Tanzanian writer: Godfrey Mwakikagile


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About the Author

GODFREY MWAKIKAGILE has written many books about Africa, race relations, and international affairs. But his main interest is Africa. His books are found in many university libraries around the world, but are also read by members of the general public.

His background is not very much different from that of his contemporaries across Africa, born and brought up under colonial rule and in the euphoric sixties, Africa's decade of independence.

He was born on 4 October 1949 in Kigoma, Tanganyika, which became Tanzania in 1964 after uniting with Zanzibar. He spent his early childhood in Kigoma and Ujiji in western Tanganyika; in Morogoro which then was part of the Coast Province; and in Mbeya and Rungwe District in the Southern Highlands. His parents also lived in Kilosa in the Coast Province, and in Amani and Handeni in Tanga Province in northeastern Tanganyika.

His family lived in different parts of Tanganyika when his father worked in the 1940s and early 1950s as a medical assistant during British colonial rule, and at the Amani Institute which was founded by the German colonial rulers - who preceded the British - and became world-famous as a tropical research institute. His background, having lived in different parts of the country and gone to school with members of different tribes, helped shape his personality transcending tribal identity. Yet, his experience and upbringing is by no means unique. As he bluntly states:

"Had it not been for the astute and charismatic leadership of President Julius Nyerere, Tanzania wouldn't be what it is today as a nation of more than 120 different tribes living in relative peace and harmony on a continent torn by conflict. And that includes racial minorities, Tanzanians of Arab, Asian - mostly Indian - and European descent who consitute a significant number of the total population. He was able to fuse them into an organic entity, earning Tanzania the distinction - rare on a turbulent continent - of being one of the very few countries where tribalism and racism don't play a major role in life across the spectrum. Erudite yet humble, tolerant yet tough, he was a rare combination of humility and genius, wit and profound insight and foresight, compassion and integrity, with unparalleled commitment to the well-being of his people - especially the masses preyed upon by the vampire elite - and that of the entire continent. Tragically, he died when Africa needed him most. It was a blessing to have been led by him, and his ideals and exemplary leadership which inspired millions, will always remain an inspiration in my life. The world produces few such men, and women, in a span of centuries. His death was, indeed, a loss to mankind, from the most humble to the most exalted."

His achievements are acknowledged across the ideological spectrum. According to the conservative "Wall Street Journal": "He was a skillful nation builder. He fused Tanzania's 120 tribes into a cohesive state, preventing tribal conflicts plaguing so much of Africa. Above all, he proved that it is possible to forge a nation whereby vicissitudes of ethnic affiliation are banished from social and political life."

Such singular significance is equally acknowledged in glowing terms by fellow Africans. As South African journalist Mathatha Tsedu stated in "The Mercury," Durban, 5 October 1999, just nine days before Nyerere died:

"Dr. Nyerere and his government decreed that Kiswahili would be the official language of the country, with English running a poor second. The result has been a nation that speaks one language, and people who see themselves as Tanzanians and not members of tribal entities. In a region where tribalism has been so entrenched that when people speak they want to first identify one's tribal affiliation as in Kenya and Uganda and even as far as Nigeria, Tanzania stands as a different entity. And the penetration of this nationalism is wide."

It is an achievement probably no other leader on the continent can claim, especially when one considers the fact that Tanzania is one of only four countries which have more than 100 different tribes; the other three being the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) and Nigeria, each with more than 200, and Cameroon with 150. As Keith Richburg states in his book "Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa":

"One of my earliest trips was to Tanzania, and there I found a country that had actually managed to purge itself of the evil of tribalism. Under Julius Nyerere..., the government was able to imbue a true sense of nationalism that transcended the country's natural ethnic divisions, among other things by vigorous campaigns to upgrade education and to make Swahili a truly national language....Tanzania is one place that has succeeded in removing the linguistic barrier that separates so many of Africa's warring factions. But after three years traveling the continent, I've found that Tanzania is the exception, not the rule. In Africa..., it is all about tribes."

It is a realistic assessment of Tanzania's success in fusing the country's different ethnic groups into an organic whole, under the leadership of Mwalimu Nyerere. And as Mwakikagile says in what is partly an understatement: "We may not have conquered tribalism in Tanzania, but we have been able to contain it effectively. And that's no mean achievement; a rare feat on a continent where the idea of nation as a transcendent phenomenon in a polyethnic context remains a nebulous concept."

Despite its shortcomings in a number of areas, the one-party system also played a critical role in uniting Tanzania's different tribes and racial groups because it was inclusive, embracing everybody. It was essentially a national movement, not a political party, involving mass participation in the political process and in national development. Tribalism and racism were not tolerated, religious intolerance or any other form of bigotry was not tolerated; evils which, although only to a limited degree, have crept into national life and found "legitimate" expression since the introduction of multiparty politics in the early 1990s which exploits differences and thrives on partisanship. As Nyerere himself, after embracing multiparty politics in the early nineties, said, according to the "Sunday Independent," Johannesburg, October 17, 1999:

"I really think that I ran the most successful single-party system on the continent. You might not even call it a party. It was a single, huge nationalist movement....I don't believe that our country would be where it is now if we had a multiplicity of parties, which would have become tribal and caused us a lot of problems. But when you govern for such a long time, unless you are gods, you become corrupt and bureaucratic....So I started caling for a multiparty system."

And despite the failure of his socialist policies in the economic arena, there were notable achievements in other areas. As he told the World Bank:

"We took over a country with 85% of its adults illiterate. The British ruled us for 43 years. When they left, there were two trained engineers and 12 doctors. When I stepped down there was 91% literacy and nearly every child was at school. We trained thousands of engineers, doctors and teachers."

But he was also humble enough to admit mistakes he made especially in the economic arena, a rare concession among leaders, most of whom see such admission as a sign of weakness. And his quest for African unity and success in forging Tanzania's different tribes into a single political entity were among his most memorable achievements. As he said in an interview with "The New York Times" in 1996 in his home village of Butiama where he returned to live after voluntarily stepping down from the presidency in November 1985:

"I felt that these little countries in Africa were really too small, they would not be viable - the Tanganyikas, the Rwandas, the Burundis, the Kenyas. My ambition in East Africa was really never to build a Tanganyika. I wanted an East African federation. So what did I succeed in doing? My success is building a nation out of this collection of tribes."

Nyerere was so determined to build the federation that he offered to delay the independence of Tanganyika so that the three East African countries - Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika - would attain sovereign status on the same day as a collective entity in order to unite under one government. Unfortunately, the leaders in the other two countries did not reciprocate his feelings. Nationalist sentiments prevailed over this Pan-African ambition, and the federation was never consummated. However, Nyerere never gave up. In 1964, he engineered the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, the first such union of independent countries on the African continent. And he remained committed to the goal of African unity on a continental scale until his last days.

Inspired by such leadership, the author went on to pursue higher education; an opportunity he couldn't afford to miss, since it was available to everybody. Under Nyerere, education was free, from primary school to university level. Medical service was also free, all this in one of the 25 poorest countries in the world; a searing indictment against the elite resolutely opposed to policies pursued by President Nyerere to help the masses.

Pursuing higher education, the author attended Songea Secondary School in Ruvuma Region in southern Tanzania (1965 - 1968), and Tambaza High School (Form V and Form VI - standard 13 and standard 14) in the nation's capital Dar es Salaam from 1969 - 1970. These were some of the most significant years in his life. Growing up in the ideological ferment of the sixties when he was in his teens and Tanzania was undergoing radical transformation under the leadership of Nyerere, it was during this period that many of his ideas that were to shape his personality crystallized into a political creed inspired by the ideals of Nyerere and other Pan-Africanist leaders such as Nkrumah; the author discusses Nkrumah's concept of the African personality in one of his books, "Africa and the West," paying tribute to one of the most influential African leaders in the twentieth century, who also blazed the trail for the African independence movement when he led Ghana to become the first black African country to emerge from colonial rule.

It was also during this period that the author started working as a reporter of the nation's largest newspaper, "The Standard," in 1969 when he was still in high school in standard 13; the paper was renamed "Daily News" in 1970 when it was nationalized. President Nyerere became editor-in-chief. But his role was ceremonial rather than functional. He was no more than an embodiment - a highly symbolic role - of the ideals that guided the paper as a public institution, no longer owned and controlled by foreign interests. As the author says, President Nyerere played no executive role at the paper:

"After the paper was nationalized, Sammy Mdee was the editor when I worked there; in fact, he's the one who hired me full-time after I finished high school and completed National Service in 1971. After he left and became Tanzania's Director of Information Services at tne Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ben Mkapa became our editor, appointed by Mwalimu Nyerere, as Mdee was. Mkapa came from 'The Nationalist,' the ruling party's newspaper, where he served as editor. We were never under any censorship, or under any pressure to censure ourselves. We wrote many articles, and published many stories, highly critical of the government. Yet, all the time I was there, I was never told what to write, or what not to write. I even covered the president himself in some of my assignments, and felt no intimidation from anybody. President Nyerere's influence at the paper in terms of editorial content and direction was minimal, at best, although he was our editor-in-chief. His only influence on us, and that was barely perceptible, was in terms of the ideals he embodied and which inspired us just like they did any other Tanzanians."

Sammy Mdee later on became President Nyerere's press secretary. And a few years later, Ben (Benjamin) Mkapa became Tanzania's Minister of Foreign Affairs, among other ministerial appointments and other posts including one as amabssador to the United States; and finally president of Tanzania (1995 - 2005). Yet, as the author says, they did not in any way tell or try to influence reporters to write stories or articles favorable to the government, although it was President Nyerere who had appointed them to the post.

And it was with the same kind of freedom that the author left his job as a reporter under Ben Mkapa, and his country Tanzania, to go to school abroad. As he put it:

"I got the chance to attend school in the United States with the help of my editor, Ben Mkapa. I secured admission on my own, but he's the one who facilitated my travel. I would not have been able to do that without his help and approval, and some financial backing by our newspaper, the government-owned 'Daily News,' where I worked."

He left for the United States in 1972 where he attended and graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He also attended Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and lived there for a number of years after moving from Detroit.

He has written many books about Africa, but also about race relations in the United States. They include: "Economic Development in Africa"; "Africa and the West"; "The Modern African State: Quest for Transformation"; "Military Coups in West Africa since the Sixties"; "Army Rule in East and Central Africa"; "Africa after Independence: Realities of Nationhood"; "Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria"; "Quest for Peace and Stability in Africa: Are Colonial Boundaries Outmoded?"; "The Angolan Civil War: Its Cold War Origins and Ethnic Dimensions"; "Civil Wars in Rwanda and Burundi: Conflict Resolution in Africa"; "The Black Conservative Phenomenon in Contemporary America: Contending Ideologies: Conservatism versus Liberalism"; "Conservatives and Black America"; "Resistance to Racial Equality: Limited Integration as a Viable Option for Black America." And his forthcoming books include "Africa since the Sixties, Algeria to Zimbabwe: A Political History"; "Africa at the End of the Twentieth Century"; and "Regional Integration in Africa."

The author sees no future - none whatsoever - for African countries unless they integrate their economies at the macronational level, institute a common market and a common currency, establish regional defence forces, and form a political union on regional or continental basis, even if such a union is a confederation, short of federation. And he remains committed to the same Pan-African ideology, as reflected in his writings in which he tackles subjects whose significance is continental in scope.

It is a commitment that was fortified when he attended school in Detroit where he shared ideological affinity with members of the Pan-African Congress-USA - an organization founded by African-Americans and based in that city - who played a major role in his first years in the United States under their sponsorship; he further discusses their ideological position in one of his forthcoming books, "Conservatives and Black America" (Nova Science Publishers). It is an affinity that has endured through the years, clearly evident in his books about black America which, in a Pan-African context, constitutes an integral part of the African world; a position he and his ideological compatriots forcefully articulate.

Besides his interest in Africa, he also writes about international affairs from a Third World perspective, and all the books he has written about Africa tackle themes of international significance. They include "The Angolan Civil War: Its Cold War Origins and Ethnic Dimensions."

And as he states in one of his books, "The Modern African State: Quest for Transformation":

"I must...express deep gratitude to Africa in a very special way for inspiring this study. She has inspired me in a way nobody else could have. Her trials and tribulations, successes and failures, will always serve as a challenge and an inspiration in my life, which I hope will end in Africa for me to be buried in my native land."