I was hanging out with my nieces once and they tipped me off a few years ago about the artist Michael Jackson and recommended that I should listen to his music because “he’s really good.”
And I looked back at my own childhood and realised just how fundamental a shift this Information Age has ushered in.
You kind of had to be here in the 1980s and 90s to know just how much of a backwater Dar es Salaam was. I hear we were pretty popular in the 60s and 70s but by the time I came along we were just Kenya’s village cousin who gawped in wonder at our three or four paved roads and had electricity like, a couple of times a week. Oh, and of course, state controlled media.
So, no TV; it was considered a luxury item and owning a set could get you ratted out by a neighbour to whoever was in charge of keeping us faithfully socialist.
Then we had to liberalise a whole bunch of things, including the media, in the 1990s. But since we were so broke, I figured it wouldn’t change much for a while.
But some rich industrialist thought to himself: Why shouldn’t Tanzanians also enjoy a little bit of modernity, and an alternative to the iconic Radio Tanzania? And we were off to the races.
By the time the government had gathered enough cents to bore us witless with its drab TVT, Tanzanians were already used to having independent media houses, newspapers and radio stations.
Nowhere was busier in the morning than the newsstand at the bus-stops, and boy did we have a lot to say about politics, society, sports and entertainment after all.
I got into a Twitter discussion with a talented young journalist who is understandably dissatisfied with the quality of the coverage of the late Reginald Mengi’s life and times.
Truth is, we two Tanzanians were freely having this discussion just days after World Press Freedom Day, while hashtags have been created and kept alive to keep questioning the disappearance of journalist Azory Gwanda.
The media environment and freedom of speech deteriorate at an alarming rate and this young blood reminded me that yeah: We are here because someone did the hard work of starting the footpath, which became a road, which is now the information highway.
Truth is we have an extremely vibrant young population that is schooled and schooling us, our elders and each other while retaining that irrepressible Tanzanian sense of humour.
Can you imagine how stubborn and relentless Reginald Mengi must have been to get IPP Media off the ground?
So let me marvel at this incredible time we live in where our mobile phones connect us to the world and make us citizens of so much more than the physically bound territories we find ourselves in.
We strive to form the world we want to live in and media is connection: The most fundamental human need of all.
When my nieces can teach me about Michael Jackson and I can join my fellow Tanzanians remotely to watch the burial of a man we loved. When I can join the ranks of those who ask: Where is Azory Gwanda? And all the nameless ones who have disappeared?
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]