As we’ve held meetings with student leaders, we’ve been able to observe how they come to decisions. For example, when we ask for volunteers, no one steps forward. Even those who have been speaking up with strong opinions for the whole meeting will not step forward to volunteer themselves.
Instead, one person will suggest another person. The others in the group in the group clap or nod in agreement, and then the person nods and says, ‘Yes, I will do it.’ I’ve wondered what would happen if an inappropriate person was suggested, but so far the suggestions have all been very well reasoned. Perhaps you volunteer yourself by your actions rather than verbally, what with Tanzanian culture being more implicit than Aussie culture?
Likewise, I wondered what would happen if there was someone else who wanted the job who wasn’t suggested, or what if the person who was suggested didn’t want the job. We’ve definitely seen students have disagreements with each other about how things should be done, and be quite blunt about it, so I don’t think it’s merely the case that the first suggestion goes because no one wants conflict. However, I do wonder whether the call of the group and what they’re asking you to do is stronger than personal preference.
One factor that we’ve possibly cut out of this process is status. Many decisions are made and roles assigned according to what the leader or person with the most status says, even if there’s been a discussion where people have expressed other views. I think as the conveners of the meetings and because of our role on the chaplaincy team, that leader whose word goes would be one of us. However, that feels very uncomfortable to our cultural background; our natural inclination is to ask for volunteers. Doing so has allowed us to observe a different Tanzanian way of making decisions, one which is more driven by consensus.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.