Social Construction of Dishonesty and Integrity in Tanzania: A Reflective Piece from an Interdisciplinary Perspective

Theodora A.L. Bali


No potential employer is looking forward to hiring dishonest staff. All learning institutions have tight admission and evaluation criteria to guard against risk of academic dishonesty in students, and any wise individual will not take a dishonest person for a life partner. Yet, dishonesty is a much more complex phenomenon than it seems. Always, there are some acts of dishonesty that are considered “normal” or “legitimate’ or even highly praised in some avenues, including buying an examination for a child, or leaking a test paper to a student for a pay, or concealing an important truth for some gains, or cheating on a number of hours worked as well as deceitfully bargaining to get more money. There are even common phrases in our daily idioms like “riziki kitako” (daily bread is found from where one is seated), “cha kuokota si cha kuiba” (monopolizing ‘lost and found’ does not amount to theft), or “mtembea bure si mkaa bure” (walking around one has greater chance of finding something valuable), to rationalize dubious gains on public resources or “lost and found” items.

Dishonesty seems something others do?“criminals”, “evil ones”, “politically motivated and selfish people”, or “inadequately trained staff”. Such acts when done by “good people” are not branded dishonesty. They are brushed aside as oversights since good people do not engage in dishonest behaviours. If they unfairly bargain, it is justifiable as they act for a noble cause of meeting their rightful demands in this unfair world or overwhelming working conditions. This paper seeks to shed some light on these views and tries to dismiss some myths.

Today more than ever before, it is critical to have a clear understanding of dishonesty. Trying to understand dishonesty is not encouraging or condoning it. It is seeking to grasp the sources of our own dishonesty and condemn them. In fact, one can only denounce dishonesty when one comprehends it clearly; and two points need to be established if one has to understand dishonesty: First, honesty and integrity as human values and behaviours are culturally relative; and secondly, one cannot explain dishonesty unless he/she can contrast it with honesty. For these reasons, the paper attempts to answer two questions: Is dishonesty a problem today than ever before? Is it really a problem in universities in Tanzania?

Keywords: Dishonesty, academic integrity, social construction of honesty.


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