Uhuru! Freedom! For Tanzanians, as for all other Africans, this phrase evokes a strong sense of national pride, a triumph of justice over unjust, exploitative rule. However, for the majority of us, this feeling is a reconstruction of what we have gleaned from History textbooks in school and TV programs aired on the 9th of December every year. What then does Freedom mean to today's Tanzanian youth? Freedom, as it should be and has always been, remains a fight against the injustices that plague our society. These injustices have evolved over the last 50 years, from colonial rule to contemporary problems faced by all Tanzanians.
If one was to ask the simple question, "What is wrong with Tanzania?" the first answer would undoubtedly be "Poverty". We constantly find Tanzania near the bottom of the list of countries ranked by GDP per capita and an overwhelming majority of the country survives with under $2 a day. And poverty comes with its own host of problems such as dismal health and education levels in the country.
The second problem which any Tanzanian will brandish without hesitation is "an inefficient corrupt government". Despite the abundant natural wealth and the peace which our country is blessed with, Tanzania remains one of the largest recipients of developmental foreign aid in the world (some sources place it just behind Iraq and Afghanistan!). Stories about corruption, some at the highest echelons of government offices, are commonplace. Millions of dollars are squandered on ill-thought, sometimes plain illegal, government policies and contracts.
The next natural question that we should ask ourselves, since the answers to the first question are so clear, is "How can we, the youth, correct what is wrong with Tanzania, and thus protect our Freedoms?" Combating poverty, in theory, is straightforward. Raise incomes by creating well-paying jobs in diverse sectors and ensure these sectors are staffed with locals who have received quality education and/or trained to acquire the useful skills.
The problem of corrupt government can be tackled by changing the attitudes and practices of the government from one that is self-interested and protective (and here I dont imply that everyone who is in government behaves this way!) to one that is more accountable and concerned for the citizens to not only achieve re-election, but out of a sense of civic duty and national pride in wanting all Tanzanians to prosper. Now this is where we come in. Tanzania is a young country and by young I mean close to half the population of is under 15 years of age. If one was to consider the number of people under the age of 25 years that number would undoubtedly be somewhere around three-quarters of the 40-odd million citizens. The power of that, by sheer numbers alone, is immense. Compound that with the recent proliferation of education (however modest) and technology such as the internet which the youth are more adept at using, you have a force that can seriously challenge the deeply entrenched culture within political spheres. Any government should strive to be more accountable, receptive to criticisms and willing to address concerns of its electorate. But this is only half the story, we the governed make up the other half of this equation. And as equal partners, we must strive to be more knowledgeable and involved in the running of our country. The onus is on everyone, but especially the youth, as we have more to gain (and also lose!) from the fruits of an improved Tanzania.
With this blog I hope we can discuss and debate some youth-driven initiatives that can lead to a better Tanzania for us all.
More to come.. I promise you that!