Talkin’ bout a (bloody) revolution? It’s all fun, games until it’s real

Friday July 29 2022

Tanzania's riot police hoist a banner ordering protestors to leave or be ejected by force outside the South African High Commission in Dar es Salaam on August 28, 2019. PHOTO | BOB KARASHANI | NMG


I watched a peaceful protest outside the American Embassy when Freeman Mbowe was arrested and was pleased that these protesters at least were smart enough to make sure that even though the Oysterbay Police Station is right there, nothing was likely to happen to them physically.

They sent their message worldwide — all 15 to 20 of them — and Chadema moved on with the real, unglamorous work of securing his freedom. I also remember the nationwide march called for by Mange Kimambi a couple of years ago.

Because it was organised by a protest leader who was outside the country and it targeted youth, mainly, it garnered quite a storm of interest that resulted in precisely nothing when the day came to go out on the streets. You know why? Probably because of women like me, weak women. We fear blood, you see. I don’t doubt that any number of people were either locked in their houses, had their keys confiscated or got yelled at by a matriarch about taking on the Fifth Administration head on like that.

I bring this up because while walking with a friend the other day he remarked to me that “you women fear blood, don’t you?” I realised he said that because I had cautiously stepped out of the way of an oncoming motorcycle and let him play chicken with the driver. Still, it struck me as astoundingly dumb. How do women fear blood, especially African women? Between our bodily functions, childbirth and the general care duties that fall upon us whether we want them or not, blood and pain are literally unavoidable in our lives.

It started somewhere

So where was this coming from? Life when you are young and rambunctious really does feel like something to be taken for granted. Of course you’re going to wake up tomorrow and change the world! Young people can feel invincible and spoil for a fight because apparently the brain doesn’t even mature our risk assessment capabilities until the age of 25 or so.


If you add in a good flush of testosterone to the mix, which women do have just in less quantities than men, well the aggression factor can increase. Strengthen that biological aspect with some patriarchal socialisation and voila! You get a grown man telling a grown woman that “women fear blood” as a matter of fact. But I do have to agree that this woman in particular fears the blood of violence. It’s not easy to tell if I ever even “liked” blood but like everyone I have a dark side and have seen some things on the internet that I deeply regret. Nowadays I have a strict policy on my social media and you will hear from me if you send me gore. Maybe it has to do with growing up a little.

You see, it’s all fun and games until it is real. Blood in theory can be compelling and entertaining. My own blood doesn’t faze me at all, I have had stitches put in and talked through the process. I get a thrill donating blood or watching a blood sample test tube thingy fill up at the doctor’s office. Seeing my own blood makes me feel vital, elemental almost. Seeing a stranger’s blood? Not at all welcome. Seeing a loved one’s blood? Devastating. Empathy, it turns out, makes people pacifists rather than violent revolutionaries.

So imagine my surprise as I track how often the call for “revolution” has come up lately in Tanzanian discourse on social media. Sometimes I think people use that word for dramatic effect to signify their allegiance to a cause, usually that of getting a new Constitution. But a few times here and there I detect real verve behind these statements and it worries me. Tanzania has had a revolution before and it was bloody as all hell. So much so we don’t really tell the truth about it; the mass graves, the slaughter. I don’t know how much of it is on record that is available to the public to be honest.

And Tanzania has had a number of other hairy periods. Ujamaa villagisation has blood on its hands, burned villages and forced relocations. I don’t know that Tanzanian soldiers were complete saints during the Kagera War. There have been other incidents, in our more recent history, that hint heavily at our dark side. In spite of this, the majority of us Tanzanians have been lucky enough not to actually know what it is like to live through a violent revolution per se. I am now wondering if maybe we should address the realities of war and revolutions in our education system and public discourse.

The war in Ukraine, the events in Sri Lanka have given some people fantasies of abrupt change and people’s power that far outstrip the reality on the ground. In this century, by the time people are on the streets either the fight is won or lost already and all that is left is the performance of change. There are structural issues at play that are often beyond the control of governments, like the world economic system and its oil addiction, the decay of current democratic models, the environment, pandemics. I think it is a fundamental human drive to want to make a change. Translating that into realistic actions in one’s society however is a commitment and effort of a lifetime. You want to flex like a man? Be like Nyerere in his old age. Be like Mandela. Fight the good fight, smartly, peacefully.

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