Lost in Development: The Vanishing Sports and Cultural Heartbeats of Tanzania

TANZANIA: Remember when open spaces were bustling with life and energy, filled with childrens laughter and the thud of a chandimu being kicked around in neighbourhood soccer matches?

Ah, the memories…. Those were the days!

But those vibrant venues for community bonding and cultural expression are disappearing faster than a mirage in the desert.

The once lively playgrounds are now being flattened to make way for commercial developments, and the charm of childhood is being traded for profit – in the name of development.

The loud noise of bulldozers has drowned out the symphony of culture, leaving us with a social crisis that is no laughing matter. But wait, there is more!

Sports spaces are disappearing, and cultural venues are becoming as rare as unicorn sightings. Mind you, this is not a eulogy for our lost open spaces… but rather a call to action!

Let us rally together to preserve our cultural heritage and community spirit before its too late.

If we don’t, we might find ourselves living in a world where children don’t know the joy of playing in a local field and artists perform in isolation, disconnected from the pulse of the public.

Let us ensure that future generations can enjoy the same vibrant community spaces that we once did, and let us do it with a smile and a rag ball at our feet!

By presenting this issue, I also aim to highlight the gravity of the situation so that we can galvanise shared belief and propel corrective action by the powers that be.

Can you imagine a scenario in which a child with athletic potential won’t have a local playground to train in? Or don’t aspiring artists need platforms to showcase their talent and charm the locals?

This is not a hypothetical situation anymore. This is serious food for thought!

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A closer look reveals that sports spaces are not the only ones affected. Cultural venues, once prominent at every corner, are now scarce. Remember the good old days when Muungano, Magereza, Jeshi, JKT, Kibisa, and other cultural troupes were everyday names, and their performances were an anticipated event on the social calendar?

With the younger generations gravitating more towards the modern beats of Bongo Flava, are we passively endorsing the sidelining of our historical riches?

It is heart-wrenching to see how the story has turned.  But here is the crux of the matter. The question that demands our attention is more than just the lack of open spaces for sports and culture. It is the change in
our perception as a society.

Are we moving so fast towards modernity that we are leaving behind the foundation upon which we built our identity? If our kids don’t play in the diminishing open spaces, how will they imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship and teamwork? Suppose our artists perform outside of community gatherings. How will they
understand the pulse of the public for whom they create? Aren’t these the crucial lessons we learnt in our local playgrounds and cultural venues as children—the values that shaped our character and communities?

Let us not allow the promises of commercialisation to overshadow the needs of
our society.

The Mnazi Mmoja Garden in Dar es salaam is a prime example of a cultural venue that is a victim. Entering the Mnazi Mmoja Garden, remember that you are not merely stepping into a place but a living narrative.

This urban oasis, often referred to by its dual name, once served as an escape where residents and visitors immersed themselves in the harmonious blend of nature, culture, and history.

Indeed, Mnazi Mmoja Gardens carries a legacy deeply intertwined with Tanzanian history. However, the significance ends there.

Start with the Uhuru Torch Monument, towering prominently in the middle, where a solitary coconut tree once stood, giving it its Swahili name, “Mnazi Mmoja,” meaning “one coconut tree.”

But alas! this historical monument, which later became the venue for the National Heroes Day, is today inaccessible to the very public it was aimed to inspire.

Oddly, even after the Heroes Day commemorations were relocated to Dodoma, the gardens entire middle and South end are off-limits, rendering its historical and cultural significance inaccessible.

Gates remain locked daily, raising questions and puzzlement. This contradiction, set against the park’s purpose as a public space, presents a perplexing image.

Furthermore, the compromised state of the park highlights the discrepancy between the garden’s potential and its reality.

While initially designed as a green haven offering respite from urban chaos, the parks North end has been converted into a site for celebratory events.

Exhibition booths and tents take over, with people and vehicles trampling the delicate greenery during official functions.

As if there needed to be more, an ill-conceived stand facing East exposing VIPs to the blazing sun, the odd choice contrasting with the well-placed and professionally built open-air theatre at the garden’s South end.

The South End Stand was once one of the city’s best cultural venues.

Now a white elephant!

Look at it this way: you, the everyday Dar es Salaamite. Can you recall the last time you had a vibrant, community-based gathering at the Mnazi Mmoja Garden?

Some things need to be added up, don’t they? From its inception, the garden was meant to be a place of unity, a symbol of collective resilience against colonial rule.

Today, it lies in disrepair, with the rich history it is supposed to represent barely reachable, let alone recognisable.
The situation begs the question: How does such a symbol of liberation and unity like Mnazi Mmoja garden become so uninviting?

Imagine coming to a place you once revered and revered back, filled with laughter, cheering, and cultural echoes, to find it silent and distant. Isn’t it an uncanny paradox that a place synonymous with liberation and unity
now seems devoid of these emblematic traits?

A place where vibrant tales of cultural unity were spun is now threaded with the quiet lull of disuse and neglect.
The palpable sense of anticipation that once existed has been replaced by disenchantment. It is like visiting an old friend only to find a stranger.

Elsewhere, places like Vijana and Mango Garden venues at Kinondoni that were once famous for cultural events have since been demolished, rumoured to give way to a commercial complex.

The nearby Biafra open space, once a vibrant playground, has now been turned into a makeshift garage and parking lot for buses for hire. That is not to mention the OROFEAS (welfare centres) that once dotted every district throughout the country….In Dar es Salaam, there were DDC halls in Kariakoo, Keko, and Magomeni Kondoa.

They are either dead or have had their uses changed. The fight for open spaces and cultural venues is for more than just sportspersons or artists.

It is for all of us—the bystanders, spectators, and citizens who believe in the power of a robust and harmonious community. Jamani, let us stand together in this shared vision for the sake of our future generations.

Ask the older generation, and they can recount how they watched local boys play chandimu, eagerly heading toward their destinies as future Tanzanian stars. Jog their memories a little, and you might also hear stories of time-honoured cultural troupes setting the stage alight with their performances.

It is time we turn the spotlight back on our cultural arenas and revive our heritage.  Or do we sit idle and watch the rich cultural tapestry we have painstakingly woven over decades unravel thread by thread? Or do we renew our commitment to preserving and celebrating our culture and heritage? Public sentiment towards the transformation of open spaces in Tanzania is mainly negative.

The transformation of these spaces into commercial areas has left many feeling disconnected and alienated from their communities.

Many feel that the government needs to take action to protect and preserve these open spaces for public use.
The choice is ours, and the clock is ticking.

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