What does it mean to be patriotic? Is it support for the government and its policies? Or is it a love for the land, human rights and community? We often conflate the two, not saying they are mutually exclusive but the former cannot exist without the latter. Yet patriotism itself is built on the notion of the nation-state, a colonial notion, defined by borders once drawn with no regard for the people that inhabit those lands.
But patriotism in its simplest sense can also be defined as love for a homeland and an alliance with those who share the sentiment—a community. So, community is inextricably connected to the concept we so promote as patriotism.
However, how has this relationship with community become so foreign in our daily lives? For centuries, human beings, especially in Africa, have thrived off of communities connected to their land and to each other. To me, community is the belief that everyone deserves to live in dignity and love, but also that we are undeniably connected to our land, earth and its people. All socio-political issues are community issues.
However, somehow, economic determinism and pursuit of power and populism, which translates as dominance within the public too have taken over what it means to love one’s country and one another. We see brutal dictatorships emerging across the globe and the needs of the poor and working-class being shoved to the side for aspirations of the rich and powerful. The concept of community-led action and mindset got lost in translation with apathy becoming the status quo.
Although, in Tanzania, there are some women who are redefining what it means to be patriotic and to mobilise and embrace community for change despite mounting pressure and a national environment that encourages to do the opposite.
Maria Sarungi-Tsehai is a Tanzanian activist best known for her online campaign "Change Tanzania". It began as a hashtag on Twitter to influence Tanzanian citizens to participate in bringing positive change in different aspects of life, especially in political matters in Tanzania. Today, it is an active account on the platform, raising awareness on issues that concern the common man and encouraging citizens to strive for change with community and individual action. Despite being the director of Miss Universe Tanzania and the target of reprisal in the country, she uses her personal Twitter account and various media appearances to raise awareness about community issues and hold those in power accountable.
Similarly, Fatma Karume, a former lawyer who was disbarred for her outspoken nature on the same issues, is actively calling on people to hold those in power accountable on Twitter and in the media. Her case gained international attention, although her license was never reinstated. This has not stopped her from calling on the public to inform and mobilise within the community. Despite receiving criticism for being the daughter of a former president of Zanzibar and being the recipient of the privilege of the very system she criticises, she has continued to put community-led action first in her work.
photo cred: Maria Sarungi-Tsehai via Facebook
So what can we learn from these women and their work? Definitely that their voices matter, but also that with growing political pressure to conform to the status quo of the powerful, violent repression of the freedom of speech and disparaging human rights violations, advocating for community rights can go a long way. Staying apathetic and quiet is no longer a choice. If those in power are not held accountable for the promises they make to communities they are responsible for and communities that trust them, change cannot take place.
Finally, it is important to highlight that we are all connected to one another and our living environment. Our societies would cease to exist without this. If one person is not impacted by an issue, someone else is. And within the albeit capitalistic systems that govern our world, we can all find a relationship to each other’s actions. This is why a community mindset is so important, where the personal is more than the individual but is also political. So, what does your patriotism look like now?
By Inaara Gangji