A Candle on Kilimanjaro: The Case for Keeping ‘Mwenge’- Tanzania’s Freedom Torch!

August 24, 2013 3:34 am0 comments by:

As Tanzania is reviewing its constitution, citizens have been given opportunities to voice out opinions as their contribution to the new constitution. The first draft came out in early June and again there are more opportunities for the citizens to give opinions on the draft new constitutions. The constitutional review commissioners did a great job to critically summarize initial citizens’ opinions and came up with a draft that, by and large, represented the will of the nation.

The draft constitution is neutral and does not lean towards any of the party’s interests. As a result, political parties, in particular the two major political parties in the country- the ruling CCM and the opposition CHADEMA- woke up from sleep to start their ‘tradition’ of influencing citizens’ opinions. Their goal is to ensure that citizens are giving opinions that suit their parties’ stance and interests.

This is politically ok, but not right!  It is not right because a constitution should not be caught up in partisan politics. This is dangerous. A constitution must be understood as an umbrella tool that is high above politics and covers up all different factions in the society. It has to be neutral bringing all people together in spite of their political affiliations, religious beliefs, and tribal/ethnic identity. In this respect, a constitution is, more than anything else, a national uniting instrument that is designed to ensure equal and fair distribution of resources (tangible and intangible) to its citizens. It MUST never be taken as an instrument to keep or bring a political party in power.

Due to the imperative of this process as well as its prospects of being a document that will define at least the next 50 years of Tanzania, I have been silently and prayerfully following debates and opinions given by citizens. I have done so through social media, hearsays, public meetings, and opinion forms filled by citizens.  To be honest some of the opinions and arguments are saddening and if anything, they portray either declining patriotism among citizens or failure to understand the big picture and our short national history. In this brief column, I will only focus on one aspect- the debate about keeping ‘Mwenge’ – the ‘freedom torch’ burning and running around the country. A number of citizens have argued against this important national symbol citing high costs of running it around the country every year.  It is indeed expensive to carry out that task since it involves rallies and meetings around several districts in our blessed huge Tanzania.

I am also aware that some have abused this exercise in one way or another, which in turn inflate costs. Nevertheless costs and corruption are not sufficient reasons to stop running ‘Mwenge’ through out the country. Those are shortfalls that can be corrected. With regards to costs, have we calculated the benefits of Mwenge or we are just looking at one side of the sheet? The corruption part should not scare us because if we allow corruption to hinder our national activities, it means that we have failed. Corruption cannot win we instead kill it. In fact, if chapter three of the draft constitution is adopted and effectively enforced, civil servants and those responsible for ‘Mwenge’ operations will not have space to inflate the costs through corruption.

Above all, the history of ‘Mwenge’ highlights a unique idea from one of the greatest African leaders- Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. Such an idea, among many others that he put in practice after independence, explains why Tanzania is an island of peace in turbulent region. Mwalimu Nyerere’s ideas and policies created national consciousness that gave a single identity to over 100 tribes in Tanzania.  The history of ‘Mwenge’ and the imperative of keeping it burning and run it every year despite high costs can be captured well from a short speech Mwalimu gave in 1959. I am quoting this speech below:

“…I have said before elsewhere that we, the people of Tanganyika, would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro which would shine beyond our borders giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate and dignity where before there was only humiliation. We pray the people of Britain, we sincerely pray the people of Britain and our neighbours of all races to look upon us, to look upon Tanganyika and what we are trying to do not as an embarrassment but as a ray of hope. We cannot, unlike other countries, send rockets to the moon, but we can send rockets of love and hope to all our fellow men wherever they may be…” (Nyerere, Hansard, 35th Session, 22/10/1959)

What else can I write after such a wonderful, amazing, and melodically speech.  This is a love letter from Tanganyika to the citizens of the world. After reading this speech, I couldn’t be more proud of my nation. After a bit of pondering, I knew the candle is Mwenge. The aims of Mwenge are thus to bring hope, love, and dignity. Although we gained political independence, we are still struggling with poverty, diseases, and ignorance. We therefore need to pass and bring hope, love, and dignity to people. Mwenge is still a much needed symbol and it has to be kept burning.

In light of the above, we should never dream to abandon Mwenge on any basis. What we need to do is to design ways that will ensure Mwenge brings hope, love, and dignity to all. Accompanying Mwenge with events that will steer socio-economic development in certain districts or villages every year can be one way of doing so. For example, the running of Mwenge can be combined with local charity events to improve schools and classroom buildings in the villages, to build or stock more resources in regional libraries, improve hospitals, and many other things that can be designed by citizens.  These will send rockets of love and hope to our fellow citizens as well as displaying classic nation-building exercise to our neighbours who are still facing ethnicity issues, civil unrests and tyrants.

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