There are several angles to last Saturday’s event in London. Number one is a small circulating announcement promising the very first occasion to hear Dr Asha-Rose Migiro’s talk after being here for a few months.
Dr Migiro would brief us on “current developments in Tanzania”. This, as British Tanzania Society chair Andrew Coulson warned his audience, was a gigantic task.
“It is one year into the new presidency, whatever you say will be of interest...you cannot go wrong,” the Birmingham University lecturer (who once taught at the University of Dar es Salaam and worked in the Ministry of Agriculture) said amidst laughter.
Also dynamic was the content of the attendees. Apart from Dr Coulson and Dr Migiro, I spoke to at least two highly regarded Tanzanian doctors. Plus another PhD guy working with the Credit Suisse investment bank.
And several university students, one from SOAS (i.e. School for Oriental African Studies). Not many white collar citizens. Here you found no nyama choma. No beer. No music. Just an intellectual and informative gathering. Gain knowledge... ask crucial questions. Expand your skull.
We were at Central Hall, Westminster. Not far from the Parliament. Akin to Dodoma, although the two cities are so different and far apart. BTS is a child of the Tanzanian High Commission. It was started by a team of honoured British and Tanzanian officials in 1975, including High Commissioner Amon Nsekela. Dr Migiro did pay respect to Mr Nsekela and the others: Bishop Trevor Huddleston and Roger Carter. Back then, Bishop Huddleston was often in the news.
You may, therefore, look at the event from different corners and aspects.
Take another one.
The fact that most attendees have a big connection with Tanzania. The average age of the British men and women was 50 years plus. A majority of them were in Tanzania during Mwalimu Nyerere times. The younger ones are equally involved too. Like Janet Chapman, whose projects go via Tanzania Development Trust.
In the past 12 months alone, TDT fulfilled at least 46 successful schemes, we were told. I attended the 36th gathering in 2012, which had a guest called Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, the respected minister.
Note again the type of guests in attendance. Highly educated. Track their history. These are achievers.
Dr Migiro was such a guest and she was introduced with adjectives. Academics. Law. Ministerial positions. Diplomacy. Seen it all, at various levels. First female foreign minister, first African female assistant secretary general, etc, etc. The newly appointed high commissioner was gracious i.e. she said all the accolades are about serving her “country, not about me.” That summed up her visit. Instead of a long, mundane speech, she was as brief and concise as she was detailed.
She managed to give us a facsimile of what is happening after the 2015 presidential election. The rest of the time—and this was long-questions were shot like water pistols.
Hands were raised. Busy time. The relaxed lady grabbed three questions at a time. Dealt with each separately. Calm and articulate. How is Zanzibar? What about the new Cyber laws? And the rise of inequalities in Tanzania? Land rights for foreign based citizens. Dual citizenship. Constitutional crisis. Nonstop tirade. Even after the talks was over and everyone mingled with a cup of tea (“cuppa” as the English say), Dr Migiro was relentlessly hunted. I did not see the experienced envoy pause to sit or be quiet or yawning. Thus is public service. I am certain readers would like to know what was actually said. There is nothing new if you live in East Africa. The usual news headlines.
However, being overseas you want details. We can divide answers into two sections. One part was dealt with efficiently. Take Mr Aseri Katanga, an unsung hero who works with Computers 4 Africa, sending used laptops and PCs to children in Namibia, Zambia, Nigeria, Gambia and Tanzania. Why are high fees charged for visas to volunteers travelling to deliver these computers in rural Tanzania? BTS members never get salaries.
Their work is voluntary. Dr Migiro assured she would look into the matter. The second type of answers was current affairs. The slogan Hapa Kazi Tu...why such a slogan? An example? Cut unnecessary spending. Prioritise education. We all know the stats. Abolishment of school fees. Enrolment of pupils in standard one in the past year has swollen from 1,282,000 in 2015 to 1,896,584 in 2016. Or the clamping down on freedom of movement and association. Media freedom. Zanzibar 2015 election. Such stuff. How did she answer? A lawyer and experienced politician. She dissected the original meaning, pointed out what CCM has done, why and finally what the future promises. Belief in the party and the President.
The land issue for overseas based citizens is a perfect example. Dr Migiro: “I believe the government of Dr John Magufuli will take up this matter when things are in place...”