By Wale Okediran
The Africa Night dinner and dance at the residence of the Vice Chancellor, University of Dar es Salaam was in top gear as scholars, students, diplomats and other guests tucked into the barbecued chicken, potatoes, plantain and fish dinner amidst clinking of wine glasses. Laughter, light hearted jokes and merriment rent the air, to the background of melodious music under the June starry night. And, as the DJ later changed the disc to a popular music by P Square, an electrifying mood suddenly enveloped the night as some of the students at the function immediately took to the dance floor.
Minutes later, lured by the insistent rumble of the percussions and sonorous voice, I soon found myself on the dance floor, much to the students’ delight. Before long, music, arguably the highest form of art, broke all kinds of barriers as scholars and students, diplomats and politicians, youngsters and the elderly danced the night away. It was a befitting end to the three-day Mwalimu Nyerere Intellectual Festival in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam, the ninth in the series.
I had come to Tanzania, on the invitation of the conference organisers to present a paper on the conference theme “The Politician in the Rise and Fall of Africa”. The three-day dialogue was expected to explore the quality and nature of politicians in Africa, as well as the challenges this category of leaders are facing in the execution of their duties, among other issues. The discourse was also expected to determine how the politician in Africa had contributed to the development or underdevelopment of African countries.
And so for three good days the conference was awash with erudite presentations from a diverse array of speakers made up of political scientists, human rights activists, gender experts, as well as former and serving Members of Parliaments. Speaker after speaker paid glowing tributes to the first Tanzanian President and the father of the Tanzanian nation, Julius Nyerere to whom the conference was dedicated. Expectedly, the politician was at the receiving end most of the time with many paper presenters inundating the audience with gory and unsavoury political scenarios allegedly perpetuated by African politicians as if the people themselves were innocent bystanders. It was, indeed, a difficult time to be referred to as a politician, and one of my Tanzanian friends jokingly advised me not to introduce myself as a politician but as a writer and physician! Luckily, the audience seemed to agree with the focus of my presentation which was that politics was too important to be left alone in the hands of politicians, as such, the people have to be more responsive and responsible to politics and politicians.
A major highlight of the conference was Prof Patrick Lumumba’s highly entertaining and provocative paper “A Call for Hygiene in African Politics”. And, unlike many conferences where the attendance and quality usually nose-dive after the first day, the conference organisers deserve to be commended for packaging the conference in such a way that attendance, tempo and high quality were maintained throughout its three-day duration.
Dar es Salaam, with a population of 4.36million, is the commercial capital and largest city in Tanzania. It is situated in the east coast of the Indian Ocean. The original name of the city, I was told was Mzizima (tremble due to cold); but the city was renamed by its early Arab settlers as Dar es Salaam, “The City of Peace”. Although with about the same land size with Nigeria, Tanzania, with just a population of about 56.9million people is considered to be a generally laid back country without the hustle and bustle of Nigeria. A peaceful country with friendly people and well organised transport, health and educational systems, Tanzania, without the glamour and sophistication of Nigeria, is like the black and white photographic version of its African brother state.
With an exchange rate of about 2,200 Tanzanian shillings to a dollar, the cost of house rent in local currency is quite expensive. However, other daily needs, such as food and transport, are not that exorbitant. For a 30-minute ride in the Bajaj, the Tanzanian tricycle, which is the local equivalent of Nigeria’s “Keke”, I paid about 500 shillings, while a ride for the same period of time in the “Dala Dala”, the Tanzanian equivalent of Nigeria’s “Molue”, was considerably less.
As is my usual practice when visiting a foreign country, on the first week of my arrival in Tanzania, I paid a courtesy visit to the Nigerian Embassy located at No 13 Haile Selassie Road, Oysterbay by Collassium Hotel. On hand to receive me were Ambassador Salisu Umaru and his wonderful staff made up of five seasoned diplomats and three defence advisers. In his welcome remarks, Ambassador Umaru expressed his delight at my visit and promised to send a representative of the embassy to the conference. After heaping praises on the host country for what he called Tanzania’s love for peace, stability and good leadership, the ambassador observed that there were only 500 Nigerians made up of university lecturers and traders in the country.
He also observed that most of the visa requirements from Tanzanians were for pilgrimage to Pastor T B Joshua’s Synagogue in Lagos. I was later taken on an official tour of the highly impressive embassy building, as well as the official residences of the embassy staff which were clustered around the embassy building. I was made to understand that the official residencies, as well as the embassy building, were fully owned by the Nigerian government. In view of the very high cost of rent in the city, Nigeria is said to be the only West African country with a fully functional embassy in the country.
I later went on a tour of Dar es Salaam, beginning with the National Museum, which was established in 1940. At the entrance to the museum was a cubicle containing an array of twisted and burnt steel materials. Above the cubicle was an inscription: IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO DIED ON THE 7TH AUGUST 1998 BOMBING INCIDENT AT THE US EMBASSY IN DAR ES SALAAM. My guide informed me that the twelve people, who died during the bombing incident, were all Tanzanians who were visiting the embassy at the time. Other artefacts and historical pictures in the museum included evidence of the Majimaji war of 1905-1907, beds and gates from Kilwa from 1760, as well as the photograph of Dr Richard Hiddorf, who established Sisal cultivation in East Africa.
Also included was a very massive bed that was said to have belonged to a former Sheikh of Dar es Salaam. The bed was so big that the Sheikh was said to have needed the support of a slave to climb it. There were also photographs depicting the killing of many Zimbabweans through hanging as the evidence to the resistance to the German rule of the 1700s, the war against Uganda between 1977-1979, as well as those about the country’s struggle for independence in 1961/62. Also in the museum was the stuffed version of the lion that was presented to former President Julius Nyerere on his retirement from office in 1985.