Wednesday, March 24, 2010

So, that's what Em Pees get up to.

When I was studying how to exorcise the demon Underdevelopment, I had a veteran of a classmate who (over a pint) told me that two of the most useful assets in the field of development work were a sturdy liver and some conversational skill. I suspect this applies to politics too, at least the way we practice them here. Recently some friends and I found ourselves at a local bar in the company of a real live Em Pee. So we politely allowed Mheshimiwa to buy the refreshments and we got to chatting about stuff, like what his salary breakdown is, his plans for re-election, taxation, the cost of building roads, the work ethic of civil servants, voter registration. You know, a little light conversation.

I have to confess, I really like politicians. Not as much as sociologists, or artists, but I do like them quite well. Living in Dar, the center of the known universe, it always surprises and delights me how easily accessed they are, especially if you know how and where to drink. The only other places with such high concentrations of politicos are Dodoma- our mythical capital city in the middle of the Tanganyikan wilderness- and the National Stadium on Independence Day.

I got to ask our captive Em Pee about the activities that absorb the bulk of a garden-variety parliamentarian's time. Apparently there's a lot of time spent legislatin': roughly seven months out of the year if you attend every bunge session from start to finish including the pre-bunge sessions in Dar. Which, we all know, they don't. Then, there is the 'real work': procuring development for their constituencies. He told me that an MP's job is to compete with other MPs for the scarce resources allocated by the government through determination, networking and lobbying. With some creativity, opportunism and savoir-faire an MP can also access resources that are hidden in the musty financial plans of expiring bi-lateral projects, in the pockets of companies and wealthy individuals, in NGO bank accounts and... well, you get the drift. Somewhere in there they also have to stick in their duties to their party, hang out in their constituency so that voters remember them come voting day, and make time to argue politics with new friends over a whiskey or three.

So, going back to the Uwazi report on MP performance, and the urge to find out how political sausage is made: MP contributions in Bunge does not seem to be a robust measure of their effectiveness. It would be more instructive to follow these guys around for a couple of months- there's only 300 of them. Creating a record of their activities would shed light on what they actually get up to, how they apportion their time, what they prioritize and why, etc. And then, we can have that argument with them about why the hell they are snoozing on the job when it comes to the legislatin' part of business. But at least we'd know a hell of a lot more about what flavor of politics we have going on in Tanzania.

One last thing that I got: the constituency splitting issue is a mess. Between the government's "commitment" to increase the number of women legislators, the concern that MPs shouldn't have to serve constituencies of over 300,000 people and the Parliament that the Chinese built for us which can only accommodate a couple more snoozing bodies, there are 40+ applications for constituency split and six slots available. May the best lobbyists win. Bottoms up!


  1. your point about the uwazi research is well made. contributions in the national assembly are the least of MPs' activities, and most people know it, or should know it. What you propose would be more to the point - but the results wouldn't translate so easily into headlines.

  2. RE: the UWAZI report, you can just say I was right from the beginning and submit that I am the smartest dude on earth.

  3. @ Swahili Street: It is one of those areas in which transparency is extremely unwelcome! And yes, headline unfriendly. Complex information, we don't like much.

    @Shurufu: Are you kidding? On a matter of principle, you are always wrong, dude. Always. Accept it. Embrace it. Live it.


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