Bibi Titi Mohamed
- Chambi ChachageChambi ChachagePrinceton Institute of International and Regional Studies, Princeton University
- and Jacqueline MgumiaJacqueline MgumiaSociology and Anthropology, University of Dar es Salaam
African women were at the forefront of nationalistic struggles for independence in Africa that were at their height in the 1950s. In mainland Tanzania, then known as Tanganyika, Bibi Titi Mohamed emerged as a leading voice in building the liberation movement through a political party known as the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). As a leader of the women’s wing of TANU, she traveled throughout the country to mobilize both women and men to join the party that led to the independence of Tanganyika in the early 1960s. During the transition to full independence, she became a member of the Legislative Council, agitating for inclusive improvement in the welfare of all citizens. Her contribution in the parliamentary debates focused on rural development and equal access to employment, education, and provision of healthcare, with special attention to women in general and the girl child, in particular. After independence, she became the Junior Minister for Community Development and a leading advocate of people-centered development and gender equality.
During the second half of the 1960s, Bibi Titi’s promising political career took a downward turn, bringing it to an abrupt end in the early 1970s. Her downfall started in 1965 when she lost her parliamentary seat in the general elections. Since one had to be an MP in order to be a Minister, she also lost her ministerial position in the government. Although she continued to serve as a notable member of the ruling party’s executive organs and vocal leader of its women’s wing, her career hit another snag when TANU issued the Arusha Declaration on Socialism and Self-Reliance in 1967. She would appear to have disagreed with provisions of the Arusha Declaration’s Leadership Code that barred leaders from owning rentable properties as well as being of the opinion that the process used in adopting the Declaration had been inadequately consultative. On this account, she resigned from all party positions. One would have assumed that after the resignation she would have had a quiet retirement from her momentous political career, but this was not to be. Three years later, she was charged for treason and then jailed for life prior to getting a presidential pardon in 1972.
Bibi Titi’s life after imprisonment went on unrecorded and unnoticed. She largely lived out of the public limelight that characterized the first decade of her political career. One of the most recognized names in the country partly faded from the public for almost an entire generation. Reference to her name and contribution to national his/herstory disappeared from party and government official records, almost extinguishing her significant role in the early years of Tanzanian history. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, her name started to re-emerge, not least because of the rise of the feminist movement, life histories, and gender and women studies. Hers is the story that ought to be told and retold—of the muting and unmuting of a leading voice of freedom. It is a story that will continue to manifest itself in various debates on the nature and character of the leadership of liberation movements, with specific reference to women leaders in Africa.