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Poem: “I am Tanzanian”


In 2001, inspired by [and twisting] Thabo Mbeki’s words, I wrote this:

I am made of the fecund soils of Kyabalisa and the desolate dust of Kiomboi. I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the trees, the flowers, the lakes and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of my Tanzania. The fragrances of nature have been as pleasant to me as the sight of the wild blooms of the citizens of savannah.

The dramatic shapes of Udzungwa, the greenery waters of Lake Manyara, and the fractured soils of Hanang’, have all been panels of the set on the natural stage on which I act out the foolish deeds of the theatre of my day. 

At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the colourful leopards of Tarangire, the man-eating lions of Liwale, the gigantic elephants of the Selous, the yowling hyenas of Mvumi, the venomous black mambas of Sekenke hills and the pestilential mosquitoes of Ikwiriri.

I owe my being to the Hehe fighters, the Ngoni rebels, the Yao insurgents, and all of Kinjekitile’s warriors, whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of my beautiful land - they who fell victim to the most merciless and brutal wars my native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and dependence and they who, as a people, perished in the result.

Today, as a country, as we judge each other as thieves, we keep an audible silence about these ancestors of the generations that live, facilitating the obliteration from our memories a cruel occurrence which, in its remembering, should teach us not and never to be inhuman again. I am formed of the migrants who left India and Oman and Arabia and Sudan to find a new home on my land. Whatever their own actions, they remain still, part of me.

In my veins courses the blood of the Tippu-Tip slaves who came from the interior of my land - Ujiji and Tabora. Their proud dignity informs my bearing, their culture a part of my essence. The stripes they bore on their bodies from the lash of the slave master are a reminder embossed on my consciousness of what should not be done.

I am the grandchild of the RugaRuga warriors, the patriots that Mirambo took to battle, and the Kalenga warriors, the soldiers that Munyigamba taught never to dishonor the cause of freedom. I am the descendant of Mukama Rumanyika, whose court dispensed justice with sheer sophistication, and Zumbe Kimweri, whose wisdom and valor conquered the vast expanse from Pare Mountains to Pangani shores.

And I have been enriched by the addition of new parents and grandparents. Some are flamboyant and opulent citizens of Masaki and Oysterbay, while others are indigent residents of the Manzese slums. My brothers and sisters, dwelling in malnutrition, have formed shrinking cheeks, thin legs and protruding abdomens while my other siblings, buoying in lavishness, display, without a sense of shame and guilt, obscene flamboyance.

I am the son of itinerant beggars and dispossessed prostitutes who hoard Ohio street at night and Kinondoni brothels during daytime. At Samora Avenue’s sidewalks, my mother coughs and points to the baby asleep on her shoulder and holds out her hand for money - importunate, insistent, desperate. At night, in Ohio Street, my half-naked sisters line-up the dimly lit street – desperately dashing at their feet as the break lights of a passing car show life.

I am struggling to detach my being from a grown man who forces his manhood into a ten years old girl – or boy – inflicting dreadful pain and ultimately dispatching death. He is one of my people, a part of me. What pushes my fathers to cruelty inside the home and infidelity outside is ingrained in my bones.

A half-schooled politician in a paramilitary uniform, whose mission is to ascend to power at any cost, is as part of me as the one who pillage the treasury to satisfy his greed. I am the giver and the recipient of bribe; I am the corruptor and the harlot who demean my country.  An Indian resident of city-center, who makes the Gogo scavengers pay for “valuable” garbage and empty cans, is my family. A Machinga boy, who starves by squandering his entire day’s earning trying Bingo lottery, further enriching a bald, bellied mogul, is my brother.

The dismal shame of poverty, suffering and human degradation of my country is a blight that my people don’t want to share. Each newborn seeks the residence of Mbezi beach, Masaki and Oysterbay even at cost of destruction of all sense of self-esteem.  Some of my people are striving to be what they are not, simply to acquire some of the benefits which those who had improved themselves as masters had ensured that they enjoy. Banish the shame, purge yourselves of condescending pride, and remake yourselves into the midwives of our nation’s renaissance.

-January Makamba



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