Thursday, February 17, 2011

39 Hits Today...

One of my trackers is registering nearly forty hits today, and I can imagine why- the bombs. I figure, somebody out there wants to know what's up, and nothing sells quite like news of an African country shooting itself in the foot. Okay. Yesterday and today's powercuts have given me lots of time to think about what to say, so here goes:

1. I don't really want to wade into this issue in a political way. But I think that it does provide a wonderful lens through which to examine ideas of accountability, governance, authority and standing armed forces. A FB friend was calling for the resignation of somebody over something- I personally find such unfocused statements tedious beyond belief. This is a very specific issue: an officer, in uniform, was in charge of making sure that ammunitions would not go off willy-nilly and decimate a residential area- not to mention emptying out the country's largest arms depot. This officer, and a number of this officer's superiors, are the ones who need to be court-martialled, dismissed without honor and subsequently sued to within an inch of their lives. Oh, and the army should spend a little time doing hard labour rebuilding that which they have broken.

2. For a "peaceful" country, Tanzania's army is quite professional. I know, it doesn't really seem that way, but it is. The veil of secrecy that protects our armed forces from public scrutiny is supported by legislation* but if you are industrious enough you can find information on the intertubes about the size, composition, professionalism and, uh, hardware of our armed forces. So how does an otherwise disciplined army SNAFU not the once, but the twice, in the primate city? Worth a little think, that. Kulikoni...

3. I am interested to see what will be done to compensate civilians whose lives and properties were lost/damaged in these blasts. The complication? How many of these settlements were legal, and can they produce the paperwork to prove it?

4. Lost revenue: it's like this particular administration has a perverse inclination to bugger up everything they have going for them. Power's out. Water supply is dodgy. Politicians are toxic. And now the (usually dependable) army is coming across flakier than a Fairy Delights chapati? I mean, seriously- you guys broke the airport? Wow. Like... how?

5. Some notes on media: since the aforementioned government is criminally overwhelmed by the day to day complexities of doing its job, and is essentially incapable of providing electricity**, mass communication in a time of crisis was compromised. Broadcast and the internet came through for the general population because of one thing, and one thing only: mobile phones. 3G phones allowed some of us to access the internets, and our service providers did a great job (at least mine did) of sending public announcements updating customers of the situation. Best update tool: radio-enable handsets. I don't wanna product-name-drop, but there is a company that is making affordable and dependable mobile phones and merchandise for the African market that come through time and time again. Now that's just good business sense.

In the next few days, the international press will latch onto this (I exaggerate- only 17 African lives lost means that maybe we'll last until tomorrow in the news cycle. Remember- the Middle East is revolting which is so much more exciting) and we will have plenty of debates about who is to blame, why Kikwete/Mwinyi/Mwamunyange/Pinda/Nemesis of Choice should resign, lots of bemoaning about how terrible everything is about Tanzania (please feel free to emigrate. May I suggest the DRC?) and perhaps Chadema will walk out of parliament again in protest***.

For those who are more constructively inclined: there have been many heartfelt calls for donations: blood, clothing, food etc. for those who have been affected by this disaster. Please act as your conscience dictates. And do spare a moment of thought for the children, and their families, who have lost so much in the past 48 hours.

* Something about national security. Last time a newspaper tried to print our defense budget, it got slapped on the wrists rather strongly by the military. TIA: never f*ck with the guys with the guns. It really is just that simple.

** I was just musing the other day on the utility of this particular administration. While I acknowledge that it inherited a number of problems, I am surprised by how it has managed to actually make the country worse in the course of seven years. Which begs the question, is the CCM of 2o11 the same CCM of 197-odd? And if not, why are the young turks so eager to claim achievements of the past that they had no hand in? Hm.

***Yup, go on. Show us them backsides. Very effective political tool that, the displaying of your big round African heritages.


  1. Sometime ago we imported expired milk and put our kids lives in danger. Now we cant get rid of expired ammo? I wonder if we should declare our government expired too!

  2. Heh. Well, I do think that there's a number of our leaders who are past their sell-by date. Overripe. Fermenting. Rotten to the core. Decayed. I could go on...

  3. On the resignation issue, are you saying that if the call was more focused you would support it? While I don't think the spectacle of a politician being scape-goated for some public relations calamity is any more edifying than the defenestration of some junior functionary / army officer (and can lead to some skewed policy making) I do think it has a lot of value in establishing a culture of responsibility. By which I mean responsibility not just for errors of commission but for errors of omission too. In this case there had been an explosion at a munitions dump just 18 months ago. You really have to ask yourself, therefore, what has the defence minister(s?) been up to in the meantime? If they had much (political) sense they'd surely have been personally touring every munitions dump in the country and firing the officer in charge of any which didn't come up to scrap. This is something politicians are supposed to be good at - responding to the public mood.

    This second explosion wasn't just embarrassing for the country: 20+ people died, and many more were injured and/or made homeless. Someone very senior contritely falling on their metaphorical sword seems about the least the victims deserve.

  4. Ah, Steve- scratched a fighting itch there, you did. If the call was more focused, I would support it: what have Mwinyi and Mwamunyange been doing of late? Good question. Specifically Mwamunyange. Mwinyi is a political appointment and as such might not be privy to much of the day-to-day humdrum armed forces stuff. But this is speculation- the veil of secrecy doesn't exactly allow us to know what our Ministers of Defense get up to Monday through Friday.

    BTW- I love the word defenestration. Love it. Gives me a mental image every time.

    Accountability? Political sense? Responding to the public mood? Are we talking about Tanzanian public servants here?

    Twenty people died, and hundreds of children were separated from their families. What the hell are arms depots doing in heavily populated areas of Dar es Salaam to begin with? I am not being flip- I'm furious. But I also know that calling for resignations involves more theatrics than pragmatism.

    I will say this: show me a resignation that has stuck in this administration. Lowassa is back after his ignominious demise. Chenge is still an MP and fat cat, Dowans is sucking our blood as I type. We're saddled with old compromised politicians and creating new ones with every election. We, the Tanzanian voting pubic, love our evil b*st*rds. What is the vocal corner really going to do against millions who will trade a voter's card for a khanga, in a society where accountability is a dirty word?

    Nah, buddy. If we let these leaders of ours "resign", they either die mysteriously fast like Ditopile, or re-emerge stronger than ever. I'd much rather have them where we can keep an eye on them until the exorcist can be found.

  5. Out of curiosity*, do you guys ever wonder if some people are thinking "Let's just go EGYPT on them"?

    Jay Kay Oyeeee!

    *I am just saying...

  6. ditto Steve. I agree with you Elsie, that simply pointing wayward middle fingers at the system is unproductive, however 'bahati mbaya' simply doesn't cut it. Negligence needs to be dealt with.

    I don't think it's just political posturing or unfocused anger that is pushing for these calls of resignation. The situation in gongo la mboto is simply a microcosm of a larger problem at hand. Accountability and governance isn't just donor-ingratiating jargon. Yes, a resignation or dismantling of the government structure may not do much good, but what is the alternative. There is more at stake here then simply a power shift, this may be an opportunity to cultivate a culture of responsibility and engagement rather than complicity, armchair activism and rhetorical spin.


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