TedxDar 2010 – Vicensia Shule on Nyerere

‘I was told…Nyerere is an artist’, she begins. She goes on to suggest that Mwalimu was intensely preoccupied with how culture shapes identity. Apparently, he would often call those who preferred European theatre as ‘Black Europeans’ and ‘White Africans’. He dedicated his presidency to restoring indigenous culture.  The first ministry he established after taking office was the ministry of culture and the goal was to make people comfortable with their culture, and in extension their identity as Tanganyikans.

One interesting point Ms. Shule raises is how Mwalimu used culture to shape his country’s political ideology. For example, he used his translation of Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ to emphasize his socialist worldview. His version was called  ‘Mabepari wa Venice’ to underscore the merchant’s character capitalist inclinations, and in the process warn his people of the evil of capitalism.

Here is what I am getting from this. It is a category failure to describe Mwalimu as an artist, I think. He had a deeply informed artistic sensibility, for sure, but as Ms. Shule points out, he was a politician. And demonstrably true that he used culture to advance his political agenda. He saw Art as a means to his political ends.

He was not an angel, she concludes. And he was not trying to be. And he failed. In fact, as we look at our contemporary culture, it is clear how much his approach to Art and Culture has failed. He was unable to nurture a culture that was beyond his Ujamaa ideology. He failed to convince his people of the primacy of culture that went beyond the politics of the moment.

Her conclusion is profound: Nyerere forgot that this is not a socialist world. For him everything revolved around his ujamaa thinking, ujamaa was a state of mind and he failed to conceive of a cultural identity that will remain authentic in the advent of capitalism.

Nevertheless, while for Mwalimu Nyerere, Culture is a crucial component of how a country defines itself and its politics, our contemporary leaders have relegated the Arts to the margins of our national life. The question then becomes, what has this done to our sense of identity as Tanzanians?

We all need to take a moment and ponder that.


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