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In Tanzania, pursuing success is a moral obligation

In the English dictionary, ustawi (ooh-STAH-wee) is prosperity or welfare; mafanikio (ma-fa-nee-KEE-oh) is accomplishment or success. The latter is a very popular topic for teaching in Tanzania. The former does not feature as much, but a long-time missionary suggested it to us as an alternative to mafanikio to distinguish prosperity teaching from the manipulative and exploitative prosperity gospel.

I took the chance today to ask my language tutor about it, and some friends at school.

They all saw the words as distinct, but as different stages in a process rather than as alternatives to one another. In their minds, ustawi is more foundational, and mafanikio comes as a result of it. Below is a diagram which tries to capture the dynamic. You can see the purple numbered 5 steps to mafanikio, with a failed attempt ending in kushindwa (defeat).

mafanikio infographic 2019

Everything starts with imani — faith. That’s the net that underpins the whole thing. You have to believe in yourself, have faith in God and know that there are others you can depend on.

With these securities, ustawi becomes possible, a sense of wellbeing. Don’t think of this in an individual sense; while it might manifest as a personal sense of peace, that is only possible as the whole community experiences stability and peace at every level.

This ustawi wholeness equips you to -vumilia (endure) and to -jaribu jaribu (try and try again) no matter what happens, and to not -kata tamaa, which takes you off the mafanikio track to kushindwa (defeat).

As you continue in these disciplines, the situation will start to look brighter – to –ng’aa – but this is not yet mafanikio. That is what happens when you have a sense of having reached a goal or accomplished something, and you start to experience the fruits and benefits of it.

Mafanikio is made possible by ustawi but there is a reciprocal relationship too. Mafanikio is only real mafanikio if it builds back into the ustawi of society. If you keep the benefits of success to yourself, you will soon discover that this is no success at all. What good is wealth if your friends are jealous of you? How can you say you are successful if there is relational discord? The well-known Zulu word ubuntu has been described as “I am because we are” and captures this idea as well. Ustawi necessarily precedes mafanikio, but it is also fed by it.

Just as mafanikio is only complete when it builds ustawi, ustawi is incomplete unless it is striving for mafanikio. This is perhaps easiest for us westerners to see in individual terms, for example, by asking what good is your internal feeling of wellbeing if you never do anything to improve your life? What kind of lazy fool enjoys the benefits of stability and does not use this to their advantage? Phrases like “it is well with my soul” might sound immature to a Tanzanian: what good is the wellbeing of your soul if you are not actively working for the betterment of the body? The same is true at the societal level. Stability or wellbeing in your community is a driver to continue pressing forward. Mafanikio is still to come. Learning this helps me understand why Tanzanians maintain an almost feverish pace of life, constantly looking for more business or relational opportunities.

Seeing the definition of mafanikio and its relationship to ustawi turns on its head once again the idea that prosperity or success, at least as understood by Tanzanians, is about building your own empire or getting ahead of others. On the contrary, striving for mafanikio is deeply others-centred and a loving thing to do.

Categories: Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

2 replies

  1. Thanks for sharing. A great model of how to use your language skills to understand nuances that could be easily missed or misunderstood.

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