A Bit of History
Wednesday was Nane Nane, a holiday in Tanzania. “Nane” (nah-neh) means eight so it marks the eighth day of the eighth month. Not the cleverest of names but it was nonetheless a day off. In keeping with my curiosities living here as a non-Tanzanian, I did some exploration as to what we are celebrating and why. It turned out to be a briefing on a hundred years of agro-politics in Tanzania. Having been a farmer, I actually find it to be pretty interesting.
When the Germans were in charge of the country at the beginning of the 20th century, most of their agricultural focus was on feeding the German machine before and during WWI. There was an emphasis on plants like sisal and rubber trees in addition to the infrastructure to get it out of the country and back to Germany. Much of the country’s early transport infrastructure (train and road) was a result of the need to get goods back to the port, on a ship and then to Europe.
However the country was then handed over to the Brits as a result of the spoils of the Great War. And on the economic front, the British were more successful. Their 'crops for export' scheme worked well as the focus changed from supporting war to generating revenue. They set up marketing cooperatives in several areas and many of them, unexpectedly for the British, assumed an additional role as a voice for nationalist aspirations and protests against the colonialist systems. In 1929 a particular cooperative was formed similar to those already in existence but organized along political lines rather than only economic. This group, known initially as the African Association, assumed increasing importance as local resentment against colonial government policies grew. In 1948 it was renamed the Tanganyika Africa Association (TAA) to reflect this increased level of support.
Although it was not directly involved in World War II, Tanganyika supplied between 80,000 and 100,000 troops for the Allied forces and benefited economically as the country itself saw no combat. With undisturbed food production and rising international food prices, Tanganyika's trade revenue increased six fold between 1939 and 1949.
With the war at an end and much of Europe in shambles, many disillusioned Europeans turned to Africa. They focused on climates that appealed to them and the ones for which they could carve out a good living. In East Africa the attention was turned to the higher altitudes of Kenya and northern Tanzania. Much like the Native Americans in the US, in the early 1950's the Meru tribe from the western Kilimanjaro region was forcefully relocated by the government to make way for European farmers. Despite their many appeals to the authorities - including the United Nations General Assembly - they were rejected. They turned to local political groups for support. Not surprisingly this gave the nationalist movement a boost.
These groups in turn looked to the TAA for leadership. In 1953, the TAA elected a man name Julius Nyerere as its president. Nyerere was a teacher who was educated locally at a mission school near Lake Victoria, university in Uganda and abroad at Edinburgh University for his master's degree in social sciences. Under his leadership the TAA was quickly transformed into an effective political organization. A new constitution was drawn up and introduced on July 7, 1954 (celebrated annually as Saba Saba Day and yes, “saba” means “seven”), and the TAA became the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). Within a year Nyerere had left the teaching profession to become its full time leader. In the end, Nyerere would become Tanzania’s first president and TANU would become CCM, the country’s current ruling party.
As early as 1945, farmers in the Lake Victoria area held the Nane Nane Agricultural fair to mark the end of the harvest of cotton, maize and other farm produce. For many years, both Saba Saba and Nane Nane were celebrated. However recent focus has gravitated toward Nane Nane given that the opposition parties resented the celebration of Saba Saba. Even though it has important historical significance for the country as a whole, it also has the distinction of being the birth date of a political party. To maintain the neutrality of the agricultural holiday, the emphasis is now Nane Nane and we all now have to work on Saba Saba.