New forms of citizen's engagement

'In the development world we received the mantra words like gender, women, poverty alleviation. Many good things came out of it but our own agendas of empowerment were too often derailed. What about grassroots or as we call them in Africa - the downtrodden?'

by Fatma Alloo

I come from Zanzibar where we claim to be Zanzibar first and then something else! 'Where people do not go to street to demand [electrical] power (umeme) but do so to demand political power' (Mwafaka). I grew up in a visionary society. My conscious years were through Mwalimu's ideology where at Tanganyika's independence Nyerere stated 'Tanganyika is not free until South Africa is free'. I was at school then and asked my teacher to explain this statement and it was my first lesson on apartheid.  Later in life I lived at the University of Dar es Salaam next door to Walter Rodney, the author of How Europe underdeveloped Africa

In those days East Africans were engaged in a critical debate over how Europe ruled Africa, and political economy was the tool of analysis. The spirit of voluntarism and integrity lead our discussion with dignity of people at the heart of our vision. We dreamt of the Africa we wanted with a visionary leader like Julius Nyerere at the helm of Tanzania who had a clear ideological stand — the liberation of Africa. It was the era of a one party state. We had one party newspaper, one government news paper, one radio station, no television on the mainland. Only Zanzibar had coloured television. Democracy implied a cohesive society. Language became a unifying tool in Tanzania and the spirit of nationalism flourished. We took on the agenda of liberation not only of South Africa but of the mind. People mattered. Pan-Africanism was the political goal. Africa must liberate was the cry with people passionately engaged in nation building. Then I grew up and the country did too. The era of liberalization 'Ruksa' came. In 1987 we, the media women, gave birth to Tanzania Media Womenís Association (TAMWA) in Dar es Salaam and Umoja wa Walemavu-the The Disabled Association(UWZ) was born in Zanzibar in 1986. It was the era of free associations and many associations bloomed. TAMWA became the first NGO to own its premises. The media women used Information Technology (IT) as a tool of empowerment. We took pride in producing our own magazine, SAUTI YA SITI, which voiced our concerns as women and positioned us strategically within the women's movement in Tanzania. There were many newspapers and many NGOs such as Kuleana in Mwanza which organized street children, Human Rights Centre, Tanzania Gender Project and many many more were born in the late 1980s/early 1990s. In the 1990s, drunk with new freedom we indiscriminately opened our doors as a nation. Civil society was busy making things happen. We did not stop to think then of our way forward and did not know to demand regulation. Investors come one, come allí was the message from our leaders and no one talked of property rights or land rights. But there were still those who were critical such the magazine Change run by Juma Mwapachu. Change asked about the fate of parastatal vis-a vis foreign investors. The magazine spoke out when Mwatex, a local factory which produced khanga, was closed. Change was a business peoplesí mouthpiece with national interests at heart. In the NGO world we grappled with issues of organizing, advocacy and democratic rights and voice of women. We ran organizations on a voluntary basis.

We were inspired by the dreams of the Africa we wanted. We organized locally and networked regionally and internationally. TAMWA became a catalyst to media women organizing regionally. It was the era when African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) was born regionally and at pan-African level. Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) was born as a south-south coalition network. Gradually, the role of development agencies increased and we began to see emergence of what we now call 'Lords of Poverty'. As poverty become a business leading to the dismantling of gains of independence like the agri-economy we had set up in Tanzania through IMF/WB policies. In the development world we received the mantra words like gender, women, poverty alleviation. Many good things came out of it but our own agendas of empowerment were too often derailed. What about grassroots or as we call them in Africa -the downtrodden? Informal economies thrived. People continued through culturally sound community organizations to engage in their own systems of survival like informal banking, Upatu and engaged in elections.

But we also began to see the emergence of a middle class in our region. In the late 1990s and 2000s the debate emerged between parents who held parastatals and freshly returned, western educated, articulate sons and daughters who refused to stay in the north as second class citizens and came home thirsting to make a difference. The premise was business with profit for ourselves but with national interest at heart. Yes Africa is rich but we have let our natural resources profit others. This younger generation argued for property rights and doing business with social responsibility. This rising force is diasporic in nature. It is not by accident that the debate on dual citizenship is taking place now in the Tanzanian parliament. The emerging business sector wants to keep dual nationality and have access and lobby powerful government officials when they go abroad. At the same time there is a movement at the ground level which is facilitated by people like Chambi Chachage through IT. They voice concerns of society on list serves like BIDII. ZIRRP, WANZUONI, (Young intellectuals) Africa leadership initiative, Tanzania Professional Network who have very successful SACCOSS micro-finance initiatives. These initiatives are both intellectual, nationalistic and corporate in nature. They also engage older generations who are semi or fully retired, who now invest in civil society and raise issues of concern of where they came from and where civil society is going to be at a political level.

At the core of this discussion is what form of democracy do we want? We need leaders on the continent who work with new concepts of being- like Rwanda and Liberia, to name a few, who believe in investing in its people through promotion of social protection. We are seeing the emergence of what John Keane calls 'monitory democracy' where society is defined by the multiplication and dispersal of many different powers - monitoring and contesting mechanisms of power both within domestic fields of government and civil society and beyond in cross-border settings that were once dominated by empires, states and business organizations. How we think of democracy is fundamentally changing. We witness history in the making with Obama at the helm of a descending empire given power by the peoplesí ballot. The US is a representative democracy but it is the system of might of money (corporate) and ammunition (military) that will dictate Obamaís actions.

So in our region too we see consistent emerging forces. The Bunge la Mwananchi (A Peoples Parliament-www.bungelamwananchi.org) of Kenya (2003) is taking form as a social movement. Johannesburg based Civicus (www.civicus.org) continues to have a Civil Society Index which assesses the tempo of civil society on the continent, hopefully without Lords of Poverty. Women's movement form coalition (FEMACT) in the hope that it is an encompassing movement across class in Tanzania. The numerous institutions coming of age in the interest of Africa like the Economic Institute, African Research and Resource Foundation (ARRF), ESRF, Research on Povery Alievation (REPOA), FEMNET, CODESRIA, AAWORD, one sees the continent is resurrecting.

As long as we strive for property rights of our motherland, have an identity of nationhood and the love of the continent at heart, the continent will rise. With this vision we shall thrive as a continent and come out from the aid (ombaomba) culture to a vibrant creative society. The future is here and now.

This piece is based on the presentation of SID Governing Council member Fatma Alloo at the East Africa launch of Development 52.3 on Beyond Economics held† on 3 February, 2010 in Dar es Salaam.

Photo: neiljs/flickr