Lindi Urban Member of Parliament Salum Baruany has finally reached his destination after a considerable long trek. Seven times within only a decade, imagine the short period, he was a political detainee. He remembers every detail of the eerie scenario, although he is quick to forgive the perpetrators of his political career.
Through the ticket of Civic United front (CUF), the new legislator of Lindi Urban constituency had defeated veteran and prominent politician Moghammed Abdulaziz, thrashing the myth that albinos cannot be entrusted with sensitive important leadership responsibilities, as he talks with the News Editor of The Guardian on Sunday, Rodgers Luhwago, on how he managed to snail his way to the top, battling against these misconceptions. Excerpts:
Question: Briefly tell the readers about yourself
Answer: I’m a peasant’s son, one of five children of our family. I was born on June 30, 1959 at Mingoyo village located about 20 kilometres from Lindi and I attended Mingoyo Primary School from 1968 to 1974. I did my “O” Level at Mkonge Secondary School from 1976 to 1979. My family is poor, and for that reason I was unable to pursue further education. My father’s coconut farm provided for our basic necessities. Due to the low level of education I ended up engaging in petty business.
Q: How did your family members and neighbours feel about you, when you were growing up?
A: Generally, people with albinism were regarded as a burden. However, in our village, and my family in particular, it was different. The last born and the only child with albinism, I was treated very fairly. My parents were devout Moslems.
Q: When did you join politics?
A: I joined politics in 1992 after the country (Tanzania) adopted multiparty democracy. Before that, it was not easy to engage in politics, which was regarded a preserve of a clique of people. I joined NCCR- Mageuzi in 1993, and became Lindi Urban district party chairman.
But after the first multiparty general elections in 1995, a leadership crisis emerged in NCCR-Mageuzi, a factor that prompted the then national chairman Augustine Mrema to cross over to Tanzania Labour Party (TLP) along with other members, including myself. TLP also appointed me Lindi Urban district party chairman. In 1999 I crossed to Civic United Front (CUF). Once again, I elected CUF Lindi Urban District chairman.
I was arrested and detained for a month at Lindi regional prison following the bloody 2001 demonstration, which ensued after the 2000 Zanzibar election results that CUF disputed.
Q: Did you take part in the demonstrations?
A: No. I did not participate in the demonstrations that the government termed as illegal.
Although it occurred in Zanzibar, authorities felt it was a CUF matter. That’s why I was arrested. I want to tell you that to date I have been detained seven times for political reasons.
However, I consider myself lucky to have been elected to the party’s Central Committee (CC).
I held the two party positions (chairman and CC member). I joined the race for MP’s position in Lindi Urban on CUF ticket in 2005. My challenger was CCM’s Mohammed Abdulaziz.
Q: How were the campaigns in 2005?
A: To be frank my opponent waged dirty campaigns against me. Instead of selling the manifesto of his party my opponent used a lot of energy uttering negative remarks about people with albinism. But the good thing was that Lindi Urban voters knew me well. On an occasion, one of them confided to me that my opponent was “warning” against electing a candidate with albinism, claiming that albinos have short lives and that they were incapable of wearing suits.
Q: How were the campaigns in this year’s general elections?
A: Actually, there was no difference with 2005 because the same candidate I fought against in 2005 is the same person I met this year. He used the same dirty tricks against me but thanks God people were with me. My opponent, as usual, asked voters in the constituency not to vote for me just because of my state. He went further saying Lindi Urban voters would have made a very serious mistake had they elected an albino an MP. My opponent could not realise that Lindi Urban people had already discovered that I was a potential material for them.
Q: Lindi is one of the regions lagging behind in development. What do you think are the major challenges that are to be given priority in your leadership as MP for Lindi Urban?
A: First, you should understand that before independence Lindi was prospering because it was the headquarters of the Southern Province. There were 16 sisal estates, port and railway infrastructure. Due to all this, businessmen liked the region. But after independence and the Arusha Declaration all this vanished.
Now, the major task ahead is to restore Lindi’s lost glory. People should understand that low level of education to most Lindi regional residents is a factor hampering them to accessing jobs as a result our boys end up being hawkers. Now, it’s time to deal with this problem fiercely. We must build a generation that will be able to penetrate and compete in the labour market squarely with children from other regions.
Education is everything. I understand that we have ocean, good arable land and gas. The only thing required, is to see how we can judiciously exploit them for the betterment of our people’s lives. Scarcity of clean and safe drinking water is of course another challenge. People in Lindi urban depend on water from shallow wells, a factor that also fuels the spread of waterborne diseases.
Q: Having been trusted by Lindi Urban residents to the extent of being elected MP what is your message to fellow people with albinism and the entire Tanzanian society?
A: First, I would like to tell my fellow people with albinism that we must realise our potentialities because we are born equal.
An individual with albinism has a lot of challenges that he/she must overcome and the society must help them to overcome those challenges instead of being a stumbling block to their success. Baruany is also a Lindi regional secretary of an organisation of people with albinism.