50 years

A few weeks ago, Prince Charles and Camilla visited Dar as part of the celebrations leading up to the 50th anniversary of Tanzania’s independence.  I learned of the visit only because I happened to get caught in a traffic jam caused by the royal procession.  Horns were blaring, sweat was dripping, and our car was inching forward at an exasperatingly slow pace.  When I expressed my frustration, the taxi driver said, its because the Queen is here.

The royal visit to Tanzania was in sharp contrast to the royal visit to Canada last July.  From what I saw, there were no swooning crowds of locals waiting to welcome the royals and the coverage in Tanzania’s English newspapers was minimal.  The visit was not mentioned at work, which is where I usually find out about current events.  Attention was focused instead on an upcoming presentation, a wedding, and the increasingly frequent electricity cuts.

The photo of Charles and Camilla’s visit, set out above and printed in colour in Hello Magazine, is striking.  It could have been published 50 years ago and bears a broad thematic resemblance to the picture commemorating Princess Margaret’s visit to Tanzania, slightly before independence.  In both pictures, the royals have distanced themselves from the Tanzanian population, both in dress and demeanour (Margaret protected by the royal vehicle, Camilla sheltered by the small white parasol).  Both photos show the traditional Maasai greeting ceremony being transformed into a cultural spectacle for royal enjoyment.

In a recent article in the East African, Elsie Eyakuze analyzes the implications of the royal  visit, and criticizes continued western involvement in Tanzania post-“independence”, as well as Tanzania’s continued reliance on development money from the European donor community.  It is a messy, complicated relationship, she says, and governed by inequalities.

It’s a relationship I have thought about a lot since arriving in Dar.

Last week, on a perfect balcony set against the palm trees and the midnight sky, I had dinner with a group of foreigners who are working in Dar.  Most foreigners in Dar work in development.  M works for a cigarette company.  He criticized the inflated salaries that are paid to foreigners who work in development and who live in big houses with pools and generators on the peninsula.  Working on long-term projects with intangible results.  The cigarette company is the second largest employer in Tanzania, he said.  Fair salaries and benefits.  Last year, it was recognized as the best employer in Tanzania.  A fair point, but at what cost?  My internet research also shows that the cigarette company is a subsidiary of a Japanese company.

N works for the government.  When he learned that I work in a legal aid office he asked whether we can provide legal aid to the president.  He wasn’t joking.  He said he needs legal advice for a project and there are no in-house lawyers he can ask for an opinion.

S told me about his new apartment, which is paid for by his employer and which costs slightly more than $3,000 USD per month.  The average Tanzanian salary is approximately $50 USD per month.

C told me about a group of expats who called for a guard to be fired, and a management company who complied, after the guard inadvertently turned a generator off at night, which caused the apartment complex to be without electricity and water for a morning.

The slogan “50 years of independence”, which is increasingly being splashed around town, needs to be read as part of a larger, more uncomfortable, narrative.


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4 responses to “50 years”

  1. mwilliscroft says :

    Wow. The paragraph comparing $3000/month for rent to a Tanzanian’s monthly salary got me. That is insane.

  2. Dr. Afaq Ahmad Qureshi says :

    Excellent. In depth analysis of problems faced by a 3rd world country. It holds true of all such countries who got independent in last 50 years (or so) but have since depended heavily on the aid of their foreign masters. China is one shining example who got independent in the same era but its leadership transformed it into a world power. How sincere leadership can change the destiny of a people!

  3. The Hook says :

    The black-and-white was a great choice!

  4. marcopola says :

    A group of foreign expats causes a guard fired—the foreign expats’cruelty and insensibility shocks me.

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