- Published on Saturday, 31 December 2011 20:47
- Written by TONY ZAKARIA
- Hits: 18511
When President John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, ask not what the country can do for you but what you can do for your country, he was not joking.
The president knew what government could do for its citizens was a tiny fraction of what the people could collectively do for themselves.
Almost six decades later few governments have been able to provide affordable basic services such as education, clean water and medical care to the majority of their people. Most are failing to ensure the air which is free in nature is clean. It is no wonder cancer cases and respiratory and other diseases caused by unsafe habitats are still common today despite tremendous strides made in science such as space exploration.
Severe flooding is widespread these days, from Asia and Europe to America, from desert kingdoms in the Middle East to tropical forests of Africa and South America. Why has the world experienced so much flooding in recent months? Failure by governments to prevent environmental pollution and protect natural forests in many nations is a major cause of freak weather patterns that have become commonplace.
Survival of small island nations and the health of present and future generations are being sacrificed at the altar of economic and political expediencies. Polluting industries create jobs and replenish state coffers big time. Bob Kennedy was right on the money. What government can do for you is not only miniscule but can be harmful.
Social and economic development must begin with each individual citizen, with government only acting as a catalyst. When the father of Tanzania Dr Julius Nyerere the teacher taught us that education is the key to life he knew and believed what he was talking about.
According to Nyerere, those who receive the privilege of education must repay sacrifices that others have made. After leaving their villages to pursue education, the educated must return to their communities to be catalysts for development. Back in our younger days, our Lyamungo secondary chemistry teacher, a Mr Mdee would get really excited as he showed us how a catalyst works by mixing potassium chlorate and manganese dioxide to produce oxygen, water and an inert solid.
While Mdee proved how chemistry ‘catches fire’ as he used to say, some students got the fright of their lives and quit science to become penguins for life. We learned to become catalysts in our families with a few things we learned in school. Lyamungo was by then an agricultural secondary school. We grew our own vegetables, maize for the daily porridge breakfast and ‘ugali’ lunch.
We also had a few dairy cattle for their milk. Monkey see, monkey do, eh? During the yearend holiday I would buy carrot, cabbage, spinach or tomato seeds from TFA (Tanzania Farmers Association) shop in Moshi and plant them in my father’s ‘shamba.’ I had a big fight with my parents just getting them to uproot a few banana and coffee trees to give me the two by four metre area I needed for the fruit garden. A coffee tree is a big thing for a Mchagga man.
I never stayed long enough to enjoy the fruits of my labour but the tomatoes, spinach and cabbage that matured while I was in school were a source of pride to my parents. Neighbours and friends came regularly to ask for free veggies and maybe praise the clever offspring who planted them. When we learned how to cross-breed plants through grafting and the benefits of hybrid crops, I went home and grafted orange shoot from my aunt’s tree onto my father’s lemon tree.
The result was a fantastic crop of tangy orange-flavoured lemons that made maize porridge a favourite breakfast for relatives and neighbours of Mzee Josefu, grandson of Nyange. There are many schoolmates from the 70s and 80s who can remember experimenting with their school knowledge to make life better at their place of birth. We came from families with few necessities and little extras so there were a lot of areas needing improvement.
As salaried employees, we remembered the traditional houses made of thatch and earthen floors we grew up in, on the slopes of Kilimanjaro Mountain. We were already used to modern school and residential buildings with flush toilets that
bore no resemblance to rudimentary structures in our places of birth.
We resolved to change the situation brick by brick. Over time the traditional ‘msonge’ in Chaggaland has disappeared, not because the government built modern houses for the people but because many sons and daughters who received education and learnt to appreciate nice things, went back to invest in their families. Over the years Pareland has undergone similar transformation as seen in Chaggaland.
Even our tightfisted traditional rivals from Same and Mwanga districts have learnt to appreciate good food and live in improved housing. It shows in a healthier younger generation who are taller and more handsome than Wapare who are 50+ years old. My Form I class had a total of 135 students of which about 45 were from Arusha, 45 from Lake zone and the remainder from Kilimanjaro region.
In Nyerere’s time, the Wasukuma went to study in Kilimanjaro, Wachagga were sent to Mbeya and the Makonde joined secondary schools in Bukoba and everybody was cool with it. Many of my classmates who left secondary school in the mid-seventies have gone on to become leaders and thinkers of Tanzania today.
But why has Kilimanjaro rural districts made such tremendous progress in improving housing, nutrition and other social indicators while parts of Manyara, Mara, Mtwara, Shinyanga, Singida and Dodoma – to name a few – continue to lag behind? Did they not receive the same education as the Wachagga and Wapare in the 70s and 80s? Have they gone back regularly to their villages to repay the privilege of getting education at the expense of their parents, relatives or are they waiting for government intervention?