Book ban and moral panic in Tanzania: is this why they want to ban the Internet too?

Given the craze over books in our schools and in our society, I would like to offer some historical background. This is by no means the first time this has happened and, as in the past, we must ensure that the debate provides more light and less heat.

I had the privilege of joining the Institute of Education’s English Language Panel in the 1970s. The 1970s were a time of great educational innovation after Tanzania abandoned the Cambridge system to develop its own.

And, at least in my subjects, English and Literature in English, the results were spectacular. At the lower secondary school level, students had to read many literature texts even in their language courses, and all the texts in the curriculum were African.

Instead of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, we had Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Okot p’Bitek, Mongo Beti and a whole host of African writers. The institute mixed the best world literature, including African literature with writers such as Ngũgĩ, Achebe (again) Wole Soyinka, Alex La Guma, Henrik Ibsen, Bertolt Brecht, Arthur Miller, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Chinese stories as well as non-fiction, including Julius Nyerere, Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon, Nelson Mandela, among others.

These curricula, at least according to my students, profoundly impacted their thinking and their lives.


However, these study programs were not without their detractors. Thus, on the panel, we faced a campaign to remove Mongo Beti, Okot p’Bitek and others from the curriculum because they were “inappropriate” for our children.

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If I remember correctly, an influential priest started the campaign in the press, and a ‘representative’ of the parents appeared on the panel with a long statement. I seriously doubt he wrote it himself (since he later couldn’t explain what the real problems were with the books he wanted eliminated) and I have no idea which parents he represented, but we had to sit and listen politely.

In the heated debate that followed, Lawino’s Song It was rescued from oblivion by a Tabora Boys teacher who said Mwalimu Julius Nyerere had visited the school and asked who had read the epic poem. Those who did were praised as the founding leader of Tanzania and highly recommended the book.

English-speaking panels should not base their choice on the preferences of their leaders. However, those of us who firmly believed that Lawino’s Song It was a key text in the fight against cultural imperialism. They were still happy that the poem was even more integrated into the curriculum.

However, Mongo Beti and others were banned. In particular, The poor bomb christ, a compelling critique of missionary authoritarianism and hypocrisy told through the eyes of an innocent young man. The book also talked a lot about sex, which is related to hypocrisy.

Sex as an excuse

Of course, the campaign focused on sex but ignored the powerful critique of cultural imperialism disguised as religion. It was then that it became clear that this was a religious campaign against the books that criticized it and that the priest above was behind it.

The excuse of sex was used to eliminate such criticism. In fact, when the parent “representative” was asked what books he recommended, he responded: The thirty-nine steps by John Buchan, a firm believer in imperialism, and The beloved country cries by Alan Paton, who, while critical of racial segregation in South Africa, presented a very unrealistic approach to changing it.

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When this was pointed out to him, he quickly backtracked and said he did not want to interfere with the experts. So why did she come to her in the first place?

Two years later, a series of books were banned, notably that of David Maillu. After 4.30 and my dear bottle. Personally, I found his books very superficial, but they were very popular and The common man They had even been suggested for the curriculum before the decree that banned them.

In addition to his books, even a non-fiction work about jando na unyago It was also banned. For reasons I don’t know, but I guess it was because you can’t talk about jando na unyago Not to mention sex.

Going back to my own experience, when we had developed the first draft of Citation, I made the mistake of showing it to a priest who also taught literature. Unbeknownst to me, he took it to the Ministry of Education and asked if they supported giving that type of writing to schoolchildren.

The Ministry stayed at it for some time until Tanzania Publishing House told them they would publish the book regardless of what the ministry thought and gave them a deadline. After that, the manuscript was returned and six poems were deleted, again showing the prejudices of the decisive class.

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Six poems were removed, three of which criticized religion. Priest syndrome once again. One of the other poems was very revolutionary about the liberation struggles in southern Africa. I can’t imagine why such a poem was banned, except that it mentioned the pussies of oppressors withering before the weapons of freedom fighters.

Seriously, was the mention of that enough to remove such a poem when other poems also talked about the liberation struggle? I doubt the mention of the offensive word will turn our children into sex maniacs.

My last example comes from Kenya, where a Mombasa theater group performed a play based on a traditional story from the book of Okot p’Bitek. hare and hornbilla collection of traditional tales from Acholi land.

It was a traditional story, but the play was banned for going against African tradition! I suppose it offended the sensibilities of some Christians and Muslims, but in no way can it be said that it goes against African tradition when it is a traditional African story.

let’s be rational

What is my point here? Of course, it is the Ministry of Education’s job to ensure that inappropriate books do not enter our curricula or our schools, but:

Firstly, inappropriateness is not limited to matters of sex, nor was sex such a taboo subject in many African traditions, hence jando na unyago for adolescents reaching puberty. Research on early pregnancy in girls often points to ignorance as a crucial factor.

Secondly, we must be rational and not allow our prejudices to dominate. Of course, defenders of certain religions may not like their religions to be criticized, but criticism is a part of life and should be used to encourage debate and critical thinking. Critical thinking is a key element of our new curriculum, but how do we create it without including sensitive topics that encourage debate?

Third, we need to do our research. While preparing for this article, I had to investigate whether Diary of a Wimpy Kid It actually talks about homosexuality. I’m not gay, Greg. is a fake quote attributed to the character Rowley, as seen in a parody of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series of books. In the book, Greg enters into a romantic relationship with his friend Rowley, who rejects him.

READ MORE: I read 13 books in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. I didn’t find any LGBTQ+ messages

I’m not particularly a fan of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and I might criticize it for being insensitive to other topics, but it encourages children to read. Now, it seems that the series has been banned for a parody that has nothing to do with the series.

Fourthly, and most importantly, the best way to ensure that our children get a wide variety of interesting and fun books is not to spend time banning them, but to encourage and support Tanzanian writers to produce interesting and fun books that uplift people, especially children, to read.

Finally, other countries know that the best way to get people to read certain books is to ban them, since everyone wants to know why they were banned. While printed copies can be blocked, the same is not true for the Internet, so they may want to ban those as well.

Richard Mabala is an educator, poet and author. He is available in [email protected] or on X (Twitter) like @MabalaMakengeza. These are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at [email protected] for further queries.

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