East African Traveler
By the time I arrived at ringside, the electricity had been cut, the boxers stood baffled in their corners, and a thousand restless fans waited in darkness for the fight to begin again.
I had come to the Kijana New Social Hall in Dar-es-Salaam for a highly anticipated showdown with Rashidi “Snake Boy” Matumla and Hassan “Red Bull” Matumla, brothers of the famed Matumla boxing family, both fighting formidable opponents in a double main event. With the electricity out and the hall’s generator down, it didn’t appear likely that any more punches would be thrown that night, that is, unless they were thrown in the in audience. Then, it started to rain.
The fights went down in a cramped open-air space in one of Dar’s inner-city districts. The majority of the fans were youths: students, street hawkers, bus touts and drivers, laborers, fellow boxers, and neighborhood toughs. When the lights went back on, they went ecstatic as the fights resumed even in a light rain.
The youth became a major issue during the recent presidential and parliamentary campaigns . Many candidates, including the new president, Jakaya Kikwete, reached out to younger voters. Kikwete effectively won their support, also promising he would help create over one million jobs for youths.
Like in many other countries, the youth demographic is fast growing in , and youth culture is having more and more of an effect on Tanzanian society. (Definitive example: the Bongo fleva’, Tanzanian Swahili hip hop, craze even took hold of the recent campaigns with prepubescent MCs spittin’ rhymes for CCM.) Census estimates for 2005 record of 44% of ’s population being 14 years old or younger. It’s a trend not unfamiliar to other African and developing world countries.
When it comes to education, however, from to , from to , genuine investment in all youth is not merely important—-it is a desperate and immediate need. One only has to recall the recent riots in or the racist rampages in to see what happens when young people are left ignorant and/or disempowered.
While I watched the rest of the matches that night in the Haven of Peace, an awesome energy moved through the crowd as they cheered and heckled, danced and tossed chairs into the air with each knockdown. The fights had turned into more slapstick than sweet science with boxers slipping often on the rain-slicked canvas. There was no security or bouncers to control the crowd. What could happen, do you imagine, if the right match was struck amidst that already explosive energy?
has long been blessed as a peaceful nation, however, its society is in a transition—-for better or for worse, it’s still unclear. Yet, as the wealth gap grows, so does crime. As politicians translate multiparty democracy into survival of the fittest at all costs, political violence spreads. The World Economic Forum recently ranked ahead of and in terms of global economic competitiveness, and other investors have praised the nation’s recent economic gains. Have some of those gains come at the cost to the education system?
It will take a fearless vision to genuinely invest in education and employment for the youth. Let us hope that President Jakaya Kikwete has that courage and vision and that he can strive to fulfill his promises.
If leaders cannot make that commitment to the youth worldwide, we might as well throw in the towel on our future. Without that commitment, any struggle to better society, whether reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS or increasing social justice, will be a fixed fight, one we are sure to lose.
The writer is a Twin Cities resident currently visiting
on a cultural exchange program. He will share his perspective and observations while there in this column which will appear in Mshale through early 2006 when he returns to the
. You can reach him at [email protected].