Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Weekly Sneak: A Smartphone In One Hand, A Pitchfork In The Other.

Re title: that's what I am imagining a desirable revolution would look like in good old TZ. A young wo/man holding a smartphone in one hand and a pitchfork in the other:
"It is the politics of making agriculture 'young' that holds appeal. There is the technological uptake that is always a little bit easier for the young than for the older generation to engage with. There would be all the benefits of increasing labour and productivity etc. But hidden in there, there is the potential of fusing the two largest political groups in almost every African country: the agriculturalists and the youth. 
As a mega mass with access to all the benefits of the information revolution, they might actually be able to wrestle a fair share of the political capital from the rural areas. For thriving and lucrative- and savvy- farming communities roads would get paved, school budgets would actually be met, teachers and doctors might be incentivized to stop avoiding rural postings. Seed catalogues might end up with half-clad models extolling the appeal of this seed variety over that one but it seems a small price to pay for making farming 'sexy.'" 
Vive la revolution.

It is week gajillion of my self-imposed exile from talking about current political affairs in TZ and I am just about ready to chew through my own foot to escape the boredom and frustration. Thirty-forever days left to go...

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Nakupenda Kwa Moyo Wote..."

This week I was given the invaluable gift of observing Africa and Tanzania through the eyes of American legislators and Africanist/Tanzanianist scholars and practitioners. To say that it was a rich experience would be to understate matters quite a bit. So this is post number one of what might be a series as I digest what I learned. 

I was happy to see that some things are universal. Whether they come from Maputo or London or Pretoria, Dodoma, Washington, politicians are politicians. My long-term subjective qualitative behavioral study of Homo Legislativus* now has a new subset of data. Excellent. 

Not so excellent: the way that American legislators perceive Africa and Africans is markedly different than the way we perceive ourselves. This may sound obvious, duh. But understand this: the implications of this fact should not be underestimated nor dismissed. 

If you're reading this blogpost then you're not the kind of person I need to tell about America's perplexing ability to not know basic facts about the world outside North America. This blanket statement in no way negates the fact that those Americans who know the world beyond their borders? Really, really, really know their stuff exceedingly well, especially if that's what they do for a living. Also obvious.  

I can see the efficiency in this: why burden the general populace (and education system) with basic geopolitical knowledge when specialists can handle that end of things. There might be other factors at play as well, but I want to talk about sticky, controversial, contested history in another blogpost. 

So America can "afford" it, but this information gap raises (at least) two major issues:

1. It is a vulnerability in a superpower for this information gap to even exist, one I find hard to grasp in a country with 100% literacy. Yaani, I can't, even. That's definitely the Africanist in me talking, and the Tanzanian jingoist. 

2. This affects us as Africans in ways that I was shocked to learn. I suspect we're not managing our end of this relationship as well as we need to. Let's just say I have a lot of questions and comments for my Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other institutions. GoT? Eh bwana, tuwasiliane. 

Of course, from a Communications perspective, there is nothing but opportunity here. Like, just so much opportunity. I know the tourism ministries try what with the Magical Kenya this and the Pearl of Africa that and other branding whatnots, but there's a whole other level of work here that needs doing.  And believe me, it does need doing. Can I stress that enough? No, I cannot. I repeat: this needs doing. 

The exciting part was of course seeing what politicians can do when they are handed information, first-hand experience and some time. Squishing huge amounts of messy data about a gajillion different things into compact and actionable knowledge pieces is a form of alchemy, I tell you. Watching it in practice by masters at the art was beautiful. And it coalesced a number of vague misgivings I have about our statecraft into clear, distinct issues that can now guide a couple of musings and probings and actions of my own.

Si with the elections coming, we're going to be hearing a lot of promises from our hopefuls. Sasa, I can better understand whether they're totally whiffling or on point when they detail the ways in which they intend to deliver on those promises. Na isitoshe, I now have a better understanding of what questions to ask to test said manifestos and candidates more effectively. The how, people, it really is all about the how. The whom is important but the how is importanter. 

As this pertains to our coming elections, my notion (prejudice) that younger is better has only been reinforced. Our older generation of politicians are used to a culture that might be out of step with the current realities. They are wise, no doubt, and capable. But are they 21st Century capable? This is a question that not only Tanzanian politicians have to contend with- American ones do too. I'll leave you (and myself) with that meditation point for now. 

Gratuitous piece of advice: if you're hosting, don't tell folks there's a political rally coming to town. Just... you know, don't. Take them to the park or beach or something quiet like that. 

*Yeah, no. Too obvious to be my neologism, but I hoped for about 30 seconds before Google was like "nope."

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Weekly Sneak: Mnatuburuza, Enh?!

Is it just me or is all of this election stuff exciting? In a civic kind of way, obviously.  Come on, try it. Grasp your voter's card in your right hand. Say 'franchise'. Say it sloooowly. Oh, yeah. That feeling, right there. Power. It is good, neh? However tiny a plastic sliver of it you have in hand. 

Okay, enough of that. The reality is far from charming. As of Lowassa's defection to Chadema, it has been day ofter day of party-jumping and resignations and self-seclusions and drama. Print media has punked out and is printing front-page "stories" that are nothing more than Secondary School grade beginner photo-journalism assignments and he-said-she-said dreck with no analytical heft at all. I take that back, actually. Secondary School kids don't deserve that kind of insult, they would produce better content. 

As for you political class, hmmmm. The campaigns haven't even started and we are already looking at you askance. So many questions, so many issues, so little time. Mnatuburuza, enh?!! We can tell when you engage in doublespeak, you know. We've smartened up over the past decade. Engage accordingly. 

"From the observer's deck, it looks like we voters almost had a choice between two distinct entities: the GoP and an opposition that could embody everything that the GoP lacked. Now we have a choice between men- men!- who up until very recently were colleagues and even cabinet members under the same administration, none of them on the fresh side of sixty. Is this even a choice at all? Or can we just go ahead and crack the necessary jokes about the selection of CCM Original Flavor, CCM Dodoma Grapes Of Wrath Flavor, CCM Tropical Island Flavor, CCM Fast and Lite (for younger palates), et cetera?"

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Weekly Sneak: Mwanza, Tighten Your Ndala Straps Already.

Yes, you, Mwanza. We sent UKAWA over to you so that they could wow us all with a big reveal about who their Presidential candidates were going to be and what did you do? Sent them right back to us, revelations unrevealed. We are busy in Dar trying to get the BVRs to work in a timely manner so that the deadlines set by the NEC do not fly past leaving us under-registered. Speaking of that, Mwanza, you know what else you underperformed in? That's right. 

"My fellow citizens of the hinterlands that serve the great Mother City of Dar es Salaam, jamani. You were supposed to help the NEC get it right before they got here. Yes, Mwanza, I am giving you the side-eye quite specifically. If you can't train them, what were we supposed to do with them by the time they got here? Because here they are now, being consistent about one thing and that thing is overwhelmed. There will not be any de-whelming happening here, have you seen how many we are?"

Sigh. I just, don't know Mwanza. You don't seem to be taking your responsibility as a Big Bad City very seriously. We might have to delegate to Arusha if you keep this up, Number Two. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Weekly Sneak: No Messiah.

Someone asked me on Twitter why Tanzanian politics are so inscrutable from outside the country. I had every intention of blogging about that* but this week has kept me busy being glued to various media, parsing what's going on in the wake of CCM's houseparty last weekend. Observing the losers. Listening to what the opposition parties are saying, and not saying, between the lines. 

I imagine meandering through some thoughts about silence of Edward Lowassa's resounding silence, Kingunge Ngombale-Mwiru's offerings, the varying shades of graciousness with which the defeated conceded defeat et cetera would have been a step in the direction of de-mystifying our politics. But the truth is, that's just some damn hard slog and tricky too. Just because I try to observe the currents of the ocean that is our political system does not mean I can be definitive about what goes on beneath the epipelagic zone. 

The current challenge, for example, is to peer through the thicket of gossip that has sprung up. Is UKAWA breaking apart? Is Lowassa going to leave CCM and join another party? Who exactly was that guy caught with the 700 million shillings (cash) going to bribe in Dodoma? Nobody buys the excuse that he was going to pay some local agriculturalists for their crops. Puh-leeeez. We're vaguely embarrassed on his behalf because being caught greasing palms is just so amateur-sad. 

Anyways, this week I kept the focus on what I believe will be my main area of interest for the coming elections. Talking about politicians is being done exceedingly well by other content producers, and besides I have no intention of being accused by the rest of the peanut gallery of having favorites. I might be easily seduced, but you know, that does mean that I am easily seduced. My voracious political promiscuity is a source of pride. So instead, let me focus on the media, and we the peeps.
"The opposition has by no means been neglected, especially not the coalition dubbed UKAWA that sprang up around defending the proposed constitution from CCM's greedy clutches. Having failed to produce Presidential candidates immediately after the GoP, they are being actively stalked by the Fourth Estate. As are all politicians: whoever dares to offer a statement does not lack for a forest of microphones and cameras into which to direct their efforts. There is also an abundance of wits to make short work of said statements, and where appropriate, the lack of any statements at all. Even the licking of wounds incurred in the battle for power cannot benefit from the safety of silence.
We The Votership have never enjoyed such a rich diet. Apparently politicians do taste good, and I sincerely hope that the media will keep on feeding us like this."  

*I am thinking of giving this one time. Ten years ago I wrote a thesis which ultimately resulted in a job where I could offer my unsolicited opinions to my government and society (yay!). Am thinking that every decade is a decent amount of time to accept the challenge of doing something like that again in the hopes of attracting opportunities to keep being a public bore. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Getting Settled On The Couch in CCM's Lobby: Some Media Reporting.

Chama Cha Mapinduzi didn't release the names of the 5 candidates who are made it through the first cut until the dirty little hours of this morning. This allowed for an interesting revelation about how the various media are performing with regards to election reporting. Let me start with the newspapers.

Millard Ayo has posted today's crop of rags, and there is some good variation in the headlines. Smart newsrooms decided it was worth the expense and effort to stay up, await the results and print and distribute late. Other newsrooms had a regular day and went to bed early. One of the newspapers apparently just can't, even: RaiaTanzania got the 5 candidate list completely wrong. I am going to buy it, it is a collector's item. 

On the cartoon side, Danni Mzena is continuing his 'Fun with Photoshop' series chronicling CCM's candidate selection process, alternating between the race metaphor and the hospital visit metaphor. I am waiting for Masoud Kipanya to update. Wondering if Gado's going to weigh in on this, or if he's saving it for the final selection so he can perfect the face. Kikwete proved to be a challenge to draw over the years for everyone, thank goodness he has that distinctive head-scratching habit.* 

Radio went to bed early last night, but this morning freshened DJs and newsrooms are circling. There is blood in the water. The news reports are dry, professional, neutral. The DJ comments are not. Even the slightest hint of pout on the part of a CCM member results in merciless teasing. And then the comedians move in and finish off whatever survived the DJs. All of which is somehow done without stating names and putting oneself in the path of an angry politician's far. 

Social media is fresh. I have settled on Twitter because everything shows up there right quick, if you need to conserve energy I suggest you do the same. The curating of other media products (website content, cartoons, sound bites, videos) is going efficiently, with a credible range of options being offered. And with this much material to work with, online commentators/comedians are crucifying everything that breathes. It hurts so good. 

As for @ccm_tanzania: huh. They released the candidate names as soon as possible. They have kept their responses to direct tweets polite, frequent enough to look alive but not enough to crowd the stream. Irritations are ignored, the tone is cordial but not overly friendly. Although a sense of humor is yet to manifest itself, I don't get the sense that the wetware has been forbidden to play. I am surprised, yes. Did NOT expect the GoP to hire competence in this field, thought they would just roll with some sad "mtoto wangu kasoma kompyuta" strategy but nope. Silly me, considering 2005 and 2010. 

A note on language: I work in English, but let me tell you. There is no way to transmit even 10% of the richness of the media coverage of our 2015 election in this language. I'm being generous with that estimation. This is important because: 

a) I anticipate being completely irritated by the lack of nuance with which the international press will approach our elections. They have budgets but do they send anyone to learn Kiswahili? No. There are hundreds of millions of people who speak Kiswahili, but no. Even the election observers might be thrown into this space without basic Kiswahili. AU, please keep this in mind.  

b) It makes me sad that the rest of the world can't join our party. We're having so much fun with this, but will only make "breaking news" when someone gets macheted. Nobody's going to pick up on the nation-building aspects of using humor to get through political tension. This is sad-making because we have such excellently funny satire and the world is missing out.  

The three topics to watch out for today are:

1. Edward Lowassa: his reaction to getting cut, his supporters' reactions, what happens now, et cetera. At the time of this blogging, the Team Lowassa Twitter account is completely silent and the man himself has only been quoted declining to comment.  

2. CCM's progression to the 3 candidate stage, which will be televised and also livestreaming, I can't remember. There's a video featuring Nape Nnauye on their Youtube account that explains all that. 

3. UKAWA is meeting today, and will announce which party will offer up the opposition coalition's Presidential candidate as well as finalize how they are dividing up the constituencies between them. Yes, I think it is hilarious that CCM has snatched up the word Umoja and made it hard for the coalition to use it for their campaign without looking derivative. I really want the opposition to do well, and offer this as constructive criticism: never underestimate the green and gold, they are good at campaigns. Bring your A game early, in fact just start working on 2020 now. Now now. 

Anyways, the post title is a 'goodjob' to CCM. The GoP has opened itself up like never before, inviting the media to Dodoma and extending that invitation to the public via its #karibudodoma work. I feel like I am sitting on a couch in the lobby of their socialist architectural leviathan in Dodoma, waiting for my cup of Chai Bora and eyeballing delegate fashions. **

It is strange to see this creaking old institution that smells of black hair dye and diabetes medication get this right. 

So, all politicians, heed. This is the business. Open-ish and responsive, live. Hire professionals. I hope the other musty lefty-ish Revolutionary Parties still hanging on by their yellow fingernails in fellow African countries are taking notes. 21st Century? Yes, you can. 

*my whorl also itches like whoa, all the time. is this a common problem? should we form a club? 

scritch. scritch. aaaaaaaah. 

** Speaking of fashion. I now believe that CCM cadres save their humblest, most lived-in uniforms for the big party meetings. The more senior the man, the more laundry cycles his shirts has been through. What the party elders were wearing last night was straight-up humblebrag. Vintage sana, even Fidel Castro probably can't bring out that level of "this old thing from 1985, it was just hanging in my closet" swagger. This 'noon I am going to sit back on CCM's virtual lobby couch and smirk at all who show up in crispy-shiny made-for-the-occasion shirt with the creases still in from the tailor's shop. Hot new outfits are strictly for the women, and they better represent. It can be hard to come up with something non-frumpy, but Migiro and Ali had better dig into that closet and triumph. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Weekly Sneak: The Evolution Will Be Televised, And Tweeted Too.

Finally. *Yawn* *Stretch.* It has been a long wait for this week to come. The extended goodbye of the Fourth Administration is underway, kicked off by Kikwete's address to the Parliament yesterday. Considering the fact that he couldn't say everything that needs saying in that one address it was fine.

This election year my presents came early: Tido Mhando is back thanks to the Azam conglomerate. All the parties have social media accounts so I don't have to rely on intermediaries to find out what they actually said about an issue. 

Speaking of which, I am settling in for a hopefully entertaining Furahi Day night stalking @CCM_Tanzania on Twitter. #karibudodoma #5bora and #dodoma also hold promise. Before I go, coming to the (still banned in Tanzania) East African this weekend:
"The evolution will be televized, and uploaded too and it is time to embrace it. Mr. Chairman is admittedly busy this week and I wish I could send him enough duct tape and valium to hold the party together throughout it's candidate selection ordeal. But somewhere in there he needs to find the time to sit The Establishment down for a workshop on How To in this brave new world of citizen and media liberties for the health of the nation. And thrown in a couple of one-on-ones with whoever survives to win it all on Sunday. The Chosen One is going to need it now, and forever more."
Cue music

Friday, May 8, 2015

Equal Opportunity Matters.

It is true that there are many momentous and important things going on in the world which we must strive to be part of, to bring good things and legacy for the childrens, et cetera. But this post is a soul cry from someone who spends entirely too much of her time online. What's up with the sexist discrimination of phishing?

Ever since I was a not-so-young woman with an internet account, I have hoped and dreamed that some gorgeous deposed prince from, eh, anywhere but Nigeria might send me a note asking him to help him save his millions.  Well, his billions really because: inflation. Not asking for much, folks, just a chiseled jaw and some completely unbelievable romantic lines. Maybe the promise of a yacht trip in the around the Mediteranean sea to motivate me. The Atlantic is too laden with history, the Indian is too familiar and nobody in her right mind trusts that misnamed Pacific. 

But, nope. All I ever get in my Facebook account, since I started employing the block on my email accounts, is a series of ambiguous hellos from girlchildren. It doesn't make me want to be their friend, it makes me want to feed them a good hot meal and then lecture them about feminism. At length. 

I cried out my troubles to a good friend, whose response was "Ugh, get over yourself. Even if they put cute dudes out as bait, the chances of catching the account number of a cisgendered female -ist like you are basically slim to none. Besides, cute dudes are still be bait for horny middle-aged men. Which is kinda the point. Nobody gives as much as a horny middle-aged man. Besides, you are poor, you're just gonna have to embrace the notion of free sex like the rest of us. Pass me the coleslaw."

Well, it's just not right. Discrimination in all its forms should be fought and I am offended that even the phishing industry is pandering to horny middle-age men. Why is it okay for straight women to be underserved? Why should anyone be underserved at all! I am outraged by this, and if you are too because you'd rather be conned out of your life savings by some seriously handsome, age-appropriate fantasy, well then join my march. 

Phishing For All! Let the beautiful world of wallet-invasion by insincere emotion reflect all of our sexualities, all of our neuroses, and all of our diversity. Nigerian princes need not apply, deposed or otherwise. 

A little birdie told me...

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