Nsajigwa – Founder, Jicho Jipya/Think Anew Tanzania: Living With Religion in Tanzania – Other Countries and Struggles

Nsajigwa founded Jichojipya (meaning with new eye) to “Think Anew”. We have talked before about freethought in Tanzania. Here we continue the discussion, other conversation here.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We talked about the situation in Tanzania. How are things for surrounding countries? Are the bad parts of religion as prevalent or more prevalent there?

Nsajigwa: By religion, we should include African’s own traditional beliefs. Now Tanzania borders with 8 countries. Yes, the negatives jump across borders notable witchcraft believe from Zambia in the past, to kill young girls and flay to get the human skin. Albino killing from here got exported to Rwanda, Burundi, and Malawi.

The glamorous flamboyant Preaching pastors termed “Pastorpreneurs” style came all the way from Nigeria West Africa. It is bad in Uganda. Pentecostals speaking in unknown sound evolved following influences from Uganda and Nigeria.

In politics, consulting traditional medicine men during campaigns for election, rampant here got exported elsewhere. President is God’s choice, a fallacy that lingers except now in Kenya the high court annulled the results. So that brings contradiction, has God erred this time..?

Jacobsen: How do these bad parts influence politics and daily life?

Nsajigwa: In politics, it enforces religious-based myth, a fallacy that a President is God’s choice in Swahili “Rais ni chaguo la Mungu”. It also causes “historicism”- people are made to believe such and such things have never happened, implying (such changes) cannot happen.

In daily life people believe in kismet – fatalism that everything is God’s will even to accidents caused by reckless driving. Circles of killings to flay humans for skin, killing the bald-headed all the way to Albino. Hitting people on the head and use the iron rod split with blood to hang on butcher’s shops to “attract” customers, killing people with disability who are seemingly successful or influential.

More-so people become gullible to “pastorpreneurs” to believe that just by their praying they can cure diseases instead of sending the sick to hospitals, and there are prayers for one to pass examinations even at higher learning levels!

There are an advertisement for a cure to enhance love magical-wise, also by “Doctors” (diviners) about making one get rich quick, in some cases telling clients to bring parts of human bodies to enhance the combinations. There is Culture of blaming it to an owl as messenger bird of bad omen. Christianity makes people hate snakes seeing it as a symbol of Satan himself, plus Swahili being neo-Islamic culture, there is believe in Jinns.

Furthermore, people believe literally in the miracle of virgin birth, and in the resurrection (in Swahili“Msukule”).

There is a misinterpretation of recurrence of incidence in a particular area if accidents happen from time to time in a place, there has to be a vampire kind of ghost there. Just recently people believed there was a big tree that cried with a human voice, oozed blood while being cut to make way for road expansion. The work had to stop to the next day and when eventually it was cut down with many people witnessing afar, its branches suddenly became antidote medicine to cure anything. People believe these things in the 21c century of science, computer, internet, and technology!

Jacobsen: Reflecting on your own locale in Tanzania, what are the impacts on the daily lives of believers? What are the rituals and superstitions they have in their daily lives?

Nsajigwa: Impacts are, believers use sound amplifiers in sermons even at night for the Pentecostals. It causes “noise pollution” tolerated (endured) because it is in the name of God. Even Moslem have adopted that on Fridays and for Muezzins daily.

The faithful are so self – assured thinking because they are on God’s side, therefore, their way is the only right way, unchallenged. By contradiction, they would insist on maintaining our cultural values yet forget even these modern scruples that we cherish today as “ours” came from outside, our very prejudice to say African culture being based on those very holy books from outside Africa, yet still they would be against “western values” meaning secular one’s example on dress code, how women should or shouldn’t wear, this or that being against our (African) ethics, they would argue.

Some are anti secularist by outlook, some are anti-science confusing science as a “western thing” yet using it overwhelmingly in their everyday lives – Phones, Tv, Medication, Transport etc.

Many are against evolution theory that they don’t understand and aren’t ready to know it.

It causes blame game mentality, just looking for someone or something to blame on – be it the devil, snake, women or the West. Some have compartmentalized, they live secular life but becomes religious on Fridays Saturdays and Sundays.

On Rituals, It is Praying constantly as individually and in fellowship, believing prayers answers human wishes even if it’s to the contrary. They blame game others for one’s own problems and incompetence, wishing those others bad, those that they think, more so feel as to be the ones who caused them problems that they are in. It is a witch-hunt mentality. They go around preach threatening people with stories of hellfire, in some cases their prayers ending in ecstatic trances.

On Superstitions, they believe in speaking (while in a trance) an unknown language sounding “abracadabra” as if from Congo. They believe in chasing away evil spirits and jinns, believe in prayers (and pay tithe for) to get employment, promotion in work, getting someone to get married to even as far as winning one’s case in a court of law. They believe in wishful thinking that life is driven by lucky or misfortunes all as ordained by Almighty God. That for anything happening, there are (super)natural forces behind, that holy books (Bible and Koran) have all the answers for any and all human questions and problems, even those of scientific field while some even thinking science is a Europeans “western thing”. There is too much confusion as between modernization and westernization, Africa had “bad bargain” for that. The SWOT Challenge is to modernize our cultures like say how the Japanese did theirs.

Jacobsen: What do you consider the positives of religion? As a freethinker, it can’t be all bad.

It brought modernity or rather came with it, thus services of modern education (on top of African’s traditional functional one) that made Africans discover the world beyond their villages, modern medication (hospitals) to cure or just explain scientifically diseases notably malnutrition-based, and for Islam the service of free water as in every mosque there must be water available for ablution. This even today alleviates water supply which is a big problem in cities. Neighbors are assured to get it at the mosque reservoir out of its well once dug. Religion brought fellowship, a sense of “Ummah” for Islam and “Catholicism” loyalty beyond Ethnics for Christians. It fought to eradicate some kind of (tradition) superstitions example colonial church based schools discouraged practice of female circumcision (FGM) but overtime new kind of superstition, religion-based emerged.
For many religion gives Hope, in the past especially those who joined were the ones being secluded by traditions example women (unlucky), not in marriage, or were in it but childless (seen as worthless). Today for those whom the harsh struggle for the survival of the fittest of modern life has not worked well for them.

Jacobsen: How do you cope with the social circle that by definition is much smaller than the religious? It must make a finding for fulfilling conversation difficult at times.

Nsajigwa: Yes! Very difficult most of the time. It is hard to reason logically with believers as they have a sense of self-assurance thinking they are right just by using their holy books (however most haven’t read the whole of). I developed solitude aspect of life, book reading on philosophy, comparative religions, world history, psychology, sociology, and culture gave me the only company. Libraries became my sanctuary place. A lonely person that became used to this life.

Otherwise a hardworking Teacher, guide, and mentor inspirational to the Youth and kids, jovial, Socratic elenchus, approachable to anyone for any question, Humble, Peaceful, classless, Empiricist, realist. More than books its music that keeps me going, also watching Tv sports soccer being favorite. Likewise, traveling (to learn new things) when a trip arises, and write a story about.

Jacobsen: What words best describe your struggle there? What has been your greatest emotional tribulation or trial?

Nsajigwa: ENDURANCE describes my struggle. Like a Stoic philosopher, living been misunderstood, what you can’t change, you have to endure. I carry with me several bruises first one is to be thought a crazy madman literally, ostracized Spinoza-like but never committed anything negative to law or humanity, then even now. Over years people realized I am just a mentally normal person, possible just more enlightened by book reading, plus a rationalist, ever curious questioning reality to try to seek answers.

Second going to mid-1990s when multiparty came back to Tanzania, I was rounded by Police just because of the high level of discussion I had with my freethinker brother in a public bus while Tour-guiding a visitor. A plain policeman happened to be on that bus. Three days later in town, we were suddenly rounded up, picked in a cab each and send to the police station, searched up and locked. They didn’t find anything in our bags, even a march box or a piece of cigarette, non-smokers. They found instead books on Philosophy and comparative religions.

Nevertheless, They locked us without ourselves knowing what the charges were. When our Guarantor came late he could not believe what they wrote as our crime, theft of shoes! No said he, not those two I know, not even money unless you tell me it is a book that they have taken. After a week-long trauma, we were released as free though nothing as our crime was established in the first place. We never knew what. African state machinery can jail independent thinker to freethinker for any excuse. I am a victim of that.

The third is when I met a Professor of history while a youth, after much discussion to his amazement the sad part came along. He told me I am so impressed that you know all these things by your book reading habit but now realize this, just by being that, you have become dangerous, your very knowing will annoy so many people. This bitter truth shocked me innocently, I only came to understand it along the way, a freethinkers life journey, what an odyssey!

I am someone suffered for living ahead of my time, just by analyzing contextually I see things straight which for others it takes months or years. I am lucky to have met few like-minded, in fact, these are my own students, few that I molded into philosophy in general, and freethinking in particular.

Jacobsen: Do you think that the number of religious people and the level of religiosity will both decrease in the coming decades for Tanzania?

Nsajigwa: It is tough to forecast based on the experience that during 1960 – 70s it was thought then that the campaign going on to fight against “enemy ignorance” would, by the year 2000 lead to high level of literacy. It surprises that irrationality and gullibility is still high despite education. Someone said it was free education but also free of knowledge too!

So likewise prospects are, religiosity could decrease thanks may be due to the internet that has made it possible to access just by oneself, by one’s own computer or a smartphone, religions being questioned left, right and center, plus being informed Atheists zeitgeist elsewhere asserting itself. This can inspire many others anywhere with doubting mind to questions and possibly end up being nonreligious. By SWOT approach, I see a golden Opportunity than (n)ever before. Thanks to internet connectivity.

However there must be efforts like ours of Jichojipya to showcase (thus catalyze) the populace to know that even at the local level there are freethinkers individuals, that it’s possible to “live clean”, ethically good, rationally guided without a religion, any.

Jacobsen: Is religion in Tanzania more about theology or about social cohesion based on non-reality grounded structures of conceiving in the world?

Nsajigwa: It is both more so for the second. The church is powerful theological-wise on what it disseminates each Sunday plus it has several educational institutions that it runs. Mosque exerts quite an influence too. But it’s social cohesion where religion is strong in playing the non-reality of how to conceive the world, as I have explained the impacts of religions to our daily life here. That is a big part, African triple heritage cultural reality on the ground.

Jacobsen: How can people in the surrounding areas help you out? How can surrounding countries in the African Diaspora help out?

Nsajigwa: First, by people in surrounding areas do you mean my neighborhood? if so they should just be open-minded open-ended, rational and skeptical to any claim, including those of religions. They should question things, everything. They should seek evidence, logical, rational and more so empirically-based.

For surrounding countries bordering Tanzania, they also should foster skepticism outlook likewise, establish Freethinkers secular Humanist movement at the grassroots. I am aware there are such positive initiatives across.

If by African diaspora you mean Africans of the continent now living overseas? Then Yes if willing to support Motherland’s emancipation from the mental slavery of superstitions in any form, including that of religions. If they are for secular and scientific Africa, if they are for STEM projects, if they, in particular, are independent thinkers, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists they should support these efforts to bring about modernization, science-based of our traditions here to match the reality of 21st Century.

And if you mean Afro-Americans, Yes likewise if they are open-ended Black freethinkers nonbelievers, those free from keeping a blame gaming white man for everything 50 years since civil rights movement, Humanistic to see things beyond either-or black and white. If willing they can help out. In fact, anyone within a human race can help on this. Thanks for the opportunity.

Jacobsen: You are welcome. Thank you for the opportunity and your time.

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