Red Cross assisting those in need- pic by FullShangwe Blog

As I listened to the political leader from Stone Town (aka Mji Mkongwe) I kept thinking that it is enlightening that we have Members of Parliament of such calibre. We all appreciated the fact that an MP is bold enough to stand for victims of that horrible military accident, where at least 25 innocent lives were lost.
And finally the paintings.
Raza's "Watoto Wakicheza Daku" depicting playful kids, pic by F Macha

It has been acknowledged for decades that we as a nation do not attach importance to art. Mohammed Raza is a Tanzanian icon. He has been painting since 1952. That is almost sixty years. I once covered his amazing exhibition for Sunday News at the French Cultural Centre, Dar es Salaam in 1983. The man sits amongst great Tanzanian visual artists like Professor Elias Jengo, Tinga Tinga and the late Philip Ndunguru. His pictures were on display at the conference. There were neither brochures nor text to accompany Raza’s designs.
One has to ask what is the significance of paintings? Why do we need pictures of Kids playing Daku, a Taarab trumpet player or Maasai?
There are hundred ways to look at the matter. First is identity; Raza’s pictures depict Tanzanian scenery and her people; they are therefore, items for sale just like sisal, tourism and diamonds. 

An individual who has promoted our culture and images for five decades deserves attention.  It may be a minute detail but observed from a wider perspective contributes to our national character, strength and panorama.

Published in Citizen Tanzania, Friday 13th, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Ndugu Macha,

    Thank you, first of all, for your weekly columns. It must be time consuming. They are to be appreciated. Thank you for your dedication and effort in maintaining them week in week out.

    Secondly, thank you for this particular column mentioning Mohamed Raza the Tanzanian painter. I had forgotten about him, but I do remember him now. I have had a renewed interest in and respect for visual artists since helping to put together an exhibition of art in Edmonton by African artists living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, during an event in February 2011 celebrating what is annually called in North America, "Black History Month" every February.

    Like all artists, visual artists need support and attention. They need in particular because sometimes they are not inclined to promote themselves, spending their energies and time in producing stunning works. We take art and artists for granted but what would the be without art or artistic representations in our everyday life? We have and have had many artists in Tanzania, not as well known as they should be. We do need to promote them and knowledge about their work.

    December this year the Tanzanian community would be celebrating 50 years of Tanzania's independence. Among the events we hope to do would be to display art, or rather photographs of art from Tanzanians. I wish there was or were a photographic book or books containing various works of art and the history of art in Tanzania from back when to this day. If there isn't one, there should be.

    I will searching for such a book or books.

    Keep up the good work!