Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Fine Romance Part The Third: The Legacy Years

The campaigns are kicking off, so I had better hurry and finish this three-part musing on Jay Kay before we head into griping about vote-rigging, campaign funding and hamstrung election monitors.

In the last musing I concluded that:
Jay Kay is a pretty good fit for this moment in our political journey: a free-marketeer with a redistributive philosophy, a technophilic democrat, a canny executive and a patient, dedicated, opportunistic man of ambition who lacks the predatory instincts that make the Putins of this world so frightening. While I don't doubt that there are smarter, tougher, cannier men out there who would make 'better leaders,' all in all Jay Kay is at worst inoffensive and at best very useful, which is not a bad range within which to work with for a young African democracy."

I think I still stand behind that statement... the trouble with writing about Jay Kay is that he presents an exercise in indecision. While he remains a 'man of the people' this has taken on a distinctly celebrity-obsessed sheen in the past couple of years. This is supported by his careful selection of public speaking opportunities: no independent journalist interviews, no hot seat, no on-the-spot question sessions except out in the rural areas where folks are too cowed to say anything except 'Thank you Mr. President.' There is a canny indirectness to his accessibility which I find quite pleasantly Machiavellan.

What I really want to talk about is his second term, and his legacy. There can be no doubt that Jakaya Kikwete's first term in office has seen an impressive and peaceable change in our political culture. Having seized the media by their short and curlies, he has set a dire trend for politicians both nationally and regionally. Thanks to him, demonstrated charisma has become an important political asset as have camera-friendly looks.

This same exploding media scene has also seen incredible advances in political coverage- most of it driven by the obsession with grand corruption. Of course Tanzania's media isn't 100% free- TIA. But it is a lot more active than it used to be under Benjamin Mkapa. The irony: Mr. Mkapa was a journalist. Go figure. It took a genuine democrat like Jay Kay to open up that dialogue, even as he avoids dialoguing...

And yet there is still a sort of malaise, born of the sensation that at best this administration has a mixed record of achievement and is dragging its feet. As a friend said once: you can have potential for so long, but if you don't fulfill it you are a failure. I'm paraphrasing. Judging by Jay Kay's continued popularity we are still expecting much from his presidency, and from him.

So what could be better than a second term? Even with the continued growth of our opposition parties, there is no viable alternative to the URT presidency outside of the CCM candidate. Jay Kay is home free with another five years in which to get down to serious business, i.e. the building of a legacy. I wonder what he's going to pick to fill that expectation vacuum.

Legacies tend to be brutally circumspect, and they rarely have to do with the tangibles- no one really remembers who built what dam or dreamed up what 25-year plan. Because, well, who cares? The popular legacy of a Tanzanian President can be identified pretty easily through his nickname. Check it out: Father of the Nation. Followed by Mzee Ruksa. Followed by Mzee Ukapa. Followed by... Handsome Boy?

So as he goes into his second term- with a slogan that promises...more of the same- I am hoping that Jay Kay will show us his serious side and leave the celebrident lifestyle behind him. Judging by some of what this administration has already laid down- the embracing of the market economy, media, (sort of) agriculture and (sort of) education- there is plenty of scope for our incumbent to lock down a President-sized "solid policy initiative" for the ages. Psst: Jay Kay- the trick is to pick something that makes you look good for, like, ever. Might be University of Dodoma. Probably ain't. Let's see shall we?

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