Today, we are introducing you to Maggid Mjengwa. Daniel is one of the leading photobloggers from Tanzania who has been trying to combine blogging, photography and political activism. Apart from being a very active blogger, Maggid is also a well-known columnist for a Swahili weekly in Tanzania, RAI. He shares his time with us to talk about his love for writing and how he got involved with electronic media.
You are best known as one of the RAI newspaper columnist. Can you talk a little bit about how you started to write?
I started writing since I was a student at Tambaza Secondary School. It is way back in the early 80’s. To be exactly, I wrote my first newspaper article when I was in Form Three. The then CCM Youth General Secretary, Seif Khatib visited our school and talked about atrocities being committed by the then Mozambican rebel group, MNR (now known as RENAMO). I left the meeting area with a strong feeling that “ I must write to express my feeling and other friends feeling at that time. I wrote; “ Youth Ready To Fight MNR”. The article was published by the Daily News.
Briefly, I meant that we (youth) were ready to put down our pens and take up arms to fight MNR alongside Mozambican government troops. I do also remember, that during my time at Tambaza Secondary School I took initiative to start a school newsletter. Using a pen and a piece of paper I wrote newsletter and pinned at the school notice board. Seeing many students including teachers reading what I wrote did actually encourage me to continue writing. I hope you Nambiza was one of my readers. You and I went at the same school during the same period I now describe.
What impact does your writing – especially in print media – have on the public?
I no longer write for RAI as a columnist, I have decided to step aside to give chance to other emerging young writers. I will remain a reader and a freelance writer. I have a feeling that my writing has impact on the public. I have noticed a number of my ideas being implemented even by authorities concerned. For instance, some weeks ago, Education Minister announced government plans to introduce sports, like football as a subject in some of our secondary schools, a sort of football schools. On top of that, the government plan to start diploma Course for Sports in one of our Teaching College. It is the theme I wrote about in the past. Surely, Government might come up with the idea from within, but I believe, authorities read what we write, and we definitely, influence to some of their decisions.
What do you think can be done to empower the people whose problems you so much talk about?
Education, education, education…. I think we need to start with providing a better education to ordinary people at the grassroots level. I have opportunity to visit, stay and talk with the villagers. Wherever I go, I almost hear same stories. People know their problems, they can solve them, but they need tools, and this important tool is education that can help in bringing awareness. To get to Know their rights and obligations. Knowing how to present their cases, how to make their irresponsible leaders accountable. Indeed, many do lack education and in many cases, basic education.
Besides being a columnist you are also a blogger, how and when did you start to blog?
I started to blog in September 2006. Yes, a year has passed since I started.
What was your inspiration?
I saw other Tanzanians starting to blog. I got inspired by our blog-guru Ndesanjo Macha. But, then I saw my brother Issa Michuzi using blog to publish his photos and get people to talk about those photos. I’m very much interested in photography. I have taken photos since I was at secondary school. Then I thought, why not re-cultivate my photo interest using blog? And there I started.
Does your blog have a theme or does it focus on a particular issue?
Well, my blog has different themes. It covers social, political, and economical issues. I do also emphasise issues regarding to environmental protection. But the main focus of my blog is the common woman and man in Tanzania. The marginalized ones. The focus should be to the ordinary Mwananchi (Citizen). In my blog, the normaly marginalized and voice-less Mwananchi should come first. My blog should be the voice of the voiceless. Of all what we discuss in the blog, must reflect and have an impact to the common Mwananchi.
How would you describe your blog?
It is like a village, a platform for people to express their views freely. People do express their views in a civilised way. Very rarely, you can read abusive language in my blog. I do not filter peoples comments, I think it’s a good thing. I believe in a free-word, let people speak their minds. You think, you write down your opinion, you publish and there you are, others will read what you think at that particular moment. And in doing this, you are free to expose your real name or remain anonymous. And that is the great thing with the blog, if a blog is used in a good way, it is very democratic, indeed.
When you spend time online are there any particular blogs you read regularly?
Yes, a number of them, and the list can be long.
Besides being a blogger, do you belong to, or consider yourself a member of any other online community?
Yes. I belong to Jambo Forums and Tanzanet as communities.
How do you define these communities, what is the difference between those communities and the blogging communities?
They are good communities, a lot of intellectual discussions and debates are going on out there. One can learn a lot if you are a member, and the latter is the difference from the blog. You do not need to sign as member in a blog. You can get in and out whenever you need.
I have noticed that more than once you have promised your readers that you would follow up on the issues raised in your blog. Two posts are of particular interest. Let us start with a post in Hii Ndio Mwananyamala Inatisha. You posted a photograph of a very squalid street in Dar – Es – Salaam. Immediately your readers started to scream, because they believed that the residents could do something about the neighbourhood, and they asked you to collate their opinions and follow up the issue with the ward councillor, Mama Sabrina, did you follow up?
Yes, I made some follow-ups on the issue of Mwananyamala Bwawani. I have been back to the street, there are no changes so far.
I checked with Kinondoni’s MP Mr. Idd Azzad. I live 500 Kms away from Dar. I t can be difficult sometimes to make follow ups with such a distance away. My plan is to meet him and together we go to the said problem area. I hope I will manage to do that in the near future.
And another post in late august was about environment,you posted a photograph of the hills surrounding Iringa town in Southern Tanzania, very barren hills I should say, then comments started to pour in, some very constructive solutions were put forward, again you promised to take those comments to the authorities. What happened?
Yes I did. I started with ward councillor, I gave the document containing ideas from people in the blog on how to contain the situation. A councillor is a CCM member, some CCM regional election meeting came in between. And myself have other duties to execute in the job I do. I have been away in Singida, central Tanzania I came back to Iringa recently. I will make some follow-ups and give feed-back to people in my blog.
Do you think that activism can be carried out online? What are the possibilities of such activism having a noticeable impact on the ground?
Yes, activism can be carried out online and can have impact on the ground. We on the ground have a golden opportunity to straight face people responsible when we find out that there are issues discussed or debated online that need clarification, or questions raised that need answers. Sometimes I feel we have not real realised this opportunity and fully utilised.
Whether or not you identify yourself as an activist, what does activism mean to you?
To be active in fighting to bring about radical and positive fundamental changes that serves the interest of the majority in the society.
Questions:Do you think that bloggers will be able to play a significant role in this new kind of activism?
Answer:Yes I do, but I am afraid that many bloggers do not understand that they can influence positive changes in the society through blogging. It is possible, if it is serious blogging on serious matters.
What do you do when you are not writing or blogging?
Apart from the job I do, I like reading, go out in the nature, do jogging and watching football, I ‘ m fond of football. I like dancing and listening to the music as well.
Before I go, I should congratulate you for the community development work you do, not long ago you handed over soccer jerseys and other equipment worth millions of shillings to young people. You have shown initiative, you asked people to do something about the kids and their soccer, and there you go, the kids got what they need.
Maggid thank you for your time.
It’s my pleasure.