Farewell Tanzania and onto the next chapter…

Personal trainer Gemma discusses her time in Tanzania and compares it to her previous experience in neighbouring Kenya.

Gemma May in Tanzania

So a few weeks ago I finished my contract in Tanzania and came back for the summer in the UK (you can thank me for bringing back the good weather!). I have had a few weeks to be able to reflect on my time there and what I have learnt.

Tanzania is a socialist country, gaining independence in 1961, led by their beloved Julius Nyerere or ‘Mwalimu’ (teacher in English as he was once one and then formed the organisation that fought and won independence from the British Protectorate it was under) and also known as ‘Baba wa Taifa’ (Father of the country). I did read the English translation of his book ‘ Ujamaa’ (roughly translated as ‘socialism’) which if you are interested in socialism is a good collection of his essays and thoughts on the subject and how it could help form a new country. He does amend the book after his presidency to state some of the things he would have changed, as with hindsight, they could never have worked fully. I admire him for this, how often do politicians come out and say ‘hands up I was wrong but I thought it was for the benefit of the nation’!

Gemma May in Tanzania

With this in mind many positives have arisen from his earlier policies of forcing people to move and live among other tribes and share their farming or business knowledge. There is no tribalism …either in politics or in the streets, so it is a very peaceful place. Surprising for a country that is surrounded by other areas of ongoing, violent conflict. It hosts the most refugees from Burundi in the entire region and has never had ethnic or political unrest.

The community attitude of sharing and taking responsibility for everyone is very obvious to see. In my first month there I was shown a piece of paper with a picture of a burned down house of a former employee and everyone was collecting money, a harambe (community fundraiser), to help them rebuild their lives again. This was a common occurrence if someone was sick, a funeral or wedding needed paying for or school fees. Everyone pitched in and came together. Imagine if we all did this in society in general? How quickly natural disasters would be cleared up! It was a very important part of life there and I quickly saw the benefit.

Before moving to Tanzania I was an avid socialist, or so I believed, and after living in Kenya for two years previously and corporate London before that I really thought it was the simple answer.

When I reached Tanzania and learnt about its history I was thrilled to be able to see this in practice. The first thing I noticed was that Tanzania is seen as ‘poorer’ than Kenya with the GDP lower and visibly less big cities and infrastructure. How could they have less schools, hospitals, electricity if they had so many resources (Tanzanite being one of them and only found there!) and it was nationally owned?

Well like all other people in a powerful money-holding situation and receiving aid from World Bank, corruption had kicked in and new Presidents had been forced to denationalise and allow foreign companies to come in and take tenders for these dollar rich minerals.

Gemma May in Tanzania

The first month I was there, however, the new President, John Magufuli, was elected in and seen as this new hope and another strong socialist primed to tackle the corruption that had seeped into the country. Yey!….. He was known as the ‘Bulldozer’ as he would turn up unannounced at government offices and hospitals and sack people on the spot if he thought they were stealing or not doing their job for the benefit of the Tanzanian people. He cancelled the annual Independence Day stating it wasted money and used this money to buy new hospital beds in the big government hospitals. But soon his novelty wore off and the people on the ground starting feeling the effects of nationalisation in a country not prepared for it. The feeling of being an outsider was intensified and I could begin to appreciate (just a little..I know my privilege don’t worry) how immigrants in the UK and Europe must feel…unwelcome with this rhetoric of outsiders taking jobs. Permits became increasingly difficult to obtain and many people left. I also knew I wouldn’t get another permit and although jobs should go to nationals first there has to be time to train people and an education system to support this.

Gemma May in Tanzania

I started to see some of the negative effects of this type of socialism (as much as I wanted to keep my eyes closed and still believe in the perfect dream..) which included people not seeing they could make a difference themselves, it was seen as the government’s job and they didn’t need to question it. Businesses didn’t train their staff properly which was evident when acquiring services at restaurants an shops. We all can see the long-term benefits of good customer service; the customer may tip, they come back and/or spread the word to other new customers thus ensuring the companies lifespan and keeping us in work and perhaps a pay rise or promotion…very capitalistic thinking..but has managed to develop many nations this way. More people pay tax, more jobs are created and public services end up better funded because of this….hard to swallow..

I would find myself getting very frustrated with lack of or poor services when in my mind I could see with just a little bit of training and money it could be so much better. Thinking outside the box was not something I saw regularly and many times I would think a good missed opportunity in business could have changed the whole area. But was I just pressing my western views on something that needed developing differently? I sat back and spoke to Tanzanians to get their input.

Gemma May in Tanzania

It was mostly down to the education system offered, which now was ‘free’ until the end of secondary school, which was underpaid, under-qualified teachers teaching around 100 pupils with no resources…this leads to rote learning and punishment (mostly physical) if you dared ask a question or think differently. This continued into university if you were lucky enough to get there and afford it.

It just wasn’t supported so why would it be different in the working world. People just want paying with no hassle. If there is a problem with education, health or the way services are run it is a government problem and they cannot do anything about it, why question authority?

This is why I never witnessed protests like the ones in Kenya and London I saw previously.

Gemma May in Tanzania

Many things were similar to Kenya like the food, the fabric and the love of music and having a good time. I learned a lot more Swahili which made life easier and I even learnt to cook a few things (even if a few people still don’t think so!).

Working at an international school gave me my first look at private education and although I still don’t ethically believe in it the curriculum they ran gave the children a chance to develop their own interests and everyone was celebrated for their uniqueness.

Gemma May in Tanzania

I saw, first hand, how hard teachers work and their dedication and passion for each individual, making sure they never slipped and got the best result. I was working on setting up the development office so they could fundraise a lot of money ($10 million over 10 years) to be able to support scholarships to students all over the world to come and have this education and a chance to gain a scholarship to university after.

Gemma May in Tanzania

This was because the school wanted to join United World Colleges and become only the 2nd in Africa (1st is in Swaziland) and allow the movement to move beyond western and rich countries. This idea that everyone gets the same opportunity in education and they focus on peaceful conflict resolution seemed to me to be fitting for this day and age and to be placed in Tanzania, peaceful itself surrounded by conflict.

Gemma May in Tanzania

 

I grew professionally and mentally as living and working in the same place is tough! Also noone understanding what I did and how to support me proved challenging…but I did work with a few exceptional individuals who inspired me, came to my weekly boot camps or just kept me going mentally!

Gemma May in Tanzania

My best bit of Tanzania was the strong group of friends I made and know will be for life. Already trips made to see some people and new ones planned so I know I have a place to stay in most parts of the world now! Many of you who know me will know my friendships are the most important thing in my life and this proved it all the more, keeping me there longer and helping each other through life-changing moments.

Gemma May in Tanzania

We saw many beautiful parts of Tanzania (but ashamedly not as many as I should…didn’t climb Kili..) and had many people come stay for short bits of time to help on numerous projects so we were never bored. Alas, my desire to go back to my ‘home’ western Kenya called and so it was bags packed and emotional goodbyes then time to reflect.

Gemma May in Tanzania

 

So what are my final thoughts on socialism….each country needs to develop in its own way according to the culture there and Tanzania is catching up after learning a lot from its history.

But I am now sure social business is the way forward on the ground, using grassroots solutions and products and then reinvesting profit back to the local community is a good balance of both socialism and capitalism. You need to motivate people and invest in the best education and support for them. New ethical leaders evolve in business and politics and this generation is one of global mindedness, meaning world problems could be solved quicker as more people can empathize with others.

Gemma May in Tanzania

If you do invest or support anything let it be education to open minds so they can solve the problems themselves.

As for me…well keep watching as exciting things are unfolding finally…


This story was originally posted on Gemma’s blog where you can read more about her experiences in Kenya.