The Competitive Edge: How Tanzania’s Race to the Top Affects Us All

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Driving home from my office in Mikocheni during the dreaded rush hours, I was trapped in the chaos of Kawe, Mbezi Chini Road. The scene was all too familiar: drivers impatiently cutting each other off, each competing to be one car length ahead as if winning some unseen race. I watched as luxurious cars worth millions of shillings were risked in a battle to be in front. The drivers were overlapping, choking the lanes, seemingly unaware or uncaring of the potential cost. The competition was fierce, selfish, and sometimes downright dangerous.

It got me thinking: Is this what we’ve become? A society where everyone is in a perpetual rush to be ahead of the other, even at the risk of everything we’ve worked so hard for? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this behavior wasn’t confined to the road. It was everywhere.

Growing up in Tanzania, many of us were shaped by our education system. If you were part of it like me, you know it was all about competition. We were raised to believe that someone else had to lose to win. From classroom ranks to the roads of Mbezi Chini & Makongo, we were pitted against each other, and this mentality didn’t stop at the school gates.

Look around today, and you’ll see the aftermath of this education everywhere. Neighbors compete over whose house looks better, small businesses constantly undercut each other, and social media is filled with endless one-upmanship. It’s like a never-ending game where no one wins.

The Competition in Tanzania

My first job was in a pioneering digital agency. It was a bright time in Tanzania’s emerging digital space, and the company was owned by three friends who had recognized a golden opportunity. They were the first in the field, and money started pouring in.

You’d think this success would bind them closer, but it did the exact opposite. They split, each starting their agency, believing they could do it better alone. I had to choose which one to stick with, and fortunately, the one I decided thrived. Maybe I should take some credit for helping build it, but that would be falling into the same trap of Competition in Tanzania and showcasing who’s better than others. That’s not what this is about.

We have all seen the vendors along the roadsides, each selling the same products, undercutting each other to make a sale. Thousands of these small kiosks battle it out, but where are our big, globally competitive brands? Where’s the Tanzanian Apple or Samsung? The story of my first job is not unique; it’s a microcosm of a widespread problem.

Competition in Tanzania doesn’t stop with businesses; it’s personal. Remember when your friend got that promotion, and instead of celebrating, people whispered that it was just luck? That’s the ingrained competition talking, the same one that leads families to view each other’s successes with suspicion, sometimes tearing us apart.

It’s time we asked ourselves: What are we losing in this constant struggle to outdo one another? How many partnerships have been shattered, friendships have been lost, and opportunities squandered because we couldn’t look past the desire to be one step ahead?

The time has come for us to recognize this competitive predicament for what it is and find a way to transform it into something more constructive and unifying for our beautiful country.

The Cultural Divide & Competition in Tanzania

Our traditions and customs in Tanzania often divide us into specialized family roles. We have medicine men, rainmakers, witch doctors, traders, and politicians’ families. Each group functions in isolation, looking for its own, protecting secrets, and maintaining a distance from others. Even within these categories, the divisions persist.

Take the medical family, for example. You’ll find that MDs often look down on Dentists, viewing their specialization as lesser. It’s not just in the medical field; there’s a hierarchy even among lawyers. Many lawyers view themselves as the most brilliant and learned individuals, a perception that’s even given rise to nicknames like “Wakili Msomi.” In politics, within CCM Cadres, the phrase “CCM ina wenyewe!” is self-explanatory.

These divisions, while part of our rich cultural fabric, raise questions: Is this isolation helping us grow together as a nation? Are these traditions fostering innovation and collaboration or hindering our progress?

Our history and culture are something to be proud of, but perhaps it’s time to reassess these deep-seated divisions. Can we preserve our unique identities without allowing them to create barriers?

Imagine a Tanzania where the expertise of the medical family is not a battleground for superiority but a united front for better healthcare. Imagine a legal community that respects and values all its members, regardless of their field.

Imagine a nation where the wisdom of rainmakers improves agriculture, the understanding of traders inspires entrepreneurship, and our cultural diversity becomes our strength.

These possibilities can become our reality if we break down these barriers and embrace collaboration. While the cultural divide may be part of our past, it doesn’t have to define our future. By recognizing and challenging these divides, we can pave the way for a united, prosperous Tanzania that honors its heritage while looking forward to a collaborative future.

A Scientific Approach to Behavioral Change

As someone interested in why we act the way we do, I’ve discovered theories that explain our behavior. Social Learning Theory tells us that we learn by watching others, which is why our children pick up the same competitive habits we were taught.

Game Theory, often used by economists, sees our constant competition as a zero-sum game, where my gain is your loss. But what if we could turn it into a win-win scenario? What if schools taught collaboration instead of competition, and businesses partnered to create something bigger than themselves?

Epigenetics, a fascinating field of study, even suggests that these behaviors might be passed down through generations. Imagine the impact we could have by breaking the cycle now!

Changing Our Ways

I believe that we can unlearn these harmful behaviors. We can teach our children to celebrate each other’s successes in words and actions. Schools can foster teamwork and collaboration. Imagine school projects encouraging students to work together, creating a mindset that values shared success.

In our businesses, we could benefit from forming partnerships and alliances. Instead of countless small kiosks fighting for scraps, imagine a few giant conglomerates that make a global mark. Imagine Tanzanian brands that are household names not just here but worldwide!

And in our families and cultural groups, we need to start breaking down the barriers that keep us apart. Cultural integration events, communal gatherings, and embracing the diversity within our beautiful country can create a more cohesive society.

Final Thoughts on Competition in Tanzania

We’ve been playing the zero-sum game for too long. Competition has been ingrained in our behavior from the roads to the classrooms and marketplaces across Tanzania. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can change the game by recognizing our shared behavioral problem and embracing collaboration and community. We can redefine success not as something I achieve at your expense but as something we achieve together.

The stakes are high, and the rewards are even higher. Imagine a Tanzania where success is a shared joy, innovation is a communal effort, and growth is an inclusive process. Picture our children growing up in an environment that celebrates cooperation, our businesses thriving through partnerships, and our communities glowing with unity.

Tanzania’s growth, innovation, and unity depend on us making this change. It’s not just a personal or social aspiration; it’s a national imperative. The world is moving towards interconnectedness, and we must join that tide, not fight against it.

Let’s begin the journey to a more collaborative future, embracing the rich diversity of our nation and turning competition into collaboration. Let’s build bridges instead of barriers, create allies instead of rivals, and foster a spirit of togetherness instead of division.

Our beautiful country, with its vibrant culture and untapped potential, deserves nothing less. It’s about time we got rid of the Competition in Tanzania, and all won together. We can ensure a brighter, more united Tanzania tomorrow by taking the steps today.

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