Guest Post: Angela Watson

Angela is a Master’s student in Media Studies.  You can read more about her research on her own blog:


Angela speaking with Prof. Oswald Masebo.

While in Tanzania I’d hope to interview women in leadership. My goal was to extend the work I began more than a year ago by conducting interviews. Literature suggests that leadership may be gendered. I wanted to discover if that were the case in Dar Es Salaam and gain insight into the discursive for women leaders specifically on issues of status and power. I’d hoped to gain first-hand information from women in Tanzania about what this construct means, if anything, to them. My hunch was that it does have meaning–that women in Dar Es Salaam like many other places in the world have a voice that is muffled by patriarchal societies. I’d also suspected that there was a distortion of self-perception. I’d question how satisfied women were with their current representation in politics, policies, and economics. I’d wondered if they even cared about such things. If we had shared concerns about fashion, marriage, sex, club nights? Would we bond over them like women here do? How many new discourses of status would I encounter? What does power look like? How relatable would they be to women in Detroit? What connections are there between women in rural and urban Dar Es Salaam and women in countries with substantial gender equality parameters? I was curious and ready.

However, I became less interested in one on one interviews and more interested in observing and working on interpreting what I was experiencing.   My plan for conducting interviews was replaced, following my interview with Mama Basimba and the director of the voting processing at the LHRC, with a more practical approach. Scheduling and consideration of safe travels were helpful in deciding to switch to an auto ethnographic methodology.

I never thought Tanzania would be the first place in Africa that I’d visit. I had no special interest in this area of Africa. As it turns out that was a very good thing. I found that it lowered the expectations and attachments to what I thought the experience should be like. Though my expectations were few there were a few things I looked forward to. I’d expected to be very welcomed by the women there. With excitement I traded my straight hair style, mainly because I sweat at the thought of temperatures over 70 degrees, for my bumpy fro with certainty that I would blend in and be accepted. I looked for fashion statements that were bold and fresh, something I’d not seen before. I’d basically concocted an exotic fantasy of what the experience would be. I’d heard so many stories of festive welcome ceremonies at the airport and communal celebrations as reward for the voyage. That didn’t happen and probably for the best after that long flight.

What helped me make a firm decision to switch research methods was the isolation I felt from the women at the airport and hotel. It took a couple of days before I was certain the people in Dar Es Salaam weren’t speaking to me and eye contact was little to none. I’d noticed that everyone else in the group was being greeted readily, except for me. On the third day I decided to wrap my bumpy afro in fabric to curb the sweating and noticed the increased welcome from others. It soon became apparent to me that my loose hair was an issue. I became more observant of how other women were wearing their hair. Wigs, straight, contemporary braided styles, none loose. With the exception of Basimba who wore a cropped afro. At first I did think much of it. Until I noticed a divide. And the identity crisis set in. The other women, one’s with their heads wrapped in fabric with traditional print did a different kind of work. They rode the dala dalas, they carried water in jugs, and they sold fares on the streets. The women with conformed hair styles worked in the airport, in the hotels, and restaurant frequented by tourists.

This sparked thoughts about the use of fashion as a means to establish power, identity, status etc. Mainly, I needed to settle my culture shock in Africa.

I’d mentioned this to Basimba after our interview. She told me that the people there likely thought me to be Tanzanian and therefore less interesting than my American peers. She also suggested my American English to be looked at as less proper than Queen’s English.

As the days turned I purchased more clothing and jewelry, from virtually everywhere, because it was more conducive to the heat, but also to hold my space as an observer.

Before the switch there was one interview with Mama Basimba which garnered insights and relief from my culture shock. Mama Basimba is the director of Legal and Human Right Coalition (LHRC) in our interview we discussed the state of many rural women in Tanzania. Topics included violence against women, land ownership issues, incidence of HIV and AIDS infection, education, and global citizenship. She’s a very charming woman, well educated, and committed to the human rights of all Tanzania’s. Yet she, like me, has a special interest in the empowerment of women.

angela photo

Notes from interview with Mama Basimba

– I heard Kenny Rodgers’ “Know when to hold ‘em” playing on the radio in the car on the way to the LHRC. I had no idea country music would be a hit here.

Topics discussed:

violence against women. Mama Basimba discussed the high rate of domestic violence during interview. She shares a story of a woman who had her leg cut off by her husband and refused to press charges. The women insisted on going back home and blamed herself for the incident. Basimba suggests that women feel alone in the struggle to end domestic violence. Especially those who live in rural areas, which is the majority. She also suggests that access to cellular technology may aid in increasing confidence necessary for women to leave permenately and that they may feel empowered by connecting to other women.

-land ownership being a major hindrance to women’s’ independence. Basimba states that women will purchase property with money they earn and buy the home in the house of their husbands. This is to curb disruption of tradition of men being the head of households.

-economics. Most women are the bread winners in their households. They have sources of income that maintain the family and generally out earn their male counterparts.


My notes from informal interview with female director of LHRC Voting Center

-twitter @changua



Challenges for women voters to interface with online voting system:

-lack of access to data

-need for free internet access


-traditional culture rules *aid in low participation number for women

-women use Instagram (a photo based social network) more often than Facebook

Facebook analytics the afternoon of the election day:


90% Male     10% Female

“Women don’t engage in politics (in scale) because of traditions. There is a language barrier and navigation through Facebook is counterintuitive.”

Ironically, more women were elected in political office in this election than ever in Tanzanian history.


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