Can ‘Ideological Vacuum’ explain nascent issues in Tanzania…?

July 2, 2013 7:12 am1 comment by:
Ideological Vacuum

Ideological Vacuum

Last week I was graced to listen to a presentation by Fr. Dr. Kitima, who is the Chancellor of the St. Augustine University of Tanzania. In his presentation he talked about ‘ideological vacuum’ and ‘moral vacuum’. These two phrases caught my attention and since then I have not stopped pondering about them. In this brief column I will put down my initial reflections on some of nascent issues in Africa-in particular the ‘new’ terrorism through the eyes of ‘ideological vacuum’.

Today, as President Barack Obama is visiting Tanzania, he, together with the former U.S.A President George Bush, will lay a wreath on the memorial of the August 1998 US Embassy bomb victims’ memorial in Dar-es-Salaam. Although the terrorist attacks were carried out in Tanzania and simultaneously in the U.S.A Embassy in Nairobi Kenya.  The target was not Tanzania or Kenya. It was the U.S.A. In fact, looking through the Vienna Convention (1961), bombing a country’s embassy is not different from bombing the country’s land itself. Diplomatic premises are considered territorial lands of the country represented.  The point here is that ‘new’ terrorism was not an African problem, it was generally a Western problem.

However, of late we have witnessed this kind of terrorism in Africa targeting the Africans. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has been causing havoc to the nation, similarly Al Shabaab has been a nightmare to Somalia and it’s neighboring countries, and Mali has been facing problems with Ansar Dine terrorist groups who shamelessly destroyed the country’s pride and historical world heritage site Timbuktu.  In Tanzania, there have been terroristic incidences that Tanzanians have found it difficult to contemplate.  Churches have been torched in Dar-es-Salaam, a Catholic Priest was killed in Zanzibar, and in May and June this year bombs were thrown in a Catholic Church Mass and in an opposition political rally in Arusha respectively. These issues are alien to Tanzania. It is even difficult to comprehend them as sectarian issues have never been a problem in Tanzania. Citizens of different religions, tribes, and race have been living happily together in Tanzania. So the questions remains, what explains these issues in Tanzania and in the continent at large?

The emergence of ‘new’ terrorism especially after September 11th 2001 attacks in New York and Washington DC received significant scholarly attention.  Consequently there have been enormous research works on the issues and on the subject of terrorism. Overall it has proven to be a very sensitive and complicated issue with no single explanation. International Relations Theories have struggled to fit these issues into a coherent explanation. Thus, am not suggesting any answer here but I am sharing my thoughts that can, at best, help us to think further especially in the context of Africa and Tanzania in particular.

This brings us to ‘ideological vacuum’. So what is ‘ideological vacuum’? From my humble understanding ‘ideological vacuum’ is derived from the fact that the political tradition of Left Vs. Right has been gradually dying if not already dead. The death started with the end of the Cold War, which marked the triumph of capitalism and the promotion of aggressive market economy or what is known as Neoliberalism. This death is reflected in the coming closer of the traditional left and right parties in the Western world. These parties are not confidently to identify themselves as ‘left’ or ‘right’. If they have to, they both cling to the comfortable ‘centre’ position. Being on one side completely is almost becoming a crime. Thus, we see promotion of similar policies from different political parties fostering the market economy. This is the ideological vacuum. Citizens are loosing loyalty to their traditional party affiliations because they do not see any ideological standpoint or difference from other parties. In UK, for example, there has been evidence of reduction of party membership, which scholars have argued to be caused by decreasing ideological differences between the two major parties- Labour and Conservative.

African countries partly due to ‘aid dependency’ or the desire to be seen as ‘modern and democratic’ have found themselves embracing and aggressively promoting neoliberalism. In Tanzania we embraced neoliberal policies at the expense of killing the Ujamaa Ideology. As I mentioned in my last article on the ‘Geneva of Africa’, the Ujamaa Ideology was not only about political matters but it had a direct impact on socio-cultural values of Tanzania. It is Ujamaa that made Tanzanians so close to each other regardless of religion, race, or tribe. Ujamaa taught us to respect human dignity and to love each other. In Ujamaa all Tanzanians are ‘ndugu’ (relatives).  We were all proud of identity ourselves as Tanzanians despite the economic challenges we faced. Now that neoliberalism has overpowered Ujamaa, we are starting to experience the consequences.  We are left with no ideology to cling on. I wish, in the inevitable wake of multi-partism, CCM- the ruling party in Tanzania since its independence would have stick to the principals of 1967 Arusha Declaration, which instituted Ujamaa ideology. This could have offered an ideological ground for people to identify with and for the opposition parties to constructively challenge it with the aim of strengthening the ‘Tanzanianship’ through different approaches. Now, both CCM and opposition parties speak the same language of neoliberalism- in fact with lots of confusions that citizens get lost. The political parties in Tanzania do not have major ideological or policy differences apart from wanting to stay or get into power. This is sad. It partly creates a sense of frustration in the country. Party followers cannot explain what they are standing for apart from superficial slogans that do not have any policy implications.

Neoliberalism leaves people empty. Its focus is on profit making through individual/private efforts.  It has created ideological vacuum in the Western world and it has unfortunately trickled down to Africa. Now the continent is facing its impact. We, Tanzanians, need to recap our ‘undugu’ values, promote them and be proud of them. These values need only a small boost because they are embedded deep within our hearts. We need to remind our children in schools and at home about ‘what being a Tanzanian entails’.  Our pupils need to be singing the patriotic songs we used to sing in primary schools. Those songs were not political, they were patriotic and creators of solidarity. We also need to remind our children of the national symbols and their meanings such as ‘Nembo ya Taifa’, the importance of ‘Mwenge’ among others. Mostly we need to promote Kiswahili even further, make sure our children speak it fluently (even if they are learning English). We need to be proud of  Kiswahili as it unites us. Neoliberalism tells Tanzanians parents that Kiswahili has no value in the competent World.  This is a lie. Kiswahili is one of the sexiest languages in the World. It has been instrumental in maintaining peace in Tanzania. It is an unwavering tool to keep our nation safe. It explains our ‘ideology’ better than any other language. I myself wish was writing this article in Kiswahili because the argument would have been clearer. But due to the Continent Observer’s international audience I have to do it in English. But let’s be proud of our sweet Kiswahili.

Finally, we need to keep singing and reflecting the lyrics of one of Mwalimu Nyerere’s favourite song– ‘Tanzania Tanzania Nakupenda kwa Moyo Yangu, Nchi Yangu Tanzania….nilalapo nakuwaza wewe….’ Such is a step towards filling the vacuum!



1 Comment

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