Why we are celebrating our Independence Day Anniversaries with military parades

IN one of his vast array published writings, a Tanzanian intellectual giant and prolific writer currently based in Canada, whose name is Kwazi Mhango, dramatically drew his readers’ attention to a matter which he described as “Africa’s need to decolonize and detoxify our land and symbols”. 

He was urging African countries, including Tanzania, to take steps “to do away with colonial carryovers and garbage”; and mentioned some familiar place names like Stigler’s Gorge, Bismark Rock, and a few others.

My article today, is related to one such ‘carryovers’, namely the practice of celebrating our independence day anniversaries with the pomp of military parades. 

Mine is primarily a historical piece, which is intended to shed some light on the question why we have always conducted our Independence Day anniversary celebrations principally with military parades. 

Now, could this be part of the said “colonial carryovers and baggage” which my friend, comrade Nkwazi is urging us to do away with? It is presumably common knowledge, that we inherited many other things from the British at the time of independence; including, for example, the Westminster Parliamentary system; and the culture of using English as the language of communication in all our Institutions of higher learning; and, of course, the place names cited above by Nkwazi. 

My submission is that the use of military parades for celebrating important national events, such as Tanzania Mainland’s independence anniversary on 9th December, and that of the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar on 26th April, belong to this category of inherited British traditions. 

President Magufuli cancels this year’s military parade

My article of last week in this column, was devoted to a discussion of President Magufuli’s decision to cancel the usual entertainment events, (which have traditionally consisted only of pompous military parades and other demonstrations, being displayed at the national stadium in Dar es Salaam). 

It has been said that “old habits, or traditions die hard”. That saying means that habits and traditions, once acquired, tend to change very slowly, if at all. 

The truth of this saying is easily proved by this ‘military parades’ tradition of celebrating our independence day, on 9th of December of every year. 

Indeed, as next Sunday falls on 9th December, 2018; had it not been for President Magufuli’s timely intervention to cancel those British-based traditional events, many of us would have assembled at the national stadium this Sunday to watch these traditional military displays. 

But now that we have been saved from that pleasant obligation, our younger generation readers may as well spend that day reading this article, which has been deliberately crafted in order to enable them to travel ‘down memory lane’ to what happened on independence day itself fifty seven years ago; namely, on 9th December 1961, when many of them had not even been born!

The importance of history

There is no doubt that the events surrounding the actual Independence Day, constitute an essential component of our country’s political history. 

And this now reminds me of a most relevant statement which was made by one Ian MacLeod, that British politician who, in his capacity as ‘Secretary of State for the Colonies and dependent Territories” in the British Government at the time, chaired the historic March 1961 ‘Tanganyika Constitutional conference’ which was held in Dar es Salaam; and which finally determined that Tanganyika’s independence would be achieved in December 1961. 

After his return to London after the conclusion of that conference, Ian MacLeod was quoted by the British newspaper, The Observer, of 16th July 1961; as having said the following: “History is too serious to be left to historians alone”. He was referring to the achievements of that Dar es Salaam conference, which he said ‘had made history’; and proudly described himself as having been an active participant in the making of that history. 

It is in the light of that positive reminder by Ian MacLeod , that I am presenting this particular piece, for the principal purpose of explaining the historical circumstances in which this tradition (of using military parades to celebrate our independence day anniversaries), actually originated . 

The role of TANU in the independence celebrations

On its part, the Tanganyika African national Union (TANU) had gone to great lengths to mobilize the people of Tanganyika, to make all necessary preparations for a ‘befitting and most appropriate’ celebration of this historic event of their country’s attainment of independence. 

And indeed, by all accounts, it was a historic event in every sense of the word. As Mwalimu Nyerere himself succinctly put it in his independence day message to all TANU members: “This day has dawned because the people of Tanganyika have worked together in unity, and with great individual enterprise and initiative solely for this one purpose, namely the attainment of Uhuru . . .I am sure that every one of us will celebrate independence day with great joy, because we are celebrating a victory”. 

And so it truly was, for practically everyone, including the majority peasants in the rural villages, as well as other Tanganyika men and women wherever they were, promptly organized their own celebrations, generally consisting of food and drink, and other merry making activities. These were truly national celebrations, in which everyone actively and joyfully participated. 

Independence celebrations at the national level

At the national level, things were totally different, just because the celebrations at that level were organized and managed by a high level committee of British civil servants, who were at that time serving in the Tanganyika Civil Service. 

The Chairman of that Committee was borrowed from the British Government in London, reportedly because of his acknowledged ‘vast experience’ in organizing such celebrations; having already organized the independence celebrations of Ghana in 1957; and of Nigeria in 1960. 

But, influenced by his ‘native’ British orientation and inclinations, he generally designed these celebrations to take the form of glittering military parades and displays. 

Thus, in the particular case of Tanganyika’s independence celebrations, the proceedings at the national level began with what is known as a “tattoo”. In the military context, a ‘tattoo’ means ‘an outdoor show mounted by members of the armed forces, that includes marching, music, and military exercises’. 

This particular ‘Independence celebration tattoo’ was held at the newly completed national stadium in Dar es Salaam on the evening of 8th December, 1961. 

It was later followed, at precisely midnight, by the ceremonial lowering of the British flag, the Union Jack; and the simultaneous raising of the Tanganyika flag, amidst deafening applause from the huge multitude of about 75,000 joyful people who were assembled there who, luckily enough, included me. 

Here was the genesis of military parades

That evening ‘tattoo’, is apparently what established the tradition of military parades at our independence day anniversary celebrations , which has continued to dominate all such celebrations throughout the years. This indeed confirms the above quoted saying, that “old habits and traditions die hard”. 

The majority of us went back to the national stadium the next day, to witness the ceremonial handing over of the ‘Instruments of independence’ to Prime Minister Nyerere by Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh; whereat we listened to Mwalimu Nyerere’s brief speech, in which he said the following:- “This is the day for which we have waited for so long. It is the day when every Tanganyikan can proudly say: ‘I am a citizen of an independent sovereign state’. 

However, Joyful though this moment is, we are fully aware that it is a moment loaded with heavy responsibilities, which will clearly be difficult enough for us to discharge. 

For, in a country such as ours, the struggle to raise the standards of living of our people, and to uplift our economy, will obviously be severe. But however severe the struggle may be, it will be waged with all the confidence, determination and resolve, that will inspire our new nation. May the Almighty God guide us all, so that our country moves forward in happiness and prosperity, and in fellowship with the other nations of the world”. 

Mourning the loss of peoples’ participation in these independence celebrations

We have described earlier above, the widespread activities of jubilation which took place throughout the country in celebrating independence day itself, on and around the 9th day of December, 1961. Sadly however, this ‘mass participation’ by all the people, which had been facilitated by TANU’s active mobilization of those people for that purpose, has now completely disappeared. 

The ruling party appears to have abandoned that precious role, and completely surrendered the responsibility for organizing our independence anniversary celebrations to the Government, with the result that these celebrations have now been confined to the seat of Government in Dar es Salaam alone; with the majority of the people countrywide being reduced to mere spectators, who participate only by listening to, or watching these ‘entertainments’ on radio or television. 

There could be many reasons for this decline in interest in the independence event. An obvious one is that the general excitement for the fact itself of achieving independence, has naturally, and understandably, just faded away. 

The mood of excitement and joy that normally surrounds the occurrence of event itself, cannot possibly be sustained at the same or similar level forever. 

Thus, at the present time, the fact itself of the country having achieved independence, remains only to be observed as a historical fact, but it can no longer arouse the same level of excitement as it did at the time when it actually occurred in December 1961. 

Another plausible reason, is that the role itself of political parties has been inevitably changed, by the changing political environment and circumstances; which have re-designed the role of political parties by limiting their role largely to election functions only, thus effectively turning them into mere “electoral organizations”. 

Included in the list of things that we inherited at the time of independence, is our inheritance of the British concepts of “a political party and its legitimate functions”; according to which, a political party is primarily an electoral organization, its main functions being limited to stimulating popular interest and participation in electoral politics; that is to say, to select candidates for election to political offices, and to campaign on their behalf. 

But after the elections are over, the ruling party’s role becomes only that of providing organized support for the Government; while that of the opposition parties in Parliament, becomes only that of providing organized opposition to the Government of the day. 

One significant characteristic of the British Party system which we inherited, is that for the ruling party, its function of controlling its Government is exclusively vested in its Parliamentary Party caucus; and not in the party organs outside Parliament, not even its all- powerful National Executive Committee. 

In practice therefore, the party organs outside Parliament, are effectively ‘put into abeyance’, during periods when there are no scheduled election activities taking place. 

Thus, presumably as a result of these role changes, it so happened, perhaps unconsciously, that in the course of time not long after independence, TANU itself abandoned that role of mobilizing people to actively participate in the independence day anniversary celebrations, or even of the party itself organizing some celebration events that would attract the participation of all the people in their residential locations or neighbourhoods. 

And that ‘role abandonment’ by TANU was, apparently, inherited by its successor CCM, which also left the business of organizing the independence anniversary celebrations, entirely to the Government, which, in turn, almost as a reflex action, continued the British tradition of military parades, or tattoos.


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