Monday, November 22, 2010

Tanzanian Exceptionalism?

This is an idea that has been rolling around my head for a while. And it's probably going to take a bit of doing to explain. But here's a start:

Emergent Democracy.* It's a concept I have only stumbled upon recently after thinking that the idea of emergence shouldn't belong to economics alone (emergent market). Yeah, I know. I move slow. Now, onto the good stuff:

-"action of many individual participants"
- "complex and unpredictable results"
- "efficiency beyond the comprehension of any individual participant"
- and my favorite bit: "Supporters of the idea point to instances in which bloggers have brought about political change by posting about issues that mainstream media had not paid much attention to..."

Now: comparative political analysis has it's uses but I have felt for years that Africa is underserved in this area by her many polities, ethno-political complexity, geographic variety and impenetrability, structural racism, ignorance fuelled by spotty documentation, and general misunderstoodness. None of which are new complaints amongst Africanist scholars, I'm just cribbing from those who've gone before and standing on the shoulders of giants.

This mash-up of convoluted thinking is trying to address how strange comparisons happen: the Kenya/Tanzania pairing for example. I think it makes more sense to do a Tanzania/South Africa pairing in the post-colonial context if one counts South Africa's independence as having happened in 1994. Which is when the emergent market concept kicks in nicely. Kenya/Tanzania? What, because of geographic proximity? That's just lazy. Yes, even if we're going all EAC. It's still lazy.

But that's just one layer. Evidently there is a technological/communications component: it seems that social media is an integral factor of emergent democracy as a concept. Not to mention the way it introduces/acknowledges complexity by embracing the idea of multiple actors outside of the traditional roles (legislator, executive, judge) without devolving the discussion to something as trite as single-issue lobbying.

And so it makes sense in my head to think of Tanzania as one of the emergent democracies on the continent: diverse population, diverse agendas, complex interrelations. Democracy at work however compromised it may appear to an external observer (the system does in fact self-correct for balance. or peace. and no, you don't get to choose how.). Modernist habits- the adoption of IT technologies, leap-frogging stuff like a cumbersome landlines parastatal telephone system. Entrepreneurial spirit and political savvy. These are just a few of the significant positives that Tanzania could continue to build upon.

Which means, naturally, that there are significant negatives threatening to drag us down too. Beginning with oversimplification: our decades-long public-education mess is not serving us well. I have heard keen-minded colleagues in the field of political analysis say things that are shockingly dubious about our history. And then cling to antiquated notions against all evidence of research, articles and voluble argumentation. That's messed up. If idealism and conservatism constantly trump evidence and dynamic thinking we're gonna tie ourselves up in knots.

Put down the verbal gun. I'll be the first to admit: I had to leave the country to learn the country, if you know what I mean. Yeah. Try buying a well-researched, totally dependable collection of books on Tanzanian history and let me know how that went for you, bongolander. Being kept uninformed about the gritty bits of our contemporary history is a part of the social contract that I think we should push to renegotiate in a global kind of sense.

But that's just one layer. There's the real issue of haves and have-nots: what's our mechanism for handling economic stratification? America advances the idea of universal opportunity: if you just work hard enough you too shall be a millionaire. Now, it's a nice little bedtime story and we all know it doesn't quite work out that simply. Still, as a national ethos... it's pretty positive. Constructive. Non-partisan. It's got non-Americans skipping on planes to go find their streets of gold in a country that isn't nearly as kind to immigrants as it's PR campaign suggests.

The Tanzanian social contract is sort of libertarian with heavy doses of social liberalism. Social stratification is a lived reality for Tanzanians of all walks of life, as economic enclaving is almost impossible here. Perhaps one major factor, often overlooked, is the fact that the state owns land in Tanzania and only leases it to citizens for prescribed periods of time. Which means that this business of going Happy Valley and shooting trespassers is not done with impunity here. All to say, it can be hard to be entirely untouchable here as some folks from the previous government may have found out to their surprise. I like it that way- keeps us honest, lean and mean.

Tuesday 23rd November: I completely forgot to mention a major factor in the social contract! Corruption. We point our fingers upwards and knock our politicians about for stealing public funds- and they deserve it. However, we also don't talk about the fact that living in Tanzania these days means hustling and you can bet your bottom shilling that most every adult has at one point or another deliberately initiated or engaged in corrupt practices for their own gain. So it's structural. I don't really know how this fits in with the emergent democracy framework, or if it does. Might be more of a cultural issue- one man's nepotism is another man's family duty.

Another layer: emergent democracies are not all that common. Not really. It takes a certain fluidity, technophilia, mental flexibility and creativity to live and thrive as an emergent democracy. I think that Tanzania, in her post-colonial history, has proved that she's got what it takes to adapt to the various situations thrown up by a rapidly changing, ever-competitive world. Doubt me? Look at how we handle our elections. It might not be perfect, but it's a far cry from Kenya (eish), Uganda (puh-leeze), Burundi (hm?), Rwanda (democracy? heh.), Congo (basketcase), Zambia (mh.), Malawi (mh.), and Mozambique (meh. maybe).

Thing is, it's not about superiority or inferiority. Here's how Asia has always been a touch more privileged than Africa as a developing continent. See, Japanese folks don't get subjected to anxiety dreams over what Indians are doing. Because no one is confused about whether Asia is a country or a continent. Both polities, both cultures are respected in their individual right as they work the nation-state model. Africa? Not so much. Why is it that on this most diverse of continents we don't embrace the fundamental idea of real diversity? With functionality as the only real measure of success? Sure, there are fifty-plus polities. What's wrong with the idea that they are all exceptional, and worthy of study in their own right?

I think that only after this level of respect for individual polities has run it's course will it make sense to talk about a pan-African identity and accept the demands of massification/ manufactured collectivization. Europe still won't get it together, and it's taken them how many millenia? Enough said. Gonna end here for this foray and see what turns up in the comments section :) Be gentle. Heh.

*Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is tugging my heartstrings for money. I would give him some if I wasn't perpetually embroiled in a fight with my bankers over the quality of their retail services. Still, what a fantastic resource is Wiki? Sigh.


  1. Geeeez!! No comment?

    I liked the article, but decided to stay out a bit and let political science majors break it down first. You went all nerdy :)

    Me expects a thorough discussion next time I pass by!

    Come on people...

  2. @SN: Lol. I did wander off into a stream of consciousness there. It's going to take a few attempts, I think, to get the ideas pinned down the way I am hoping to. But feel free to respond to anything in any which way- the point is not to be too ivory tower for a proper brawl over a beer or three :) Salaam zako, mkuu. Liked the post about election time refunding.

  3. What do you get for being the emerging democracy? A 42% turn out on presidential election? And how about this mshkaji; The fastest growing economy on the planet is a communist bureaucracy. Also, the oldest democracies out there are in massive debt and the out of control deficit. Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, United States, UK. They are now manipulating currencies just to beef up their exports, looking away from the virtues of democracy (human rights, and what-what) just to score trade deals with Beijing. I don't even know if I want to be all that democratic anymore.

    You don't need glasses to see the stars mshakaji. Tanzania problems are soo self inflicted, it is pathetic. The attitude of Tanzanians is in the wrong place. We have poor work ethics, watu wanapenda hela rahisi, kuanzia traffic polisi, mpaka muosha magari pale unapopaki. People have no sense of patriotism, wanatoa na kupokea rushwa on everything. Our leaders, the same thing, kupeana vyeo kwa kujuana. And this is a Tanzania thing, not CCM or Chadema thing. We can agree kwamba Mustafa Mkullo, our finance minister is an incompetent idiot who was once forced kujiuzulu kwa manufaa ya uma. Sophia Simba? (lol), Ngeleja is clueless, Shukuru Kawambwa is Shukuru Kawambwa. I will say these folks are in cabinet kwa ushkaji and for sucking up. Chadema have the same ish, they can't agree on anything. This attitude of viongozi trickles down to regular MTanzania. Our love for easy money with poor work ethic haijaanza leo, Nyerere's Tanzania received most aide than most of country in Africa, and it is no different today. What do we have to show for it?--the widest income inequality out there. Mimi sijui tunaelekea wapi, but we need a leader to change our effin attitude. But that won't happen anytime soon. Just look who Kikwete is grooming to become the next President. Tutapona kweli? I ain't no cynic but nikivaa darubini yangu, I do not see any hope! In our current situation--we have a pseudo-democracy that will be exploited by mediocre politicians with the loudest megaphones.

    Tanzania education is fine, It is the nurture that makes it look bad. You see, I'm a product of public education all the way to A'level. Hakuna cha international school wala nini, and I would like to think that I turned out okay and pretty damn competitive on any job market in this world. It is because I had everything when I went to school. Tumbo limejaa, vitabu vya kutosha, uniform safi, and a mother who makes sure unajua hesabu za KKS na Magazijuto, unlike 95% of my country men and women. You can reform the education system anyway you wish, but if kids have empty stomach and worry about sh!t that have nothing to do with shule, expect the same results. Punguza umaskini kwanza, then you will see how competitive our kids will be.

    I didn't plant to rant on this post mshkaji. Imetokea tu na mihasira yangu.

  4. Nice one. It seems the coexistence of multiple cultures you discuss has to do with understanding of ideas, in addition to the diversity of population and agendas. Fortunately, coexistence of multiple cultures in Tanzania has withstood more years than her neighbors. This intangible value of preserving a peace between people has value, methinks.

    I don't think we can call Tanzania an emerging democracy because we haven't really found a way to account for the interaction between multiple cultures. Not formally at least. And by cultures here I mean not just ethnic, but cultures of education, of family-maintence, and of ... well, everyday work.

    If we can figure out how to record these interactions and make them available on a public space, then we may be able to see where we are with respect to the definition of a democratic system.

    Yes, this means that blogs and other forms of social media allow for freer movement of information. But to and from people with the access to this media. Again, finding ways to channel such media back in a space where it reaches the very people it concerns may just allow us to emerge where ever it is we need to emerge most.

  5. @Anonymous: Whew. Someone needed to exhale. I hope that felt good :) Okay- the 42% turnout was a surprise to me, I admit. I guess we're not as excited about the vote as I thought. And yup, China, Europe... the world is changing around us. But I must protest on the work ethic front- I think you offered too narrow a reading and things have changed here too. This is not the TZ of even 2005. Entrepreneurship abounds vibaya sana these days.

    Which brings me to another issue you've raised: do you believe our social change is a top-down affair, i.e. we must copy everything the executive does? I don't, am all about grassroots upwards. We've let them get fat and complacent because we've been too nice. But point taken- the executive could stand a little attitude adjustment.

    Sasa mshikaji- hongera and I hope you know how mad lucky you were to have that kind of school experience. If even half the kids going to school today had that kind of experience, imagine what changes even one decade would bring? No one is suggesting that we study outside the borders- what are we paying taxes for if not to support our social services? It's a matter of access and quality. Kikwete's regime has really upped the number of schools available... in terms of buildings. Teachers, books and quality remain a disaster zone.

    Tupunguze umaskini has been the song since independence, but cracking the code of our particular poverty is a real pain. And most of it, as you so rightly point out, has to do with our toxic politics. The system functions, but it has major dysfunctions as well. Thanks for that, mshikaji. Back to the drawing board to revise optimism levels :)

  6. @AK: Heavy points there. Recording interactions between the various cultures that you have mentioned is the work of academic and practicing social scientists, especially sociologists and anthropologists. Certainly worth investigating the work that is being published in this area. To date, it seems that our social sciences are defined by lefty politics, developmentalism or funder agendas. So it's hard to get robust data of the kind you mentioned. A knowledge gap worth exploring?

    The beauty of social media is that content generation and interaction is in the hands of the consumer/user. Now, beautiful thing is that 3G mobile phone companies provide country-wide coverage and with a bit of time- another five years or so- I imagine the situation will be quite different. Might just be a matter of stepping back and letting social nature take it's course?

  7. Elsie.

    Yeah, it felt good to let the steam out. najifanya nina uchungu na bongo yetu hii. Hee hee.

    Anyways, our social change is definitely (sadly) top down, and that is the direct results of rampant inequality. Mfano, every once in a while huwa naweka chicha George & Dragons pale Masaki. Its an uppity joint, and I sit on the table with washkaji and half of us do not have a steady income that will allow them to consistently dine and booze over there. But these dudes are regulars there. It is this idea peers influenced consuming, just to keep up the pace with The Chenges of this world. Now, young people wanachukua mikopo to buy rides and soon enough houses. It is all good, but this sort of out of hand lending is just a bubble. And when it bursts, IMF will ask Mr. Mkullo to bail out the banks and us tax payers will pick up the tab. The rest will be a mean recession. Slowly we are getting there. Which is frustrating.

    Mi I always thought one of the advantages of being poor (as a country) is you get to have blue prints for already tested development theories out there. We know what works and what doesn't. We are a sovereign state and we can do what we want with our country. All emerging economies are heavily state influenced, China, Taiwan, Malaysia etc. But here we continue to be obsessed with Investors, Cut down govt spending, govt hiring freezes, trade liberalization and the whole Washington Consensus. It makes me wonder, tutatoka kweli? koz these theories have failed, and failed and failed.

    Najua tunachonga tu online kuhusu kupiga vita umaskini. But the truth is we need a reformer president. Our own Fernando Cardoso, some Deng Xiaoping who can turn the ship completely around.

    Swali ni, do we have a democratic system that will give us our own reformer? Mi sijui bwana. We wait and see.

  8. @ Anonymous: Dah! I was feeling you up until the point where you started raising the Deng Xiaopings and Cardosos of this world. Sasa, I get what you are saying: you don't like social stratification a la George and Dragon crew because of the consumerism it engenders in wanna-bes. But Wanna-Be is the foundation of the capitalist system: who would bother to buy half the crap (like Viagra, or uncomfortable shoes) we do if we weren't concerned with displaying wealth/status?

    I happen to agree with you that it presents immediate problems: all those mikopo cars are clogging up center city like there's no tomorrow and we're polluting the hell out of Dar's ecosystem and soon our kids will either have obesity problems from all the chipsi soseji we throw down their gullets, or asthma from our shangingi-derived air quality.

    So...consumerism, speculation, private internal debt, bubble, bust, IMF at the door and the taxpayer gets screwed, recession, environmental problems, lifestyle diseases. Aaah, the beautiful sensation of "development". Funny, was just reading something similar about the Irish economy...

    Now, while I agree with you on the utility of emerging economy methods (a touch of tyranny, vast reserves of sweatshop labor, no human rights= economic growth) the Asian Tigers are treated considerably differently than African economies and their place in the global market is historically not comparable to that of African economies. So be careful which lessons you choose to take from their "examples." Apples and oranges. Or in this case, dragon fruit vs. marula. or is it mangoes vs. kola nuts? Either way, the underlying philosophy is one that enslaves human productivity in ways that are, in the end, toxic to the environment and not that kind to human welfare either. So... thanks but no thanks. Just another face of the patriarchy.

    Which is not in keeping, I think, with the liberation/freedom ethos that Nyerere left as an ideological legacy (yes, he traded economic prosperity for internal cohesion and stability). If you can guarantee me we won't end up being eaten alive by a rapacious state if we went down the Autocratic Capitalist route that you propose, I might be willing to listen. But we are a struggling little democracy that's already sweating under the weight of a kleptomanic public sector, not to mention citizen anger.

    Besides, who would you suggest as our reformer in the next five years? I've heard some names tossed about and am compiling a list... it's a bit like a 5-year horse race :)

  9. I agree with u in so many ways mshkaji. But, the idea of bongo being a state engineered economy doesn't necessarily means Gap will open a factory in Vingunguti and pay us buku jelo kwa siku. While polluting the heck out of the nearby stream. And I THINK the different between The Tigers and sisi huku Africa is simply security and a diverse pool of competent human capital. Otherwise, we are much of a market just like them. And like Mwalimu used to ask "why doesn't South trade with South?"

    What I wish we could have is a government with swagga, In a way that we cannot allow machungwa ya Shoprite kuwa na vistika kutoka South Africa, while ukipita michungwani pale (few miles after Segera) u will find tons and tons of oranges with absolutely no market. Or the government that can't sell our captured pembe za ndovu just because WTO said so. I feel like currently our government is easily pushed around in global stage, and madeni yanachangia kwa kiasi kikubwa for us to lack that economic autonomy that we desperately need. then why not focusing energy in cutting the cost, collect more revenues and pay that debt? So a state engineered economy, can have all the virtues of democracy--and still deliver for the people, and in Tanzania we have all the recipes for that. We just need a reformer.

    Which lead me to your question. Our reformer? Duuh, I don't know maaan. I know Bernard Membe doesn't even know what reforming means. But in the next coming days we will start sorting out pretenders and thee contenders. Just pay attention, especially for those outside the government system. Ila swali la msingi ni how can we elect a reformer in our current system?

    CCM, u need to be a party insider to say the least maana kuwa nominee sio kazi ndogo. U have to get your name out of partys Central Committee, and the get elected by NEC Members, halafu ndio sisi wanachi tukupigie kura. In Chadema, Edwin Mtei has to approve you. In CUF, you have to be Ibrahim Lipumba. Sasa, how can we get our reformer elected in this environment?

    I suggest 1) Independent candidate 2) Country wide primary elections for presidential nominees. The we will be inching closer to be an emerging democrat country.

  10. Elsie, you remember that poll of yours? Asking 'what Tanzania needs'? Well, I did vote for a benevolent dictator - if there is one - with good intentions, of course. Mtu kama Thomas Sankara hivi...

    I personally don't see the reform suggested by "Anonymous" happening in the next 2-5 years. Ishu ya Mgombea Binafsi imepigwa chini, na sidhani kama SISIEM watakubali kutengeneza Katiba mpya kirahisi-rahisi; although we desperately need it.

  11. @Anonymous. Food for thought, mshikaji. I really like the suggestions for how things could be done in terms of primaries but those would only be open to party members and unfortunately i think they already have those mechanisms in place (they just corrupt them). As for the state economy and Asian Tigers and such: it's not the simple story that is put in the story books. Aside from ufukara wetu, there's reasons beyond and above good work and talent that the Tigers became the Tigers, including population density, technology transfer, a little love from America during the Cold War to counter the communist threat amongst other things. Again, not a comparison to be made superficially even if that's become standard practice. But you are right, what is it about our way of doing business that is so perverse we don't service the local market very well? Sijui mkono wa mtu... we've had an economic planning department in govt for the longest to support the command economy model, not much success. Worth thinking about/examining both the economic and political architecture.

    @Steve: Benevolent dictators are so popular here :) I guess we really are tired of a permissive democracy. All I can say is that once you raise the word "dictator" the benevolent part is not only fleeting it is by no means guaranteed and always a step on the road to perdition. But in this view I understand that I am a minority. Tena, not only has mgombea binafsi been rejected, just this week the government got all in everyone's face about constitutional reform. Wakijisahau they really go for gold.


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