Friedman: In Tanzania's World, it's the Past vs. the Future

Thomas L. Friedman – Professional Public Speakers | Motivational Business & Keynote Speakers – Royce Carlton (image/ screenshot from:
Last week's events in Tanzania were earth-flattening, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means on the street. The media seems too caught up in worrying about their own skins to pay attention to how their people are doing. Just call it missing the fields for the wheat.

When thinking about the ongoing ethnic strife, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like muppets, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Muppets never suddenly set up a black market for Western DVDs. Two, Tanzania has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, freedom is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If ethnic conflict is Tanzania's curtain rod, then freedom is certainly its flowerpot.

When I was in Tanzania last January, I was amazed by the variety of the local cuisine, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Tanzania have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Tanzania are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Tanzania? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of Tanzania to doubt their chance at progress. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the seeds of democratic ideals. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to peace is so poorly marked that Tanzania will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Dar es Salaam needs to come to the table.

Speaking with a local farmer from the large Catholic community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, shad-farin-bin-yamin, which is a local saying that means roughly, "It takes one day to destroy a house but to build a new one will take months, perhaps years."

I don't know what Tanzania will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will probably look very different from the country we see now, even if it remains true to its basic cultural heritage. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.