To all outward appearances, Ujamaa is dead and buried. But what system are we replacing it with? In America the bastion of capitalism, the top 4 percent of the population own 80 percent of wealth while the majorities - over 80 percent of Americans - share the remaining 20 percent. The situation is similar in other developed economies.
Is this the system we want for Tanzania? Children from wealthy families attend the best schools; get plum jobs through old friends’ network of parents who receive five-star medical care at the most prestigious health institutions wealth can buy? Maybe. At the time of the Arusha declaration on Ujamaa, most Tanzanians were poor and generally illiterate. Secondary education was a luxury.
Fewer than 50 percent of eligible children completed primary education. Many senior jobs were held by expats. Despite strong national efforts and the vision of Mwalimu Nyerere on education and self-reliance, Tanzania did not achieve self-sufficiency in local expertise by the target date of December 1980.
In the 70s, you could recite the names of secondary schools by province from memory. The lone university of Dar es Salaam hardly produced enough engineers to fill vacancies in Tanesco and the works department. A form IV leaver could easily land direct employment. Those who completed form VI were the ‘wasomi’ of the day. University graduates became managers at first appointment.
This land was beautiful. Shinyanga, Dodoma and Arusha provinces were still green even if some parts were grassland dotted with shrubs and acacia trees. Large area between Kilimanjaro and Arusha was teeming with wildlife. Antelopes, gazelles, zebras and giraffes freely grazed near the main road between Sanya Juu and Usa River.
Small streams flowed everywhere from Isimani, Urambo, Kiteto to Masasi and Kihurio. Thick forests in this blessed land of Ngorongoro Crater and Oldoinyo Lengai resembled the Amazon. Birds, insects and various animals abounded from Namanga to Manga Tanga and Kilosa to Katavi.
I travelled from Moshi to Iringa, Nachingwea, Songea, Mwanza and Mtwara in the 70s. Every hill and valley had trees I had yet to learn in biology. During the rainy season, river Ruaha meandering below Iringa town created so many oxbow lakes the whole Mkwawa high school could be lost there for days while studying physical geography and botany.
Large scale irrigated farms that capable of diverting so much water to make rivers such as the Ruaha dry were unheard of. Fish were plentiful in Pangani, Ruvu, Kilombero, Rufiji and Kagera rivers but malnutrition was common in children in surrounding districts.
Many rivers and tributaries from Usambara, Udzungwa, Uluguru and Usangu that had clean water flowing throughout the year have all but dried nowadays.
In three decades residents have managed to harvest most of the trees for timber, firewood and clear forests for agriculture. Only a fraction of trees felled have been replaced. Reforestation efforts have been half-hearted and scattered. Pastoralist tribes like the Maasai, Wasukuma or the Kurya did not have to move their herds to graze in a distant province. Cattle owners counted their wealth in numbers of cattle or lamb and wives those animals could fetch.
Provinces with large herds of cattle such as Shinyanga, Arusha, Dodoma and Singida have been heading steadily towards desertification. Many Sukuma and Maasai pastoralists have chosen to migrate southwards in search of water and grass.
Clashes between farmers and pastoralists in Morogoro, Tanga, Mbeya to name a few provinces have increased because migrating pastoralists invade farmland used for crop production.
Cattle keepers in Tanzania or anywhere else for that matter are not famous for planting trees and preserving the environment.
The presence of large cattle herds in the Usangu basin is a major reason for the drying of the Ruaha river and inability to fill Mtera dam for electricity generation. Defiant pastoralists invade national parks and wildlife areas such as Katavi, Biharamulo and the endless plains of the Serengeti.
Are we going to allow pastoralists and a few large scale farmers in mainland Tanzania to suck key rivers dry when they do precious little to conserve our environment? The contribution of large-scale plantations and livestock to the economy is important but pales in comparison to the cost of prolonged electricity blackouts.
Tanzania should consider banning irrigation farming and grazing of cattle in the Usangu basin and similar areas. We can use the police and army to enforce such ban if necessary. The Ruaha and other national parks could disappear in the future with dire consequences on tourism. Sometimes we have to be nasty in order to be nice.
Even though primary education is still free nowadays, parents are asked to make many contributions thus making public schools look more like private institutions. Fees in public secondary schools are modest but the things parents pay for from own pockets run into many thousands of shillings. Many ordinary parents have to beg and borrow just to meet minimum obligations for their children. For a family surviving on a dollar a day per person, a hundred thousand shillings for school fees for a girl in the family is not chicken feed. Some pupils will fall through the proverbial cracks.
Parliamentarians, ministers, directors and managers who decided and support cost-sharing in education, health and other sectors are probably wealthy folks who may have forgotten where the shoe pinches for poor Tanzanians in towns and villages.
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