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The road to riches

Nicolau Melea
Nicolau Melea, head teacher at
Mwadui Technical School
Programme 6

Tanzania: Hope and disappointment

Nicolao Melea lives in Shinyanga in Northern Tanzania, one of the poorest areas of the country. When he was born Tanzania was called Tanganyika and run as a British colony. As a young man he saw the pressure grow for independence and when it came in 1964 he along with most Tanzanians saw it as a chance to finally develop the country for the benefit of all its people.

Mr Nicolao entered the teaching profession just as education was being given a great boost by Julius Nyerere's independence government. In the early years of independence the provision of primary and secondary schools increased dramatically and as a result so did literacy across the country. He then moved into the civil service from which he has now retired. However the pension paid to even a senior civil servant in Tanzania was not enough for him to support himself. So Mr Nicolao went back to teaching. He is now head teacher at Mwadui Technical School near Shinyanga.

Nicolao Melea talks about his hopes for the future explains how Tanzania has changed over the past 40 years.

Q: What was it like in Tanzania before independence, and how did you hope things would change?

A: Before independence I know we had extremely few schools. We had very bad laws. These are the things I remember about that period. And from my own experience, what I remember is the terrible state of the roads, to and from school, riding in buses, the roads were pathetic in those days. Another thing, all the administrators were white, and it appeared to me that they were the people making decisions for our development. Independence to me meant, getting rid of these whites who were there and having Africans in these positions who would make decisions with a better knowledge of our situation.

And, you know, when I was at school at that time we were told how the shirts we were wearing were from Manchester. And then we were asking: 'But what are they made of?' 'Well,' we were told, 'It's this very cotton that you are growing here'. Then we were asking, 'how come?' And then we were told, 'Oh, we can't make shirts here, you know, they have to be made in places like, Britain and, India'. And I was wondering why, why this should be so. So to me at that time, when people are talking about independence, I was thinking of a situation where these things would be made in our country.

Q: Why did you think it would be better if shirts were made in Tanzania?

A: Well, one thing, I just thought that maybe if that shirt was made in Tanzania I would participate in making it. I would have a job. Or say somebody, a brother or mine or that other fellow would have a job right here in Tanzania. I knew at that time so many people who had education, so I thought why can't they make shirts, why can't they needles, why can't they make so many of these things that need skill?

Q: Tanzania won its independence almost 40 years ago, what do you think have been the achievements and what do you think have been the failures of those years?

Mr Nicolau's school has had its
funds cut
A: I think we've made great strides in our development. We started thinking about social services which mainly includes education, health facilities and provision of water, and then roads etc. I think we have made great strides in providing education to our people. There are so many more schools now. In my district, when I was in primary school, there were only three primary schools, but now there are hundreds. There were very few dispensaries, now there are hundreds. We had a problem of water, even in the district headquarters, but now you find these places have water, water is provided through taps. I think it's quite a big achievement.

But what I would say is that we have not achieved as much as we had hoped or expected. For example, we don't yet have a dispensary in every village, and there are still places where we don't have tap water. As regards roads, maybe it has not been in our priority as you would find it in some other countries, but right now the government has taken it up very seriously and there is more money now given to the making of roads in the country.

Q: Did you think Tanzania would have been a richer country after 40 years?

A: Yes I did. But then we were affected by so many other things here in-between - we've had droughts and floods and war with Uganda… And you know, when we got independence it was just like taking a small child to a playground where people are competing in a race, and you tell this young child to compete with the others. But then this young child will not have known the importance of the lanes, the importance of the noise that would be coming from the sides, the cheering voices, all these might put him off.

I think we were more or less in bad situation where we were put together to compete with other people. And so when you measure us, that may not be a very good measure, because I know Tanzania is potentially very rich, it is potentially very rich only that there are things we need which maybe are not needed by developed countries to push up our development. I know we need capital which the developed countries already have. We need, maybe to improve the capacity of our manpower to be able to work out the resources that we have. But potentially we are very rich.

Q: When do you think Tanzania may realise that potential?

A: Well, it will take time. Because now we have to send all these people through system, and it takes a doctor several years to come out, it takes an engineer several years to come out a qualified person. I can see very little real development here before that happens. And, you know, we have areas that we could develop. We have iron ore, for example, in some part of our country, but to develop those you have to get capital, more capital from somewhere else to help you work it out. But I know we've had problems even with that, very few people are willing to help us in those areas. Now, I don't know whether we can develop that in the near future. I can see it in the very far future.

Q: You have visited Britain, what were your impressions?

A: One thing that strikes you is the immense wealth that you see in the buildings, in the motor cars, these things impress one as great wealth. You get the impression that these people here must be very happy because they have a lot of wealth, they have everything that they need. You go into a shop and you find the shops are stocked with everything that you can need, and you say, well, these people, maybe they have the ability to buy these things that are in the shop and therefore they must be happy.

Q: But do you think people are happier in Britain than in Tanzania?

A: Another impression I had of Britain was that people seemed to be more attached to their material welfare. They were talking in terms of their cars, their television sets, and their house. You know this is where the competition actually is centred. I didn't hear them talk about my aunt or my uncle, about their everyday relationships. But in the slum as it is around here people talk about other people, about their relatives, about what happened to them, how they are faring, and people get concerned about those around them. I think this makes them a little bit happier. I don't imagine a situation where one would be happy enough with machines, happy enough with property as such. So I would personally think we may be happier out here (LAUGHS), but I'm not sure about that.

Edited highlights of a recorded interview.

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