26 Mar 2012

Change in Samaria Village

Samaria village centre
By Eric Kalunga, Daraja's Monitoring and Research Officer, and a participant on the recent Twaweza immersion exercise in Njombe

Samaria is a village in the new region Njombe and like many such villages in this area and most likely elsewhere in Tanzania it has its problems. Such problems include capitation grant not reaching the school, no electricity, poor roads and some unique ones like thugs who control the potato and wheat trade.

Samaria seems ripe for an NGO intervention. Get in there and start people talking, empower women to ask questions, get local artistes to sing about accountability and pin advocacy posters on every single door… and every single tree and the back of the local daladala too.

But this hasn’t happened in Samaria. There are no development CSOs directly active there except for a water scheme paid for by a Christian missionary and a Unicef poster in the headmaster’s office featuring grinning children carrying hoes and saying how proud they are that they produce their own food at school.

Apart from that there is nothing else.

Yet people behave as if they have attended empowerment seminars in Dar es Salaam. Villagers talk of how hot things become during village meetings where burning questions are asked and the leader is put under fire. People take action. For instance construction of new secondary school was recently halted because people were not satisfied with the foundation.

All this without reading a single leaflet, at least according to them. Such changes have occurred internally. The village has, over time, transformed into a place where citizens ask questions and demand answers. At the moment the said questions and general agency is only limited to the level of the village government. No Samarian has so far confronted Njombe’s district director. They are keeping their activism local.

So how did this metamorphosis happen?

Samarians give two explanations. The first explanation is village meetings are now dramatic because Samaria has over time accumulated a lot of former village chairmen and other persons of authority. These people did not always relinquish their posts willingly and some still eye former positions with longing. So when the current leader is explaining how much money was received and spent they stir up trouble by asking difficult questions. While doing this they stimulate discussion and perhaps more questions. Their intentions are not noble but the outcome benefits the village as the current chairman, for example, has to be more transparent when it comes to money. Things always become heated when it comes to money issues.

The second explanation is offered by a village leader and it is the rising level of education in the village. Parents have educated their children past standard seven and the result is they have become more critical. There is just more educated people in Samaria now than was the case before. Six primary school teachers and the two nurses at the dispensary also add to the mix. So these informed citizens now ask more questions.

There is an interesting reason too for why suddenly parents want their children to get educated, at least up to secondary education. The village executive officer laments the fact that he is only managed to reach standard seven in school. Mama B is also a standard seven graduate but her children are now both in private secondary schools in Njombe and Makambako. The fee for each school is about sh1m per year so she has sold some of the trees she owns to pay the fees for this year. The village chairman too is in the process of sending his son to a seminary school in Morogoro after he passed his form four national examinations and was selected for more education. This is currently hot news and the said young man is regarded proudly by Samaria folks

The reason Mama B is so keen to send her children to school, or at least part of it, is all the attitude she gets from the local nurse. Since they are standard seven leavers Samarians, and other villages too, have to deal with outsiders who come to take positions like nurses, teachers, accountants and so on both at the village and Makoga ward which comprises of six villages including Samaria. So these outsiders do not treat people like Mama B well, they treat them with contempt. And the solution for this is to educate the local children so that they can eventually take over these positions and create a Samaria of Samarians.

So factors like former leaders plotting the downfall of their successors and Mama B’s wish to get rid of outsiders at the dispensary, and about a hundred unidentified others, combine and produce change at the level of the community. But this is not conclusive. Societies are complex and so are the causal mechanisms at play. However discussing complex causality is beyond this simple attempt at understanding change in Samaria after a three day stay there. So whatever the real causes might be for the changes in Samaria what an outsider would see is citizen agency.