Even though I left Tanzania some years ago, I have lived there long enough to have left a piece of my heart at the foot of the Kilimanjaro. So it is only normal that I still follow what happens in this part of the world.
I was pretty surprised to hear the following succession of events:
- John Magafuli (the president at the time) denied the existence of Corona, downplayed the whole pandemic tale, claiming it was a white people's hoax, and advised the Tanzanian people to go to church to pray if they were sick (leading to more contamination and undoubtedly to more deaths).
- Magafuli then got Corona... and passed away.
- He was then succeeded by Samia Suluhu Hassan, the first Tanzanian female vicepresident. She became the second female head of state in Africa, although I think Ethiopa's female president has a role that is mostly ceremonial.
Of course, she has sparked both hope and controversy. In dealing with Magafuli's inheritance of denying Corona, she started a long overdue vaccination campaign in the country with international help, so kudos to her. But just like any other politician - regardless of gender - she has said some things people do not agree with.
The oddest - or even unbelievable - statement was when she remarked that female football players are not pretty (because flatchested) and therefore not attractive candidates for marriage. That is not only a strange remark because it is sexist and she should stand for female rights more than anyone else but then I also wonder when and where she became a reference of beauty.. sometimes I just feel that the world has changed and some people did not get the memo?
I was also very happy to hear that the Nobel Prize for Literature went to another Tanzanian, Zanzibari even. Abdulrazak Gurnah was born and raised in Zanzibar but he fled in the sixties. So once again, this event caused both outcries of pride and a lot of debate. He wrote all his books in England, the place where he has lived for over half a century. He wrote his work in English even though his mother tongue is Kiswahili.
Call me naive or call me an optimist but I feel only happiness, with little nuance. The fact that a black African writer is awared for his work is enough for me. And the fact that Tanzanians now have a legitimate reason to debate identity is only a bonus. If more people now read his books, and his sales go up - all the better!
I for one bought his book "Paradise" because I read good reviews. I have been in a bit of an African-writer-period anyway - with the the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Trevor Noah and Achmat Dangor - because we introduce those books in high school.
This year, I am also guiding a student that is not only new in the school but has also only been in the country for a short time. Very coincidentally, they assigned me a Tanzanian girl, and what are the odds: she is from Zanzibar. And just like so many children of immigrants she is utterly amazing: learning Dutch in recordtime and adjusting easily as only kids can do, bearing more burdens than a child should ever have to. My help is probably just a drop on a hot plate but the other day she said it was nice to speak Kiswahili with someone for a second (as limited as it was).
PS 26 Nov 2021: and what are the odds: international news boasts yet another good evolution in Tanzania: https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/cjnwl8q4qdrt/tanzania