OPINION: I can affirmatively say ‘I am NOT a monkey!’

Thursday August 15 2019

Professor Zulfiqarali Premji

Professor Zulfiqarali Premji 

The current, 21st century meaning of ‘hominid’ is all the great apes, including humans. From a taxonomical classification, humans are related to apes. But, in these modern times, to call a fellow human a monkey is abusive and reflects racism of the highest order.

I may e poor, illiterate or physically handicapped. But, I still have my dignity as a human - and, as such, I will always stand up and refuse to be insulted by whomever it is - be he /she the most powerful person on Planet Earth... including the President of United States, I affirmatively say I am NOT a monkey!

Since my schooling days, I read - and since then practised what the famous George Bernard Shaw (GBS: 1856-1950) said and I quote him: “I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it!’ [https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/george_bernard_shaw_137450>]. Thus I have always been mindful not to get into a debate that would make me dirty. But, it is time to defend not only myself but Tanzanians in general.

Now that it is publicly knows that the former US President Ronald Reagan (1981-89) called a Tanzanian delegation to the United Nations ‘monkeys’ when he was the governor of California. In the event, the governor was in a telephone conversation with President Nixon over a difference of opinion.

At the time, Tanzania supported the entry of China to United Nations as a member. Reagan’s remarks amount to nothing less than sheer racism that comes right from hs heart and mind. the senior US government officer who later became the 40th President was representing his country while the Tanzanian delegates were also representing their country, Tanzania.

Even President Reagan’s daughter later said that her father’s remarkscould not be defended.


Today, both Nixon and Reagan are dead and buries; may their souls rest in eternal peac. But, since they were leaders representing their country I think the current US leadership should formally apologize to Tanzania.

But, it seems that this is a very difficult diplomatic situation because the current US leadership of President Donald Trump is also known to continue with the racist tradition - calling someAfrican countries a ‘shithole,’ and the Baltimore population ‘rats!’

I am surprised that our ministry of Foreign Affairs (and East African Cooperation) is so quiet about this. I just wonder what would have been Tanzania’s reaction if the Father of the Tanzanian Nation, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (1922-99) was still alive, well and kicking hard!

It is not normal to just laugh or brush it off when someone disrespects you. How often do you pretend it’s okay, or avoid confrontation, on the ground that it supposedly shows you are stronger?

I debated with myself whether oe not I should write this piece because of fear of repercussions.

But if you allow others to disrespect you as a rule, everyone assumes you don’t mind. Thus I had to decide whether to just make a statement that could make a difference.

Honestly, this is to show that, as a Tanzanian, I do not agree with racist remarks. I also do not fear to stand up and express my concerns even if the US is the most powerful nation in the world.

Sometimes, reacting is one’s best defence.

A country as powerful as the US that landed on the moon decades ago, and is now exploring Mars should have no business making hate, racist remarks. Admittedly, it has broken down many barriers. But. there’s still more to do.

This or anything else will not stop me from pouring love, light and positivity into everything I do.

I will continue to take a lead and stand up for what’s right.

Let me quote Maya Angelou poem ‘Still I Rise:’ “You may shoot me with your words; you may kill me with your hatefulness. But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

To which I add: ‘We will develop - no matter what others label us.’

Zulfiqarali Premji is a retired MUHAS professor. His career spans over 40 years in academia, research and public health