Life is like riding a bicycle
To keep your balance
You must keep moving

Albert Einstein

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A SIMPLE, TERSE LETTER, NOTHING MORE. Yet, it packs the power of a swift lightening strike that turns my life upside down. These are the end days of March 1974. A hectic period of marking final exams has ended. Farida is seven months pregnant. It is high time we prepare to welcome a new being into our home. I have plans for the long vacation: two research projects and a pile of readings. Also, the applications for my doctoral study program have to be sent off.

The letter comes from the Chief Administrative Officer. I look at it in disbelief: It proclaims I have been, as is commonly said, ‘decentralized.’

In the past two years, the government has unrolled a new regional administration system. In theory, it is the implementation of the Mwongozo for the rural population, a novel mechanism to give power to the people. Paradoxically, it has been constructed for Tanzania with the expertise of the Mckinsey Corporation, a global American consultancy firm that facilitates the smooth operations of the international capitalist order.

Under this system, development of hitherto stagnant rural areas will be stimulated by regional and district development directors, each with a sizable technical staff. It will be coordinated by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in Dar es Salaam. Many civil servants, technical personnel and officers of para-statal organization have been recruited into this burgeoning system.

The letter in my hand says that the PMO has posted me to be a Planning Officer in the office of the Regional Planning Office (RPO) of Rukwa Region. My job location is Sumbawanga, the regional capital. And I have one week to report at my post. With a word of congratulations, it requests me to contact the appropriate university offices to process the terminal benefits, if any, that are due to me.

Minutes later, Dr David Cappitt, the Head of Mathematics, walks into my office. He also has a copy of the ominous letter.

What is the meaning of this, Karim?

I have no idea, I am as surprised as you are.

He feels for me, and does not want to lose an upcoming member of his academic team. We wonder how a mathematician steeped in arcane theory, having zero experience of relevance, can fill the shoes of a planner of the transport, agriculture, health and education sectors for rural communities.

And, of all places, why Sumbawanga? It is one of the most remote and superficially developed places in the nation, in the chilly South. Other than a major supplier of ulezi (red millet), an indispensable ingredient for producing mbege, the traditional brew in the North, and dried sardines, it is known for one other thing: During the colonial times, it was a location for exiling political dissidents. Physically and politically, it is the veritable Siberia of Tanzania. The implications are clear, to him and me.

Do not worry, Karim. I will launch a strong appeal to the Dean of Faculty of Science and the VC. Maybe we can reverse this.

Thank you, David.

But knowing what I know, I say to myself: ‘Fat chance.’ At home, Farida is flabbergasted. Her first words are: ‘What will happen to our baby?’ I give her a big hug and tell her we are young and strong. We can give the best of care to our baby wherever we go. The news spreads like wildfire across the campus. Many friends and comrades come to inquire in person. A meeting of my close comrades is held at the home of Joe Kanywanyi. Their comments are:

It is a nasty form of political retribution, no doubt.

It is payback for your activism, Karim.

We should protest. But how?

There is no room for questioning the legality of the move. According to the contract I signed at the start of my undergraduate studies, I am pledged upon graduation to go, for the next five years, wherever I am posted by the government. Politically, it will sound particularly odd. The rightists will mock:

You radicals, you shout in the name of workers and peasants. Now that you are being sent to help the peasants, you wish to remain in a comfortable environment.

The university authorities could have appealed my transfer on the grounds of misallocation of qualified manpower. But obviously, they are also behind it. So I give my friends my decision:

It is not the end of the world. If the mathematics department cannot do anything, then I am going to Sumbawanga. There is no need to do anything else. It won’t work.

The next day, as I pack my books and files in my office, Dr. Cappitt enters in a clearly dejected spirit:

I am sorry about this. Karim, I am told there is no way to reverse the decision. It comes from the highest office. What a shame!

That evening, we meet Farida’s mother and my parents. They too are shocked. My father has an instant solution:

All your friends have left for Canada. You are smart. Go study at a university there. You will get a scholarship, and I can pitch in financially. Call Farida over a few months later, and start a new life, away from this godforsaken place. You have been a stooge of Nyerere. Where has it taken you? Into the jungle. Forget him and think of your family.

He refers to the ongoing exodus of the Ismailia community to Canada. Most of my relatives and childhood friends are now in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. But all in my immediate family remain here. So he wants me to initiate our move to the new land.

But I am in no mood to be disloyal to my land of birth. It has nurtured and educated me. I distinguish between the people and the government. Fundamentally, my contract is with the former, not the latter. The government that is treating me unfairly is at the same time oppressing my people. I will stand with them, be it in Sumbawanga or elsewhere.

Farida’s mother is not happy at this turn of events but does not object. The most heartwarming thing is the unconditional support from Farida. While a bit apprehensive, she categorically says that she goes wherever I go. She too has the nationalistic spirit, imbibed from her staunchly leftist brother, Issa Shivji.

So Sumbawanga it is. As Farida’s pregnancy has been a complicated one, we decide that I will go first, and come to collect her after the baby is born. She quits her job as the secretary of the Dean of the Faculty of Science, and puts up with her mother in the city.


I board the bus to Mbeya, a major town in the south, around noon time in the first week of April 1974. By the dawn of the next day, I am there. It has been raining. The trip along the recently paved Tanzania Zambia highway was not tiring. A tad short on sleep, nothing more.

The second phase of my journey, from here to Sumbawanga, is about a third of the distance covered thus far. The bus is full, and it is raining. After the initial 20 kilometers, the rest of the 200 kilometers traverse a muddy and hilly terrain. The noon time bus is scheduled to arrive at my final destination at 6 pm in the evening.

It continues to rain; the road is slippery. To avoid skidding, the driver reduces speed. Now and then, we feel a jolt from a tire dipping into a watery pothole. The real trouble begins when we reach the first steep hill. Barely twenty meters up the incline, the bus begins to skid back. It cannot ascend any further. The driver has no choice but to bring it to a full stop. He explains the situation:

The road is too steep and slippery. The bus is too heavy to go up.

Do we have to go back?

No. All the passengers have to disembark. Then I can take the bus up.

What about us?

I am sorry but you have to walk to the top.

Fortunately for us, it has ceased to rain. So that is what we do. And that is what we do again and again, six times in all, during this trip. If it is raining, we wait until there is a pause before disembarking and trudging up the hill.

As the roosters croack, we enter the awakening town, exhausted to the bone. It is chilly, windy but dry. A six hour journey has taken eighteen hours. Dragging my bag, I make my way to the home of Mehdi Mitha, a distant cousin who runs a clothing and household goods store. He is a veteran of this town.

I am received warmly. A hot bath, a load of fresh chapatis with honey and a boiled egg later, I hit the sack. The next morning I report to the office of the Regional Development Director (RDD). It is in a newly built one story complex, a twenty minute walk from where my cousin lives. I am expected. My first task is to fill out work and salary forms in the personnel office. My job title is Planning Officer.

I am shown the office of the Regional Planning Officer (RPO), my immediate boss. He is not around. I am to sit in a room adjacent to his office. I find a friendly young fellow, an Assistant Planning Officer. A large table with three chairs is in the middle. It bears a few files and office papers, and a large pile of newspapers. Four filing cabinets stand near the walls.

He tells me his name is John. He has his own chair. I can choose any from the other two. With the RPO, we constitute the entire regional planning team.

What am I supposed to do?

The mzee (old man) will tell you. Just relax and get used to this place for now.

Then he gives some crucial advice. Punctuality is essential. I must report at work by 7:30 am, and leave the office at 2:30 pm. A few minutes late will get me a warning letter from the RDD. If I am persistently tardy, I will be in bad trouble. He says it gravely, but he does not spell out what it means.

After showing me the washroom and water taps, he points to a place where vendors sit. They sell bananas and roasted groundnuts. I am pleased to find a friendly, helpful office mate. I like him. It is a good start in a new place. Back in the office, he tells me:

There are newspapers here. You can read them if you like. But the latest one is two weeks old. The office of the prime minister in Dar sends them by bus every two weeks. If we are lucky, your bus has carried a new batch. Once the senior staff have looked at them, they are placed in our office.

That is how the rest of the day goes. The next day I do the same. It is in the middle of the third day that a short, stocky jovial man walks in.

Ah, you must be Hirji. Welcome, welcome. I have been waiting for you. We need a person who knows about data collection and statistics. You are from the university, so I am sure you will be of great help to us.

He is my boss, the RPO. An informal, friendly boss, I tell myself. Maybe I can make a worthy contribution to this region.

Thank you, I will try my best. Where should I start?

Ah, Hirji, there is no hurry. You need to settle down. John will show you our previous reports to the PMO. Read them and look at our files.

This I do for the next three weeks. During this time, the RPO is away on safari. John tells me he is inspecting projects in the villages. Towards the end of my first month, the boss calls me.

Karim, the financial year is soon to end. I need information from the Regional Agriculture, Education and Health Officers for our report. I want you to remind them to give it to us on time. I especially want to know if their budget allocation has been appropriately spent and what their needs for the next financial year are. This is very important.

I will do that promptly. I have read our reports as you told me to do, and have made a plan for a region wide survey to get more accurate and relevant information on education and health.

He eyes me sharply, but then smiles.

Oh, Hirji, that is good, very good. I am going to a meeting in Mbeya tomorrow. We can talk about it when I come back.

Tracking down those officers and reminding them to send in their reports is accomplished in no time. But the talk about a regional statistical survey never transpires. He is rarely around. And when he is, he is always rushing to a meeting, talking with the RDD, or signing important papers. Yet, every day I am at work before 7:30 and leave exactly at 2:30. My office mate does the same. We munch roasted ground nuts, read and reread newspapers. We make sure a work file is open in front of us all the time, and a pen and a notebook are handy. It is essential that a passerby sees office staff engaged in work. As far as planning for regional development is concerned, that basically is going to be the norm during my time in Sumbawanga.


I talk to my boss about family issues. I desire to go Dar es Salaam. He is most helpful.

Look Karim, some important papers have to be sent to the PMO. You take them. I will authorize your trip.

On the third day of May 1974, I am reunited with Farida at her mother’s place. And I am just in time. Two days later, she gets the contractions. I speedily take her to the nearby Agakhan Hospital. Her mother comes along. She is admitted immediately into the maternity ward. Anxiously, we wait outside. But it is a short wait. In less than an hour, an all smiles nurse emerges:

Congratulations. It is a baby girl. Baby and mother are both fine.

Farida had a breech delivery; our baby is underweight. A long bus trip is not advisable at the moment. We agree that I will come back after two months. Before I return to Rukwa, a queer name changing episode transpires.

Farida and I like the name Rosa, the first name of the heroic German socialist, Rosa Luxemburg. But my mother does not approve. She says it is a European name. She wants a name that reflects our traditions. At the baptismal event in the Ismaili prayer house that evening, she puts an Ismaili name, ‘Rozemin,’ on the birth form.

Farida is not aware. When I see it, I am livid. The first thing I do in the morning is go to the Registrar of Births, have the form nullified, and a new form filled with the name changed. The clerk says it is the most rapid name change he has ever witnessed. I say that there was a misunderstanding, and as the father, I have the final word. Yet, to my mother, our baby is ‘Rozemin’ for about a year. Eventually, she relents and fondly begins to call her Rosa. It is a sign of the culture wars of that era, a clash between provincialism and humanistic cosmopolitanism.

In late June, I am permitted to go to Dar es Salaam to collect my family. Fortunately, a husband-wife team of expatriate researchers from UDSM are heading to Sumbawanga at that time. They kindly agree to give us a ride. With a night in Mbeya, we are at our new home in Sumbawanga in thirty six hours. Only one problem arises during the trip. An hour from Mbeya, Rosa develops an excruciating earache. She cries uncontrollably. It only subsides when a doctor in Mbeya gives her ear drops. To our relief, she falls asleep instantly. For the rest of the trip, she is as playful as ever.

Three days after my first arrival in Sumbawanga, I had found a place to stay in the backyard of a building owned by a local businessman. It consists of a 6 by 6 meter room and a tiny outhouse, with a hole-in-the-ground toilet. The walls and roof are tin sheets. Cooking is done on charcoal and kerosene stoves outside the room. The rent is low but it is not what I prefer for my family. I fill a housing application at the regional office. But my rank in the hierarchy is not high enough, and I am on my own. So my application is put on the back burner.

This is the new home for my family. Yet, we are happy. We are together; we play with our child, and enjoy the fine dishes Farida cooks. The room is pretty cold at night. We keep warm with two blankets, and by huddling together. Two weeks later, my father comes to visit. He has supplies like powdered milk and a bundle of snacks cooked by mother. He is appalled at what he sees:

Is this the place for a London educated university lecturer?

Fortunately, just a week later, seeing that my wife and child are now with me, the housing office allocates me a governmental house at the outskirts of the business area, a mile from my work place. It is a large single story structure built for colonial officers in the 1930s. The walls are of mud plastered onto wood beams. The roof is tin sheets. But there is a ceiling board, though an ancient one, under the roof.

It has a living room in the center, an 8 by 8 meters bedroom on the right, and on the left, a bedroom half that size plus a small store room. The living room opens on the other side on to a large low walled backyard, at the end of which there lies four small sheds, next to each other. From extreme right, you see a hole-in-the-ground toilet, a water heating shed with a Samovar and piles of logs and charcoal, the kitchen and last, a storage shed. The backyard is jagged stones from one end to another. You have to walk with care.

The place has not been maintained. Small holes and cracks pepper the walls. Paint is peeling wherever you cast your eyes. Nonetheless, for us, it is a heavenly delight. At last our baby can sleep in a warm place, better protected from wind and rain.

So begins a comfortable ritual that will last fourteen months. Waking up at six, I light the ancient charcoal samovar in the shed. After freshening up with the hot water, Farida prepares breakfast in the kitchen as I dress. My belly full, I depart for work while she wakes up Rosa, cleans and feeds her.

At 3 pm, I am back at home. Rosa is crawling around the living room. She grins and scratches my face as I pick her up. Hot, aroma laden lunch awaits. After a short siesta, on most days, the three of us take a long walk around town.

Our favorite route goes up hill to the Catholic Church. Built in the colonial times, it is the most elegant structure in town. What especially draws us is the expansive, well maintained, colorful garden that lies around it. We traverse the multiple mini-paths that run across it. Rosa is set down in places to allow her to quench her unlimited curiosity. Though, we have to be watchful. She can pluck a leaf or take a stone and put it in her mouth with astonishing speed.

Twice a week, we visit my cousin Mehdi. Rahim, their baby boy, is of Rosa’s age. It is enchanting to see them engrossed with each other. Invariably, we are given dinner. Razia, his wife, is an expert cook. There is a mountain of chapatis and delightful vegetable or meat curry. After the edifying dinner, we walk home with a sleepy Rosa around 7 pm, a flash light in hand. It is a five minute walk.

Evening time has its own ritual. As darkness descends, Rosa is placed in her cot. I light a regular kerosene lamp, and Petromax, a pressurized kerosene lamp.  The latter brightens up the living room like a large electrical tube light. Soon Farida has dinner laid out. We eat our meals on a mat placed on the floor. As she feeds Rosa, I set ten mouse traps, each with a piece of bread as bait. I place them under the cot, under our bed and near the walls. After Farida securely places Rosa in her cot, and she is under the mosquito net, I put out the two lamps and crawl into the bed as well.

The moment it is dark and quiet, the top of ceiling board seethes with life. The resident mice scurry around: they smell food. We hear them descending the walls. Suddenly, there is a snapping sound, then another, then another, until the entire colony of pests takes flight in fright. I emerge from the bed with my flashlight to find three to five mice writhing in the traps. Picking them up with due care, I toss them into the backyard, and return to bed in relief. For this night, our baby will be safe from the nasty creatures. As an added measure of protection, each long leg of Rosa’s cot stands in a bucket of water.

Our young house worker, Hamisi, comes in around eight. The first thing he does is to collect the dead mice and bury them in our small garden outside. He has planted maize, tomato and green pepper. The mice fertilize it well. A jolly fellow, he helps Farida with washing, cleaning, sweeping and buying fruits and vegetables from the market. He looks after Rosa when her mother cooks. By and large, that is the normal manner of our life in Sumbawanga.


The Kantalamba Secondary School lies two hundred meters from our office. Enrolling about 350 students in Forms I to IV, it is the only secondary school around. There are twelve teachers on the staff. One of them is Mehdi’s younger brother, Firoze. Having been there for more than five years, he has a ton of tales to tell me about the place.

One day I find a ‘data collection’ type of excuse to visit it during work hours. My actual aim is to meet the mathematics teachers and discuss issues about teaching. To my pleasant surprise, I find that the only mathematics teacher was my student at UDSM.

We talk. I propose that we start a mathematics club at the school. One afternoon per week, I will give hour long talks on different topics and assign a variety of exercises. He likes the idea, and so does the headmaster.

For the next six months, each Wednesday from 2:30 to 3:30 in the afternoon, I conduct the club activities. About fifteen students attend on a voluntary basis. I talk about mathematical paradoxes, logical conundrums, and enigmas, a field now known as recreational mathematics. After demonstrating the solution to a puzzle, I at times set a similar problem they can tackle on their own. Now and then, I mention practical applications of mathematics in agriculture, industry, health and transportation.

I aim to give them an introduction into the early history of maths. I have a book on the subject, and I had borrowed another one from the UDSM library using the card of a fellow university lecturer. The students are fascinated by the diversity of ways in which mathematics developed in ancient Babylon, India, China, Egypt and Greece. I venture into the general history of these societies as well, and relate mathematics to the level of economic development.

It is a fun and rewarding activity. Instead of rereading old newspapers, I read relevant books and prepare the club lecture in the office. So long as I am seen doing something, no one gives a hoot what it is.

To my surprise, the self-reliance farming project at the school is well organized and fairly productive. Upon five years of operation, the revenue from the project was used to start a small shop. Located in the school compound, it is run by the students. But this is not the norm. Other school self-reliance projects in the primary schools of this area have failed due to mismanagement and misappropriation by the head teachers.

Yet, there is a high level of discontent among the students. It is manifested in frequent incidents of rebellion like fights and class boycotts. The headmaster is too strict. Some teachers punish students in very painful ways. One day a student is hit on the head with a stick, has a deep gash and is sent to hospital. The case is hushed up.

As this type of instability continues, I am not comfortable with showing up at this school on a regular basis. The higher ups can say or do anything. They may say that it is this radical fellow from UDSM who is inciting the students.

The club runs on a regular basis for six months. A foundation is laid. The mathematics teacher can build upon it. I donate my book to the club and bid them farewell. I also write a short article on aspects of the history of mathematics., based on my talks at the club. It is published in the journal of the Mathematics Association of Tanzania a few months later.


I open the three old, rusty filing cabinets that have not been touched in ages. Perusing systematically, I see that files date back to the 1940s. I am transported to the colonial and early Uhuru days. A wealth of material on the developmental initiatives undertaken by the government officials lies buried herein. I learn about what transpired and the eventual outcomes.

Once upon a time, this region was a major food producer. It exported dried fish, beef, millet, fruits and vegetables, much of it to the copper mining areas of Zambia. There were a few large settler farms, but most of the produce came from small scale peasant farmers and fishermen. Apart from a couple of exceptions, that productive configuration lies by the wayside now. I see no current plans to revive that highly promising potential.

One thing strikes me. Time and again, colonial and later day officials come up with the idea of making the peasants grow some new commercial crop. No peasant is consulted; no serious feasibility study is undertaken; the initial planning is poor and hurried. It usually meets resistance from below; direct and indirect coercion persuades some farmers to grow the crop; the success attained is minimal. The soil is unsuitable, or the market not adequate. Eventually, it is abandoned. The region awaits another day a bureaucrat has another brilliant idea.

Other than this informal foray into local history, I undertake a formal one. I meet Abdul Sheriff, a rising star in history at UDSM, during a visit. He has read my paper on education for self-reliance.

Karim, would you like to write a paper on the history of the education system in Tanzania during the German colonial era? I have access to archival material in Germany. We are in the process of translating those records into English. I can give what we have to you, and you can work on it.

My interest is piqued. With much time to spare, what do I have to lose? Sure, I say. Armed with three typed rolls of archival material and several history texts, I begin the work in Sumbawanga. By the time my family and I depart from this place, I am half way done. I present the paper at a conference on the history of colonial mainland Tanzania held at UDSM in 1978. It comes out later as a chapter in a book edited by HY Kaniki, Tanganyika Under Colonial Rule (Kaniki 1980, Hirji 1980).

My paper reinforces the Marxist thesis that the structure and function of the education system in society accords with the interests of the dominant class. In normal times, it plays a role in the formation and consolidation of the existing social structures. But at critical moments in history, elements of the education system pose a challenge to that structure. In the period I cover, the later aspect does not manifest itself in a marked way.

Education can block fundamental change, or it can enhance such change. That is a crucial message of history. For us, the educators, the choice is: serve the status quo or educate in ways that will promote equality and social justice.


My elder brother, Mohamed, suffers from a mental condition, schizophrenia. For about eight years, he has regularly gone through an unpleasant cycle: uncontrolled behavior, hospitalization for a couple of months, release and a few months of respite. Then it starts over again.

A year into our stay in Sumbawanga, I suggest to my father that he could come and stay with us. I would find a gainful activity for him. My father happily agrees, though mother is understandably reluctant.

One person I now know well is Pyrali Meghji, elder brother of my UDSM comrade, Ramzan Meghji. Currently unwell and unemployed, he can maintain a minimum level of subsistence for himself and his family. Financial assistance from his brothers keeps him afloat. But it is irregular and small. His backyard has a small shed that opens outwards. It can be converted into a small shop with minimal repair.

I suggest to him that it become a books and stationery shop that would be run by Mohamed. His task is to do the repairs. I will do the rest: get a couple of wood shelves, a glass cabinet, a chair, a sturdy lock and the merchandise for the shop. The profits from the venture would be split on a fifty-fifty basis between him and my brother. Pyarali agrees and embarks on the repairs. I find second hand shelves and the cabinet from town merchants. Then I write a letter to my brother.*

September 1974

Dear Mohamed:

How are you and how is everyone at home. Fine I hope.

I am writing to you about the possibility of you coming to Sumbawanga and starting a bookshop. There is not a single bookshop in this town, so I think the prospects are good. I have already acquired a room for the shop. Some minor repairs have to be done, the place has to be painted, and the furniture has to be bought before the shop can be started. All this should be ready in about two months.

In the meantime, you should do the following. First register yourself as a member of TANU and get a TANU card. This will be necessary in order to get a trading license. You should post the card to me as soon as you get it. Then you should go to Elimu Supplies and inquire about the prices of things like stationery, pens, minor office equipment, etc. But don’t buy anything at the moment. The bookshop can initially stock the following types of items: stationery, pens, newspapers, magazines, novels, story books, educational books, toys. And miscellaneous items.

Let me know your views as soon as possible. Regards to all at home.

Yours, Karim

Happily, Mohamed is all for it. Our father accompanies him on his bus trip. He is now relieved to see us in a better house. Mohamed sleeps in the extra bedroom. Rosa gets along with him splendidly, always crawling up to him to be carried and taken out, which he invariably does.

Mohamed has brought the merchandise which I had ordered. It is a modest start: Thirty books, four dozen notebooks of varied sizes, two packs of ball point pens and pencils, six writing pads, paper clips, stapler and staples, rulers, coloring pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, elastic bands and items like small balls and balloons. Apart from books, two town merchants carry such items. But the Sumbawanga Bookstore is the first dedicated book and stationary shop in this area.

I put the equivalent of two months of my gross salary into the project. Father also makes a contribution. If all goes well, Mohamed and Pyarali can make a decent living from it as it takes root and expands.

Trading begins as desired. Opening the shop door at 10 each weekday morning, Mohamed runs it until 2:30 pm, returning home in time for the family lunch. Farida helps him maintain the accounts and control the cash. The net profit in the first month is 100 shillings, less than a tenth of my salary, and for the second month, it is 150 shillings. Both those amounts are evenly split between the partners.
In the third month, it gets unhinged. Mohamed is erratic at home. It is difficult for him to sleep. He paces up and down in his room well after midnight. After opening the shop, he walks around town, leaving it susceptible to theft. Medicines from the local doctor do not affect his mood. He clearly needs specialized psychiatric care in Dar es Salaam. To our dismay, he has to return to Dar es Salaam. Rafik, my young brother, comes to take him back.

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Comment: Only much later do I come to discern the root of the problem. He had come here with a three month supply of his medication. It has unpleasant side effects: dryness of mouth, tremors, tongue protrusion, etc. When he feels better, he skips on his dose. The dosage needs to be gradually reduced so as to maintain a balance between stability and undesired effects. This crucial matter has not been communicated to our father or me by his psychiatrist. We are not told that he will need his medicine for a life time, but the dose has to be modified according to his status.

Doctors are good at writing prescriptions but weak at conveying crucial information in an understandable manner to the patients. It has a negative effect on the long term outcome of mental conditions. Patients and their supporters must be informed that the withdrawal effects of psychiatric drugs can often be more unpleasant than the symptoms of the disease.

Yet, doctors begin with doses that are too high. They do not well attend to the choice of the drug. Of the many available, careful trials are needed to select the most suitable for each patient, as well as the dose needed. They also do not stress the centrality of gradually tapering the dosage. Thereby too many patients suffer needlessly and manageable cases turn into chronically unstable cases, as was the case with my brother (Whitaker 2010, 2011).

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The short lived Sumbawanga Bookstore carried three types of books: a third were books for schools, another third were popular Swahili and English novels, and the rest, books on current affairs, history and politics. In the last category were progressive works like Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Kwame Nkrumah’s Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and William Hinton’s Fanshen: Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village. (Fanon 1965; Hinton and Magdoff 2008; Nkrumah 1966; Rodney 1972).

Books in the first two categories have a good turnover. Those in the last one mostly remain on the shelves. At the end, I donate some to colleagues at work and Pyarali. The only person who buys a couple of books of this type is from the regional security service. I once see two of them talking. One has a copy of The Wretched of the Earth in his hand. Are they investigating what this radical exile from the university is now up to? Anyways, I hope they did learn something in the process.

All in all, I report with sadness that my effort to assist my brother and, in the process, introduce progressive ideas in this intellectual hinterland were both majestic failures. It is a financial setback too. I console myself by saying that at least I gave it a reasonable try.


I am fortunate to be able to maintain, even in this isolated place, a connection with the profession I want to pursue. In 1972, while at the UDSM, I was appointed as a marker for the national Form VI exam in Statistics. The following year, my role was upgraded. I set the two exam papers for the subject, prepare the marking scheme, oversee the marking and am made a member of the national subject committee. I continuously serve in this capacity until 1977.

The National Examination Council of Tanzania is in charge of the entire exercise. My particular assignment comes under the able chairmanship of Dr GRV Mmari, the coordinator for all the mathematics related examinations.

By the time I am dispatched to Sumbawanga, I have set the examination papers for the year 1974. Later I receive the summons to participate in marking, scheduled for December. My boss raises no objections.

On the set date, I report at the Kibaha Secondary School, one of the national marking centers. Located twenty six miles from Dar es Salaam, it is my former high school. I see hundreds of teachers and some lecturers from UDSM congregated here. It is endearing to meet friends and past students. My buddy Shiraz Ramji, who sets the A-Level Modern Mathematics papers, is invariably present at these gatherings. While in Sumbawanga, I set the papers for the 1975 Statistics exam.

Form VI Statistics is a specialized subject taught at only four schools. Usually, about half the exam candidates are private candidates. During the years I was involved, the total number of registered candidates varied between twenty to fifty. And not all turned up for the examination.

For Statistics, there are but two markers. My partner marks Paper I, I mark Paper II. When done, we audit each other’s work to ensure that all papers are graded fairly and as required. Then I compile the marks for each candidate and write out the subject report.

As the setter, I am required to ensure that the exam questions reflect the syllabus and are at the appropriate standard. A moderator reviews my draft before it is finalized. Our aim is to maintain the standard set in the Cambridge High School Certificate Examination. Yet, over the years, it declines as topics like analysis of variance, bivariate distributions, study design and survey methods are deleted from the Tanzanian syllabus. Further, like exam paper setters for other subjects, I have to follow a strict procedural guideline to ensure complete confidentiality and secrecy.

I maintain a balance between theory and applications related questions, with the latter based on local data of relevance to social and economic development. Some reflect the socialistic orientation of the era. For example, one question talks of rate of surplus value instead of rate of profit, and another, about measures of income inequality.

In any year, the pass rate does not exceed 50%. Often it is less. The marks can range from 2 points to 85 points out of a total of 100. Several reasons contribute to this lackluster outcome. The few qualified teachers for this subject need retraining. Textbooks with relevant, realistic examples do not exist. I raise these issues in the committee meetings. Other apparently more urgent matters take a priority. For, the bigger problem is that the pass rate in all mathematics related papers, in O-Level and A-Level examinations, are abysmally low. It is a perennial malady that has not been remedied as I write these words in the year 2018.

My recollection has it that Statistics was removed as a high school course in 1980. During the time it was offered, I played my part to nurture and sustain it. In the years 1974 and 1975, that work provided a needed respite from the monotony of inane bureaucratic life in Sumbawanga. During marking it is refreshing to see hundreds of hardworking teachers busy from dawn to dusk grading the hundreds of scripts piled in front of them. It is heartening to see the supervisors applying due diligence to ensure that grading uniformity is maintained with random spot and script checks. It is an atmosphere enjoining banter with seriousness. My specific task takes three to four days. The rest of the time, I help the overall coordinator in other duties. During the entire week I feel unusually cheerful. For this is the only activity that helps me retain a formal link with the subject to which I seek to devote my professional life.


My boss is rarely in his office. At times he attends a meeting in Mbeya or Dar es Salaam. This is what I learn from John, though he does not know their purpose. At other times, the RPO goes, in an office Landrover, to townships and villages in Rukwa Region. Once in a while, John is asked to accompany him. These are called ‘project inspection and data collection’ trips. I am puzzled about the numeric information emanating from these trips, for I never see so much as a sliver of such data. My perplexity ends after six months on the job. On a bright day, my boss tells me:

Tomorrow you will join me to inspect an education project in the Lake Rukwa basin. We may return late.

We leave at 9 am, with him sitting in front with the driver. I am at the back in this four-wheel drive with comfy seats. It is an uneventful ride in a sparsely populated, lush green area until we reach the edge of the canyon overlooking the lake. The descent is steep. I hold my breath. Luckily, our driver is familiar with the twists and turns of this roadway. His skilled maneuvering of the all-terrain vehicle lands us at the lake basin in no time.

And what a grand sight it is: like you are on another planet. A light blue, calm water expanse stretches to the horizon. It is a shallow but wide lake. The surface area varies according to rainfall. I am told it is populated with crocodiles and hippos. On that day, we do not sight any. It as well abounds with fish. Traversing the sandy basin, we spot a fishing vessel at irregular intervals. I also sight one salt pan.

Just after noon, we reach our destination, a primary school where two additional classrooms are being constructed. The man in-charge shows us around the place. He speaks with deference. The RPO asks some questions, and occasionally jots down something in his mini-notepad.

And then we are off. Now we search for farmers who grow papaya, pineapple and water melon. I am astonished at what I see. Tons of such fruits and vegetables can be had at dirt cheap prices. A papaya or pineapple costs a fifth of what it does in town, which itself is a half or a third of the cost in Dar es Salaam.

I buy one large papaya and one giant pineapple for home. My colleagues fill up the vehicle with their purchases. I wonder, but maintain a diplomatic silence. Back in town a little after 4 pm, I am grateful that the boss tells the driver to drop me at my doorstep. I do not have to carry the heavy load from office to home.

Rosa enjoys the pineapple juice and mashed papaya. Farida, Mohamed, our house worker and I gulp down the rest over the next day. On discrete inquiry with my officemate, I learn that the fruit load is generally ‘passed on’ to market vendors for a good sum. Data collection has its own rewards.

Over the course of my stay in this area, I recall being taken on four such ‘data collection trips.’ Once it was to the shore of Lake Tanganyika. We had gone to inspect a fishery project but returned with a load of premium fresh and dried fish. On two other occasions we visited interior villages. Here the ‘data’ took the form of fresh corn and finger millet.

That, in essence, is the grand total of the contributions of an expert with a master’s degree in Operations Research from the world renowned London School of Economics to the data collection and development planning efforts for Rukwa Region. On several occasions, I draft proposals for formal data collection surveys to scientifically assess the production and marketing of fruits, vegetables, grain and fish in the region. My boss peruses each proposal with interest. In all seriousness, he says:

This is very good, Karim, very good. I will take a thorough look, talk to the RDD, and get back to you.

Of course, he never does it. Rarely, out of the blue, he tells me:

You know, your data project, I like it. But it is not in the budget. We have to wait till we get the funds.

At that moment, I do not know which project he is talking about. I doubt if he does either. Whatever it is, it is never placed in our annual or supplementary requests for funds from the PMO.

One day, the boss calls me.

Karim, a seminar for chairpersons from fifteen villages is going on in Sumbawanga town. I was supposed to address it tomorrow, but I have been called to an important meeting in Mbeya. Can you take my place?

It is not a request but an order.

What shall I talk about?

Oh, you have been here long enough. You know this region well. Talk about the challenges of planning for development, and anything you think is important and relevant.

The next day, I stand in front of respectful group of elderly villagers. I do not think they have seen a Muhindi (Asian) governmental official before. On my part, I am a bit nervous, as I come without much preparation.

I focus on history, specifically, what I found from my perusal of the rusty cabinets. I talk of the official initiatives of the past and note how often the energies and resources of area villagers have been wasted as a result of poor planning by an uncaring bureaucracy. I stress the need to involve farmers in the formulation and execution of projects that involve them. I emphasize the need for accountability and transparency in governmental actions.

Their expressions reveal to me that, coming from an official, these are novel words. Instantly, they open up and talk in a candid manner about their recent experiences. They tell me that when the policy of Ujamaa was announced, they liked it and marched to demonstrate their support. They were promised water, education, health services, as well as good accessibility at the new collective villages. But when they got there, it often was empty land. Construction of a school or dispensary was just in the offing. They were told that money from the central government would arrive soon. But it took too long, and generally fell short of what they had been led to expect. Organization of the collective projects was in disarray. When a project got off the ground, the farmers were shortchanged by higher ups in the division of the proceeds. At their previous locations they had a water stream or a shallow well. The new villages had to wait a year or longer to get the deep wells dug. In the meantime, getting water became a laborious exercise. And on, and on. After a while, many were so frustrated that they decided to return to the isolated places they had come from.

By the end of the two hour session, I learn more from these humble villagers than they do from me. I end the session by saying that I will convey their misgivings to the authorities. But they as well as I know what it really means. I do write a small memo to my boss in which I summarize the complaints around the Ujamaa policy. He is not pleased. It is immediately returned, with the admonition that I should not listen to trouble makers, or write such unwise things.

During the ‘data collection trips,’ as my colleagues engage in the significant task of fruitful data gathering, I converse with the farmers, teachers, fishermen and elders nearby. I gain more insight into the realities of this region from these interactions than from any official report I read.

Talking of official reports I would be remiss if I failed to note a most crucial regional planning exercise. It occurs every six months in the office of the RPO. He summons his aides. The six monthly or annual report to the PMO is due soon, he tells us, in a grave tone. He has a draft in front of him. We get a copy. I see it notes classrooms built in Village A, the main room of a dispensary constructed in Village B, fishnets given to X fishermen, two miles of district roads upgraded, etc.

He briskly runs through it in a point by point fashion, pausing once in a while to ask:

Karim, is that not the case? When we visited Village A, the two classrooms were almost completed. Don’t you recall?

I could have queried his flexible interpretation of the term ‘almost.’ Yet, I agree with him.

Good. Even the Regional Education Officer (REO) visited the place. He found what we found. The latest district report also says the same thing.

Not raised is the fact that the REO had gone there before we did. And he has another question for the Assistant Planning Officer. In three hours at most, this team of regional planning experts has complied a comprehensive development report for the PMO.

Very good. Both of you are doing a good job. I will make a note of it in your files.

With that, we head back to our newspaper pile. In all likelihood, we will not see his final report until the next one is due.

+ + + + + + +

Comment: Development planners at the PMO aggregate the effusive data stream generated from our region with similarly formulated data streams from other regions to form a scientifically sounding overall picture of the development underway in the nation as a whole. It forms the basis of official claims of significant gains in the provision of water, educational and health services to the villages and towns, progress in adult education, etc., during the Ujamaa years.

Throughout this era, Mwalimu Nyerere continues to espouse, in flowery, inspiring terminology, the need for Africa to stand on its own feet. Self-reliance is, he declares, indispensable. Yet, it is under him that, in per capita terms, Tanzania sits at the top among the recipients of external loans and grants in sub-Saharan Africa.

Consequently, the overall data snapshot is transmitted to the international agencies like the WHO, UNDP, UNICEF and the World Bank, as well to the multitude of bilateral agencies of the Scandinavian, Canadian, British, US, Japanese and other governments. Knowing well the pitfalls of these data, they still publish them as they are in their own official reports.

As the government beats its own hollow drum, the agencies respond in harmony. They have a stake in showing to their funders and taxpayers all the money being sent to this poor African nation is being spent wisely.

In that manner arises the mythology of the spectacular gains in the provision of social and health services in Tanzania during the Ujamaa era. Dubious data turn into hard core truths.

+ + + + + + +

Not that the reality is totally unknown. Independent minded experts from UDSM conduct on the ground scientific surveys. Their reports generally puncture a gaping hole in that rosy picture (see Coulson 1982, Mapolu 1980, von Freyhold 1979).

Unfortunately, modern day debates about life under Ujamaa continue to be informed by those mythologies. Intellectuals cite what the Leader said here and what he said there, and employ mythologies to buttress their arguments. Ideological verbosity, of the left and right variety, supplants reality. In this era of instantaneous social media exchange, due examination of relevant facts is surpassed by the art of creative juggling of words.

My statistical career has spanned nearly forty five years. As I look back, I regard my own role, though tiny, inadvertent and imposed from above, in the generation of that misleading mythology to be the very low point of my professional life. It is one of the few things I regret.


In the course of my stay here, I learn about fellow exiles. All have been around for at least a decade. It seems that I am the only recent arrival.

In the Mau Mau era, Kenyan freedom fighters were brought here under guard. Citizens of Tanzania by now, they are into small scale crafts and trading. Interestingly, they man most of the barber shops in the area. A number of soldiers who took part in the army mutiny of 1964 ended up in this area too. Some have small shops but a few are famed as this town’s leading drunkards. Around that time, a militant leader of the Mine Workers’ Union at the Mwadui Diamond Mines who was also a senior official of the Tanzania Federation of Labor was exiled here. Subsequently, he betrayed his roots and became a corrupt official in a local branch of a major state enterprise. After amassing sizable wealth through dubious deals, he at present runs his own lucrative business. However, I do not come to know any of these exiles in person.

Apart from us, I divide the population of this area into several socio-economic strata. The top stratum is composed of two segments. On the one side is the bevy of politicians in high office, senior bureaucrats in the machinery of the state, and top executives of the local branches of the parastatal enterprises. On the other side are the leading businessmen, owners of transport companies, and the like. The latter are mostly of Asian and Arab descent.

A relationship of unease prevails between the two groups. In the past seven years, the power of the private sector has waned considerably as most of their activities, from wholesale trading to large scale farming and export, were taken over by state firms. Since the state enterprises are run in an inefficient and corrupt manner, private business survives and thrives in the many interstices of the economy.

The two sectors are loggerheads in the political arena. Yet, behind the scenes, they collude, grease each other’s palms and expropriate a major chunk of the economic benefits due to the people for themselves. You can spot them as they are driven around in Peugot 504s and fancy station wagons.

Below them are the mid-level farmers, teachers, office staff, small business people, clergy and the like. I count myself among them. We live a modest life, and harbor some apprehension as to the future of our families.

At the bottom are the multitude: peasant farmers, fishermen, manual laborers, office cleaners and messengers, drivers, domestic servants, itinerant traders, and the like. Living in abject poverty, they face numerous hardships at every twist and turn of life. For them, the flowery rhetoric of the political elite has thus far been devoid of meaning.

Conflict between the elements of these economic strata are an integral part of the landscape. Take the strike by the drivers at the regional headquarters in July 1974. It comes with a letter written anonymously to the RDD. The key issue is the conduct of the senior transport officer. Said to be arrogant and abusive, the letter charges him with making the drivers do extra private night time duties. Anyone who objects is dismissed.

A meeting of all drivers is called. It is chaired by the RPO, my boss. The transport officer is present as well. Instead of mediating in a fair manner, the RPO says that the strike has been instigated by a few trouble makers. Each driver is asked if he agrees with the contents of the letter. Each one, intimidated as he is, says no. The matter ends with an official letter sent to the PMO stating that the alleged complaints have been investigated and found to be baseless.

But the paramount class conflict in this region is between the peasantry and the domineering state bureaucracy.


Decentralizing rural administration was aimed to bring state officials closer to the people and give the latter a greater voice in the decisions and acts affecting their lives. In the adroit hands of Mckinsey Corporation, the new system just adds an additional technocratic bureaucracy on top of the already heavy machinery of governance bearing down upon people. In addition to the ruling party structure, the political machine under the regional commissioner, you have a third strand, the development directorate. With the power centered in Dar es Salaam, it remains a rigid, hierarchical system in which the people at the bottom must submit to orders from above without questions. One villager tells me that if they want to start a football club, they first have to get a permit from the district party chairman!

Other than bringing people into villages, this bureaucracy has no creative solutions to resolve existing problems. It has no ethical commitment to serve the people. With a few exceptions, it follows the economic recipes handed down by experts from the World Bank and Western organizations. It places parochial short term gain above the welfare of the people. While it excels in spouting volumes of fine socialist rhetoric, the socialism it implements seems like that of an extraterrestrial brand. In truth, it is but a chaotic form of state capitalism.

Nowhere is this more evident in how the villagization scheme is implemented in Rukwa region, and I may add, elsewhere in the nation too. As was conveyed to me by local villagers in the seminar I addressed, the widespread initial enthusiasm for Ujamaa has dissipated by 1974. Inefficient implementation is the key reason. Promises are not followed by action, the misappropriation of resources does not abate, and the farmers and fishermen face excessive hardships during the process.

Now it is going nowhere. Loud calls by pot-bellied politicians fall on deaf ears. Predictably, the authorities resort to force. It is a part of a nationwide undertaking named Operation Vijijini. Predictably, dreadful incidents occur. In the northern part of Rukwa Region people are told to move into tobacco growing complexes. They dislike the idea. When state officials come to enforce the order, confrontations occur. The FFU are called. There is indiscriminate gunfire against the gathered crowds. In Uyonga area, three peasant farmers are shot dead. It enrages the population. Calm is restored after the Regional Commissioner goes to the area and promises that no more forcible relocation to the tobacco complexes will occur.

It is but a temporary respite. The central authorities have villagization as their priority number one. A stern directive from the center is issued to all regions: People must move into the Ujamaa villages, one way or another, whether they like it or not. The man at the top reneges on his solemn undertaking given at the onset of the Ujamaa era to make the move to villages completely voluntary. The day after the edict is issued, the new bureaucracy moves into action.

At my location, it proceeds as follows: For three months in early 1975, almost each morning, there is a general meeting of all the employees. The RDD calls for twenty to thirty volunteers for the day. There is no shortage of takers, who leap on to the four trucks at hand. Some have batons and sticks in their hands. Some have bags and buckets. One day they head north, the other day, east, and so on.

Their task is to locate and catch isolated rural dwellers, and herd them to a collective village. They implement the job with gusto. The rural residents try to escape when they hear a vehicle approaching. But the trucks come from several directions. Many, especially children, elderly and women, are caught. They are taken, with just a few belongings, to the designated village, and simply dumped there. How they will feed themselves or where they will sleep is nobody’s business. They are supposed to be in a village, and that is where they must be.

Items like livestock, farm harvest, domestic belongings are left behind. The militia guys have no qualms about helping themselves to the goodies. This is their reward. Volunteering for the exercise is popular among the office staff. Each fellow returns with a couple of fat chickens, or a goat, or a bagful of maize cobs, or a bucket of shiny red finger millet. They get an allowance as well.

At times, they boast that they apprehended a witch or witch doctor who has been discouraging the people from joining the Ujamaa villages. Amid laughter, we hear that the witch was adequately punished. It means being beaten senseless or worse. Common talk has it that some had their ears sliced off. It is a despicable undertaking, inflicting wanton suffering onto destitute rural folk. Only two other workers, Sichilima and Zaharan, both of low grade, share my opinion. I never volunteer. They do not either. Had I been asked to participate by my superiors, I would have refused, no matter the consequences. In life, one has to draw a line somewhere.

Adverse national publicity brings the exercise to a halt after a while. By then up to four million people have been forced to relocate. In our region, it lasts for three months. The RDD writes a report to the PMO saying the bulk of the rural population is now in Ujamaa villages. Only a tiny proportion lives on the outside. At the final meeting, he congratulates the staff for their splendid accomplishment.

+ + + + + + +

Comment: Today, different groups have their own favored stories as to what transpired in the Nyerere era. Asian bigots declare he was fervently anti-Asian. Muslims of a fundamentalist bent claim he was anti-Muslim to the core.

In that regard, I defend Mwalimu. He was not a racist or a religiously biased politician. I tell them: learn about what happened during villagization. It was not the brown skinned Asians but black Africans who suffered miserably. In Rukwa, no discrimination on the basis of religion occurred. It did not matter whether you were Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or Pagan. If you did not join an Ujamaa village, you were dealt with in an equally harsh manner.

+ + + + + + +

Comment: Another mythology prevalent today is that Tanzania of that era was a stooge of the communist nations, especially China. The construction of the Uhuru Railway between Zambia and Tanzania, the building of the giant Urafiki Textile Mill with Chinese help combined with Tanzania’s firm support for the entry of China to the UN and the struggle of the people of Vietnam against US aggression are adduced as evidence in support of that proposition.

Let us look at the reality. In 1974, with the help of the World Bank and Western agencies, the government devises a new scheme for rural development. Under the title of Regional Integrated Development Program (RIDEP), it is to address the low levels of efficacy and accountability of foreign funded projects. These problems are to be remedied through assigning specific regions to specific funders. This process will clarify lines of responsibility and joint evaluation of the projects.

The region-wise allocation of foreign agencies include: (i) Kigoma: World Bank; (ii) Tanga: West Germany; (iii) Mara and West Lake: Denmark; (iv) Arusha and Mwanza: Sweden; (v) Shinyanga and Morogoro: the Netherlands; and (vi) Rukwa: Austria.

The list does not feature any communist nation: not Russia, Hungary, East Germany, Cuba or China. The fate of all the regions of socialist Tanzania will not be decided by some communist philosophy but by World Bank oriented capitalist planning.

+ + + + + + +

In early 1975, a team of five experts from Austria, accompanied by two high officials from the PMO, arrive in Sumbawanga. They hold talks with the RDD and his senior staff, and are given a tour of the office complex. Our room is orderly. The newspapers and extraneous stuff are gone. We have two files, a note pad and pen in front of us. It looks as we had been instructed to make it look. The RPO informs them in an officious tone:

This is my planning team. Karim is an expert in statistics.

Looking briefly at us, they nod, turn around, and leave. We learn that their mandate is to make a comprehensive assessment of the economy of our region, identify the principal bottlenecks, and devise a viable development plan. And that has to be done before April 1975.

The fate of this blessed region is now in the august hands of five Austrians who perhaps know but two words of Swahili, whose prior experience in Africa seems minimal, and who, a few months back, may have been hard put to locate us on a map. Yet, they hold the purse strings. So what they say will go.

Until I leave this place for good at the end of 1975, I do not see much progress on that front. The experts come and go. They meet the bosses. I am never given a chance to talk to them. Perhaps they explore the region, but we are not privy to their plans or movements.

+ + + + + + +

Comment: Ujamaa Villages in Tanzania did not represent the traditional African mode of living. For the most part, they signified a coerced existence under the control of an insensitive bunch of bureaucrats. One could perhaps justify that if it led to policies and actions that markedly improved people’s living conditions. But that did not happen. The poverty entrenching export-import basis of the economy remained as it was during the colonial era.

The RIDEP episode makes a mockery of the hallowed verbiage about self-reliance. It reminded me of the partition of Africa of the 1880s. Five years later, it was, for all practical purposes, abandoned. Nowhere did it generate significant, sustainable results. Go to Rukwa region today and try to find a major positive sign of the Austrian neo-colonization of that area four decades ago. It will be like trying to locate water on the moon. It is also noteworthy that these economic occupations occur around the time that the forced moves to villages are in progress. Yet, the hallowed Western promoters of democracy and good governance do not seem to mind. They do not raise a political storm on the basis of human rights or any such platitudes. But, they do not spare any invective on castigating the violations of human rights of the people or Cuba and China, places where there are real and major improvements in the living conditions of the masses are taking place.

This World Bank approved Ujamaa policy at the end proves to be a majestic failure on all fronts. It is not socialism of any shape or form. A more apt name for it is: A chaotic brand of neo-colonial state capitalism.


Well within a year of our arrival, Farida and I are in harmony with life in this land. It has its own idyllic features. Of cardinal importance to us is that our small infant is now a healthy, chubby, playful baby. Each month, her mother takes her to the local child health clinic. The friendly staff give her sound advice on the nutritional value of locally available food items and how to cook them. Rosa gets along splendidly with her playmate at my cousin’s place. During the evening walks, she runs hither and thither, grabs this and that, her face beaming with intense pleasure.

Though there are no chocolates or fine restaurant delicacies to be had here, we are content with the cheap, varied and bountiful fruits, vegetables, fish, grains, and meat that Farida, moreover, prepares in a delicious style. We make up for the lack of theaters by listening to movie songs on a cassette player. I read a lot of books, at home and at work. (If you are seen reading or writing in the office, it is taken as work, no matter what it is.)

The air in town is fresh. It is quite windy and cold at times. But we take it in stride. Once, there is an ice hailstorm. One morning, I see a brighter than usual stream of light emerging from my brother’s room. He is fast asleep. As I enter, I see, through a hole in the ceiling board, that two tin roof plates have been blown away. Mohamed has slept undisturbed throughout the stormy episode. I make a report to the regional works office the minute I am at work. It is repaired the same afternoon. Just a minor thorn in this otherwise almost ideal existence.

People we encounter are courteous and friendly. Besides our relatives, we visit Sichilima and Zaharan, my office mates, at home for a chat. Sometimes they come over. Personal security is not an issue. My salary is modest. But as we live in a modest style, I manage to save a fourth of the amount for a rainy day.

Yet, the paucity of intellectual stimulation bothers me. I find continued immersion in a remorseless bureaucracy that violates the basic rights of people with impunity deeply disturbing. I yearn to teach and explore the wide world of mathematics. Farida, for her part, wants to resume her work as a secretary. The prospects for her in this area are essentially nil.

But I cannot just resign and look for another job. I am still under the five year work contract with the government. If I am to get a new job, it has to be with official permission. There is a vacancy for a statistician in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Faculty of Medicine of UDSM. I apply. The lack of response to my letter indicates that I remain an unwelcome at that academic institution.

In September 1975, I see a newspaper advertisement for an Instructor of Transport Statistics at the National Institute of Transport in Dar es Salaam. Must be a new place, I tell myself. In haste, I submit an application through official channels. Providence is on my side. In two weeks, I am called for an interview. A month later I get a letter of acceptance which bears the stamp of approval from the central manpower allocation office.

In the middle of November 1975, Farida and Rosa depart for Dar es Salaam. Again fortune is on our side: by some coincidence, the researchers from UDSM who had driven us to Sumbawanga are here. They kindly agree to give them a ride back to Dar es Salaam in their vehicle. Farida takes her and Rosa’s clothes and stuff. I have to take care of the rest: the cot, three mattresses, assorted pots, pans and plates, a bagful of my books and papers, and my personal items. The two beds and other items are distributed among my co-workers and our house worker. He is not happy to see us go, but I give him a good terminal benefits deal. Pyarali, Sichilima and Zaharan get three books each as a parting gift. They are the left over stock from the ill-fated bookstore.

I have ten thousand shillings, the equivalent of six months of my salary, in my bank account. It will be handy at our new location. In the last week of November, I make my final journey from Rukwa Region. And what a trip it is. I ride in a twelve ton lorry that is transporting finger millet and dried fish to Dar es Salaam. It has space for our belongings but the seat next to driver already has a passenger. So the loading assistant and I are at the back, sitting on top of sacks of dried fish.

It is a bumpy ride. The driver seems hell bent on making it to Dar es Salaam in record time. It does not matter whether we are on a straight or winding stretch, he maintains the same speed. I am wearing three shirts to protect myself from the wind. But it does not help. A stopover of a couple of hours in Mbeya, and then we set sail once more. We are lucky that it does not rain. By the time I am in Upanga at my parents’ house eighteen hours later, I am as exhausted as a marathon runner. But when I see Rosa, that tiredness vanishes.

My first and final trips to and from Sumbawanga are the most arduous journeys I ever undertake. It is behind me now. Another adventure, of a different character altogether, and of five years’ duration, awaits. But first, I need to sleep.


The Travails of a Tanzanian Teacher Copyright © 2018 by Karim Hirji. All Rights Reserved.

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