Academic journal article Africa

Being of `One Heart': Power and Politics among the Iraqw of Tanzania

Academic journal article Africa

Being of `One Heart': Power and Politics among the Iraqw of Tanzania

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article explores local understandings of and experience with democracy in an Iraqw community in northern Tanzania. At independence, President Julius Nyerere in his development of a one-party state, argued that democracy in this new nation state would be modelled on that which is round in indigenous, precolonial political systems. In the Iraqw homeland, pre-colonial `democracy' was expressed in elders' councils in which male elders made decisions on behalf of the test of the community. Differences of opinion were voiced but eventually the group would come to one opinion to achieve the state of being of `one heart' before decisions could be put into effect. While Nyerere claimed that this practice of democracy and achieving consensus would provide the model for the post-colonial state, in actuality the state drew more on colonial models characterised by top-down decision-making and autocratic governance. Overlaying both the pre-colonial and post-colonial political systems is an ideological emphasis on `unity'. This article explores how the central notion of unity is expressed and perceived among the Iraqw in Tanzania and how it forms the screen through which people view democratisation.

Socialism--like democracy--is an attitude of mind.... We, in Africa have no more need of being `converted' to socialism than we have of being `taught' democracy. Both are rooted in our own past. [Julius Nyerere, 1968: 1]

To explore Nyerere`s statement that socialism and democracy are embedded in the African past, this paper will first' examine how Iraqw in their rural homeland of Irqwa Da'aw in Mbulu District in northern Tanzania perceive and have experienced power and political authority from the pre-colonial era to the present. An examination of notions of power and the history of political organization in the area is important for exploring how Iraqw today respond to the presence of the state and the enactment of state policies from socialism to multi-party politics. In this way, I will explore Nyerere's assertions that socialism and democracy are rooted in Tanzanian's past. By equating state policies with `African traditions', Nyerere attempts to domesticate state policies and practices, and to deny a separation between the state and civil society. Yet, while domestication of particular political ideals has been enormously successful in Tanzania, many of its economic and social policies (cooperative farming, villagisation, etc.) have not. Because of these limits to state effectiveness, I question the degree to which, in Mbembe's words, `state power (1) creates, through its administrative and bureaucratic practices, a world of meanings all its own, a master code which ... ends by governing paradoxically--the various logics that underlie all meanings within that society' (1992: 3). Iraqw views demonstrate how `local' histories, beliefs and experiences of the state incorporate, modify, reject, and transform national and global agendas. This article seeks to contribute to what Karlstrom (1996) notes is a small but developing literature on local ideas and practices of democracy in Africa.(1)

In examining political organisation and process in the Iraqw homeland, it is also important to look at the political ideologies of both the state and the traditional political authority of the men's elders' council. Umoja and Usalaama (`Unity' and `Peace') were the slogans on the CCM (Chama cha Mapinduzi, or Revolutionary Party) T-shirts printed up for Tanzania's first multi-party elections in 1995. Three years after the elections the government has in theory been disentangled from the party, yet officials attending public government meetings in rural Tanzania still don these CCM shirts. In Mbulu District, and throughout Tanzania, interpretations of the CCM ideology stressing unity and peace are the prism or, to use Mbembe's term, `the master code' through which Tanzanians view and sometimes contest demokrasi (democracy). …

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