The family and substance abuse in the United Republic of Tanzania


The family as an institution in traditional society in the United Republic of Tanzania
Proportion of primary school-leavers placed in secondary education in 1962, 1972, 1982
The use and control of substances of abuse by the family
Impact of socio-technical change on the patterns of use of substances of abuse
Possible avenues of approach to strengthening the family


Pages: 87 to 96
Creation Date: 1994/01/01

The family and substance abuse in the United Republic of Tanzania

G. P. S. F. KILONZO AND KAAYA Department of Psychiatry, Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences, Muhimbili Medical Centre, Dar Es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania

The United Republic of Tanzania lies in the eastern part of Africa. It covers an area of 945,000 square kilometres with a population of 28 million people. A significant proportion of the population (45.8 per cent) is below the age of 15. Considerable change, at a very rapid pace, has been taking place in the country during the past 30 years in the areas of urbanization and industrialization, which have been attended by changes in the social fabric. Over the past quarter of a century, the urban population has grown from 5 to 21 per cent of the total population [ 1] . While the annual average population growth rate of the country is 3.4 per cent, that of the urban population is 11.3 per cent. One half of the increase in the urban population occurs in Dar es Salaam [ 2] . Industrial expansion, at 1 to 4 per cent annually, has very much lagged behind urbanization.

The inordinate process of urbanization and industrialization may lead to a weakening of the social fabric as a result of the migration of labour, in particular heads of the family, towards urban areas. That often leads to dislocation of traditional family ties, with less emphasis on feelings and more on utilitarian relationships. The overall effect of such changes may be to weaken traditional family support networks at a rate that far exceeds the speed at which new institutions emerge to serve the same functions.

The family as an institution in traditional society in the United Republic of Tanzania

Despite the heterogeneity of tribal groups in the United Republic of Tanzania, differing in languages, dialects as well as in cultural practices, the traditional family is a relatively stable institution that is common to all ethnic groups. It is a unique kindred family that does not easily answer to the Western understanding of either the nuclear or the extended family. In the traditional sense, the African family is conceptualized differently. In Kiswahili, the lingua franca of the United Republic of Tanzania, the word that closely approximates the term family as understood in the Western sense is familiarwhich is borrowed from English. The closest Bantu term is Kaya,which is drawn from an aspect of the bantu family and means the homestead. The family in Kipare (Pare vernacular) is mzi, which means the oldest living patriarch and all his descendants. The mzi includes the homesteads of the patriarch, which are often within the same geographical location, and include the households of his wives, sons and their children, and any other offspring. The mzionly breaks down following a year or two after the death of the elder, when his male offspring branch off to establish their own mzi. When that occurs, migration of sons to other areas may take place, especially where there is insufficient land in the area occupied by the original mzi.

In such a situation the socialization process of children is the joint responsibility of the patriarch, parents and other adults in the kindred family network both within and outside the homestead. The socialization process involves various stages of learning about proper conduct and responsibilities within the family and community and the sociocultural environment of the society. As the individual matures and assumes increased responsibilities, he or she goes through recognizable stages of development that are marked by rites of passage that also afford opportunities of inculcating values and the belief system held by the community. Great emphasis is placed on interdependence and integration into family and community life. The form and content of the socialization process may differ slightly from one society in the United Republic of Tanzania to another, depending on the sociocultural development of that particular society, but in general, the process is oriented towards teaching children and preparing them for socially sanctioned adult roles, including parenthood.

Various institutions charged with the process of socialization were established by the societies concerned. They include, among others, elaborate age-grade systems among the Maasai [ 3] , youth communities among the Nyakyusa Obusoka [ 4] , initiation rites and institutions like

Mshitu-ngasuamong the Pare and the Yao people [ 5] . The institutions were well elaborated in the traditional societies and served special functions that augmented and involved very closely the family, extended family, kin group and the wider society. They created the setting and environment for the imparting and learning of culturally relevant knowledge, skills and culturally relevant formal and informal education about family life, including gender role definitions, for greater social stability and the continued survival of the society. Much of that education was imparted within the general structure of rites of passage [ 6] .

The traditional family also provided the focus of all religious beliefs and practices, as well as legal and administrative control. The traditional family was in essence an integral part of the traditional Government, with the elders being paramount and controlling all aspects related to the life cycle of the families in the community. That includes aspects such as the settlement of land disputes, inheritance, determination of social roles by gender and for different age groups, and most or all commercial ventures, including those involving livestock, which was held jointly under the trusteeship of an elder or elders. Hence a lot of power and control was invested in the elders up to their death. Such elders were esteemed and respected. That contributed to their sense of usefulness and high self-esteem. The family, therefore, was the most important institution, if not the only significant institution, involved in the process of socializing youth towards responsible adulthood.

The traditional African family has, however, undergone changes with the advent of Christianity, Islamization, Western education systems, colonialism and independence, and the socioeconomic changes associated with those events. The rapidity at which such changes have occurred in the United Republic of Tanzania has resulted to some extent in the loss of traditional institutions, at a faster pace than the development of new institutions to replace them, creating a vacuum, as will be seen below. Such changes are much more evident in urban than in rural areas of the country. There is, for example, evidence that family breakdown has been increasing over the years. In 1978 only 1.43 per cent of the population of the United Republic of Tanzania was divorced. By 1988 that figure had multiplied by a factor of more than 2.5 to 3.83 per cent [ 7] .

The newly established institutions for socialization of children in the United Republic of Tanzania include the formal education system, National Service Camps, various religious organizations and the modern family. The National Service Camps will not be dealt with at length, as they are paramilitary in nature, and are only compulsory for those students who complete high school and technical college training, which represents a mere fraction of the total population of youth. These have proved to be insufficient and ineffective as settings for the teaching and learning of family life education [ 8] . It has been noted [ 9] that the formal school system in East Africa can be considered to be a delocalized institution for cultural transmission, which often neglects the traditional roles of grandparents, elders and other traditional teachers.

Figures from the Ministry of Education [ 10] of the United Republic of Tanzania indicate, since independence in 1961, a commendable increase in the proportion of school-age children enrolled in primary school, which entails seven years of instruction from the age of six to seven. However, the proportion of those who then move on to secondary school, which entails four years of O-level education and two years of A -level education (high school), has been gradually falling since independence, as reflected in the table. Despite the evidence of increased enrolment for primary education, the data points to a lag in the establishment of secondary school places to meet the demand of those completing primary school. An attempt was made to rectify the situation by instituting a policy of education for self -reliance (ESR) in 1967.

Proportion of primary school-leavers placed in secondary education in 1962, 1972, 1982


Form one

1962 13732 4196 (35.8)
1972 87777 7956 (9.1) 3667 (4.2)
1982 419829 9241 (2.2) 7988 (1.9)
Source: Basic Education Statistics in Tanzania ( Dar es Salaam, Ministry of Education, June 1987)
Note: Figures in parentheses represent percentage of total.

Within the ESR policy, the Government put forth a philosophy of education which, among other things, attempted to mould children at any level so that they would get a complete education, which would allow for changed attitudes, respect for work and sufficient knowledge and skills to be self -reliant on graduation. Each level of education was to be terminal, and not necessarily only a preparation for the next level. Available evidence suggests that those expectations were not met, and that the goal of primary education for both pupils and parents centres around the three pillars of secondary education, post-primary training and wage employment [ 11-13] .

It is unclear from studies what actually happens to primary school-leavers who do not obtain places for further education. Plans to accommodate them economically are woefully inadequate [ 14-16] . It has been noted [ 17] in a survey of jobless youth in Dar es Salaam that 40 per cent were standard seven leavers and 17.1 per cent standard four dropouts. The same researcher also noted that primary school-leavers do engage in a number of activities, for example, livestock rearing, and seek jobs in urban centres, while some remain at home dependent on parents [ 16] .

There are few studies that directly deal with the extent to which the modern - day family in the -United Republic of Tanzania has an influence on the socialization process of their young. What is evident is that family structures tend to shift towards the Western nuclear family, especially in urban settings, where a smaller average household size than in rural areas (4.9 and 5.5 respectively) has been noted [ 18] . Links with the extended family in rural areas remain, however, and 23 per cent of households include foster- children under the age of 15 (that is, they do not live with their natural parents). Kinship ties also remain, but appear to be more and more symbolic rather than the utilitarian and effective ties of traditional society. This may partly be related to the difficult economic situations families experience in both rural and urban areas. In a survey of 100 urban youth in the United Republic of Tanzania, it has been noted [ 8] that on issues related to sexuality, the majority of youths reported their sources of information being peers (40 per cent), while 25 per cent obtained such information from parents, 15 per cent from teachers, 15 per cent from literature and films, and 7 per cent from religious or other community leaders. The type, accuracy and depth of information derived from those sources were not reported. Although there is no similar study on sources of information on substance abuse for youth, a study of non- medical drug use among urban teenagers in school indicated that 16.4 per cent reported being advised to use a drug by a peer, while 14.8 per cent were advised by a relative. The former group were more likely to report use of addictive drugs, while the latter made greater use of medicinal drugs such as chloroquine, anthelminthics and analgesics [ 19] .

Omari [ 8] , in analysing the situation, notes that in urban settings two main categories of families can be identified: affluent elite families of the post-independence era; and poor families of low socio-economic status. In the former group, parents are able to provide financially for their children, but may not be able to provide for emotional needs essential for adequate psychosocial development. The author notes that in such families, parents spend less time with their children in their leisure time, and tend to give their children more freedom. In addition, it is often in this group that mothers also work, families tend to be more nuclear, and hence any shortfalls in the parenting process can only be met by employed help in the households. In many cases the employed help comprises young women below the age of 20, who are standard seven leavers and in many cases from rural areas. In the poorer families, parents may not be able to provide financially for their children, and the author implies that marital breakdown is more common, with other unspecified problems in parental practices. It would appear that parental control over youth in both of these groups is poor, although this assumption requires further investigation. Kisembo and others [ 20] note that parental authority is changing over time, and use the specific example of the choice of marital partners, where more and more young people are making such decisions without the influence of parents and elders.

The use and control of substances of abuse by the family

Besides alcohol and tobacco, the most commonly abused drug in the. United Republic of Tanzania is cannabis. Traditional use of the leaves and seeds has been reported in the southern highlands of the country, as a spice in the preparation of a vegetable delicacy; traditional healers also use an extract from the plant for the treatment of earache [ 21] . Non- traditional use in the United Republic of Tanzania probably had its early roots during the period immediately following the First and Second World Wars, which exposed Tanganyikans to more influence from the outside world, notably North Africa and Asia. Soldiers returning from those wars came with new tastes, such as the use of cannabis for recreational purposes or for escape from unpleasant feelings and memories. The abuse of the drug, however, remained among criminal elements and marginalized individuals on the fringes of society. Khat was used mostly by people who needed to stay awake, such as drivers and night- watchmen.

Increased human mobility attending the processes of the slave trade, European conquest, the partitioning of Africa, industrialization and urbanization contributed to disruptions of the ecological balance, with the subsequent introduction of new diseases which disturbed the delicate relationship between communities and healing systems and contributed to epidemics [ 22] . With the advent of Western and Eastern religious thought into the country, there was a strong commitment to proselytize through healing, which to a large extent led to supplanting traditional religious thought and healing systems. Both Western and Eastern missionaries appear to have failed to recognize any value of traditional religious thought and healing systems and rather discouraged them, despite the fact that traditional healing systems were more accessible to the people, and will continue to be so for a long time. The continued existence of African religious thought in giving meaning to illness and misfortune is emphasized in the context of the United Republic of Tanzania by authors such as Neki and his colleagues [ 23] . Hence despite a large proportion of the population being either Christian or Muslim, such religious beliefs tend to be intertwined with aspects of traditional African religious thought.

There are some indications that religious organizations are beginning to take systematic action in control of substance abuse. The Lutheran church, for example, is involved in the mobilization of the clergy and the community in addressing the issue of substance abuse in the Kilimanjaro region [ 24] . It is the experience of the authors that religious activities increasingly include teaching and counselling members against substance abuse during devotional periods, as well as taking active part in treatment and rehabilitation of patients. Religious organizations are also quick to employ the support of the family during prayer meetings or rituals to appease ancestors believed to have been wronged by the substance- dependent individual or the family, and hence to have been a factor in producing the behaviours related to dependence.

The family remains as the only major institution that is closely involved in prevention and management of drug abuse. Almost invariably, the drug-abusing persons brought to the attention of the clinics are through the intervention of family members. The family is the most important agent in early detection of drug abusing relatives; it is the family that brings the clients to the attention of the helping professions, and willingly takes part in the management and rehabilitation of the related clients. In the United Republic of Tanzania, the family has also been in the forefront of community education and mobilization against drug abuse. It is an asset that needs to be promoted in every possible way.

Impact of socio-technical change on the patterns of use of substances of abuse

Rapid socio-technical change taxes the adaptive abilities of the vulnerable members of the community. It can therefore be expected to lead to the appearance of increased indices of stress such as substance abuse [ 25] . The United Republic of Tanzania has undergone rapid socio-technical change over the past 30 to 40 years, as has occurred in most developing countries.

The process of rural urban migration coupled with rapid change from a subsistence economy to an industrialized market economy can be expected to influence traditional social cohesion and control systems in a number of ways. In urban areas which are ethnic melting pots, the prevailing social influences differ in many respects from the traditional settings. Peer influences may assume an inordinate importance as compared to the influence of the elders or parents. Traditional customs and taboos might also be less compelling in a heterogeneous ethnic context [ 26] .

Possible avenues of approach to strengthening the family

Probably the most important asset available for controlling substance abuse is the institution of the family. Family cohesion and mutual influ- ence can be a potent force in orienting family members towards healthy lifestyles. In the United Republic of Tanzania, older members of the family still command authority and respect from other members of the family, not least the youth. They also continue to demonstrate interest and concern in identifying incipient deviant behaviour. It is the experience of the authors that almost all young people brought for consultation regarding substance abuse are accompanied by their parents or grand- parents who are eager to be involved in their treatment and rehabilitation.

One of the main problems noted in dealing with families of abusers has been a lack of awareness of the whole concept of dependence and the interplay between environmental factors and drug- use behaviours. That lack of awareness extends to the community level as well as to the level of policy-making among key players in the community. Overcrowding in school environments and the problems of rapid urbanization and socio- economic change both in urban and rural settings have all had an impact on the family and on the nurturing function of societies. This has resulted in problems of role definition for both rural and urban youth who are the most vulnerable to substance abuse. Although the issue is being addressed through education, both in schools and among policy makers, more needs to be done. There is also a need for increased emphasis on community involvement in programmes aimed at reducing the demand for drugs, such as youth recreation and income-generating activities.

An important approach to addressing the issue of substance abuse, therefore, is to promote the traditional role of the family as, a major source of influence towards healthy lifestyles, at the same time that deliberate efforts are being made to encourage other emerging institutions to assume the responsibility of supporting a healthy process of socialization.

The family can be strengthened by development of a national policy of placing the responsibility of care and guidance of youth on the family as the primary institution of socialization. It is important, as part of a national policy, to foster parental authority over the conduct and welfare of the children. The appropriate way of doing that needs careful study before any concrete recommendations can be made. It appears essential that an important niche should be included for the elderly in any scheme aimed at strengthening the family in the United Republic of Tanzania. All other institutions of socialization should come secondary to the primary position of the family. Secondary institutions that can be promoted to assist in the process of socialization include educational institutions and civic organizations such as parent-teacher associations and religious organizations. Careful studies need to be carried out to develop more effective strategies and programmes that combine the best of those institutions in the promotion of drug-free lifestyles.



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