Thursday, April 29, 2010

The stories.

Teachers, eh. How awesome can they be? I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful old professor of African politics during my undergrad, who had come to Tanganyika in the 1960s as a fresh young political scientist. He came to observe the first elections of a newly independent African state. Met Julius Nyerere and everything. Told me a couple of stories during office hours as I was struggling to understand enough to be able to pass his class. About the sixties, about Nyerere, about the sheer hope that floated this continent of ours in the halcyon days before it all went to shit. Oh, those stories. I was hooked.

I have a "friend" who came by today. Our discussion was a typical one for Bongolanders- what started as a rant about the weather, the floods and the state of our infrastructure evolved into a discussion about politics, leadership and the elections. Nothing new there, but she did share this exceedingly interesting anecdote:

Her local councillor had dropped by the neighborhood sometime before Easter to encourage voters to sign up for a rather novel program. Basically, anyone who wrote down their name and voter registration number on his sign-up sheet would get a t-shirt and other freebies 'when the time comes.' And to hear her tell it, the other folks in the gathering were only too happy to hand over their names and voters' cards in anticipation of said t-shirts and future freebies. They like their councillor, he comes by to hang out from time to time. Prince of a guy. When my "friend" politely declined to take part in this, uh, 'program', she got called a few names.

Ah. So that's how it's done.

Firstly, can I just express my admiration for beautiful simplicity of the scheme. A low-cost, effective and non-coercive method of gathering, uh, 'support' long before the big day itself. Gorgeous piece of work, that. Still, there is a part of me that wonders what my old professor would say about this if he were to come by and observe our 2010 general elections. Nothing like the sixties, I imagine. I Imagine that we'd sit down for a cup of coffee as he breaks things down for me and helps me look underneath the hood, so to speak. I imagine that this time around I might have a couple of stories to tell him too about the lived realities of Tanzanian politics. Like the one about how a "friend" of mine unwittingly taught me a sweet method for purchasing votes several months ahead of the elections...

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