SABA SABA DAY IN THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF TANZANIA: Why the political significance of Saba Saba should not be forgotten

Pius Msekwa

SABA Saba’ is a Kiswahili word for the seventh day of the month of every year. That particular date is of immense importance in the political history of Tanzania.

It is therefore truly saddening for some of us, to see the said Saba Saba day’s political significance being seemingly ignored, or overlooked, and even being replaced by other mundane descriptions which have no historical importance whatsoever!

There is, for example, a recent (2016) educational publication titled “The Comprehensive Secondary School ATLAS for Tanzania” (Longhorn Publishers (T) Ltd , Dar es Salam). On page 3, this publication gives a list of Tanzania’s public holidays, and also describes their significance, in the words that “they keep a history of our country”.

While it correctly describes the 8th of August as ‘Farmers’ Day’, it describes Saba Saba day only as ‘Trade Fair’ day! In my considered opinion, this new trend of treating ‘Saba Saba’ Day merely as a trade exhibition Day, and thereby ignoring its original purpose and crucial objective of commemorating the day of commencement of the struggle for the independence of our country, is truly unfortunate.

It is of course true, that for the last forty years or so, public attention, especially in Dar es Salaam, has always been focused almost entirely on the exciting trade exhibitions which are being held annually at the Saba Saba grounds in this City, to the total exclusion of any attention being paid to the original purpose of commemorating TANU’s birthday, as the official commencement date of the struggle for the country’s independence. But, surely, the historical significance of Saba Saba Day is not that it is a ‘Trade Fair’ day!

Saba Saba Day’s true significance and historic importance, is based solely on the fact that it represents the day on which the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) (the political party which brought independence to this country), was born in 1954.

And it is indeed for that reason alone, that right from the year of independence in 1961, Saba Saba Day of every year has consistently been celebrated as a public holiday; and that being done solely in memory and commemoration of that historic event, namely TANU’s birthday, and officially recognized as the ‘commencement date’ of the struggle for the country’s independence. The importance of a country’s history.

The dictionary definition of the word “history” is given as follows:- “The study of important past events, especially relating to the political, social, and economic development of a country, or nation”.

From the time of independence in December 1961, this country’s political and socio-economic development was all along managed by the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), as the ruling political party, until its merger with the Afro-Shirazi Party of Zanzibar in 1977, to form the present Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which has also continued to be the country’s ruling party to date.

That is why the date of its birth on 7th July (Saba Saba day), has traditionally been given a place of honour and distinction, in order to preserve that particular portion of the country’s political history. The need to recognize TANU’s contribution.

In today’s perspective and objective conditions, the role and significance of political parties tends to be viewed differently from what it actually was of independence.

Whereas today, political parties are viewed primarily as ‘electoral organizations’, designed and operated for the sole purpose of competing in general elections in order for the winner to acquire state power; at the time of independence, and during the early post-independence period, TANU was generally recognized and accepted as the supreme political force which had the undisputed mandated of this vastly changed perspective, it may indeed be difficult for today’s generation, to fully understand and appreciate TANU’s significant role in that regard, and particularly in respect of TANU’s success in eliminating the ethnic obstacles which have effectively prevented many other African countries from developing as one unified nation. For a better illustration of this ethnicity problem, I will cite the example of Nigeria.

In his book titled “There was a country” , the renowned Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, recounts the long and pretty rough road along which Nigeria has travelled since its independence, in the following words:- “ In 1960 when Nigeria gained its independence from British rule, it was like a giant aircraft on the runway. The country had a large population, with many educated people, plus many natural resources, including oil.

The nationalist movement which was agitating for independence had tried to establish the idea that the words ‘nation’ and ‘tribe’ are in opposition to each other; a strategy which they believed was important for building a new unified nation. But the politicization of ethnicity after independence created a vicious regional power struggle.

The fear of domination of one region by another was everywhere”. Achebe also recalls what he calls “the war between brothers”, otherwise known as the Biafra war, which almost destroyed Nigeria as one nation.

The effort to overcome that ethnicity obstacle is what explains why TANU, under the leadership of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, placed the greatest emphasis on eliminating tribalism, in order to build solid national unity among Tanzanians.

Prominent among the measures taken immediately after independence in order to achieve that objective, was the abolition of the Chiefs’ Ordinance ; a step which was taken in order to eliminate the separate tribal loyalties of the people to their tribal Chiefs, so as to achieve the desired single loyalty to the national political leadership. A plea for the restoration of Saba Saba to its original glory.

As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Tanganyika’s independence, Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) commendably organized special celebrations in Dares Salaam, to commemorate that year’s Saba Saba Day; which was a welcome demonstration of a proper and appropriate recognition of TANU’s crucial role in managing Tanzania’s political and socio-economic development.

In that respect, a special meeting of all the CCM grass- roots leaders (the ten-cell leaders) of the entire Dar es Salaam Region was organized and held in the morning of that day.

This colourful gathering was also attended by the then CCM national Chairman, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, plus all the CCM leaders at the national, Regional and District levels of the CCM party structure.

One of the 17 founder members of TANU who was still alive was invited to give an account of what actually happened on 7th July, 1954, as well as during the early days of TANU’s struggle for independence; which he successfully did, to the great delight and excitement of all those present.

These morning events were subsequently followed by other colourful events in the evening of that same day, including firework displays at Mnazi Mmoja public grounds.

In that way, this historic day known as Saba Saba Day, or TANU’s birthday, plus the crucial role of TANU in the struggle for and achievement of the country’s independence, were thus appropriately recognized and remembered.

I am therefore closing my presentation with this fervent plea to the relevant authorities in Chama cha Mapinduzi, to please facilitate the restoration of ‘Saba Saba’ day to its original glory, as the birthday of TANU, by organizing events which will keep alive the original spirit of ‘Saba Saba’ Day throughout the country; while the Government continues with the obviously lucrative business of trade exhibitions in Dar es Salaam.

A wise man once said that “History is too important to be left to historians alone” . The importance of ‘Saba Saba’ Day in Tanzania’s political history is so monumental, that the act of simply ignoring it, should be construed as a political crime!

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