Tanzanians Refuse to Compromise on Agricultural Prowess

A minor news item this week; twenty houses were burnt down near the town of Liwale, Tanzania as protests by irate cashew nut farmers got out of hand. Having not been paid a price agreed for their crop last year, the farmers turned on the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and set fire to supporters’ properties.

Tanzania has one of Africa’s fastest growing economies and its economic potential is quite considerable. Cloves from Zanzibar, gold and nickel mines in the country’s interior, and a growing industrial base centred around food and metal processing, Tanzania is not lacking in exports. Like most African countries, however, Tanzania retains a strong reliance on primary production, particularly agriculture.

In this, the country is particularly proficient, achieving a level of ‘industrialised agriculture’ not seen in many neighbouring countries until recent years. The predominant reason for this is the legacy of German colonisation.

In 1885, the founder of the bluntly-named Society for German Colonization, Carl Peters, arrived in Tanzania where he signed alliances with several indigenous tribes in the hope of establishing a German protectorate. Despite sporadic opposition from some native tribes, which would persist throughout German rule, German East Africa came into being after Britain agreed to waive its claim to the territory.

German East Africa, 1888
German East Africa, 1888

Within only a few years, the Germans effectively created a Tanzanian economy that had not existed under a territory divided into separate polities and chieftains. Massive rubber, sisal and coffee plantations were created under efficient German management and ruthlessly-exploited native labourers. By the outbreak of WWI, Tanzania was an important cog in the German Empire. Its produce supported the German armies on the African Front, whilst allowing the colonial authorities to live on in deluded splendour at their mansions in Dar-es-Salaam.

Of course, Germany lost the war and Tanzania came under Belgian and, ultimately, British rule. In addition to their agricultural revolution, the Germans had introduced gold mining to Tanzania with some success. This would persist under the British only to become an almost redundant industry by the end of WWII. It would take an influx of foreign investment in the 1990s, and the discovery of nickel, to resurrect mining as an important economic contributor to Tanzania. Also, the Germans introduced what was a fairly sophisticated education system to the Tanzanian people during their short rule. This was not developed by the British, whose general desire to keep the subalterns firmly in their place negated any inclination to promote educational development.

One thing that has always remained, however, is intensive agriculture. The cashew nut was first mass-harvested under German rule and continues, along with sisal and coffee, to make up a large proportion of Tanzanian agricultural exports. Whatever wrongs colonial rule perpetrated in Africa, there are examples such as this that prove some facets of European rule were beneficial. Without the Europeans it is arguable that Africa’s development would be even more stunted than it is today.

Tanzanian sisal plantation - early 20th century
Tanzanian sisal plantation – early 20th century
Today, little has changed
Today, little has changed

The passion with which the Tanzanians farm their crops today is testified to by the cashew nut farmers’ protests. The government may be double-crossing the farmers over prices in an attempt to drive more workers into industrial jobs, where foreign investors seek to take advantage of a cheap and plentiful workforce. But for many Tanzanians, the land is all that they know and they continue to farm it under the influence of their former German rulers.

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Religious Stability Threatened in Burundi: an end to an historic anomaly?

An increasingly influential Catholic sect has had six of its members killed in a shoot-out with police in the north of Burundi, the impoverished East African country. Led by Zebiya Ngendakumana, who claims to have visitations from the Virgin Mary on the twelfth day of every month, the sect opposes traditional Catholic practices and has encouraged followers to disobey the government’s community service programme.

Zebiya Ngendakumana is attracting support in her native Kayanza region
Zebiya Ngendakumana is attracting support in her native Kayanza region

Burundi is a surprisingly homogenous society when it comes to religion. 75% of its people are Christian (60% of them Catholic) with small Muslim and Animist minorities. Furthermore, freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Burundian constitution, there is no official state religion and, until recently, there has been little religious conflict or dissent within the country.

This is unusual for an African state, particularly one not exposed to European missionaries until the late 19th century. Falling under German rule, Burundi experienced a succession of Protestant and Catholic missions after 1897 and this increased when the Belgians took control following World War One. Whereas in many other sub-Saharan African countries traditional beliefs and religious practices have remained embedded as a dominant force in the local culture, the Burundians have adopted and maintained a strong commitment to organised Christianity. That is not to say that traditional beliefs have been eradicated but that they are subordinated to, or commensurate with, Christian practice as stipulated by the Church.

Catholic missionaries were quick to mobilise in early 20th century Burundi
Catholic missionaries were quick to mobilise in early 20th century Burundi

Compare this relative religious harmony to the ethnic divisions that have ravaged Burundi since its independence in 1962 and you could not get a starker contrast. As with neighbouring Rwanda, Burundi has a majority Hutu population (about 85%). As with neighboruing Rwanda, there is a sizable Tutsi minority (about 14%) deemed to hold a disproportionate amount of the country’s political and military power.

Rwanda has had one genocide; Burundi two. Neither one was on the same scale as the Rwandan horror of 1994. Yet the 1972 Tutsi killings of Hutus and the 1993 murders of Tutsis by Hutus have left a bloody scar on the country. This has been compounded by the Burundian Civil War (1993-2005) during which weak governments tried and failed to repel a succession of militant groups, both Hutu and Tutsi, including those spilling over from the Rwandan war zone. Burundi has also been dragged into the ongoing conflict in DR Congo in recent years.

Ethnic hostility found further outlet during the civil war
Ethnic hostility found further outlet during the civil war

For a nation as economically weak as Burundi, continual warfare and social division has led to an impoverished populace. Nevertheless, recent years have offered hope. Since the end of the civil war ethnic conflict has reduced in intensity and, with a shared religion offering a common ground of understanding, the future for Burundi is not as bleak as some its neighbours. It would be a great shame if a dissident Catholic sect were to ruin this precarious progress.

The Burundian government and its security forces have a difficult balancing act to manage. They must retain the country’s proud record of religious freedom by permitting Ms Ngendakumana’s sect to preach in peace. Nevertheless, should the sect break the national peace through promoting civil disobedience and religious inequality then it must by necessity be countered. The difficulty is doing this in such a way that people do not get hurt, thus avoiding the popularisation of a dangerous cause that could upset the country’s religious homogeneity.

At a time when bitter religious conflicts are threatening to tear some countries in Africa apart (see Nigeria and Kenya for instance) Burundi, despite its size and economic weakness, can still remain a positive example for the region.