MUNYAGA: Time to face racial imbalance in East Africa

MUNYAGA: Time to face racial imbalance in East Africa

By Mboneko Munyaga, East African News Agency

During the celebrations to mark the Zanzibar Revolution’s 53rd anniversary on January 12, 2016, some rally goers in Zanzibar town carried placards reading the African majority rejected vehemently any form of domination by the minority descendants of the Arabs in the Isles.

Many people have since cried foul, insisting the placards carried a racist message, which has no place in modern Tanzania.  Others have called for punishing those responsible. The ruling CCM, or Party of the Revolution has since distanced itself from the message of the placards, clarifying that the people who carried the placards were not from its branches.

But the question is: “ Is there or is there not racism in Tanzania?” I am afraid, discrimination against the black majority is a fact of daily life in Tanzania. What mitigates the racism in financial opportunities, businesses, employment and many other forms, is the fact that Tanzania is an independent country with black majority rule for the last 55 years. However, Tanzania is perhaps the only country in the world where the socio-economic life does not reflect the majority character of the people.

For example, Indians in Tanzania constitute only 0.01 per cent of the population but they control and consume over  70 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In any case, Indians in Tanzania are more than a privileged community. Apart from controlling the economy, they run their own health and social security schemes, hospitals and schools. Recently, there has been added to that list their own police and rescue service, euphemistically entitled: Rapid Response Team (RRT).

The Indian School at Mtoni in Dar es Salaam, which follows India’s syllabus and carriculum, is technically “Little Delhi” in the city. Literally, it has no black students on its campus. The school is a queitly perfected system of educational seggregation right in direct view of anyone and rejection of any attempt at early life integration with the black majority. Because  students there do not go up to Form Six but join colleges after class ten, that gives them a way to avoid joining the National Service as is required by law for all Tanzanian youths before they go to university.

Subsequently, there is hardly any Indian in the Tanzanian military. In reality therefore, the African majority act both as the exploited market for Indian prosperity and gunpowder fodder for their protection. The system is not by accident. It is part of the colonial legacy and the failure by subsquent governments to address and redress the imbalance. The placards in Zanzibar were, in my opinion, a candid reminder of the inequality along racial lines in modern day Tanzania.

Generally, colonialism created Indians in East Africa, as the business class and buffer race between the minority whites and the black majority. In Zanzibar, the Arabs were the ruling oligarchy, which the people rejected in a bloody uprising on January 12, 1963. Zanzibaris are 99 per cent Muslims but when it comes to the true sense of cultural belonging, spiritual “brotherhood” plays second fiddle to ethnic identity. It is a fact of life that societies can only ignore at their peril.

Therefore, I think there is need for serious dialogue in all Africa over the racial question and all other forms discrimination. Former Chadian dictator, Hissene Habre who is now on trial in Dakar, Senegal for war crimes and crimes against humanity was in reality a demented tribalist who sought to annihilate all other tribes except his own Anakaza, strangely, just a sub branch of the Daza and Toubou ethnic groups.

Amaerican intellectual and entreprenuer, Mellody Hobson has called on societies not to be colour blind (ignore reality) but colour brave (face and accept reality). Diversity is a fact of life but it needs to be susitainable. More than ever, it is what African needs now. 

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