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Tanzanians deserve to live in beautiful cities and villages

Friday January 15 2021
Tanzania pic
By Charles Makakala

Living in Arusha in the mid-1990s, I used to pass at the bus terminal every day en route to school. The terminal used to serve both city and upcountry buses, so it was usually packed with passengers, hawkers, and buses. That’s the Tanzania we know – but for those of us who didn’t grow up in Arusha, the sight of Maasai women from nearby villages crying ‘mshale, mshale’ appeared quite exotic and amusing.

Those were the days of Fresh ya Shamba Sleeping Coach and Atlanta Video Coach, just before Master City came onto the scene and spoiled their party with its hair-raising transits between Arusha and Dar. If you had some money and could afford a measure of luxury, you had to get a piece of that show somehow.

However, given the congestion at the terminal, the powers that be decided to separate the intercity and intracity terminals, with the latter relocated to a sizable piece of empty land nearby. That’s when something curious happened. Just as the city buses – mostly 16-seaters minibuses we used to call vifodi – moved to that undeveloped space, people were permitted to build shops around it, and they all did that in a manner that pleased them.

The outcome was ghastly – some roofs were higher than others, the buildings uneven, some with finishing, others not. It’s as if the concept of design was completely alien to humanity.

Even as a secondary school student I observed that had those people been given some kind of design the outcome could have been a thing of beauty, but God forbid that we display any evidence of intelligence. Thus, the residents of the great city of Arusha have been assaulted by that unsavoury sight for decades just because someone thought that it is okay to have a city develop around such dreadful constructions!

When confronted by the problems we face as a society, many of us are quick to divert responsibility. We will cite limited resources, and this and that reason. Failure to accept responsibility is usually a symptom of schizophrenia, a psychological condition that’s associated with denial of reality. I tend to think that Africans are generally schizophrenics, even our favourite books appear to betray that unfortunate disease. That’s why How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was required reading for college students in Tanzania, so that when faced with the outcome of our choices we all look outward thinking ‘damn those imperialists!’ A white man can’t catch a break, can he?

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Is it possible that things are the way they are because we have consistently been making truly bad choices?

The other day I was in Morogoro, and having heard of the newly built bus terminal, I asked a friend to take me there. I looked around the place and, the fact that the toilets weren’t clean and didn’t have soap dispensers aside, it was reminiscent of bus terminals in developed nations. I contrasted it to that frightening sight in Arusha and thanked God that finally the right thing is being done. But did it have to take this long?

Today, Tanzanians hear of modern bus terminals springing up in regional centres around the nation. They are interconnected with quality roads, interchanges, and bridges – many of them new. You hear of new airports, stadiums, marketplaces – the country as a canvas is slowly being painted with beautiful and historical landmarks, highlighting that human beings live here. Phase One of Mbezi Bus Terminal in Dar es Salaam is now operational, to be followed with a mall, hotels, and other facilities. When you are progressive in your thinking, the future will get brighter.

What this shows is that we can choose the kind of nation we want to live in. We are surrounded with massive freshwater bodies, so we can choose to have our towns and villages supplied with enough water. We have trees all around so we can choose to stop entertaining the stories of schools without desks. We have an ocean next to a big commercial centre that gets flooded whenever it rains – we can choose to end that madness. Let our education be manifested in the quality of choices we make.

Our towns and cities, hospitals, bus terminals, marketplaces, and all public spaces ought to be a thing of beauty. This is a future where we will choose to travel around the country just to see the beautiful landmarks that our minds conceived and our hands fashioned, as we do when we go abroad to witness the wonders that other men have wrought.

In this aspect, I think the next frontier for us is our neighbourhoods. The idiocy where people build where they want, and the way they want, has gone on for so long now. Tanzanians deserve to live in beautiful cities and villages. The future that we desire is such that, when we are long gone, when aliens visit this world, they can come to this point on the continent and observe what we did and say – Homo sapiens lived here.