I am a Bantu princess, not a piece of paper, thank you

Wednesday May 8 2019

birth certificates

A parent peruses through a pile of birth certificates at a registration office. Tanzanian government has always been fantastically incompetent in the registration of births. PHOTO | HERZON NJOROGE | NMG 

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I was lucky to be born in Bugando Hospital in Mwanza city, Mwanza Region, in the Lake Zone of Tanzania in 19-none-of-your-business.

Doctor Dad was there and he was very much a paper kind of dude. A trait I inherited from him. Some call it hoarding. I call it being a thorough and meticulous keeper of records.

Anyways, my folks were all up in that government stuff. Their kids, all of whom were born in Rock City, all got our birth certificates, every single last one.

My mother definitely doesn’t have my late father’s propensity to keep important documents safe. It’s actually like magic how she can’t keep stuff.

So when I went to get my National Identity Card I was ready. After a brief discussion about whether or not my parents were born in Tanganyika or Tanzania – dude, don’t we teach history anymore? – the guy who processed my fingerprints grinned and said, “Now we’re going to find out if you really are Tanzanian.”



I’ve been documented heavily since my birth. I have been Tanzanianing all over East Africa, the Continent, the North American Continent and Europe since I was a wee lass.

Plans to conquer Asia are still in the works. I Tanzania’d so hard in college in fact that there are folks out there who know how to make a proper Haya peanut stew. I have stared down immigration officers in Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, London, even Bulawayo.

So I looked my fellow citizen in the eye and smiled and let him take my finger prints. Lo and behold, I’m totally 1,000,0000 per cent in the system, right there, with generations going back.

I know where my great grandfather’s grave is. I know what my name means. I know that part of my family were lords so yes, I am in fact a little bit of an African princess for real. I know that my other great grandfather used to sing to his cattle and name them.

At least I get to write about it. According to our president, there’s 55 million of us Tanzanians (don’t tell him but I think he’s off by several million) and so far only 14 million of us have managed to nab a National Identity card.

And in May, everyone who has a SIM card is going to have to go get fingerprinted by their phone companies, Lord knows why. This is Tanzania now.

What happened to the hardcore flagbearer for the dream of a United States of Africa, the friend who would always help you fight for your liberation, the country where unity is not a concept, it is a practice? I’m so sorry, Julius. We’re failing, and we shouldn’t be.

I am protesting because I know that of the remaining millions, it’s going to be a tough job getting that card. They will be bullied.

They will be penalised for not having birth certificates or any kind of paper proving they are Tanzanian because my government has always been fantastically incompetent in the registration of births.

People who have never even left their region are going to be told that they have to prove they belong.

I am, for the first time in my life, ashamed of my land of birth because as a Bantu princess, Government: You get to force us take the papers. But you don’t get to tell us who we are. You are us. And we are you. Utu.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. e-mail: [email protected]