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.