“Allegory of the Cave” and the rural poverty in Tanzania

In the last two weeks I did fieldtrips in rural areas of five regions of Tanzania- Mtwara, Lindi, Kigoma, Kagera, and Mwanza.  The natural beauty that every part of Tanzania boasts with is tarnished by extreme poverty in rural areas. The villages have no water, electricity, and the roads are in worse conditions. Children are barefoot, stunted with all other signs of malnourished. The agriculture products are very cheap as compared to prices in urban areas and these people have no means to transport them to fairer markets. Health centers are scarce and with no adequate facilities. I carried over 20 focus group discussions with different groups and the issues and concerns that participants were raising kept me doubting if we are in the 21st Century.  To cut the long story short, the poverty situation is sad and a shame to us all. One evening as I was reflecting my day-work and discussions I had then I tweeted ‘Mtanzania yoyote yule asithubutu kuringa jamani nhi yetu ni maskini…nimeona umaskini wa kutisha vijijini…tuungane tupigane na hii hali!’ (19May).  To clarify, it’s always good to be proud of Tanzania but we need to fight rural poverty as an expression of our pride.  I kept reflecting and as was writing my field report over the weekend, my mind went back to reflecting the same issues. My soul bent.

In all these, I can’t think of a better story to partly analyze what is happening in rural Tanzania than Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I will not retell the whole story as anyone can read entirely in Plato’s Republic- Book VII, but will use my interpretation of the story in trying to explain the shameful situation in rural Tanzania and then suggest ways through which we can start dealing with these issues.

In brief, the Allegory of the Cave talks about people living in a cave/den and see images of the outside of the cave, although the images are a reality to them, those images were only shadows. Then one person successful went out of the cave, and he saw light and the reality. He then realized what he was seen from the cave were only shadows… Plato argues that the person should go back to the cave to inform his fellow cavemen that there is a reality outside…(please read the story as one can interpret it in many ways)

This story can explain what is happening in rural Tanzania. Most Tanzanians when we leave our rural homes, we do not go back. We come to urban areas or Dar-es-Salaam and forget about where we are from. We, at best, remain with the name only. This is partly what is deteriorating our rural areas.  Some of the rural areas I went or passed through, are ‘homes’ of some of successful politicians, civil servants, business people, academicians, etc living in big cities away from home.  I am not judging but you can tell those villages do not reflect their flamboyant lifestyles in urban areas.

I am a strong believer of Mill’s ideas of freedom, and I think everyone should be free to live anywhere they want and do what they want as long as they do not harm others (although I go beyond Mill’s restrictions of ‘direct’ harm…to include both direct and indirect harm…e.g. how hate speech can lead to harm indirectly).   But, I think it is a high time that Tanzanians, whenever we live, should remember their rural homes. If we invest in our rural homes, even by putting up a descent house and do frequent visit, we will develop a connection and touch. A heart to participate and get engage with local development. I see many Tanzanians youths making noise in twitter and social media forum about development in Tanzania yet they don’t have any touch or don’t even bother to go back to their rural areas. They speak from cities. It is established that poverty in Tanzania is mainly on rural areas. The economic growth we have enjoyed for the last 8 or so years have not done much to reduce poverty in rural Tanzania. (See Poverty and Human Development Reports from 2003ff).

With no offence or bias, I think Tanzanians can learn from Chagga people. Everyone knows Chagga villages are in much better conditions relative to all other villages in Tanzania. This is evident even from hindsight.  There are obviously many factors for that- e.g. the early presence of missionaries, etc, but one significant prevailing culture is the connection to home. Chagga people invest in their rural areas. A Chagga man will ensure that his rural home is at least in a descent condition before building another house in urban area. This is why we see mansions. etc in Chaggaland. (though I wish more of that money could be spent in improving schools than increasing mansions) and the ambiance in Chagga village is  entirely different compared to other villages. Chagga people go home every Christmas. This embeds the connection.  There is a famous verse in Bible that goes like ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ and this is relevant to us. If we put treasure in our rural areas our hearts will also be there and will start doing necessary changes however little they are.

 Please let’s all remember our rural areas, even if we were born and raised in urban areas, we should not forget our origins. Our relatives are struggling and they do not enjoy the reality of life. They are still in cave, let us be good guardians and go back.

 This will not solve the entire problem, because poverty in rural Tanzania is structural and can best be dealt with the right policies to replace what Paul Krugman calls #Zombie policies. But if we start investing our treasures in rural areas, we will be in the best position to advocate for those right policies….

15 thoughts on ““Allegory of the Cave” and the rural poverty in Tanzania

  1. Soraziz

    This is the second field trip to rural Tanzania I have heard this month and all of them come with the same consternation: Tanzanians in rural areas lack almost everything. what’s surprising is the fact that political discussions and initiatives are aimed to satisfy the needs of the urban population and/or to respond to attacks from opposition, themselves inspired from what partisans living in cities ask.
    Reinvesting in our villages is a good idea, but it was easy for Chagas to reinvest because the infrastructures (at least roads) were there. If the road network is broadened to other rural areas it would open them and encourage trade, visits from scholars, natives and development agents etc.
    I wouldn’t want to oversimplify the problem of poverty by saying it is just because those areas are not accessible, but this is one key area to be looked at. I am sure you did not visit villagews that would have required you to row a boat for 4 hours to get there. so their problems will not be part of your study. Just this will postpone the understanding of the problem, when other more accessible villages have done the first step.
    Roosevelt said: it is not our wealth that gave us our roads, but our roads that gave us our wealth.

  2. Margareth Paul Komu

    Very true fact aikande, just an extra comment, if I may say… Our leaders, people who represent us(common mwananchi) before government, those who (we hope so..) struggle to meet our interest and have our best interest at heart( we heartly think so)should adhere to “giving back to the society philosophy” that is ” I was elected by this people for these people” hence, my victory securing this seat isn’t actually mine but its a victory of the province which elected me and sincere people who trust in me and believe in me that I can bring positive change into their lives, thus improve their current ways of living” and not the “it’s my time philosophy” that is, i will exploit this seat as much as I can for my prosperity, me and me alone”
    It will be an honor for you mr politician, my representer to make a change in your province, sincere people who elected you and to your mother village and not abusing that will power to stand on their behalf before government!,but how are you going to do that if your reside in the city through out the year and not in your province? I am sorry aikande if I may seems to be carried a way in my line of thinking, but it’s sad seeing a member of parliament residing in Dar es salaam through out his/her leadership duration and just visits his/her province once in a blue moon!? And they still say it loud and clear ” I am so and so MP of a certain forsaken remote town x..!!” Please tell me, how will that MP represent his province well while its abvious he/she doesnt spend enough time to know, find out and analyse immediate and vital need and requirement of his /her province!!
    If I may say, this scheme of leadership is an insult to the society! A typical picture of what my brilliant friend aikande is depicting in the this smart piece! It should be understood that “giving back to the society” attitude is a major criteria of a good leader who will definitely fights for the interest of his/her people though this criteria we often
    over look. A good leader isn’t one who talks so much and can woo the crowd or ms/mr xx from a reach family or mr/ms xx because his or her parent was once a certain prominent person in the government! It should be know that government is an organ for the people, by the people hence our leader should code that they are leaders because of the people and not leaders because they made it through and it’s they time to feed up!


  3. Faraja Nyalandu

    ‘Allegory of the Cave’ sheds a spotlight on two important aspects of conditions; perceptions and reality. Perceptions are thoughts, opinions, ideas or perhaps ‘shadows’…often brought about by certain internal or external characteristics while reality is the actual condition, a combination of those external or internal characteristics at its crude form (before any processing into ideas, opinions etc). If we are to make sense of our ‘development’ we have to consider the reality in its crude form. That is what you witnessed. Reality should then be the base of policies, regulations, frameworks, strategic plans and action plans. Most importantly, the aspect of ‘the enlightened’ from the allegory should be expounded to not just include rulers but ‘the enlightened’ should include actors at all levels from the Government, academic institutions, private sector all the way down to the community to a lovely mama who knows her children need to go to school and she has to do something about it. We are all ‘enlightened’ in our own ways. We each have a role to play. So yes, if each of us went back to our villages and miss the urban luxuries, we would all be wailing the same cries or even better, fix the situation.
    One of the books I have enjoyed reading, The Great Gatsby, starts with a strong advice from father to son,’…remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had’. Indeed, we are enlightened, let us share the advantages :))

  4. Alilya Emannuella

    Allegory of the cave, what a touching and reality of our nation, Tanzania. For few of us who have seen the light should take that back to the villages. I think Mwalimu Nyerere’s idea of “Mwenge”….was to bring hope…thus hope where there’s sorrow. I urge that each and one of us, should be responsible. As well when you go back to the village, you’ll bring so many changes. I know one true example, Mr. and Mrs. Hekima, had an opportunity to live in big cities even abroad but instead they chose to live and settle in their village, the effect of their presence is amazing. The village now has two secondary schools, electricity and water. More than that they’ve set a real example to the other villagers. Thank you Dr. Aikande, for the pro found entry.

  5. Kathleen (Kate Bomz)

    This is entirely very true, I interviewed the chief economist at the Worldbank sometime last year before they released their economic update on Tanzania, I asked and pressured what is the point of saying our economy is growing at a certain number rate whilst majority of Tanzanians in the rural strata still live in conditions that our great grandparents lived in, in object poverty! how is that we can even dare speak of a rising middle class? or how dare we even boast, we are a democracy? One thing, I always strive or try get across is the need to look within, and develop from within, so yes it will start in our villages. So not only is there a diaspora divide (those like myself living in the diaspora) but there is now an internal urban disconnect with the rest of the country, urban vs rural/ reality vs perception. Thank you for sharing, I was expecting a much harsher post.

  6. Andulile

    Great Ideas friends!!!!
    Sure this is the reality that most of our leaders have refused to embrace and address it. However much we may be aware of this, if we end up just saying without acting, Tanzania will keep on enlarging the gap between the Rich and the Poor. We are individuals with great ideas who are not united for common goal to lobby for change or push the government to do something. We are basically not aggressive and cowards so to say! people talk very well and have great ideas in informal gatherings but they do not come forth and talk openly on these issue, and our leaders are taking advantage of us! We have great ideas and alternatives to solutions for poverty BUT who are we targeting with such information, through what channels and mechanisms. We surely need to stop talking and start acting for the benefits of Rural communities who form the big part of Tanzania.

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