Move over, Mwalimu, we need others like Salim to speak up

Sunday October 08 2023

Tanzanian former diplomat Dr Salim Ahmed Salim. X via SALIM AHMED SALIM DIGITAL ARCHIVE


The Salim Ahmed Salim Archive was launched on September 30, and I was lucky enough to get invited. In a town where so much of public life is frightfully dull due to the excessive involvement of the government and its interests, a wild digital archive containing documents collected by one of our most eminent statesmen was a jewel of an occurrence.

The event did not disappoint: it was slick, digital and tightly run. It also managed to be enjoyable, quite a feat for something that started with two anthems and about 3,000 minutes of prayer.

Please note: Tanzania does sing the East African anthem at national events. Some people even know the words! How is that for team spirit?

Read: EYAKUZE: If we’re serious about Africa project, Kiswahili should rule us

For years now I have been thinking about old people and their stories. I was hoping to become adept at mining them for the greater good, becoming part of the movement to document our collective history so that we would know ourselves better as well as teach future generations a richer way of life than that which exists in our textbooks.

As it is, the official narrative is overburdened with the presence of Mwalimu. I am part of his fan club: as much as he has been written about there is something that remains charmingly, infuriatingly elusive about him. In spite of this, I am heartily sick of the man now that we have named all our cool things after him. I am ready for a break, and some breadth of knowledge. Knowledge about other people, other lives, other experiences of leadership, other hard-won wisdoms.


Sadly, Tanzanians of a certain generation are collectively loathe to share their stories. Some of it has to do with our suspicion about intellectualism and reading and writing. A lot of it has to do with excessive modesty and privacy. But we’re getting over that as a society, more people are beginning to write or just share within their families the tasty experiences accrued over a life lived in interesting times.

This is what I hope the Salim Ahmed Salim archive will encourage. One of the best things about the archive is that it is indeed “wild.”

It is understandable that the State wants to have a hand in this exercise of recording the “official” Tanzanian contemporary history.

Read: EYAKUZE: Don’t trifle with all of our institutional memory

Control is at the center of what my government does. However, this is also inimical to the point of the exercise: letting the truth inform us. I already know what the government wants me to think, I am much more interested in narratives from the undomesticated of post-Independence years. Stories that reek of disco music and polyester, of people figuring it out as they go because they got important jobs at a frighteningly young age.

Dr Salim was a great statesman; I am glad that in old age he has gifted us with one more act of service. It might just inspire fellow Olds to relive their courageous days and self-publish too. We the people need them to speak up, like sassy Salim Ahmed Salim did.

Maybe we’ll even name institutions and pieces of infrastructure after them too, finally give Julius a long-overdue rest.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]