To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. –Nelson Mandela
This week mainland Tanzania celebrates 50 years of independence from colonial rule. On December 9th, 1961, Tanganyika (as it was then called) became free from rule by the United Kingdom. There are celebrations across the country and lots of special events broadcast on TV. And this momentous occasion has got me thinking about what it means to have freedom and self-determination.
Although independence from rule by foreign powers is important, freedom and self-determination mean much more. They also mean the right to decide one’s life for oneself. I have often had some trouble with the word “development” because it implies a ladder upon which all humans live, with poor countries at the bottom and wealthy ones at the top. It implies that there is one clear path from “undeveloped” to “developed”, and therefore the way to improve people’s lives is to make “The Rest” look like “The West.” And while I think you can fairly assume that all human beings want certain basic things–enough food, shelter from the elements, good health, a comfortable life for themselves and their family, an education—the paths to that reality are many.
The UNDP defines “development” as “enlarging the choices of individuals within the economic, social, political and cultural spheres.“ And that is where we get back to question of freedom: the freedom to make choices. Development is more than clean water, vaccines, and bed nets, although these are essential. We must also ask: do people have the freedom to make a better life for themselves and their family? Do they have the freedom to be educated and to use that education to be a positive member of society? Do they have the freedom to make their dreams reality and fulfill their greatest potential? By the time Tanzania celebrates 100 years of independence, let’s make sure that the answers to these questions is a resounding Yes!