Tanganyika: African New Frontier

In 1964, Julius Nyerere. the son of the chief of an obscure Tanganyikan tribe, led his country to independence and became the first President of the new republic. MARTHA GELLHORN,who last winter journeyed to Africa to study this new nation, here tells us of the venture in self-government and self-help being successfully undertaken in Tanganyika.

THE Republic of Tanganyika is rarely in the news, because it is peaceful. That is a remarkable news item in itself. Tanganyika is four times the size of Great Britain, all of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland; its population is less than that of Tokyo. Space and emptiness are the first heart-lifting delights of the country. The highest and most magical mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro, rises like a giant floating sugarloaf above the clouds on the northern frontier; Lake Victoria, where the Nile begins, lies to the west; and for five hundred miles the Indian Ocean, with dhows and coral reefs, bounds the eastern coast. In 1871, Stanley made his supremely funny remark to Dr. Livingstone under a mango tree beside Lake Tanganyika on the western border. And in the Olduvai Gorge, in northern Tanganyika, two famous archaeologists. Dr. L. S. B. Leakey and his wife, have discovered what are probably the oldest traces of man on earth.

This large lovely land produces sisal, coffee, cotton, diamonds, and also leprosy, bilharzia, sleeping sickness, and malaria. Out of a population of nine and a half million, only 392,500 people are in paid employment; the rest work for themselves, as much or as little as they wish. They are herders and small farmers, and free as it would now seem only Africans can be; very poor, neither starving nor shivering in this sun, a cause for concern to their leaders and to many modern nations of more or less goodwill, but apparently no problem to themselves. They have discovered or never forgotten how to take daily pleasure in life. The land of Tanganyika is a wonder to the eye; the people are a wonder to the mind. A young American teacher, of the finest brand we export, remarked carefully, “They’re different.”

Tanganyika, shot full of luck, gave birth to its own George Washington. A smallish, slender, delicately made man, now aged forty-three, Julius Nyerere led his country to independence in 1961, without bloodshed, and is the first President of the Republic of Tanganyika. He was elected by 97 percent of the popular vote and is universally loved and respected. This is how he thinks and speaks: “We, the people of Tanganyika, would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro, to shine beyond our borders, giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate, and dignity where before there was only humiliation.” He is a son of the chief of an obscure tribe that lives in the Lake Victoria region; he is also a master of arts from Edinburgh University and a Roman Catholic convert. He is quiet and wise and still modest, vastly intelligent, and vastly charming, and a man of peace. His country is most fortunate; he can be counted as a major national resource.

President Nyerere is the leader of the Africanstyle New Frontier. The slogan of his party, TANU, the only political organization in Tanganyika, is: “We have three enemies to fight — poverty, ignorance, and disease.” That is the party line, and they mean it. It is a rest to find people determined to make life better, rather than determined to make life worse for someone else. The Tanganyikan Defense Force consists of two battalions, called the Tanganyika Rifles. There is no desire to spend money on arms, and no money to spend. The entire government revenue is less than the annual sales at Selfridge’s, a London department store.

National income and loans from foreign nations must be used for roads and bridges, dams, clean water supplies, hospitals, houses, schools, and for training the young to run the country. Everything being done in Tanganyika, or planned to be done, is on a human scale and has to do with everyday life. The Western mind basks in this: the leaders do not talk in billions about moon shots. They talk in thousands about T.B. control and a Farm Institute and other sensible efforts which anyone can understand. Everyone is not only welcome but urged to pitch in on the job of nation building. Self-help, a Nyerere invention, actually produces results: the unskilled populace, in a burst of enthusiasm, volunteers for manual labor. If your village needs a road, get together and dig it: the government will supply pickaxes and a surveyor. The work is spasmodic and primitive, but they have made a real start on that basic rule: The Lord helps those who help themselves. President Nyerere sets an example of simple living, devotion to duty, and incorruptibility; it is to be hoped that all the other public servants follow him.

THE British, much bullied about their colonial past, cannot have been monsters, judging by the countries formerly under their dominion. After British troops won Tanganyika from the Germans in the First World War, it became a League of Nations Mandate and later a United Nations Trusteeship. British civil servants governed and left behind them a fine legacy: respect for law, the honor of the civil service. The Germans, in their day, were far from useless to Tanganyika: they obliged the natives to learn one language, Swahili, instead of accepting the African Babel of tribal tongues. Tanganyikans, unlike many Africans, are able to talk to all their compatriots. The Germans also put down tribal warfare with a harsh hand. Tribalism, the bane of Africa exactly as, on a large scale, it is the scourge of our lives, does not exist in Tanganyika. People of the same tribe, with the same customs and language, are cozier together, but they do not wish to murder members of other tribes. Since the European population (“European” means anyone with a white skin) is only 23,000 strong and not startlingly rich, there is no violent anti-white prejudice.

Tanganyikans are full of beans and national pride, but no foreigner, with a polite tongue in his head, need feel nervous there. How long this laudable state of tolerance will last does not depend on Tanganyika alone; it depends on what else happens in Africa and mainly depends on the whites in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, and the Africans in Kenya. Nyerere himself knows the value of the gentleness and good humor of his people; he also knows that no country is an “Hand.” If race wars break out in Africa, Tanganyika’s live-and-let-live policy will be threatened. Today, members of 120 African tribes whose religions are pagan, Muslim, and Christian; 100,000 Asians, mostly from India; and whites from thirty different countries dwell together decently. This is a splendid achievement anywhere. It makes one question the phrase “backward nation.”

In our speedy and unthinking lingo, Tanganyika is a backward nation. True, and very sad, infant mortality is enormous—I have been told 50 percent and don’t believe it. Malnutrition is practically universal, more due to ignorance than to crop failure or bad land. Modern methods in agriculture are almost unknown, and this huge underpopulated agricultural country has to import food. There are 30,000 miles of roads — less than in the state of Arizona — and to call them roads is a compliment. Schools and teachers are lacking, to say nothing of pencils and paper; and though half a million children study through the fourth grade, only five thousand can get into high school because there aren’t enough schools to get into. And it is appalling that malaria is still the greatest killer. The complete list of Tanganyika’s wants would fill a volume. By our material standards, Tanganyika is backward enough.

The leaders of the country wish to change all this, quickly. When you travel through Tanganyika you feel their task would reduce Hercules to tears, and that haste is hopeless. You may also feel that these African New Frontiersmen do not know the Western world as we do, and have not noticed how backward we are too, in our own ways. There is much to learn from Tanganyika; there is much to preserve.

Above all, the quality of the people should be preserved. This is so different from anything we know that it is impossible to describe. As a hint, merely, they have gaiety and repose, affability and eccentricity, benign sloth, and the tireless curiosity of the newborn. Their dress, dictated by poverty or tribal custom or whim, or all of these, is astounding and never dull. They move, loll, stand as if they had made a private choice in the matter, and their time was their own. They gossip endlessly, and they laugh. Are they happy? The Europeans all say yes. An English civil servant, who has spent his life in Africa, assured me that the “apathetic contentment” of the Africans would protect them against modern civilization: the small minority which wants to advance will do so.

Among that small advancing minority — who are clearly less content than their apathetic brothers — a young man, burning with tuberculosis and patriotism and a fierce desire to push his people forward, said, “We leaders of TANU are not happy, I can tell you. We think to the future of our country.” Another Tanganyikan, who lives in a modern house, worries about his children’s education, and is passionately involved in preserving the game parks, spoke of “contentment like a stunted tree.” An Indian doctor, who runs a crowded clinic in Arusha and is trusted by the Africans, offered this explanation: “They live in nature, they do not feel stress and strain, you see. They are happy.”

My diagnosis of the quality of Africans is that they lack the time sense, and so are spared the horror and the nuisance of looking ahead. Their leaders will have a tough job to establish the clock in the African mentality. Ordinary Africans carry their clocks in their bodies; bodies declare their needs and slowly wear out, why should one know one’s age? And nature is a good enough clock: you can tell time by the harvests and by the rains and by the birth of children who are loved and merry. Neuroses are unknown among these people, as is heart disease. They live in the time they have, and do not count it.

Yet it would also be foolish to think that here is an ideal people: there are as few paragons as there are Grade A devils anywhere. The quality of Tanganyikans is their own, and valuable: they are also good and lazy, and curing disease and malnutrition will not cure the climate; they are likely to remain lazy. Like everyone, they want something for nothing and are specially ready to think the world owes them a living. Their minds certainly do not work as ours do, and facts do not limit and discipline their thinking. A little education does not go a long way, but is sure to produce vanity. They are often maddening, even to each other.

In Uganda, last year, I asked an old Englishman who had planted tea in Africa for forty years, married an African wife, and raised an African family whether he understood Africans. He said no, at once. All Europeans are constantly baffled by Africans; they believe they just about know what to expect, and are then stunned by what seems inexplicable behavior. Africans do not understand us either. Among other things, they imagine we are always angry, because we are always in a hurry. Their highest praise for a white man is that he is pole pole — slow. We are also barred from each other by that unmentionable sense, smell. In West Africa, feeling morally guilty because I could not overcome my revulsion from the smell of ordinary Africans, I asked what we smelled like to them. “L’ odear fâde des morts,” I was told. And there is no doubt that Africans are bored by us — you have only to observe the change of expression and voice when they talk with each other — and that we are frequently bored by them.

Still, it is not by accident that they have survived, since the earliest man-from-ape, on this beautiful, deadly continent, and that even now they can survive with a bit of thatch and mud to shelter them, rags to clothe them, a spear for protection, and a long knife to till the soil. We, who revere know-how, must realize that they have their own profound, natural know-how. And they enjoy life.

IF YOU like and believe statistics, two statistics match: 80 percent of Tanganyika’s exports are agricultural (not foodstuffs); and 80 percent of Tanganyikans are illiterate. For Nyerere and his New Frontiersmen, determined to raise the standard of living in their country, agriculture and education are the means to that end.

My driver was a competent Kenyan, who works on a European farm in the Rift Valley on the Kenya side. We drove through Handeni Province, and he had a fit. All that good land, unused; green as paint, lush, wasted. Each remote African hut propped up a semi-recumbent African male. The country is rolling, and the sky forever high and blue, and gray monkeys bounded over the road, and eagles sat on trees which were handsome and unknown to me. We bounced in the Landrover, and I explained that it was Ramadan and most of the local population was Muslim; presumably, as they fasted for a month from sunrise to sundown, without even a drop of water, they felt pretty languid. But Wambua kept studying the land; in Tanganyika any citizen can get all the land he wants for the asking. And there they were, lying about. “These people not progress,” Wambua said with contempt.

Handeni Province is hot country: cotton country for those who bother to grow it; otherwise the locals cultivate maize to feed themselves, on small holdings they have cleared from the bush. The year 1961 was a ruinous one, and the United States sent a lavish gift of maize meal, which is the staple diet. Resident Europeans think this was generous but unfortunate. They claim that the Africans wait happily each year for the gift. Why break your back (or, rather, why break the women’s backs, since women seem to do the work) if sweet yellow maize meal arrives from heaven across the sea? A TANU youth leader said, “It was good of America. We are very grateful. But we explain to the people, America can refuse to send maize sometime. We must work.”

The local agricultural adviser, a European, persuaded the people to clear six thousand acres for cotton, which is heroic handwork in the bush and means a pay crop and unheard-of riches for the penniless. Then a politician came to admire the work and told the people that their humble tools were things of the past and that Czechoslovakia was going to “lend” the country three hundred tractors. No one could drive or repair a tractor, and anyhow the tractors have not appeared, but the people downed tools. This makes one wonder whether foreign aid is an unmixed blessing. The soundest aid is to build something essential and operate it for five years, until the Tanganyikans learn to take over. The Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway) are about to do just this with a secondary school and a Farmers’ Technical Training School. Israel also gives realistic aid, inviting trainees and teaching them what they can apply at home, sending Israeli specialists and equipment to Tanganyika. But these are small nations, able to think straight because exempt from cold war madness.

My driver, Wambua, would have been less haughty if he had seen the coffee and pyrethrum plantations on Mount Meru. Meru is a wonderful cone-shaped volcano west of Kilimanjaro; the farmers who work the rich soil on its slopes have banded into successful cooperatives. Cooperatives, started by the British administration, suit Africans perfectly; they are as natural a form of group endeavor as the tribe. Nearly one thousand producers’ co-ops and thirty-four big co-op unions account for one fourth of Tanganyika’s exports. A European field inspector on Meru said that the Africans work harder since independence and listen to advice from the Agricultural Department without suspicion, since it is now their own. He thought finally they might persuade the Africans to prune their coffee plants for maximum yield, not maximum prettiness.

Both of us, however, were delighted by the prettiness of the women and children, in their bright ragged clothes, picking white pyrethrum flowers on the misty mountainside. There is always a sturdy grandmum, with a lined, mocking face, who asks questions for the group: Who are you? Where do you come from? Are you married? How many children? They gasped with admiration when I said that I came from America, as if I’d swum and walked the distance. And the head man at the coffee co-op made me a speech. “We like America. America is our friend. Mr. Nelson helped us very much.” The Tanganyika New Frontiersmen will have to give “vigah" and training to the sleepier farmers, but Meru proves it can be done.

EDUCATION is an African passion and cure-all. Nyerere, improvising with genius for his people, suggested that anyone who could read and write should teach an illiterate compatriot. A quarter million primers have been printed for adults and are in circulation. A round, serene woman, Commissioner of the Tanganyika Girl Guides, told me how the women in her village built their own community center of burned brick with a tin roof, and how eagerly they attended classes. In one literacy class, a grandmother, mother, and daughter were learning to read and write with equal excitement. At the lowest level, the Community Development Department takes on education: their field workers instruct women in rudimentary hygiene, cooking, and child care; they set up literacy classes; they find out what the village needs most and organize the people to build it for themselves with free government materials; they also teach the new citizens how their government operates. This work is barely beginning, but it is hopeful.

A first-rate, intelligent Community Development inspector showed me a bridge over a ravine, built by some of his village volunteers, and a road cut in zigzags across hills. Later I went to a field full of women, colorful as birds in their long sarongs and making sounds, as a greeting, exactly like birds. That field was a mama shamba. The village women had cleared the trees and undergrowth from virgin soil and planted cotton. They were helping themselves by making some money; the Community Development organizer, a lanky girl, suggested the idea, procured the seed, and kept their morale high despite empty Ramadan stomachs and the burning sun.

This self-help is a tangible benefit to the people and good homework in citizenship, but, after literacy, the main job of the Community Development Department will be to teach the women hygiene. Much of the physical misery of Tanganyika could be eradicated with abundant cheap soap abundantly used, mosquito nets, and boiled water. Rampant tuberculosis, from overcrowding and poor diet, is due to pitiful ignorance. Anything will grow, and anyone can build as many huts as he needs. But it will take a long time to overcome African prudery about venereal disease. The V.D. specialist is known; no one likes to be seen going to him. Better to spread disease, which they do, understanding so little the dangers.

Education ranges from reading and writing under a tree to the handsome building of the University College at Dar es Salaam. The best thing about this education is the willingness of the students. In elementary and secondary schools, the curriculum is copied from England; grading is done by English standards. Shakespeare is splendid, but perhaps a Tanganyikan child would be better off studying irrigation. In a whitewashed boys’ secondary school, I asked the young gents — aged ten to sixteen, dressed in white shirts and shorts — what they wanted to do in life. They all wanted to go to the university; two of them might make it, if their intelligence and their school fees suffice. They hoped to become teachers, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, in that order. All their fathers were farmers; farm work is demeaning. The idea that a farmer can be an educated man and a trained professional has not yet hit Tanganyika. Even a career as an engineer was too low; engineers presumably stand in the sun sometimes and dirty their hands. And no one, including their teachers, ever heard of African art; or realized that a nation without art and artists is faceless. Most of these children will emerge with no more than mediocre eighth-grade schooling and a damaging notion of intellectual superiority. The three small cities of Tanganyika are already filling up with unskilled unemployed; in due course, the half-educated unemployed will join them.

The University College now instructs seventyeight students of public administration and law.

There I attended the class of future magistrates, eleven men, aged twenty-five to forty, chosen because of their native good sense and character. They are being trained to administer the law, and that day they were studying corroborative evidence. Their teacher was English, very tough, himself a former magistrate, and the students loved the class and laughed with pleasure when caught in woolly-mindedness. (“It’s very interesting,” a young chief in spectacles whispered to me.) At another session, these students argued with passion about Tanganyikan politics. They had learned enough political science to know that a one-party system, as in Tanganyika, is not the democratic norm. Some were worried about freedom, but others suggested that if all the M.P.’s in Parliament could give their personal opinions freely, then liberty would be protected.

Tanganyikans ask: how can we have an opposition when no one is in opposition? No one wishes for any guiding hand other than Nyerere’s, though some of his henchmen are less admired. The civil service chafes under the politicians’ rule, with reason, because the civil servants have had previous experience in their work, whereas the politicians are amateurs. This one-party state provided a choice of candidates to Parliament; the voters chose between men, not between doctrines. But the law is separate from the executive; the supremacy of the law and the actual system of meting out justice (“Justice must not only be done but seen to be done”) are copied straight from England, and there is no better model in the worId. As long as judges and magistrates have tenure of office and the courts are open and English Judges’ Rules apply, Tanganyika is on the right track. At the University College, the first class of future Tanganyikan magistrates was being taught firmly that their duty is to truth and justice and to nothing else.

One small slice of education charmed me beyond all others. Egypt has the Pyramids and Spain has the Prado and Tanganyika has its game parks, but most Tanganyikans neither know nor care. The government realizes the absolute value of these great tracts of land — the Serengeti is one of the marvels of the world — and realizes also that to preserve the wild animals, in their natural home, is a trust they hold for all of us. The nonexistent national income can hardly be spent on conservation; money must be raised by foreigners. But the parks can best be preserved if the citizens themselves learn to care. Previously, Africans’ one interest in game parks was poaching.

A young American planned a jolly educational program for African children, and trained Africans to replace him. In buses, Tanganyikan children arrive at the hostel in Lake Manyara Park for weekends; it is a school treat. They listen to a kind of quiz-game lecture on the specimens in the tiny park museum; at night they watch a color film of three African boys traveling in that very park. The dormitory and dining hall are bright, clean, modern, and for most of them, luxury. The next day they travel around the park, with African guides, and after they’ve seen lions and buffalo and elephants with their own eyes, they become ardent animal lovers, proud of their land, and converts to conservation. (Meanwhile, an African park official tours the villages, sets up his movie Landrover, and shows films of the animals to spellbound grown-ups gathered under the acacia trees.) The day I visited Manyara, European schoolgirls had been invited for the weekend. The likable green-uniformed Ranger spoke very bad English; the girls of course spoke fluent Swahili, but his pride could not be hurt. Yet he won their attention, and it did not seem strange for an audience of white children and their teachers to be hearing about the nation’s heritage from an African who knew things they did not know. This scene would not have happened in Africa a few years ago. Poaching has decreased notably; the kiddies have spread the word.

In order not to disappoint, I must deal with the Communist Menace in Tanganyika. I did hear Communism mentioned once. A young firebrand, a high political appointee, received me in his grand office, which is directly across the street from the gas station he used to manage. We started with South Africa: why did the United States government allow Americans to own 50 percent of South African industry? I said I doubted if they did, and anyhow, what could the government do about it? My attempts to explain private enterprise were not successful.

Presently I asked if he hated the British. He smiled winningly and said, “We sympathize with them. They are declining.” Later I asked how he felt about white people generally, in Tanganyika. “Frankly, we are in a position of strength,”said he. “If they do anything we don’t like, we can tell them to leave. We would not feel nice with ourselves to play with weak fellows.”We were talking of foreign aid. “If the Russians offer us technicians we will take them,” he announced. “We are independent. If this country went Communist tomorrow, it would not take orders from Moscow. We will not take orders from anybody. Our whole way of thinking is toward the Westthe British. We were taught to be independent and do our own thinking.” He invited me to his house, where I met two enchanting daughters and his mother (old African women are a joy), with her veil thrust back and bare feet. Since it was Ramadan and he a Muslim, we had no refreshments. He was unique, hotheaded, happy, great fun to argue with; and so much for Communism in Tanganyika.

Tanganyika owes an unpayable debt to the British civil servants still laboring away, in secondary positions, to make this country run. The missionaries have also done a valuable job in their hospitals and schools, and they have not tainted the scene with religious intolerance. The country is dotted with Europeans who deserve well of the nation, for they are serving it. East Africa would fall apart were it not for the Indians, small peaceable men who maintain essential services, from a shop back-of-beyond to garages to post offices. None of these are protected by the Africans’ ageold know-how in survival, nor are they rewarded by great riches. Tanganyika is a glory, but it is also rough going.

In a mission school copybook, while listening to a gentle singsong history class, I scrawled what seems to me the big question about Tanganyika, perhaps about all Africa: Is it right for anyone to shove these people into the twentieth century — let alone, is it possible?