Thursday, October 29, 2015

Election 2015/The Weekly Sneak: John Pombe Magufuli

I used up all my words today writing my EA piece rather late.* So just gonna do an excerpt here and one or two other comments.

"A picture of an old election ballot surfaced on social media as I sat nervously monitoring media for the results, back from the days when voting in Tanzania mean that you either said 'yes' to Nyerere or you said 'no' to Nyerere. Aside from being beautiful, it was a great reminder of just where we began with this democracy and sovereignty business. It took some time for Mwalimu to concede the leadership to a successor, it took a while longer for the state to accept multi-party democracy, it has taken us 20 years to get to a point where the opposition presented a sustained and credible challenge to the ruling party- at least on the mainland."

We have a President-elect and Zanzibar is looking very... um. Hmmm.**

Okay, it has been a long week (by which I mean three months) so ama just go do anything but politics for as long as I can stand it. But before I go, let me leave you with this one thought: has there ever been a Tanzanian President without facial hair? hmmm? has there? #tafakari. 

*so. late. so many feels. so tired. 

**Zanzibar: I do not feel qualified to talk about Zanzibar, ever. If anyone tells you they can talk about Zanzibar and they are not Zanzibari? Don't buy into that. All I can say is: don't take your eye off Zanzibar for now. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Elections 2015: Make Love, Not Civil Strife.

Day 456*: If this election has a theme, it is that nobody is a loser.  Several CCM cadres have implied they were treated unfairly having lost their constituencies, which is delightful because usually only opposition plays the 'unfair treatment' card. Opposition in Zanzibar declared itself the winners of the election well ahead of results being announced and UKAWA has stated bluntly that it will not accept the outcomes of this elections if their Presidential candidate loses. 

After ZEC declared the elections null and void in Zanzibar today, things got interesting. The primary concern of course was: what does this mean for the Mainland elections? The short answer was provided by Judge Lubuva fairly quickly: nothing. He read through a list of about 5 or six reasons why this was the case, then plunged right back into the duty of reading out the election results received so far. 

Here's a delicious complication: CUF is unhappy with what the ZEC decision which they claim was made by Jecha without the consent of his fellow Commissioners. While on the Mainland, UKAWA would like the Mainland elections to be declared null and void by NEC. CUF on the mainland is a part of UKAWA but on the isles is standing on its own with Chadema (I guess) being the UKAWA flagbearer there. So... major opposition in the Isles needs the opposite of what major opposition needs on the mainland even though they are, um, allies? 

And people say politics are boring. 

Why isn't there considerably more conflict happening, all things considered? Well, the message from all the leaders irrespective of party (yes, even Lowassa and I admit surprise) has been the same: chill. They seem to be directing their advice specifically to the volatile youth. But that pretty much sums up the general feeling that it is not worth disrupting the peace over this. We actually use the word 'love' non-ironically in our nationalistic rhetoric. Also, there's a lot of security out there and nobody has time for remand :)

*feels like. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Elections 2015: Bridging Troubled Waters...

So day two of vote counting is limping along. In light of accusations of bias towards the ruling party, NEC head Justice Lubuva has been forced to explain (repeatedly) that the vote announcement process is slow because they are following procedure and only releasing those results that have been verified from voting stations. And it will take as long as it takes. 

Which hits home since Kawe results were delayed and only announced in the late afternoon. A number of places have experienced delays as well and had to announce a bit later than expected. For the most part the hold-ups are due to recounts and other delays. In other places the incidents are a bit more...creative: in Kunduchi a candidate was arrested for eating the election results before they could be announced. Yes, you read that right. 

At this point in time it is fairly clear that Broadcast (preferably live) is the best information source. Too much jiggery-pokery going on in social media, and Print is limited by its format. Like right now I am watching UKAWA leadership announce that they do not accept the results as presented by NEC. And accusing NEC of being tampered with, the security forces of being complicit in making sure that their Presidential candidate does not win all under the aegis of the ruling party. They also want the people arrested when their data camps were raided soon after the voting ended to be released.  

So that story's developing. 

And so is Zanzibar. I am a little too tired to even try to delve into that so just read this BBCAfrica post and we'll pick up the conversation tomorrow. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Elections 2015: The National Electoral Commission's Uphill Battle

As I type I am watching Justice Lubuva remind the public that the NEC are the only source of official election results. He is literally waving signed papers at the camera to prove that they aren't "fake." Unfortunately, NEC and ZEC are not doing themselves any favors what with the delays.

With every six hours that pass, tensions are heightened. As of last night people have been asking for official announcements of the results at the polling stations and from NEC and ZEC for confirmation. Because let's just say that more than one institution/party/community/individual is "absolutely certain" of what the results are (or should be?). 

We're watching a public institution fight a difficult battle over legitimacy of results with the media, with parties, with a whole host of actors some of which are shady for sure. And at the pace at which Judge Lubuva is reading... people, I can't even comprehend how in 2015 we're still down to one old man reading out from a spreadsheet. Maybe it could be multiple old men? I dunno, something. Time, time is of essence. 

Noted: the majority of the reporting so far (and I am going by AzamTV's numbers) reflect areas where CCM is winning. But the ratios are really low, we are very far from a complete picture at the council level. At the Presidential level similar kind of story. Meanwhile there have been a lot of non-NEC declarations and statements at press conferences. Which all adds up to: what's actually taking so long and why does this look like bias?

Also noted: Every so often someone will spare the time to scrutinize the international press' coverage and address any areas of concern, as one @joetrippi learned today. This is feeding into a very interesting and perhaps overdue dialogue about narratives both local and international- who, what did they say, how did they say it, why? The local argument we've been having for months. The international one though is new and I suspect has caught a few by surprise. Upole si udhaifu...

N'kay. Going back to watching footage of trouble spots to get a general sense of the security Not all the 'peace and stability' in Tanzania is a spontaneous manifestation of good character. There is a social contract at play here, and I want to see how both sides are holding up.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Weekly Sneak: The Whole Statement

This is the last piece for The East African before my sweet darling country goes to the polls. I am posting it in its entirety here just in case The East African has any notions of editing the verve out of it, especially the part where I would like to take a verbal flamethrower to "journos" who can only comprehend Tanzania through the inappropriate of, uh, lens? of Kenya*:

"Excepting the early birds who know well enough to look online of a Saturday morning, by the time you read this article Tanzania will be deep in the contractions of rebirthing herself as she does every ten years. Like any kind of labour it's going to take a while and we all hope everything goes well, so take a magazine and make yourself comfortable for the next foreseeable. Might be a week or two before the dust settles.

Meanwhile? Party time. There is nothing like the anticipation of a bit of change to put a little pep in the step. Also, sweet freedom beckons. No longer will we have to look into the earnest faces of people reading off a teleprompter exhorting us to vote for them or their patron. It has taken all the strength and patience in the world not to spray windex on every screen in my vicinity and frantically scrape off the politics. The shrill flatness of bad speech delivery is also going to disappear as a feature of daily life, and perhaps we might rediscover colors without fear of unwittingly expressing political opinions.

Conversations will broaden again. Radio stations will no longer have to play nationalistic songs ad nauseum. There might be some small sensibility reintroduced to the policy aspects of public life. Advertisements might become entertaining again. And beautiful people with great enunciation reading the news off tablet computers might actually have something to say.

Of course it won't all come correct within the first few days. CCM and Chadema have upped the ante so much that they have left us no choice but to be cranky immediately after the elections. As I write this, Tanzanians are being stripped of their right to assemble and told that they can't gather together closer than 200 meters from a voting station.

This is excellent pre-emptive peacekeeping. It is also surprisingly dumb, unnecessarily stoking the fires of doubt and agitation. There's a reason people like to “guard their vote” and it would have been politic, CCM, to let people enjoy a false sense of security by allowing them to do so, amirite? As it is, there's some serious lady-hating happening. The Establishment is saying that women are likely to be prevented from voting because of threats of violence, blah blah blah. We are still going to vote, by the way, and who in their right mind threatens an African woman like so. I would look up an approprite Nigerian curse for this abomination, but who has the time.

What's that? Ah, the candidates, you ask. Sure. The real five-year prize is the legislature. A reasonable balance in the law-making institution is what we actually need if any of the campaign promises made so far have a chance at coming to fruition. Yes, zealots have been working hard to make us believe that the man makes the nation, but truth be told the issue is much deeper than two middle-aged Establishment veterans with questionable oratory skills.

If they were half the “warriors” they claim to be, we could all have settled this by letting their mutual former boss Mzee Ali Hassan Mwinyi challenge both men to a 5K walk. Whoever can talk/do pushups/explain education policy with coherence after that ordeal might be deserving of a disinterested shrug in their direction. Fine: we could throw in an overpriced bottle of water into that scenario, since you insist. That, folks, would have been the gentlemanly way to resolve a dispute nobody asked y'all to drag us taxpaying voters into in the first place.

To pass the time between the voting, the results, the anger at the results, the re-count, the intermittent incidences of bajaj-related skirmishes, execrable international press coverage et cetera I treated myself to a month-long supply of local TV stations. Mostly because I just want to hang out with my man Tido Mhando and a couple of other brilliant homegrown journalists. This election? Ha. Like any kind of labour it's going to take a while and we all hope everything goes well, so pick a good channel and make yourself comfortable for the next foreseeable. Might be a week or two before the dust settles.

PS: don't worry, we'll be fine. We really aren't Kenya."

* Don't. Even.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

An Embarrassment of Normalcy

Yes, yes: I wasn't going to do any election coverage this year. But this week my street is absolutely plastered with election paraphenalia and it is to weird not to share. I observed the madness in Arusha a couple of months ago with considerable smugness, never expecting that Dar might succumb to such provincial declarations of love. How wrong was I? 

Some snapshots: spotted one dude down the shop strip who usually comes across as eminently reasonable, riding his bike with a party flag awkwardly attached to the handlebar. To which the only response is: good luck with the aerodynamics on that, buddy. And then some wazee taxi drivers at the stand, awkwardly wearing brand new hats they had obviously been given for purpose? Ha! It is always amusing to see a grown man self-humiliate by wearing silly things. Don't even get me started on the arms race between Chadema and CCM flags. Incontrovertible proof that size does matter, and if she tells you otherwise she really, really loves you. 

I have been hate-reading* all non-Tanzanian coverage of these elections to see if it matches up with how things feel here. It basically doesn't. Nobody writes articles about how pleasant it is to spend five minutes or more cordially disagreeing with the butcher/duka guy/hair stylist.  

Nobody writes about the work it takes to keep a lid on the provocateurs, or that being 'chill' is actually a political tool not a sign of ignorance or idiocy. Want to neutralize a nuisance looking for a fight? Ignore them. If they insist, either employ humor or just play stupid. Oh, and nobody writes what they really think (know). I mean what they really, really think (know), except for a few notable agitators here and there, because why bother when so many "communications consultants" are being paid to subvert whatever truths may emerge? 

The reality on the ground is simultaneously more complex and less dramatic than any media operative would wish for. Frankly, 99.9% of daily life is precisely as boring as it should be. Annoying construction noises, birthday parties, traffic jams, morally-ambiguous bosses, overpriced petrol, stray cats, screaming babies, movie nights, gossip, cable guys who just don't show up, upcountry trips, cattle, Nokia Torch (lights up your third-world!), quiet dinners, laundry days, family arguments.

With a week to go to the most hotly contested election in Tanzania so far, it makes opportunistic sense to report that things are tense and terrible and exciting. Underneath the fanfare, though, you'll mostly find a bunch of people with a penchant for excellent tailoring trying to get a good deal on a piece of fresh fish or a public hall for a wedding party. Welcome to Tanzania. 

*Extreme prejudice. I am reading TZ "coverage" and I am totally judging you, international press. And there's almost nothing you can do to measure up. Yes, Kenya, this includes you. BTW, can somebody please help CNN find the Google button? There is every danger that they might label Tanzania wrong (again).  

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."

A little birdie told me...

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