Sunday, 24 February 2013


by Martin Walsh

Nyerere as leader of the Legislative Council of Tanganyika
The dead can't slap super-injunctions on the living, but being the much-revered first President and 'Father of the Nation' provides fairly good insurance against scurrilous gossip, especially when your party is still in power, the Roman Catholic church is proposing your beatification, the national airport is named after you, and hip-hop artists continue to sing your praises. Julius Kambarage Nyerere continues to enjoy a very positive image, and hagiographies have proliferated in this era of the 50th anniversaries of the transition to Tanganyika's Independence and the political Union with Zanzibar. None of this is surprising, though I've always been dismayed by the extent to which older academics and Tanzaphiles have bought into the Nyerere Narrative. The good news is that a younger generation of scholars has been less willing to accept the received image (e.g. Fouéré 2009).

In Tanzania itself, multi-party politics, a freer press, and the new medium of the internet, have introduced alternative views and started to lead to the recovery of old histories as well as the invention of some new ones. This is especially so in Zanzibar, where there are even more political secrets to hide about the circumstances of the Revolution and the Tanganyika Mutiny, the hurried Union agreement, and the way in which political enemies were dealt with (cf. Fouéré 2010). During the Popobawa panic on Pemba island in 1995 it was said that trapped spirits, manifestations of the shape-shifting evil genie, had declared that they had come from Butiama, Nyerere's home village (Walsh 2009: 28). This provided cause for pointing the finger of blame at Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the ruling party, and was just one part of a counter-narrative that demonised Nyerere and his political heirs as the enemies of democracy and Pemban self-determination under the banner of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF).

My favourite popular pricking of the Nyerere balloon is a book I picked up in Iringa town in February 2000, a few month's after Mwalimu's death the previous October. Munga Tehenan's Siri za Nyerere, 'Nyerere's Secrets', is undated; the author himself died in 2008. His chapter headings give the flavour:

Nyerere's Secrets
1. Nyerere alikuwa ni Mrundi? [Was Nyerere a Rundi?]
2. Roho yake ilikoswa mara tano [His heart stopped five times]
3. Nyerere hakuwajali wanaye [Nyerere didn't care for his children]
4. Watoto wake ni walalahoi [His children are homeless]
5. Kifimbo chake na nguvu za kichawi [His stick and the power of witchcraft]
6. Kwa nini Mwalimu aliitwa 'Haambiliki' [Why is Mwalimu called 'He-can't-be-told']
7. Maisha yake Butiama yalishangaza zaidi [His life at Butiama was even more astonishing]
8. Butiama: mkulima halisi [Butiama: the dedicated farmer]
9. Nyerere na Waislamu wa Butiama [Nyerere and the Muslims of Butiama]
10. Mama wa Nyerere alikuwa mchawi [Nyerere's mother was a witch]
11. Mwalimu kama rafiki wa wote [Mwalimu as everyone's friend]
12. Mali zake Butiama [His wealth in Butiama]
13. Mwalimu: maradhi na utani [Mwalimu: illnesses and joking]
14. Nyerere alikuwa mdini [Nyerere was a religious person]

A lot of this is tittle-tattle about Nyerere's home life in Butiama. I've no doubt that more could be dredged up about his life abroad. I once knew a woman who claimed to have had a one-night stand with Nyerere. Her story was quite plausible. She was young, attractive, and worked for a state-owned enterprise. Nyerere was on a state visit to another African country, and she was invited to a party at which he was the guest of honour. They danced together, and when the evening drew to a close he took her to bed. I was tempted to ask for more intimate details, but she'd told me this in an unguarded moment, and I didn't want to pry -- any more than I'd want people to take a prurient interest in my own affairs. Bedding large numbers of women was one of the prerogatives of power in many newly-independent African nations, and in many countries it still is. Nyerere may have indulged, but he doesn't have the lurid reputation of some of his peers.

Nyerere's worst kept secrets were his Machiavellian political machinations and the economic ruin of the country in the name of Ujamaa, his personal version of state socialism. I first lived in Tanzania in 1980-82 when the ill effects of Nyerere's hubris and pernicious policies were all too evident. I can forgive him for dabbling in  witchcraft and enjoying extramarital sex -- if indeed he did -- but I can't forget the corruption and the queues, and especially the shortage of essential medical supplies and the consequent lack of basic healthcare, with all the deleterious consequences that this had and continues to have. Although I touched on some aspects of this in publications that arose from my doctoral research in Usangu (e.g. Walsh 1983; 1985), I haven't really written much about it. Perhaps I should.

Tom Molony is to blame for setting me thinking about the public and private images of Nyerere, but bears no responsibility for the rest. See also my earlier post about 'Okello, Babu, Mo, and photographic propaganda' (14 March 2011).


Fouéré, Marie-Aude 2009. J. K. Nyerere entre mythe et histoire: analyse de la production d’une mémoire publique officielle en Tanzanie post-socialiste. Les commémorations de la disparition du père de la nation. Les Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est 41: 197-224.

Fouéré, Marie-Aude 2010. Sortie de clandestinité des années sombres à Zanzibar (1964-1975). Cahiers d'Études africaines 50 (1): 95-121.

Tehenan, Munga Undated. Siri za Nyerere. Dar es Salaam: M & N Publishers.

Walsh, Martin 1983. Fanta, Coca Cola and tea (three sugars) in the political economy of rural Tanzania: notes from Utengule-UsanguCambridge Anthropology 8 (3): 69-75.

Walsh, Martin 1985. Village, state and traditional authority in Usangu. In R. G. Abrahams (ed.) Villagers, Villages and the State in Modern Tanzania. Cambridge: African Studies Centre. 135-167.

Walsh, Martin 2009. The politicisation of Popobawa: changing explanations of a collective panic in Zanzibar. Journal of Humanities 1 (1): 23-33.

Saturday, 23 February 2013


by Martin Walsh

Part of the former English Club Library in the Africa House Hotel
Jonathan Walz's post about the conservation of the Zanzibar Museum (aka Beit el Amani, the Peace Memorial Museum) has reminded me of the library that used to be in the Museum Annexe, the unassuming building that still houses its natural history collections. My memories of the Museum Library were originally stirred in January, when I read an article in Tanzanian Affairs (Jackson 2013) about the English Club Library, in the building that is now Africa House Hotel. As Jono Jackson documents in his Oxford dissertation (2012), the remnants of the library survive in a locked and increasingly neglected room, no longer the bright and busy conference-cum-reading area that the hotel website depicts. Over the years books from the English Club Library have been pilfered and sold; many presumably through the curio shops and stalls in Zanzibar's Stone Town. It's not a unusual fate for the contents of old (and sometimes new) libraries in Tanzania, as anyone who has bought second-hand books on the streets of Dar es Salaam will know.

The (photocopied) cover of Woodward's 1911 typescript
The early history of the Museum Library is outlined in another recent dissertation, Sarah Longair's (2012) study of the Zanzibar Museum and colonial culture in Zanzibar. In 1912 the Zanzibar Protectorate's Economic Zoologist, Dr. William Mansfield Aders, established a small Public Health Museum and library attached to the Health Office (2012: 96-98). The book collection was developed by Aders and his colleague Dr. Alfred Henry Spurrier, who became the first curator of the Peace Memorial Museum when it opened in 1925. The permanent Museum Annexe was built in 1930, and in 1939 the second curator, Ailsa Nicol Smith, converted the book collection into a public reference library, housed in one of its rooms (2012: 276-277). Thereafter the library continued to grow, and in 1952 the official guidebook to Zanzibar described it as "an excellent small library, containing many books on Zanzibar and East Africa" (Zanzibar Protectorate 1952: 94). Unlike the members-only English Club Library, the Museum Library was open to ordinary townspeople.

The Zanzibar Museum and its collections survived the Revolution in 1964, though by the time of my first visit three decades later they were looking distinctly seedy. The Museum Library was housed in a small room to the left of the Annexe entrance: I remember it as dark, dank, and dusty -- though my memory may be exaggerating for alliterative effect. Its public functions had long been overtaken by the Zanzibar Town Library, just down the road from the museum. It was still possible, however, to become a member of the Museum Library, and in May 1995 I duly joined, not least because it had copies of a number of historical and linguistic works about Zanzibar and East Africa that I couldn't otherwise get hold of on the islands. (I was living on Pemba at the time, where such books were even more scarce than on the main island -- indeed I found myself donating photocopies of papers about local history, culture and natural history to the British Council library in Chake-Chake, which was otherwise subject to the vagaries of book aid.)

The title page of my copy of Woodward 1882
There weren't many other readers in the Museum Library -- there was hardly space for them -- and I only encountered a few diligent students, who weren't really using the collection. When I could I whisked away items of interest and surreptitiously copied them (for the greater good of scholarship, of course). I can't remember what they were now, at least not without rummaging through the file boxes in which I keep offprints and photocopies (adopting the system I first encountered in the library of the British Institute in Eastern Africa in Nairobi -- or was it the Fort Jesus Museum Library in Mombasa?*). The gem that I do remember was an annotated and corrected typescript by H. W. Woodward with the title "Collections for a Handbook of the TAITA LANGUAGE as spoken on the Shambala hills near Kigongoi", dated "MCMXI", 1911. This was evidently a draft of Woodward's published paper (1913/14) on the speech of this colony of Kasigau dialect speakers in the Usambaras.

Herbert Willoughby Woodward was a long-serving missionary with the Universities' Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) who wrote a number of grammatical sketches of local languages (for an overview of his linguistic work see Doke 1961). One of these was his Collections for a Handbook of the Boondéi Language (1882), which was also in the Museum Library, if my notes are right. In 2005 I bought my own somewhat worn and termite-eaten copy of this via the internet, a treasure nonetheless. A stamp on the flyleaf declares this to have once been in the possession of the "ZANZIBAR DIOCESAN LIBRARY". According to Edward Polome (1980: 14-15), this library was also once home to a 254-page typescript Zigua-English Dictionary and related materials. I hope they're still there -- or in safe hands somewhere. I also hope that the Zanzibar Museum Library collection has survived. A few years ago I was told that it had been moved to the House of Wonders Museum, in the iconic (but crumbling) Beit el Ajaib. Maybe I should check. Or look on the internet first.          

* Another, earlier, beneficiary of my photocopy collection, though the then Coast Archaeologist saw fit to mark all of the copies that he'd copied from mine with a stamp declaring them to have come from his own personal library...

Many thanks to both Sarah Longair and Jono Jackson for sending me copies of their unpublished dissertations.

Books from the English Club Library

Anon. Undated. Zigua-English Dictionary. Unpublished typescript, Zanzibar Diocesan Library.

Doke, C. 1961. The linguistic work of H. W. Woodward. African Studies 20 (4): 197-202.

Jackson, Jono 2012. Meaning in Miscellanea: The Social Value of Books in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Unpublished M.Sc. dissertation (African Studies), University of Oxford.

Jackson, Jono 2013. Meaning in miscellanea. Tanzanian Affairs 104: 17-18.

Longair, Sarah Charlotte 2012. ‘A Gracious Temple of Learning’: The Museum and Colonial Culture in Zanzibar, 1900-1945. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Birkbeck College, University of London.

Polome, Edward C. 1980. The languages of Tanzania. In E. C. Polome and C. P. Hill (eds.) Language in Tanzania. Oxford: Oxford University Press for the International African Institute. 3-25.

Woodward, H. W. 1882. Collections for a Handbook of the BoondéLanguage. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Woodward, H. W. 1913/14. Kitaita or Kisighau as spoken on the Shambala Hills above Bwiti. Zeitschrift für Kolonialsprachen 4 (2): 91-117.

Zanzibar Protectorate 1952. A Guide to Zanzibar. Zanzibar: Government Printer.

Friday, 15 February 2013


by Jonathan R. Walz

Beit el Amani in July 2011, before renovation (copyright Martin Walsh)
Public engagement and conservation are two principal concerns of the African Studies community in general. However, more often than not, those interested in conservation in Africa emphasize natural history, national parks, and wildlife. As recent events in Timbuktu in Mali demonstrate, historical sources, archaeological remains, and architectural legacies also deserve robust and sustained commitment. Governments, museums (and other institutions), and scholars play key roles in this endeavor, as the parties who ensure the responsible conservation of cultural heritage in Africa and who facilitate public education about African history and contemporary societies.

There is broad recognition that African archives and museums are in a poor state. A visit to the Swaziland National Archives in Mbabane, for instance, reveals insufficient infrastructure, financial resources, and staff to meet the basic conservation needs of the unique and remarkable historical sources housed there. The archives and museums in much of Sub-Saharan Africa, like other states in the global tropics and sub-tropics, suffer from multiple legacies. Among other factors, these include regional impoverishment, insufficient leadership and staff training, and a gaping disconnect between scholars and such heritage institutions. International scholars in particular often conduct research and then depart countries without attending to the further management of the materials they collect. Recent adjustments to antiquities research fees in many countries, including Tanzania, are beginning to rectify this problem by collecting monies intended for curation.

Beit el Amani in July 2012, after renovation (copyright J. R. Walz)
Of course there are exceptions to the tendencies of poor management in museums and archives outlined above. Notable success stories include the Hargeisa Provincial Museum in Somalia (Mire 2007) and various branch museum organizations in Niger and Senegal (see Merrick Posnansky’s comments in Walz 2010: 208-209). And the International Council of African Museums (AFRICOM), as well as other international, continental, and national working groups and funds are making headway in the struggle to improve heritage training and awareness. However, the destruction in Timbuktu shows how quickly a success story – the South Africa-Mali Timbuktu Manuscripts Project – can turn. There is much serious work to be done in partnership among stakeholders.

Tanzania faces challenges similar to other African countries (see Schmidt and McIntosh 1996). A 2001 conference in Dar es Salaam celebrated the growth in historical scholarship and heritage studies in Tanzania since mainland independence in 1961. But at the same time attendees bemoaned the many significant impediments to heritage development (Mapunda and Msemwa 2005). Zanzibar Town and other historical places of Tanzania’s offshore islands also face threats to heritage as well as the institutions that enable the conservation of historical sources and public engagement.

Disarray in Storage D, Beit el Amani, July 2012 (copyright J. R. Walz)
In July 2012 I visited Beit el Amani – the Peace Memorial Museum (aka the Zanzibar Museum) – in Zanzibar Town. Lying at the intersection of Benjamin Mkapa and Kaunda roads, it contains artifacts and other historical sources of Zanzibar’s long-term history, from great antiquity up to and through the early twentieth-century: archaeological remains of Swahili urbanism, relics of the Omani sultanate, material culture from European exploration, items of railroad and postal history, and crafts common to Zanzibari households (for the early history of the museum see Longair 2012). The museum was under structural renovation when I visited in July (and had been for more than a year previously) and therefore the material collections and displays were off limits to the general public. Aesthetic and structural improvements appear to have been successful (as the museum’s façade has been renewed), but they conceal striking problems.

A museum official kindly agreed to show me the archaeological collections in ‘storage,’ some of which had been relocated due to the ongoing renovations. Storage Room D is demonstrative. Disarray and destruction (surely unintentional) of this type should elicit great concern. Storage boxes and bags are broken or otherwise disintegrating in Storage Room D and the original provenance of a proportion of material has been lost. Most apparent are ceramics, beads of glass and semi-precious stone, and even non-archaeological materials, including a stuffed duck. Sadly, my photos illustrate this desecration of history. Relevant objects include those excavated in the 1990s from Unguja Ukuu and other regionally important archaeological sites located on Unguja (Zanzibar) Island and its smaller sister, Tumbatu.

Another view of the jumble in Storage D (copyright J. R. Walz)
After speaking with a Zanzibari official, I contacted numerous international heritage groups and funds, including the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania. However, for various reasons – including surpassed funding deadlines – no monies were available for immediate improvements. Then I approached the Office of Community Engagement at my academic institution, Rollins College (in Florida). Thankfully, I was granted a small sum to clean and organize the materials in Storage Room D, a task I will complete during July 2013 with Rollins students. This scheduled activity integrates well the engaged liberal arts and two courses I teach: “Cultural Heritage and Museums” and “Heritage and the Politics of Now.” Zanzibari museum staff and students in new archaeology and heritage management programs at the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA) will work alongside us to improve circumstances at Beit el Amani. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog as the case progresses.

The archives and museums of eastern Africa, and all of Africa, deserve greater care. In this instance, archaeologists who work in Zanzibar and wider Tanzania should step forward and find more concrete ways to ensure proper curation of materials. Although Rollins College supplied funding to launch this project in Zanzibar, donations, volunteer support, and suggestions for additional funding are much appreciated.

Thanks to Martin Walsh for facilitating this blog post. I further appreciate the support of Abdul Sheriff during my stay in Zanzibar in 2012. Many commentators offered assistance through a previous online post about Beit el Amani.


Longair, S. C. 2012. ‘A Gracious Temple of Learning’: The Museum and Colonial Culture in Zanzibar, 1900-1945. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Birkbeck College, University of London.

Mapunda, B. and P. Msemwa (eds.) 2005. Salvaging Tanzania’s Cultural Heritage. Dar es Salaam: Dar es Salaam University Press.

Mire, S. 2007. Preserving knowledge, not objects: a Somali perspective for heritage management and archaeological research. African Archaeological Review 24 (3-4): 49-71.

Schmidt, P. and R. McIntosh (eds.) 1996. Plundering Africa’s Past. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Walz, J. 2010. An interview with Merrick Posnansky. African Archaeological Review 27 (3): 177-210.