9 Dec 2009

Uhuru, Amani na Umoja

Today is Tanzanian independence day, exactly 48 years since the end of colonial rule on the mainland. This is obviously a day to celebrate, as without freedom there is very little that matters.

It is also a day to think about where the country has come in the past 48 years, and to think about where it's going.

Tanzania is the onlu county in East Africa to have remained largely peaceful since independence. This is no small achievement and the country's leaders, particularly Baba wa Taifa, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, deserve all of our praise for this. Uhuru (freedom) and amani (peace) are worthy goals and huge achievements.

However, in the spirit of looking forwards, it's also interesting to think about a third idea, umoja (unity), that is often linked closely with uhuru and amani.

Unity is not such a clearly positive issue - it helps keep the peace but has a negative side to it as well. In particular, praising the idea of unity can hold people back by restricting open discussion. If people think that saying or doing anything that could be seen as challenging unity is a bad thing, then a lot of useful new ideas will never be heard.

Criticism is only really bad for people who are not performing well who are afraid that their power might be taken away. For everyone else, criticism is a good thing, as it encourages new ideas, even though it can create disunity. But if unity is constantly being praised, how many people will be willing to make their criticisms heard.

There is an important difference here between unity and peace. Praising peace and discouraging people with disagreements from becoming violent is a good thing. But praising unity and discouraging criticism is likely to hold back development rather than encourage it.

A bit of disunity can be good for development.