Tanzania, and especially the northern region around Arusha which is home to Lengo, has, almost uniquely in Africa, been a beacon of hope and safe haven for refugees since foundation as a republic in 1964.
But for Lengo community members, many of whom have seen hundreds of thousands of desperate displaced people welcomed into their midst almost their whole lives since nationhood 55 years ago, the political stability and culture of giving has come at a cost.
Even when the economy improves, the influx of numbers into the workforce means opportunities remain scarce. The World Bank last year reported that while economic growth had enabled the poverty rate to decline, the overall number of poor had remained the same – with more than 12 million Tanzanians living in extreme poverty on less than US60 cents per day.
And now, itself and its people desperately in need of help, Tanzania’s crucial role as bulwark of peace, tranquillity and political stability at the heart of central and east Africa is threatened.
In February (2018) President John Magufuli announced his country was pulling out of the United Nations’ Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, citing “reasons of security and lack of funds” A month earlier it had been forced to suspend granting citizenship to Burundian refugees.
Mr Magufuli was reported in the government newspaper Daily News as saying the withdrawal was unavoidable because funds pledged by the international community had not been forthcoming to help the country integrate refugees, not only from Burundi, but also Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
For its neighbours and the whole of Africa this would mean the loss of an irreplaceable vital moderating influence and saviour anchoring a region in which violence and chaos swirls all around.
Right now (2019), there are 15 African countries either at war or experiencing post-war conflict or tension. (Africa Sun News) Of these, more than half share a border with Tanzania or its neighbours, including Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, South Sudan, Angola and Zimbabwe.
And Tanzania’s four remaining neighbours not formally in hostilities are wracked by poverty, hunger, sickness and instability. In Zambia more than half the population live in poverty. Malawi is in humanitarian crisis with a million HIV-AIDS orphans, another million relying on food aid, and a cholera epidemic. Mozambique still suffers political instability from a brutal 16-year civil war that ended in 1992 and half its 24 million people live in poverty. And Kenya is effectively engaged in a war on terror with extremists linked to Al Shabaab.
Lengo believes maintaining and enhancing, not damaging, the status quo in arguably the region’s only consistently stable, peaceful functional democracy, Tanzania, and if possible its role as a place of refuge, is more vital now than ever.
Although nominally a football academy, using the global power of football as a force for good, Lengo is itself a place of refuge for a small but no less significant, and growing, broader community of family members and friends in need. It prioritises education and espouses human dignity and a key set of guiding principles for the betterment of the collective in a challenging environment.
Five years ago the United Nations brokered signing of the Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework (PSCF) in an attempt to formalise a system to entrench principles Tanzania has adhered to since foundation. Other signatories were the African Union, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and the Southern African Development Community.
Adoption and successful implementation of the framework would have acted to bring much needed relief to Tanzania’s central role and contribution. But in a recent announcement marking the fifth anniversary of the signing of the PSCF, United Nations Special Envoy, Secretary General Said Djinnit said the problems it set out to conquer still remain. “Political instability, violence and poverty continue to affect the lives of too many people, including of more than 11 million forcibly displaced today,” he said.
“The fifth anniversary of the PCSF is the right opportunity to remind ourselves that the business is still unfinished.”
Crucially, in an echo of Lengo’s own philosophy, he added: “Still it should be noted that the biggest asset among all riches of the Great Lakes region is its youth. However its creative energies still need to be better channelled through work opportunities, engagement, participation and empowerment.
“We have no option but to do more and more effectively. Peace and stability in the Great Lakes region is central to Africa’s prosperity.
“When [it flourishes], African and global citizens, environmentalists, investors and tourists will celebrate.”
After more than half a century as the peaceful ‘Good Samaritan’ of the Great Lakes, Lengo believes Tanzania’s people are overdue assistance. Lengo is providing that help, starting with the community in Arusha, in the belief that any help to them helps Tanzania, the region, the whole of Africa and that, ultimately, helps us all.
Written by Dominic Biggs
Lengo Football Academy uses the universal language of football to alleviate poverty in Tanzania. Join us by sponsoring a player or kick starting our players to go to secondary school. Or simply join the Lengo tribe by signing up to our newsletter to get regular updates on all the news from on and off the field. Stand with us to empower our young players reach their potential in life and alleviate poverty in Tanzania.