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2013 – 2015 Tanzania Project


A government contract to build an ethics secretariat in the office of the president in Tanzania involved seven trips over a three-year period. One trip took me to every corner of the country and every regional office. This certainly provided me with some interesting perspectives about the country and Africa. For a month, I travelled to Arusha, Tabora, Mtwara, Mbeya, Mwanza, Dodoma and Dar es Salaam. Everything from jungles to highlands, sleeping under mosquito nets, strange bugs, big heat, rains and floods, bush planes, and lots of good people trying to make a difference.

Twenty-two flights and I never lost my luggage once. From a work perspective, and having seen the country over all these trips, it seems to me that there is no reason whatsoever that this country should be poor (average income below 570 dollars a year at the time), or anyone to go hungry. Food can be grown everywhere, the country is rich in minerals, tourism (the Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, beautiful endless beaches), natural gas, borders the Indian ocean, has 45 million people with education capacities. It has fresh water lakes, Victoria and Tanganyika. It has democratic institutions, laws, and constitutions. Every-thing one could want.

Yet many sectors suffer disastrously, especially from corruption, and problems with leadership and infrastructure. People want to live differently, have better lives, but seem to be in a country leaping into the global community having skipped too many incremental steps (industrial, technological, financial and governance). It seems that outside of Dar es salaam, Tanzania is still one big village. A country without enough depth in national, regional or city level economic development. Many seem to think very locally, even individually in terms of their worldview. A challenge indeed, but I felt that many see the country as better now than twenty years ago, yet sorely needing to rediscover the values of Julius Nyerere of 50 years ago.

All in all, the secretariat Commissioner did say we “made our brains change” and because of us, the secretariat is clearly different, for the better, than it was before we arrived. We seemed to touch something in the secretariat. I was quite overwhelmed by an impressive gift they gave me: an ebony “tree of life” or Ujamaa carving. This carving has a beautiful spirituality connected to it, in that it has “human figures climbing up and holding onto each other. It is a 'Tree of Life' showing how villagers survive by working with nature and supporting each other across generations. Ujamaa carvings are symbols of unity and continuity. The tree displays how a typical African village survives, by working with nature and supporting one another. The figures: animals, men, women, children, huts and trees are carved with great detail and vary from tree to tree. The work is exceptional despite ebony wood being exceedingly dense and very, very hard to carve.”

The base usually has figures representing the ancestors, the center a woman with children, the loving and sustaining spirit of the village, and the top the current generation. Very beautiful and from their hearts. In all these trips, people were great and treated me very well. We talked and shared, developed training and published guides and presentations for politicians, public service leaders and servants, civil society, business sector, police and military. The idea was that corruption is not solved through an isolated focus on government leadership, but in the learning and support of all the surrounding social environment, including children, all learning and moving forward together and holding each other accountable.

It may take a village to raise a child but it takes a country to raise good leaders. The key was to develop a “building integrity” initiative, beginning with children, in balance with “controlling corruption” measures. It is a huge challenge and will take a long time.


By: Paul Maillet, Colonel retired, Paul Maillet Center for Ethics.

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