Tuesday, 12 March 2013


Are you sentimental?
Are you one of those people who grieve about the good old days? This would be measured in terms of age. The older you are, the bitter and bigger the sentiment. What about if you are eighteen years old, or twenty five? Maybe eighty. Or approaching sixty like me? I am not one of those people who think past times were better - because life has always been the same; same old problems and joys, governments in crisis and doom mongers predicting end of life. So I won’t weep over history. It’s like shedding crocodile tears.
Sunset on waters of the west Tanzania. Pic by Revo Meza...

According to myths, the idiom, shedding crocodile tears, means the crafty, dangerous reptiles weep in order to trick their victims...  Idioms are the salt and sugar of any given language. I think the fantastic great past is nothing more than crocodile tears for what is going on in the present.  Having washed my hands, let us rock and rewind the clock for a few seconds and picture 1960s and 1970s Tanzania.
Reading was very fashionable.

As a teenager around 1967 to 1975 it was common for us to have a novel in the pocket and compete and show off what you have been reading. Back then we wiped off a lot of novels.

 In Swahili the leaders were late Mzee Mohamed Said Abdullah and Faraji Katalambula (who passed away last year).  English? James Hadley Chase, Harold Robbins, James Ngugi (nowadays Ngugi Wa Thiong'o), etc. Of the most popular African reads “Son of a Woman” by Kenyan writer Charles Mangua, was top ten for a long time. Yes, Kenyans. They have made us East Africans proud with their music (rewind to Malaika and Hakuna Matata) and literature.  Charles Mangua’s language was easy to understand for us teenagers of the era; scenes of sex and urban Kenya very entertaining.
Yes we loved reading. Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Zanzibar were littered with bookshops. I used to liken the Dar University Bookshop to paradise spending all my little pocket money on its counter. I remember once the late Adam Lusekelo and I were comparing notes.
“Is Ernest Hemingway better than James Hadley Chase?”
Adam would always laugh about that.

“Hemingway was a journalist. He does not waste words.”
“I want to become a writer too.”
Adam Lusekelo who died in 2011 did finally become a popular columnist for Daily News Tanzania. We miss him and his intelligent humour.

Adam who had a killer sense of humour seen in a rare photo by BBC. Guardian journalist, Ruth Evans, wrote an endearing obituary.

Those were the years of books. These days, young people carry mobile phones; check Apps, Facebook, Twitter and latest football games. Do they read? Well, they are better at typing. Fast texters. We did not type; we used Biros and fountain pens. Nowadays I, do both. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Last week visiting Minister of Energy and Minerals, Professor Sospeter Muhongo was answering a question about the future of gas use in Tanzania. “It is an inevitable utility that we need getting used to,” he told UK based nationals at the London High Commission.
Professor Sospeter Muhongo speaks at the Tanzanian Embassy in London early this month. Pic by
Ally Muhiddin 

Businesswoman Elly Njau-Benichou, wanted to know how the government intends to “educate” the majority of ill schooled Tanzanians about gas. As the Minister went into great lengths explaining how it is a duty of all elites to enlighten the masses, he stumbled on the sad, pathetic issue of reading. He spoke of a 60 percent press that sells mostly gossip (“udaku”) and jokes. He highlighted our mental laziness.
“During the 60s and 70s Dar es Salaam was filled with bookshops. Today, all those shops just sell clothes. Books are no longer popular. We do not read; we are a nation of lazy folks.”  
This is costing us and contributing to our poverty, as a country, he lamented. So bad is the situation that even leaders and people of authority are buying and trading fake qualifications and Ph Ds.
Professor Professor Chachage (first left) seen here during our boxing team days at Mzumbe School in 1974. This was the height of 1970s. Chachage was a very fun loving person who loved education, books and social progress. Author is second from left with a pouted mouth. Third is our coach, John Kihampa, fourth, is the late Hussein Laizer who passed away in 1994 and Msuya, assistant coach. Pic by Samuel Nkurlu.

Professor Muhongo is not the first member of the intelligentsia to caress the reading problem. Ten years ago, the late Sociology lecturer, Professor Chachage L Chachage grumbled how bars and alcohol establishments have taken over libraries and bookshops.  And this is a population, which according to Professor Chachage’s treatise, 61 percent born after 1978. The rest, older and sick are dying. A generation that read spoke and wrote English and Swahili properly: my vanishing generation.
Legendary Tanzanian book publishing promoter and hard working Walter Bgoya...pic coursey of Full Shangwe Blog.

The reading habit has been replaced by excessive TV watching, radio stations and an ill-regulated internet, so said Mr Walter Bgoya, the Mkuki Na Nyota Publisher, quoted by Citizen in October 2011. Mr Bgoya who has tirelessly campaigned for our book publishing industry for forty plus years and is chair person of the Council for Development of Books in Tanzania (BAMVITA) explained part of the problem is: “Our household’s radios and TV are never switched off. It is difficult to read a book if TV and radio are on all the time.”
He also attributed the problem to parents.
 How many adults read books after finishing school or college?
Published in Citizen Tanzania on Friday 1st March, 2013.


  1. So educative piece of writing.Bravo!

  2. This is so true. I am product of that system. I was on top of gossip and tv. I am now taking a break from that by the following:
    I started my own blog
    I am beginning to try to read more and talk less
    Thanks for this article and I hope it is taken seriously...for sure Tanzanians we have to stop liking gossip excessively; we need balance.