A peaceful country, Tanzania talking a lot about war

Tuesday February 14 2017

Elsie Eyakuze. PHOTO | FILE

Elsie Eyakuze. PHOTO | FILE 

By Elsie Eyakuze

For a peaceful country, Tanzania seems to spend a lot of its time talking about war.

Never in terms of international relations, that is uncalled for and besides it would be rude. We wage war on inanimate objects and social ills and I am sure you can see why that is prudent. They cannot fight back for the most part and for political reasons we can decide to report our performance in glowing terms.

A war against a social problem can be “won” since the definition of that winning is entirely up to us and not the opponent.

We have been waging the war against illiteracy since the dawn of the republic. It is possible that we almost overcame our foe in the 1970s, reportedly with a little help from the adult education programme. At present, however, things don’t look great.

Successive administrations have thrown buildings and desks and uniform requirements at the education system… great. Teacher supply and quality service delivery however have remained stubbornly elusive. Are we winning? Not unless you live in an alternative facts kinda world. We’re in good company: A public education system is the headache of every country that has one.

We have also been waging a war against poverty for a long time now. Resources everywhere and all the usual trouble converting them into prosperity. Governments have to have a raison d’etre and by default an African government’s job is to “reduce the poverty of its people.”

Yes, we know it is purely conceptual rhetoric for the most part but it has its uses: Showing us how a government goes about not alleviating poverty. These are what we substitute for the ideological battles that keep voters going to the polls every election cycle. Are we winning? No.

With the Fifth Administration has come a whole new campaign. When you put the various pieces together, it seems to amount to a crusade for a pestilential kind of 1950s “upright” conservative morality.

It’s there in the exhortations to wear appropriate clothing to government offices and public spaces, the strong push for a 9-5 work ethic that includes monthly chores for citizens, the desire to control when people can play pool, a quest to eradicate shisha, the enforcement of “appropriate” sexuality, et cetera.

Fine, whatever. The intentions are “good” even if the methods are fascist, but when your only tool is a hammer every problem looks like a nail. Which brings me to the most recent campaign: Tanzania is finally formally engaging in a big push in the War Against Drugs. Before I get to the part where I rather predictably disagree with my government’s approach, I want to congratulate it. Congratulations.

Okay: So far, the public war against drugs has consisted of summoning various celebrities and worthies to the police station for questioning. Sigh. I was hoping we would go the route of Portugal rather than the Philippines for this particular challenge.

You can’t throw a bible or a prison at this problem to solve it, and I can’t believe that in 2017 we’re committing the same mistakes as every other “drug warring” country has for the past forever.

This proves a suspicion I have held for a long time. When you don’t have enough social scientists in your governance system, you’re not going to approach complex social problems with the smartness they deserve.

If this drug war is going to have a chance in Tanzania, my government is going to have to arm itself with health professionals who specialise in this area and economists who study the drug trade and social care workers who know about effective social rehabilitation – and that’s just the beginning.

I understand the urge to beat the industry out of existence but honestly, I think the drug trade loves nothing more than a neophyte challenging it to a bout or two of who will prevail.

Nobody has ever “solved” the drug problem outside of socially progressive societies that dedicate considerable amounts of resources to nurturing human development.

These societies tend to think outside the box and privilege effectiveness and pragmatism over the use of force. Are we winning? Yet to be seen. Here’s to hoping we fight smart, even though I am starting to suspect that my government’s only tool is a hammer.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]