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….