There’s the emergent Tanganyikanist lobby that’s not at all keen for this casual inaccuracy to be tolerated. In response to this gripe, Unionist diplomats — mostly the media and the central government — have adopted the compromise term “Mainland Tanzania” to signify Tanganyika. A wonderfully timed clove-scented neutrality has been breezing in from the Isles, though there have been subtle nudges here and there in the quiet back alleyways of social media where the topic of Zanzibari autonomy is being tested.
The semantic hair-splitting about Tanganyika/Tanzania is extremely informative and also very familiar. If you put two Tanzanians in a debate you’ll end up with five fiercely held opinions and no easy consensus, especially when you touch on issues of nationalism and identity. Because we are a modern state with a seriously broad spectrum of identities to accommodate, this is only as it should be. One of the most ridiculous projects that the government has wasted its time on recently has been the pursuit of an official national costume. Simply untenable in Tanzania: Where would you begin?
This reveals something about Tanzania that might be worth keeping in mind with regard to the East African Community. Last week’s edition of The EastAfrican focused on Tanzania’s recent misbehaviour with regard to the EAC, a sort of wilful recalcitrance that is becoming harder and harder to conceal or excuse. In some instances, Tanzania isn’t even bothering to fake acquiescence; we are officially not keen to help Kenya “contain” Al Shabaab in Somalia. I particularly enjoyed the Minister for East African Co-operation Samuel Sitta’s final remark as quoted in this paper last week: “We would like to see the already signed protocols benefit our people before rushing into other stages. What are we rushing for?” (READ: Tanzania skips meetings, leaves EAC worried)
Maybe the more accurate question to ask would be: Who is rushing? The last time that Tanzanians were asked their opinion on fast-tracking the EAC in general and on political federation in particular by the Wangwe Commission, the answer was a very clear: No, thank you. Unsurprisingly, the powers that be interpreted this as “Well, what do the people know anyway,” and so the EAC project continues apace. This isn’t unusual: Coercion is how we built our modern nation states. We have coerced Tanzanians through every stage from the Union with Zanzibar, through to socialism, IMF-driven liberalisation, contentious election results the list goes on. It isn’t surprising that a supranational project like the EAC would adopt the fine tradition of ignoring misgivings that it does not want to hear.
Times have changed and we’ve embraced the democratic idea that our opinions should and do matter. At least two generations of Africans have grown up in relatively intact countries and developed national identities. In fact, sub-national identity politics are re-emerging as we start to question our arrangements. Tanzanians are currently negotiating a number of Whys that we are trying to answer: Why this party, why this Union, why is electricity a problem after all these years, why is the cost of living going up?
When it comes to the EAC project, the Why question hasn’t been answered to the satisfaction of the majority of Tanzanians, including those who hold public office. Adding layers of complexity by entering into a group marriage with our lovely neighbours seems just that one coercive collectivisation too far at this point in time.
The Pan African dream is far from dead. If in the past its appeal was a moral and ideological one, in this day and age business, profit and other forms of self-interest are the driving force. There are many Tanzanians who are pro-EAC and vocally so, although even they will admit away from the microphones that fast-tracking certain aspects of the five-state-relationship is premature.
If we’re still griping about whether our current Union is desirable and whether Tanzania or Tanganyika is celebrating 50 years of Independence, take a moment to imagine just how contentious the political federation discussion is going to be.
Tanzania is the only country in the neighbourhood that has experience in state partnerships, however the Union may have come about. If we express some reservations about the pace at which things are going, it is not to anyone’s advantage to dismiss this as ignorance or fear alone. You can catch more Tanzanians with honey than with vinegar.
*Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report.