Tanzanian Freedom Torch triggers cost debate

By Deodatus Balile in Dar es Salaam

May 29, 2013

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The tradition of Tanzania's Freedom Torch, which has traversed the nation as a symbol of national unity since the country's independence, has come into question as parliament has begun debating its financial efficacy.

  • Zanzibari President Ali Mohamed Shein walks the Freedom Torch on May 6th in Chokocho district on Pemba Island after the lighting ceremony. [Deodatus Balile/Sabahi]

    Zanzibari President Ali Mohamed Shein walks the Freedom Torch on May 6th in Chokocho district on Pemba Island after the lighting ceremony. [Deodatus Balile/Sabahi]

"We are spending nearly 249 million [Tanzanian shillings -- $152,000] to race the Freedom Torch across the country," opposition lawmaker Joseph Mbilinyi told parliament May 21st, initiating the debate. "This huge amount of money could have been used to support youth development projects and add value to their lives."

When the Freedom Torch arrives in a district or village, citizens eat together as a community, dance and hear short speeches on Tanzania's history meant to inspire patriotism. The torch stays for about an hour in every village and a night or two in each of Tanzania's 133 districts.

This year, the Freedom Torch was lit by Zanzibari President Ali Mohamed Shein on May 6th in Chokocho district on Pemba Island and will conclude its journey in Iringa region on October 14th, commemorating the death of Tanzania's first president and founding father Julius Nyerere in 1999.

The torch has outlived its usefulness, however, as its arrival in a district has been reduced to a photo opportunity for local officials and private businesses, Mbilinyi told Sabahi.

Tanzanians are already united and the money used to move the torch could be better spent developing infrastructure projects, he said.

Furthermore, the government spends more on moving the torch than it officially allocates, according to Mbilinyi, local business owners are required to pay 5,000 shillings each to supplement the cost of torch-related events in their districts.

Instead of the torch, Mbilinyi said the government should introduce a national day of prayer, as well as a day for tradition and culture to articulate national values. "The torch should be rested in the national museum," he said.

Value of torch in question

Minister for Information, Youth, Culture and Sports Fenella Mukangara, however, said the torch remains as important now as when it was first introduced by Nyerere in 1961, the year of Tanzania's independence.

"The value of the torch cannot be measured against monetary indicators," Mukangara told parliament. "The idea behind the torch is to unite Tanzanians. The Freedom Torch is the national symbol for unity."

Deputy Minister for Information, Youth, Culture and Sports Amos Makala said the torch is a symbol of unity, not only for Tanzania, but for the entire continent.

"The torch was established to restore peace where there is no peace, to restore hope where hope has faded, to restore love where there is no love and to bring wisdom where contempt is the order of the day," Makala told Sabahi. "These values were relevant then, they are relevant today, they will remain be relevant tomorrow and beyond."

Gift Mongi, 27, a resident of Ilala district in Dar es Salaam, said the torch is important, but should travel perhaps once every three years to reduce costs.

"If it is a question of patriotism, let us find the way to achieve this, but not through this costly torch," she told Sabahi.

Kashangaki Rwegalurira, 72, a resident of Bukoba district in the Kagera region, said those who want to end the tradition of the torch are uneducated about Tanzania's history.

"When we attained independence, our country was in pieces," he told Sabahi. "We had the haves and the have-nots, we had officers and peasants, ethnic and tribal [division] were high. We had to have a symbol of unity."

"The Freedom Torch was found to be the most uniting instrument. The day it visited our village, we gathered under one roof. It helped to heal colonialism scars," he said. "Maybe this younger generation is not aware of all this, which is why they can dare to think of the unthinkable, to rest the torch."

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Reader's Comments

  • kenedy james
    September 22, 2014 @ 07:09:35AM

    Government should provide the education of light otherwise we will leave what is good. The cost of running the light does not meet the value of the torch according to the light's purposes.

  • Rajabu tupa
    June 17, 2013 @ 06:00:05AM

    The torch is useles for this time i thnk can remain at the national museum

    June 14, 2013 @ 02:40:39PM

    We've clearly understood you.

  • patrick msango
    June 13, 2013 @ 08:42:39AM

    The freedom torch bring hope where there is no hope,it bring peace where there is no and also it bring love where there is no love,also as a national symbol for unite, so due to these fucts the freedom torch should not be stoped it should be conducted as it is because still in our country there are signs of lacking peace,love and unite.The freedom torch should not be considered in terms of money

  • ima sembe
    June 10, 2013 @ 04:01:41PM

    It is my opinion that the torch goes to every place.

  • Thobias
    June 7, 2013 @ 02:18:32PM

    The tourch should go around the country once for five year

  • hillary moshi
    June 3, 2013 @ 10:25:35AM

    It is true that the Torch united us, but it is high time now we look forward according to the country's situation. For instance, if we decide to keep the torch at the museum for about three years, how many school desks, classrooms, books or teachers' houses will be bought and get rid of producing ignorant students? And if it is so, wont we make more things by keeping the torch for 20 years? I believe it is our time to decide and stop running with the torch the way we do today!!!

    June 1, 2013 @ 03:26:22AM

    It is true, dear ones, that the torch has been one of the tools to maintain our freedom and unity, Tanzanians. I think it has to be preserved.

  • bada
    May 31, 2013 @ 05:55:13AM

    Big up for informing us.

  • Len Mison
    May 30, 2013 @ 01:13:06AM

    Len Mison The Torch is a good idea, feel it would be more beneficial if paraded once every 5years. This would make for a bigger deal for the local people, something to look forward too and have a big party for the area when it arrives. it might cost a bit more than the yearly trip. But would be more cost affective?? I also think there should be more exposure on radio and tv every so often say every 3 months. This I feel would keep the Freedom, Peace and Hope aspirations more alive, WITHOUT THE PARTY POLITICALTUB THUMPING.THATS NOT REQUIRED OR NECESSARY. EDUCATING THE PEOPLE IS OF PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE of what it truly means, plus giving advice to the people on how to operate their small Businesses, Agriculture and Attitudes towards each other. This would be more helpful and more interesting etc. The other thing to bare in mind is that, human nature being what it is Example:- When one meets a bad road accident, one naturally slows down and thinks may be that could have been me. however a littlewhile later down the road one carrys on speedying as if nothing has happened. This would be the natural reaction of the general population once torch has gone on to the next stop people will talk about the day for a littlewhile then things would go back to normal which would rather defeat the object of carrying the Torch in the first place. For most people things have not changed at all.???.Concentrate on the power of agriculture. If u cant eat, having all the gold in world is worthless

  • Hendry minja
    May 29, 2013 @ 11:13:14PM

    Let's look more into development and not rush it

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