Why the Name: Dodoma ?

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Dodoma city center (Source: The East African)

I always loved the sound of the name Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania: the way it rolls off your tongue like a dearly beloved, like something or someone so sweet and precious… DO-DO-MA, almost like musical notes! So what do you think Dodoma means?

Well, the name Dodoma is derived from Idodomya, a word in the Chigogo (Gogo) language, which means, “it has sunk.” Tradition says that, an elephant once came to drink at a nearby creek, and got stuck in the mud, and gradually sank. It was then that the villagers exclaimed in amazement, “idodomya!” And from that moment, the place was known as Idodomya, the place where the elephant “has sunk.” It later became Dodoma in 1907 when the Germans colonists, who were probably struggling to pronounce Idodomya, came for the construction of the Tanzanian central railway. The layout followed the typical colonial planning of the time with a European quarter segregated from a native village (European-Only Neighborhoods in African Cities before Independence).

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Dodoma in 1912 (Source: Museum of World Cultures)

In 1967, following independence, the Tanzanian government made plans to reorganize its then capital Dar es Salaam, which was undergoing rapid urbanization and population growth. In 1974, after a nationwide party referendum, the capital was moved from Dar es Salaam to a more central location to create significant social and economic improvements for the central region and to centralize the capital within the country. With an already-established town at a major crossroads, the Dodoma region had an agreeable climate, room for development and was located in the geographic centre of the nation. Its location in a rural environment was seen as the ujamaa (family-hood) heartland. The ujamaa concept was a concept championed by the first president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere as part of his social and economic development policies: it was to serve as the basis for an African model of development, or African socialism.

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Julius Nyerere Square in Dodoma

However, over the past 40 years, much of the initial design, and intents never came to fruition, and to this day many government offices and embassies have remained in Dar es Salaam, which remains the economic and the de facto capital of Tanzania.

The story of Dodoma and Dar es Salaam is similar to that of Abuja and Lagos in Nigeria, of Brasília and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and even Washington, D.C. and New York City in the United States, to name just a few. In many of these cities, there is always an economic capital which is the lung of the country, which dwarfs the political capital in size and energy. Nonetheless these political capitals are still special and unique.

Well, if you ever visit Dodoma, remember that elephant who sank there, try and visit them in all the national parks of the country, but most importantly remember to take with you the ujamaa spirit!

King Mkwawa: the Trailer

King Mkwawa

Here is the trailer to the movie celebrating the life of King Mkwawa, the Hehe leader who inflicted the German Schutztruppe their first defeat on African soil. I salute King Mkwawa and the Hehe people who fought for their freedom and resisted the Germans for over 7 years. 17th August 1891 marks the first defeat of Germans colonial forces, and also the victory of King Mkwawa and the Hehe people. A lot can be said about a king whose people loved him dearly to the point that no one within his ranks were willing to betray him for money. The fact that the return of his skull was part of the Treaty of Versailles also denotes his great aura. This, however, makes us wonder how many more of our treasures, statues, and even skulls of our great warriors and kings may still be exposed or hidden in Western museums and galleries. We demand their return; these belonged to our ancestors, thus they belong to us and are a part of identity!  Enjoy!

King Mkwawa and the First German Colonial Forces’ Defeat in Africa

King Mkwawa

Have you ever heard about the German Schutztruppe‘s first stinging defeat in Africa? Have you ever heard about the African Chief whose skull was part of the Treaty of Versailles’ negotiation? Have you ever heard of the Hehe Rebellion of 1891 and the German defeat at the hand of the fierce Hehe King Mkwawa in Lugalo?

King Mkwavinyika Munyigumba Mwamuyinga (known as Mkwawa) was born in Luhota in Iringa in the south of modern-day Tanzania, and was the son of Chief Munyigumba, who died in 1879. He was the leader of the Hehe people in German East Africa (now mostly the mainland part of Tanzania) who opposed the German colonization. The name “Mkwawa” is derived from Mukwava, itself a shortened form of Mukwavinyika, meaning “conqueror of many lands“.

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A Hehe warrior

Mkwawa was the chief of the Uhehe who won fame by defeating Germans at Lugalo on August 17th 1891 and maintaining the resistance for seven years. August 17th 1891 marks the first defeat of the German colonial troops or ‘Schutztruppe’ in Africa, at Africans’ hands. The devotion of the Hehe people to their King was unconditional to the point that when the German governor offered 5,000 rupees for his capture in 1898, no Hehe accepted it!

Emil von Zelewski

After the Germans had managed to colonize the coastal area of Tanganyika (modern-day Tanzania), they started to move further inland. At that time the Hehe were also expanding towards the coast. Both sides tried some diplomacy to avoid war. However, all hopes were dashed, so the Germans decided the best way was to fight against Chief Mkwawa. In July 1891, the German commissioner, Emil von Zelewski, led a battalion of soldiers (320 askaris with officers and porters) to suppress the Hehe. On 17 August, they were attacked by Mkwawa’s 3,000-strong army at Lugalo, who, despite only being equipped with spears and a few guns, quickly overpowered the German force and killed Zelewski.

On 28 October 1894, the Germans, under the new commissioner Colonel Freiherr Friedrich von Schele, attacked Mkwawa’s fortress at Kalenga. Although they took the fort, Mkwawa managed to escape. Subsequently, Mkwawa conducted a campaign of guerrilla warfare, harassing the Germans until 1898 when, on 19 July, he was surrounded and he shot himself to avoid capture.

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Sir Edward Twining returning King Mkwawa’s skull in 1954

After his death, German soldiers removed Mkwawa’s head. The skull was sent to Berlin and ended up in the Übersee-Museum Bremen. In 1918 the then British Administrator of German East Africa H.A. Byatt proposed to his government that it should demand a return of the skull to Tanganyika in order to reward the Wahehe for their cooperation with the British during the war and in order to have a symbol assuring the locals of the definitive end of German power. The skull’s return was stipulated in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles:

ARTICLE 246. Within six months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, … Germany will hand over to His Britannic Majesty’s Government the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa which was removed from the Protectorate of German East Africa and taken to Germany.

The Germans disputed the removal of the said skull from East Africa and the British government took the position that the whereabouts could not be traced. However, after World War II, the Governor of Tanganyika, Sir Edward Twining, took up the issue again. After inquiries he was directed to the Bremen Museum which he visited himself in 1953. The Museum had a collection of 2000 skulls, 84 of which originated from the former German East Africa . He short-listed the ones which showed measurements similar to surviving relatives of Chief Mkwawa; from this selection he picked the only skull with a bullet-hole as the skull of chief Mkwawa.

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King Mkwawa’s skull in exposition at the Mkwawa Memorial Museum in Kalenga

The skull was finally returned on 9 July 1954, and now resides at the Mkwawa Memorial Museum in Kalenga, near the town of Iringa. Many believe that it is not King Mkwawa’ skull.

Here I salute King Mkwawa and the Hehe people who fought for their freedom and resisted for over 7 years. The defeat of the German colonial forces on 17th August 1891 in Lugalo, the destruction of the Hehe fort at Kalenga on the 30th of October 1894 and the death of Chief Mkwawa on the 19th of June 1898 were key events in the German colonization in East Africa. To learn more about this page of history, check out the website by King Mkwawa’s great-grandsonThe colonial wars of imperial Germany , and this article on King Mkwawa’s skull.