* Julius Kambarage Nyerere also referred to as Baba wa Taifa (Father of the Nation) was Tanzania’s first president. He died on 14 October 1999, aged 77. Today Tanzanians commemorate 15 years since the death of the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. I have decided to honour this day through a letter.
14 October 2014
Dear Mwalimu Nyerere (RIP),
Where can I begin? Memories of you are both vivid and vague.
It feels like yesterday, whereby I sat on a mkeka, legs forward ready to match away from the skilled fingers of my niece, attempting to put order on my head in a form of mabutu ya uzi knots. Meanwhile, helicopters hovered above us conducting important drills to fight Idi Amin against invading us. Strange enough, we were not scared. It was as if we knew Baba wa Taifa would protect us from the evil invasion.
I was not yet born when you made your famous independence speech. Nevertheless, I am lucky to have my mother around, who tells me of how you honoured women rights in that speech. It surprised me to know that, you from that long ago, understood women are important in the process of peace making, knowing how patriarchal system plays a role to date in influencing the development of gender relation in our society. She also tells me of a day in the early 1960s, when English news broadcast from TBC changed her life – secondary school fees was abolished. Finally, girls and the poor received priority to attend school too. She graduated to become a secondary school mwalimu like you.
It feels so long ago, when we had that big factory Tangold, a fruit processing plant in Korogwe, making our favourite juices and jams from the local produces. Shops were full of affordable goodies: Tanbond ghee, beef sausages, dairy cheese, etc. Brown bread is now a rare treasure shipped from Tanga. We wore Bora shoes with pride. Nowadays, anything imported is highly regarded fashion. Water was ample in our taps. We didn’t have to buy it for cooking. Our local railway station functioned. I recall happily journeying on a train from Korogwe to Moshi for a Christmas visit. Students and civil servants were granted free travel warrant. My mother tells me of a public transport system known as ‘Cent Car’. It offered short train trips at a price less than a shilling to facilitate transportation of the locals. They were frequent too: minutes apart. Anyone who did not own a private car frequented them, including farmers to their crop selling destinations.
Then you stepped down peacefully and voluntarily, something I took for granted to be the norm. Now the verdict of a leader lies on the elections. We are considering remote electronic voting. I wonder how to explain this notion to a citizen who has never owned even a phone.
See, you are a vivid dream yet a distant one. Things have changed since you left us except for the slogan Zidumu fikra za Mwalimu!
A hopeful observer
©Gloria D. Gonsalves