IF you forget for a minute the separatist streak in the Zanzibar Islands, and the frequent violence there during elections, Tanzania is seen as one of the most “united” and stable countries in Africa.
A lot of the credit for this is often put at the doorstep (or now grave) of the country’s cerebral and charismatic founding father Julius Nyerere. Nyerere and the ruling Chama cha Mapunduzi (Party of Revolution or CCM) that he led, is seen to have achieved this through three principal means.
First and foremost, the aggressive pursuit of Kiswahili as the national and official language, consigning all other local languages to an equal status as the “secondary other”.
Secondly, the largely corruption-free quasi-socialist policy of Ujaama (a form of collectivatisation) that, in the end, came to be judged an economic failure. However, it is credited with helping create a mostly egalitarian society, bereft of the resentment and acrimony that is often produced by the big gap between rich and poor. Unity in misery, its critics say dismissively.
Thirdly, Nyerere was pan-Africanist and pan-East African, and threw a lot of economic and diplomatic resources in helping the countries of southern African region free themselves from rule by racist white minority dictatorships.
In the process, leading sections of Tanzanian society were united around a grand vision of what their country stood for in the world, and were more inclined to subordinate their local parochial politics in the cause of the “greater good”.
The “common language” medicine has been prescribed for countries that were or are at war, like the DR Congo, South Sudan, Central African Republic – until it runs into a tough problem.
Countries like Rwanda, that was consumed by a genocide in 1994 in which nearly one million people were killed; Somalia, which is still embattled; Egypt and Libya, are all countries where over 95% of the people speak the same language.
On the other hand, fairly stable and democratic Botswana, Senegal, Ghana, and Zambia, are linguistically and culturally diverse.
So, is are common languages and cultures overrated, as important for national unity in Africa? A bunch of baloney?
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If you think language and culture are not critical, what is?
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