MasterwebNews 16/6/16 - Dr. Gopal Interview In Tanzanian On Matters Affecting Africa

[ Masterweb Reports: Due to its relevance to present day Africa, this interview of Sept. 2010 is republished ] - As Tanzanians face deep problems that need rapid solutions --- thus this interview with Dr. Kusum Gopal by Guardian  Tanzania correspondent to share some of her insights on the Reduction of Poverty, Meanings of Gender towards understanding the political tensions, social inequalities and, endemic civil wars that plague our great Continent. Dr Gopal‘s expertise as a Gender, Health, Social Development and Conflict Advisor covers the Indian Subcontinent (all countries of South Asia), the MENA region, Vietnam, Northern Europe, West and East African region Tanzania. She was appointed as an UN Expert in 2001. Here she speaks independently as requested, and none of these views below represent any of the organizations.

 

Q. Shall I begin by asking you what are the most important criteria understanding a country such as Tanzania?

 

Well, knowing the history in all its facets is paramount to connecting with how ordinary people feel and think in any country or region. Well what they experience is true... But knowing history is not archival material or to read colonial Utilitarian write ups -- we need to feel and share with people of the country, the many dimensions of their country’s experiences going back three hundred years or more, and with that, their sense of time and space. For example in Tanzania, indeed for east Africa we need to keep in mind Swahili time and space. That is, in addition to the brutality of the colonial experience, to learn also about the pre-colonial history of Africa – in a wider sense-- because that spans millennia and we find in that it is syncretistic – much like the ancient cultures of the Indian subcontinent. That is to say people co-existed with each other, adopted each other’s beliefs and, race, or a distinct ‘ethnic’ identity of tribe did not exist-(that was introduced by the Europeans) but mbeyu or clan, not kabila was important as, most certainly, indeed, language. To illustrate, inter-marriages between different groups of people have taken place for millennia --and continue to happen. There are also powerful democratic and egalitarian traditions that present in ordinary every day interactions-- the symbols, languages, values and assumptions that are utilized in trust networks and norms of reciprocity? All these  expressions are extremely important to learn from and to understand.

 

Thus, when Mwalimu Nyerere stated that all Tanzanians are one people – he was in fact invoking the pre-colonial understanding of what it means to be an African- umoja, hekima amani. And, that has firmly rooted Tanzania on the path of peace as people seek to avoid conflict in everyday interactions--a model for so many African countries and indeed, for the world also in some respects.

 

Q In Africa today we have so many civil wars that have caused genocides and continue to happen. Our leaders meet and discuss these issues but they happen. Any thoughts on this?

 

Yes, Land, water and natural resources are integral to human existence. One famous writer – Wole Soyinka observes that in addition to the ill-advised partition of Africa at the heart of current civil wars, struggle for lands, water and other natural resources have caused immeasurable trauma and, hunger. And, he advocates dialogues between all warring factions to banish the pernicious legacies and bring peace, as intolerance of people is antithesis to the African way of being.   Also, great leaders such as Bishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela have spoken about indigenous cultural principles that underlie acceptance-The term ubuntu understood by most Africans, is the essence of being human or being a person. That is, every human being’s humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in another’s... to be open and available to others, affirming of others. Thus, one cannot feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed. Indeed, many parts of the world have much to learn from such ancient wisdom from Africa- “I am because we are” – and this is an entry point for dialogues… It is necessary corollary to assume that the local populations, not the outsiders are experts in their own social and cultural environment. Societies and cultures are best understood holistically. All societies are systematic, rational and, we need to value the integrity and worthiness of all human societies. That is also why cultures should never be viewed as barriers but always seen as enabling and contains the power to transform the lives of people through dialogues and discussions.

 

 Q3 We are now discussing Mkukuta2 as the government is aware that what seriously afflicts our nation is Poverty and that is common knowledge.  What are your thoughts on this subject?

 

Mkukuta 2 will necessarily learn valuable lessons. To me the most pressing problem in the developing world is that of livelihood. Each morning making a livelihood is important and to be unable to do so and earn money keeping one’s dignity and respect is an anxiety that is impossible to measure – because it leads to an acute loss of confidence and then without money people are forced to resort to survival strategies that cause harm to themselves and their families. I would say that in Tanzania – as indeed, in several countries of the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere a common feature that beleaguers post-colonial countries in the main is the insufficient indeed, adversity lack of being able to make a livelihood, shortage of food, poor nutrition and the add-ons—the conspicuous absence of indispensable civic facilities –- such as water on tap – as basic hygiene and cleanliness of the environment are paramount considerations -– for human dignity as indeed, social development to take place effectively.

 

Q. You spoke of the poverty of health in our discussion earlier. What do you mean by it?

 

In several countries as also India, despite the apparent success globalization - economic poverty is severe. Also there remain high rates of anaemia, helminthic infections, reproductive tract infections, maternal mortality and, share some of the problems that afflict women and men here. There is a general lack of knowledge of the body even shame – and women and girls hide within themselves – and find it extremely hard to discuss or talk about their health problems--women’s forbearance to prolepsis, lesions, miscarriages and continence is marked. In Vietnam, in contrast, women are much more open, for example, there are sixty common terms for vaginal discharges. These are important indicators on how women and men relate to each other in various cultures- and constitute a facet of human poverty that needs to be recognized.

 

Here, we need to bear in mind the Human Development Report 1997 that states that poverty needs to be conceptualized as ‘human poverty’ and it needs to be understood multi-dimensionally. According to this human rights based perspective the poor are those who are deprived of essential human needs and entitlements, resources and, opportunities such as education.  It includes not just economic poverty but also, social and political exclusion. Thus while Tanzania is economically poor, it is sophisticated and rich in social terms– the spirit of egalitarianism is particularly marked – people understand each other be it the President or the farmer: the moral fibre of democracy is indigenous and deeply rooted. It is indeed an enviable situation that cannot be said for most countries of the world I would imagine. Also, programmes on democratisation should take note of this and work with these givens to succeed.  And, that is why there are tremendous potentialities for success to overcome poverty because dialogues would be fruitful.

 

Also, there is a marked respect for the old and children; people greet each other and strangers are also embraced into the community, regardless of what they look like or where they come from. The mark of a sophisticated culture is respect of all people and acceptance of all people, regardless of colour, creed, age and so forth. That is why the ancient cultures such as those of the Indian subcontinent, Egypt, and certainly, the sophistcated cultures of the African continent have so much  to teach the world.

 

As one travels through this country, young girls and women of all ages also dress as they wish and do not bother about size or shapes— and they walk confidently and appear to love their bodies – and that is extremely instructive – because what is being celebrated is to be female, no matter what. And, I find women here, in that respect have much to teach the world. All these issues need to be included in the measurement of poverty as the cultures and ways of seeing generated by such values or beliefs are integral to physical and emotional well-being of human beings in general. 
 

 
That is why Gender needs to be viewed as a process rather than a category – the doing of gender rather than the being of it–Gruntdvig, a rather wise Danish philosopher noted, "Life is of a double nature, whole only in man and woman.

 

Q6. Wha

 
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