Resurrecting Kambona: The danger of a single story

On 14th October, 2011, `Tanzanians` commemorated the 12th anniversary since the departure of Mwalimu Nyerere. Over the years, certain academicians, Politicians and activists have been working tirelessly to construct an image that describes Mwalimu as a `symbol of morality`.The description ranges from Nyerere being anti-corruption and in opposition to all forms of kleptocracy to promotion of social justice. It is a common knowledge that he fought hard against any efforts to commoditize land, a property that we have now auctioned blindly. It is indisputable that this is a commendable side of Nyerere.

Critically, such efforts to construct the image have overlooked the dark side of Mwalimu.I think this move has been deliberate, and literally does a great deal of injustice to people like Oscar Kambona who were vilified just because of their viewpoints. The move is deliberate and strategic due to the fact that it is easy to receive research grants and other forms of subsidies when mobilizing around Nyerere`s name.  Kambona represents so many Tanzanians who were treated unjustly on the grounds of ensuring justice.

Imprisonment, detention, torture, exile-whether self imposed or forced, confiscation of passports which implied `being stranded` and demotion were `justifiable` at least under the banner of national security and elimination of a threat to national interests. This kind of treatment to dissenters and people who held alternative thoughts to Nyerere`s throws his whole character into question as it raises so many questions. Was it necessary to deliver justice at the price of injustice? Was Nyerere`s eminent failure not partly attributable to his obstinacy? DidTanganyikahave to produce political refugees at that tender age? Who has at this juncture been vindicated by history?

I personally grew up in the rural area. I clearly remember a certain hopeless Mzee who was actually our neighbor. I came later to realize that during his youth days, he was a political activist and a strong critic of Nyerere`s policies. It’s unfortunate that his activism earned him a jail term-20 years of languishing. We have heard so many tales about persecution under the first regime (Ludovick Mwijage-The Dark Side of Nyerere`s Legacy, 1996). It is disgusting to observe that some academicians have deliberately buried these tales as if there is nothing to learn from them.

Basically, I hold the view that Nyerere is not worth `a symbol of morality` image. Oscar Kambona and others are victims haunted by the `danger of a single story`. Nevertheless, this line of thinking does not preclude his recognition as a great and visionary leader no matter the failures he went through. Nations are not built by angels-taking this fact into consideration, there is no need to falsely give him a saint-like image and exaggerate his performance unnecessarily. The younger generation has a right of knowing Nyerere from a critical perspective. Oscar Kambona agitated against one party system as he argued that the system did not guarantee a constitutional means of changing government and professed the danger of slipping into dictatorship. He was also skeptical about introducing Ujamaa-socialism without a pilot study to determine if the project would work. If these are the ideas he stood for, what makes him so bad?

As we brace ourselves to celebrate the life of this great leader, Nyerere, it is neither enough nor progressive to repeat the same praise chants leniently and thus look so unthinking. We must take this opportunity as a reminder to also reflect on the lives of those that stood up to what they believed despite the possibility of suffering persecution. We must tell their tales lest we endure the same rejection. Imagine what would have been the fate of those critical academicians, activists and Politicians that we have today only if they did the same under the first regime. I am afraid though, that most of them would succumb as some of those we have today did and escaped imprisonment. As a Pan-Africanist, I believe in the need to re-writeAfrica’s history. I feel the same forTanzania’s history. Nyerere was not a kite that flew comfortably in the wind without the aid of a string.

The nation is now grappling with the lack of courage to say no. To say no to foreigners who dubiously grab our land. To say no to mining companies which mercilessly harvest our wealth and mistreat our people without even bothering to fill in the pits that they leave behind. Courage is one lesson that can be drawn from Oscar Kambona and others who managed to say no to what they thought were inappropriate. Let us be honest and resurrect Kambona.

By Dastan Kweka

Kweka is a pan africanist based in Dar es Salaam


  1. ommy says:

    nimekuwa nikisikia kuhusu hiko kitabu alichoandika mwaijage..nawezaje kukipata?

  2. Mbuguni Richard says:

    Sure bro, we need the leaders like Kambona. The man had the right insights and courage for the construction of a democratic society. Disguising the tales like these and the dark side of Mwl Nyerere, has led into anxious pretending leaders who tend to leave their key responsibilities and turn into “yes boss kind of leaders”, who eventually make their personal interests their key concerns for the leadership.

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