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Swahili Blogosphere: Debating race and national identity

“It’s sad that people have raised such an issue. I don’t see why they should, because I am not the only Asian born in this Country. In fact both my parents were born here in Tanzania. My mother in Pemba and my father in Morogoro. I was born here in Dar and grew up in Mwanza so what does that make me? Definitely not an American nor a British not even an Indian. I am proudly Tanzanian and I know no other country but Tanzania. May be I am Afro Indian (Indo-African) but I am still a born Tanzanian.”

Those are the words of Richa Adhia in an interview with Bongo Celebrity blog soon after she was crowned as the Vodacom Miss Tanzania 2007.

Richa's victory has attracted criticism from some members of public and has ignited a national identity debate in the Swahili blogosphere. Those who embrace Tanzania's cultural and racial diversity have endorsed Richa wholeheartedly. And on the other hand those who perceive ‘blackness’ as the crucial ingredient of Tanzanian national image, are questioning if a Tanzanian of Asian background can really represent Tanzania or whether she qualifies to become a symbol of Tanzanian beauty.

When Muhidin Michuzi broke the news of Richa's victory a barrage of harsh comments followed:

Sio siri sijafurahia ushindi wa huyu Dada, asili yake ndio sababu.
Mimi nilijua kama huyu dada alikuwa na nafasi kubwa ya kushinda, kwasababu tunatabia ya kubabaikia watu weupe, sasa huku kwenye Miss World akisema kutoka Tanzania ,watatushaanga sana. Tulikuwa na kila sababu za kumuacha huyu na kumchukua mweusi akawamshindi, ilitujivunie rangi yetu. Nimechukia sanaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

It is not a secret, I am not happy with her victory and her race is the reason. I knew she had a great chance to win, because we always stoop before white people, now at the Miss world pageant when they say she is from Tanzania, they won't understand us. We had all the reasons to leave this one (Richa) and choose a black girl, so that we can be proud of our colour. I am veeeeeeeeery angry.

Tusidanganyane jamani mhindi mhindi tu mbona basi hawakubali kuolewa na waswahili na wakifanya hivyo wanatengwa, mbona hatuwaoni wakijichanganya na waswahili kama kweli ni Watanzania, … India kuna waswahili mlaikini hata siku moja hutachaguliwa kuwa waziri au mbunge hata kuingia kwenye hao mia bora sahau. Imefika wakati tukubali tusikubali Utanzania kwanza wala si ubaguzi kama watu wanavyofikiria ila ni Identity yetu sisi kama waafrika.Wingereza wanawatu wa mataifa yote lakini muingereza halisi anahaki zaidi … Watanzania muamke sasa mtaliwa mpaka mkome

Let us stop lying to ourselves, an Indian is an Indian, why can't they intermarry with Wa-Swahili (Black Africans), we can't even see them mingle with Waswahili … There are Waswahili (black people) in India but they can never become cabinet ministers or members of parliament, they cannot even be amongst the best 100 (pageant qualifiers). Forget it. The time has come whether we like it or not, Tanzanians should have priority and it is not a matter of racism but it is an issue of identity as Africans. England has people from all over the world but an Englishman has more rights in England… Wake up Tanzanians…

When asked about the issue of racial backgrounds of contestants, the organiser of the pageant Mr. Lundenga, had no problem, as quoted in Haki's blog:

Unajua kila kitu kizuri kitakuwa na kukosolewa, kila kitu kizuri hakikosi lawama, sasa sisi tunasema kama Kamati ya Miss Tanzania, msichana yeyote mwenye sifa na ni Mtanzania hata awe mzungu, madam ni Mtanzania ana nafasi ya kushiriki.

You know every good thing must be criticised, now we, as the Miss Tanzania pageant Committee say, any girl who qualifies and is a Tanzanian, even if she is a caucasian, but a Tanzanian, she has chance to participate”

Again many more took the position of Mr. Lundenga in Michuzi's blog:

Hivi mbona hatulalamiki kuwa na wabunge wahindi na waarabu???Mohamed Daewji,Rostam na Arfi wa Mpanda ni wabunge waliochaguliwa na wananchi kwa kuwaona wanafaa.Baba wa taifa Mwalimu Nyerere aliwachagua Jamal,Derek Bryson na Alnoor Kassam.Hao ni wahidni na mzungu waliokuwa kwenye baraza la mawaziri.Bryson alikuwa kipenzi cha watu wa kinondoni na watu hawakuangalia rangi yake.Leo hii tumeanza kuwabagua ndugu zetu kwa kusema ni wahindi au wazungu.La msingi ni kwamba mtu akiwa mtanzania ana haki zote bila kujali rangi yake.Leo tukianza na wandi kesho tutabaguana kwamba wewe ni mkurya au msukuma au mhaya…,/blockquote>

Why don’t we complain about members of parliament of Asian and Arabic origins??? Mohamed Dewji, Rostam and Arfi from Mpanda, people elected them after seeing that they are fit to lead. Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Nyerere gave important posts to Jamal, Dereck Byceson and Al Noor Kassam. Those are Indians and a European who served in the cabinet. People of Kinondoni constituency loved Bryceson and they did not see his colour. Now we are starting to discriminate people, saying: he is an Indian, she is a caucasian … What matters is that if a person is a Tanzanian, he/she has all the rights regardless of his colour. If we start with Asians today, tomorrow we will start discrimination against ourselves – saying you are a Kurya, a Sukuma or Mhaya…

Writing from India, Ndabagoye analyses the issue of racism and the shock he had after reading comments in the Bongo Celebrity blog. He cautions his fellow Tanzania's against racist tendencies. He quotes Apache Indian words he heard the night before the contest at a concert in New Delhi:

“…Racism is still rampart and is not a trivial issue, anybody who has actually not seen it can cannot comment on it….”

And then he justifies his position:

Napinga ubaguzi wa rangi maana najua machungu ya kubaguliwa kama alivyosema Apache,mwanzoni wakati wa vuguvugu za Afrika kusini akina Steve Biko sikuwalewa vizuri walipokuwa wakipinga kwa nguvu ubaguzi na sikujua machungu ya kubaguliwa kwa rangi yako.Unaweza kuingia kwenye treni watu wakainuka kwenye siti woote kisa hawataki kukaa na kaluu.Noma sana hii.

Sasa hii imeanza na nyumbani… Tunajenga jamii gani watanzania wenzangu? Dunia hii tambarale sio duara tena kuna muingiliano mkubwa wa kijamii. Kuwa mtanzania lazima uwe mweusi?

I am against racism because I know how it feels to be discriminated against as Apache said, early on during the struggle in South Africa I did not fully understand people like Steve Biko because I had never experienced the pain of racism. You can board a train and people will just wake from their seats because they just don't want to sit with a Kaluu (Kaluu is same as the word Nigger in India). It is not a good feeling at all.

Now this has started way back home… what kind of society are we building ? The world is flat and there is a great deal of social interactions. Is blackness a prerequisite of being a Tanzanian?

9 comments

  • […] 2007 Multicultural beauty in Tanzania? Posted by pnoybboy under PnoyBboy  An interesting story about the new Vodacom Miss Tanzania, who is receiving some criticism because she is of Asian […]

  • […] Global Voices Online ‽ Swahili Blogosphere: Debating race and national identity GREAT post by J. Nambiza Tungaraza about discussions of racism and identity in the Swahili blogosphere after a woman of Indian descent is named Miss Tanzania 2007 (tags: race racism tanzania africa swahili globalvoices blogs) […]

  • Telesphor

    Racism is an evil and a racist is an evil person. If fellow Tanzanians start entertaining racist comments on and attitude towards other Tanzanians of Asian, European, American etc origin or even other nationals then we are heading the wrong direction.

    Sometimes I think the problem has to do with exposure or education. I really find it difficult to beleive that good people can discriminate against others because of their colour or origin. Is that not a form of neo-apartheid?

    For me what we have to wrestle with has to do with fair contracts, make sure that our minerals are not depleted and our country becomes one of the economic giants and not just one of the poorest in the world!

    I personally believe in all good people and don’t care which colour one is. Like Lucky Dube, we should see one another as ‘different colours one people’.

    I’m Tanzanian, born in Ukerewe, Mwanza, and I love all good people.

  • mtukwao

    It is not racism at all, it something African that becomes the context of the whole thing, thats why people, including me, do not think Richa should have been crowned Miss Tanzania. She is a totally misrepresentation of the Tanzania as a society. Black people have there perceptions of beauty which is not universal, and so are the other races. For example those that are usually crowned miss universe, most of them to me are just another girl!
    Once again, its not racism, the way I see it!

  • Yong Wong

    Why do you people don’t understand? Regardless of her color or origin she is a Tanzanian she has all the right just like “you” who still think you are Tanzanian because of your color, I’m absolutely shocked that we still have ignorant people!

  • connie mathew

    mimi nakubali kwa moyo mmoja miss tanzania wetu tuliomchagua kwani watanzania wangapi tumewachagua wametuaibisha sana mambo wanaoyanya hayatamanishi afadhali huyo mhindi amelelewa katika maadili anaweza fanya mambo mazuri zaidi tena kama ikiwezekana next year apwe mwarabu kabisa tumewachoka wabongo wetu hawana lolote zaidi ya aibu

  • franklin

    i can’t believe this the born person of a certain area even if he/she is a foreigner he is identified as a born of that area now this comes that she claims that she is a tanzanian then let it be colour doesn’t matter this is not the world of apartheidic so think of it.if you give so much support then she will represent well but if you think that you will archieve forget it this is not the way of archieving.i think doing that is not fair to her

  • kdlbm300

    I am proud of some of the comments here.

    It is time that Africans. And when I say Africans, I mean black people all over the world, wake up and realise that racism is still as alive today as it has always been.

    It is all well and good to say this INDIAN is Tanzanian but if any one of you were born and raised in India you would NEVER be considered Indian by ANY of its people.

    Why is it that where ever you go on this globe black people are always looked at as ugly, stupid and worthless?

    One of the reasons we black Africans are so far behind other races is that we are always willing to accept others that hate and disrespect us. It’s as if we believe we are the lowest, so when non black Africans associate with us, even in the smallest ways, we are only too happy to accept them.

    I say NO.

    The winner should of represented REAL black Tanzanian beauty. You will NEVER see a black woman win Miss World in England and if she ever does, you can be sure she will be mixed raced and look almost white.

    I genuinely believe money exchanged hands when it came to this INDIAN winning. Indians have more than a few pounds to throw around and they are always looking to promote themselves….yes even in Tanzania.

    My dream is for Africans of all nationalities to wake up and start asserting themselves and I am glad some here realise this!

  • I think at the core this outrage is occurring for the same reasons there was an outcry over the white blogger who made amusing comments about a Tanzanian woman: the general sense in the black world that we are less than and inferior to other races. I think until we either rise above this issue or restore balance and equality to our race, issues such as this will keep popping up.

    My two cents

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