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Tanzanian writers fighting sextortion through a novel

Tuesday February 16 2021
Novel puic

Writers of the novel ‘Tuzo.’ From left: Hussein Tuwa, Laura Pettie, Maundu Mwingizi, Lilian Mbaga and Fadhy Mtanga. PHOTO | COURTESY

By Esther Karin Mngodo


It probably comes with no surprise when a woman raises her voice against ‘sextorion.’ In most cases, women are the victims.

But Fadhy Mtanga, a Swahili poet and novelist, says that the fight is for us all. As a writer, he believes that it is his responsibility to raise awareness and influence change through his craft.

This is the heart of his latest novel, ‘Tuzo’ (ki-Swahili for an ‘award’), that was recently launched in Dar es Salaam.

Based in Mbeya, Mtanga has five titles under his belt: ‘Kizungumkuti,’ ‘Hisia’ (poetry), ‘Huba,’ ‘Fungate’ and ‘Rafu.’

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His books explore marital love and place women as strong leading characters, capable of saving themselves. In Huba, Julie takes responsibility for an unrequited love; in Fungate, Noella makes difficult decisions after a terrible discovery while in her honeymoon; in Rafu, Lina, a grieving widow turns into a detective who solves the mystery of her husband’s death.

And, in Tuzo, Eva won’t let sextortion take her down.


Women in Swahili Literature

“I believe that women are stronger than most literature by men portray them to be,” he says. He laughs when asked how he knows women so well. Raised by a single mother, and as the only son out of three children, he has had first-hand experiences with strong women in his life, he says.

But unlike all his other work, his latest novel ‘Tuzo’ does not deal with romance the way he is used to writing it. It is about a college girl, Eva, whose fate is in the hands of her lecturer, Dr. Masanga. To save herself, she must exchange sex for good grades.


What is #TuzoChallenge?

In August 2020, Mtanga started what he called #TuzoChallenge. Four other writers who had not discussed this prior, were ‘challenged’ to write a single narrative together, and they did. “This has never happened before. I can confidently say, we are the first in the world to have done this,” Mtanga said with a smile.

In most cases, a collection of stories has authors writing different stories. But in this case, the five writers contributed to the same. If it wasn’t for that fact that the name of the author was written on top of the chapter they wrote, it would not be easy to know who wrote what.

On that afternoon in August, Mtanga wrote a short story on his Facebook page. It is what later on became the first chapter of the book. He tagged another novelist, Maundu Mwingizi, who is also his friend. The story began with a hashtag, and ended with three rules: Mwingizi had to continue with the story and complete it by 6pm the following day; its word count had to be between 2,500 and 3,000; and the person tagged had to keep the ball rolling by tagging another writer who would continue with the story and maintain the rules.

Mwingizi was laying on the floor when he saw that Mtanga had not only written a short story on Facebook, but also tagged him in a ‘challenge’. “I was so tired that day, but I couldn’t let my brother down. I had to write my part,” he said at the book launch. He is the author of ‘Kitanda Cha Kuwadi’, a collection of short stories and ‘Fumbo’, a novel. When Mwingizi was done, he tagged Laura Pettie, author of ‘Kiroba Cheusi’. She was also surprised, but delivered nevertheless. Pettie passed the baton to her friend Lilian Mbaga, author of ‘Hatinafsi’.

“I was still at work when I received the challenge. I had to write it on my phone while on commute. It was crazy but I had to do it,” she said. Then Mbaga tagged Hussein Tuwa, author of ‘Mkimbizi’ among many other novels. It was Tuwa who sent the ‘challenge’ back to Mtanga. Tuwa is also chairperson of UWARIDI, a novelists’ organisation, which the other four writers are also members.

“The plot had thickened, and because each one of us had shaped the stories and the characters the way we thought best, I wanted Mtanga to continue with the story the way he had envisioned it,” he explained when asked why he did not tag a sixth person.


The birth of an idea

Mtanga recalls how in 2017, after he had published ‘Fungate’ and Mwingizi had published ‘Kitanda cha Kuwadi’, they had an interesting discussion. “I asked Maundu, could we do a “collabo” and write a book together? He said, we could. Yet, we never really worked on the idea,” he explained at the launch.

Then in 2019, Tuwa brought Mtanga and Mwingizi a book as a present - ‘Tell A Tell’ by an English novelist, Jeffrey Archer. It so happened that Archer’s publisher had challenged him to write a story of 100 words. Mtanga wondered aloud on another evening when he met with Mwingizi and Salum Kim, another writer. “Is it possible to write a story in ki-Swahili with just 100 words?”. That was when Mtanga decided that one day, he would challenge other writers to write something different. And he did.


Why write about ‘sextortion’

At the launch of the book, Mtanga explained why he chose the theme. It started with Dr Vicensia Shule, lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam. “About two years ago, my friend Dr Vicensia Shule raised her voice concerning ‘sextorion’ at UDSM. I thought to myself at that time, if it was up to me I would have given her an award. That is how ‘Tuzo Challenge’ was born,” he said.

Activists have their part, and writers theirs too. A 2020 study by ‘Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau’ (PCCB) shows that there are cases being reported in higher learning institutions. The problem is that many victims are afraid to come out. Mbaga, who is one of the five who wrote Tuzo, said that she knows this fear too well.

“I too encountered a similar situation when I was a university student,” she said to the crowd, which remained still as she narrated what happened. It is this personal encounter that helped her write her parts of the story, she said. It was not just a ‘challenge’ to Mbaga, it was her way to speak out. It was her way of having a voice and being one for others.

There is a lot to learn from the book, like how the police force works with PCCB in such cases.

At the event, many took the mic and shared their personal experiences, and interesting facts about sextortion. “Did you know that under Tanzanian laws, such a crime is considered to be a form of economic sabotage?” asked Maggid Mjengwa, Executive Director of Karibu Tanzania. The people listened attentively.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Kuduishe Kisowile, also quite popular on social media, said that her primary school teacher had once made sexual advances on her. Although this would be categorised as rape since Dr Kisowile was underage, she wanted people to think of how wide the problem is. People in power do not start misusing that power with university students only. It starts with the girl child.

The launch of Tuzo was indeed a success, but it is not the end of the journey, said Mtanga. “I believe that we have the power to change a society through the stories we tell. I cannot wait to see where Tuzo is going to take us,” he said with a smile.