Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Weekly Sneak: A History That Lives

So, this is a big week in terms of submissions. How does a columnist come up with something reasonable to say on the occasion of the 50th Independence Day celebrations? I tried to find a way to talk about nationalism, though I think that in the end the execution was a little clumsy. Then the Men In Nairobi dropped me a little email last night- past deadline- to inquire if I would like to pop out a last-minute piece with a higher word count. That's when I knew that all my past blown deadlines and experience with racing the clock were preparation for moments such as these: the eleventh hour essay 0n demand.

I actually have no idea if the article is good enough to be printed or not, the Powers That Be don't divulge that kind of information but I am hopeful. With more legroom to work around a topic, I decided to try and bring the past-present-future perspective of Tanzania to life through some light personal history:

"... having spent as much time as I could this year talking to my elders from Generation Independence I have come to embrace the notion that nationalism is a very personal experience. A sense of nationalism is often inseparable from a person's history. With a surname that regularly encourages complete strangers and immigration officers to ask me if I come from Nigeria or Japan or if perhaps I am Jewish, this has been an issue that I have thought about. The answer to all of the above is a resounding No. Anyways, in order to answer the question of why it is important to celebrate fifty years of independence, sometimes it is necessary to start by answering the 'who are you' question."

I was a very poor student of history in school because I couldn't be bothered with anything non-African or that wasn't about ancient civilizations. Memorizing wars, dates and murdered European monarchs was particularly painful. It wasn't until I discovered biographies that history became interesting: it was alive, tangible, real and relatable. I don't doubt that The East African's special on Tanganyika's 50th will be full of sober, expert commentary and perhaps a little Tanzanian machismo, so I thought I'd bring things down to the grassroots. Since I don't believe in marching in lockstep or getting too corporate about what nationalism or Tanzania or even Independence means for Tanzanians, I offered a subjective piece. I hope it works.

And seriously, that joke about the Yakuza? Spare. Me. I haven't found it funny since 1995.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

TEDxDAR 2011: Bi Kidude

It is past six in the evening, I have been here since 9:00 and it has been a day well spent. Bi Kidude is weaving her way through a medley of songs and I am going to enjoy the moment.

Score! Nilimsalimia Bibi, akanikubalia picha :)

We have a habit of saying that 'mwanzo ni mgumu' or the beginning is always tough. Last year TEDxDAR was a smaller crowd sitting underneath a slightly leaky awning in Masaki. This year the crowd is bigger, the technology is techier and we're in the auditorium of the National Museum. The trick is to hang in there. Thank you to the TEDxDAR Team of organizers, volunteers, fans and attendees for doing this little thing together and helping it grow into a not so little thing.

Thank you for reading the TEDxDAR 2011 liveblogs, and hopefully you will be here in person next year. Kwa heri.

TEDxDAR 2011: Leila Sheikh

Leila Sheikh is a feminist activist who is concerned with a constituency that is rarely talked about: sex workers. I like that she's calling it a profession, framing the discussion around the challenges that people who engage in sex work face. Anyways, you can imagine that as a constituency, sex workers face a lot of barriers when it comes to talk about their jobs. There are issues of health and HIV/AIDS, issues of abuse of course, and the protection of their rights to economic justice and social justice.

The attitude in Tanzania is the obvious one: sex work is illegal and immoral. Why do we lie to ourselves like this? Shame on us, even. If sex work was so immoral and illegal, why is it that Tanzania has more sex workers than Kenya and Uganda and pray tell: who are their clients?

There are different kinds of sex workers. The voluntary sex worker who has chosen to pursue this profession exists in Tanzania too, some women see it as a way of reclaiming their bodies and pursuing something that they feel they are good at. There is the involuntary sex worker, people who have been trafficked or otherwise coerced into sex work, which is problematic. It is the second group of sex workers who tend to focus the discussion on sex work.

An audience member brought up a central question: isn't it part of the oppression of women to validate sex work? I think that it is one of those issues where sometimes one has to agree to disagree. While I understand the reluctance of sister and brother feminists about the issue of exploitation, let's not forget that some of the more extreme militants believe that all heterosexual sex is rape. I imagine they have their reasons... I align better with feminists of my generation who are sex-positive and consider sex work to be a valid choice for an individual.

TEDxDAR 2011: John Stephen Akwari

John Stephen Akwari is the man who finished who finished a marathon in spite of his injuries during the 1968 Olympics. He said 'My country did not send me to Mexico to start the race. They sent me to finish it." Just about anyone can start a race and anyone can be a winner. But to finish the world's most difficult footrace on principle, with a torn up knee? That's a whole other level of grit. We just don't make them like this anymore*.

His life makes for a good story, but I realized that the first few statements sum it up completely: one of 16 children, he was sent to school because he hated herding cattle and simply wouldn't. Stubborn kid. Look where it got him: a lifetime of sports, comptition, and the kind of feat that reminds us that once upon a time being an Olympian required something that no amount of sport science can help you with. As for the rest of his life story I am afraid it's one of those moments that can't be typed up easily. The reminiscences of a veteran sportsman and some sports history too. I think that the video of the presentation on TEDxDAR will tell the story better.

*How come everything really good seems to have happened in the 1960s anyways?

TEDxDAR 2011: Evans Rubara

Evans Rubara's presentation is about the social and environmental impact of the mining industry in Tanzania. It's going to get interesting up in here because the large-scale mining debate is a controversial one.

Mining started here in 1898 the the first gold mine opened up in Tanzania, and things have been going interestingly since then. Tanzania opened its doors to large-scale commercial mining relatively late in the game but I can't tell you the date because I was too busy editing my last post to catch the date on the slide.

Some of the issues that are synonymous with large-scale mining in Tanzania include high rates of human rights violations and environmental degradation. The slideshow included pictures of people who have been affected by drinking or bathing in the waters of the Tigithe River in North Mara. They are not pretty. I have been looking at these pictures for years now and to be honest with you the whole situation is one big grey area.

Tanzania is mineral rich, and I imagine that the mining sector is only going to grow. What Evans Rubara's said in conclusion is: whose responsibility is it to make sure that the mining sector is run well. He has a point: it is only the collusion of government and investors that has led to the trouble that the mining sector is having now. If the government chooses to act in favor of the people, there is no reason why Tanzania shouldn't benefit from an exemplary mining sector.

I am not of the opinion that we should leave our natural resources unexploited- we need to use what we have to get where we need to go. The only problem is, and isn't it always, our governance issues and corruption. If teensy little Botswana could cut a good deal with the diamond barons, surely we can handle ourselves better.

TEDxDAR: Sanaa Sana

Time for the post-lunch musical interlude. Sanaa Sana are performing a few numbers, on stage there are: three drummers, one guitarists and dancers/singers. It's all about The Beat, isn't it :)

So there's that thing about Africans having some kind of innate dancing ability. As I type this it is hard to keep from moving my body to the music, actually, which must be quite funny for the folks sitting behind me. Innate, though? Not so much. It's just a skill that, like many others, can be learned from childhood. And of course, practice only makes perfect... so never be shy. Just dance.

Dunda, dunda, dunda, eh!

TEDxDAR 2011: Bob Muchiri

Bob Muchiri's presentation is titled 'The Disneyfication of African Storytelling.' Due to an accident of timing and low blood sugar, I am simply not getting into this presentation the way that I want to. Bob is talking about his experience making a film using African storytelling, and his theories on what African storytelling actually is.

He concluded an interesting presentation with the following advice: "Take advantage of the technology we have available now cheaply. And take African filmmaking as a way to preserve the tradtition of african storytelling but to archive african stories for future generations."

Sorry folks, I will have to 'fix' this blogpost post- TEDxDAR.

TEDxDAR 2011: Let's Talk Orgasms

A nice break for the liveblogging/livetweeting crowd, we are now firmly in the taboo subtheme of TEDxDAR 2011. Warning: the linked video below contains graphic sexual talk and imagery, please do not click on it if you can't handle the subject matter. Okay. We're talking sex, or rather thinking sex as we watch Mary Roach's presentation at TED Global titled: 'Ten Things You Didn't Know About Orgasm'.

You know, there is something very interesting about the fact that so much research on human sexuality took place in the middle of the last century in the United States. Conservative times, seriously unconventional research. Kinsey, Masters and Johnson took away the taboo element I suppose by making it 'science'. So if you want to study, talk about something really interesting but seriously taboo, do it under the cover of a PhD ;)

On a serious note, I haven't come across much research into African sexuality or much research on sex on Africa in general*. This is not good. The Fifth Annual Conference on Sexual Health and Rights is compromized by its NGO-ish obsession with the political side of the sexuality discussion, but at least it is trying. If I could catch a hold of a sexologist working on the continent, I would have these questions for them: how do the different forms of female circumcision affect a woman's sexuality? And: what was the genesis of the practice in the first place? The WHO mentions hygiene and tradition, but (no offense folks, I know you are health professionals...) I suspect that even they are lost in the woods on this one.

*That's not strictly true. If you Google the term 'African Sexuality' you'll see an interesting phenomenon. Try avoiding FGM, HIV/AIDS, jungle fever etc. I could get into why I think this is the case, but I think you know...

TEDxDAR: Susan Mashibe

"When I was four years old, I took my first flight..." and that is how Susan Mashibe fell in love with flying. She used to watch planes at Dar es Salaam International Airport back in the days when they allowed it, and she's right: there is nothing like the thrill of watching a Boeing 747 landing, or take off.

Having gone through the public education system, Susan wasn't able to learn all of the skills that she needed initially to pursue her dream... yet. Particularly poignant was her statement that she had to imagine bunsen burners in class and imagine the experiments because her school wasn't well resourced. The government had planned a teacher's life for her, but at 19 years of age she managed to go to the united States and flight school. Where she had to re-learn English to be able to communicate with the control tower. And so a step at a time Susan got close to her dream of a flying career until...

September 11 changed her dream. Her future of as an airline pilot died that day. Her student visa was expiring, the industry can't justify a foreigner when Americans don't have jobs. In 2003 she formed her company in Dar es Salaam and started her company. Her companies pay 1/2 a billion TShs or more in corporate taxes per year. She has her dream: she can fly, she can maintain aircraft, she has her aviation company. Now it is time to give back.

Susan talked about philanthropy, the practical kind, and her practice is to make sure that she supports the education sector through voluntarism at ward-level schools. I just want to note that there is a wave of quiet philanthropy that's becoming part of Vanessa's lifestyle- sometimes redistribution isn't material. When asked about ATCL, Susan answered that 'things started going wrong when we let politics determine the welfare of our country.' I love that statement.

TEDxDAR 2011: Richard Mabala

Richard Mabala started by asking for one minute of silence in memory of Imagination which died in our education system several years ago. At which point of course we all clapped, of course. His presentation kicked off with a story about a lady who goes to Einstein and tells him: I want my child to be like you, what should I give him to read? Einstein said fairytales. She replies: what more? And Einstein says again: Fairytales. And so on and so forth. Einstein's point was, how can you imagine a new physics or a new anything if you don't have imagination?

True confession: the first Smartphone I ever got blew my mind because it had brought a lifelong fantasy to life for me. Ever watched Star Trek? Remember how Starship crew could just tap on their badge and their communicator would go on and they could talk to anybody? And how about those portable gadgets they used to carry around that told them everything they needed to know about everything? Got one of those too, mine's an Apple. From Leonardo's drawings to the cramped seating in Economy Class of any airline- imagination and elbow grease. From scrap metal to a home-made wind turbine: creativity and elbow grease. Making the future what we want it to be: imagination and elbow grease...

Which is why I was sad to hear Richard Mabala quote Mwalimu as saying that "Education is the transmission of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next." For a teacher, Mwalimu did have his moments of intellectual conservatism that could be quite disappointing. And yet ideas can linger past their sell-by date and we are stuck with a public education system that is decent on paper but quite atrocious in terms of delivery. My position is that if the government demands by law that parents send their children to school, it should at least start with this premise: first do no harm.

The language issue: children should be taught in the language that they understand- this is an argument that professional educators have been making forever. English as a language of instruction in schools is just about killing our education system right dead. However, I want to throw a spanner in the works here and I aim this at the educators: how come we perform so poorly in our Standard VII exams? English is only introduced at Secondary School, which the majority of Tanzanians don't get to complete anyways. Lets dig deep into this education thing.

'Creativity is subversive' says Richard Mabala. It can be. There is something frighteningly God-like about the power of human imagination. I recently came across an article about Craig Venter, a man whose work has the potential to change how we think about life. The two most powerful sentence in the English language starts with two words: "What if..." Use it wisely, but use it, please.

TEDxDAR: January Makamba

January Makamba (CCM-Bumbuli) is here in his capacity as a civilian, having been strongly warned not to use the stage as a political platform and game enough to try and cope with the high-tech environment while delivering his presentation. Multitasking, eh... :)

So his talk is about the amenities of life. He kicked off the meaty bit of the presentation with a slide that only had one word on it: Sameness. His idea is that although there is a wealth of diversity amongst people, there is a sameness that we should be embracing. I am listening with a skeptical ear until I realize that January is going to talk demographics. The set-up is this: he contrasts Zawadi with Vanessa...

The typical Tanzanian, aka Mtanzania wa Kawaida, he named Zawadi: female, 17, rarely eats meat or fish, walks almost everywhere, no mobile phone, born in a family of seven people, first sex at 17.5 yrs, married at 19, her husband will be 5 yrs older, first child at 19.5, last child at 36 yrs, lives in rural area, works on the farm. How does her life compare with yours? Good question for a TEDxDAR audience.

We are Vanessa, in the top 20% bracket of income earners: assured of university, living in 4 bedroom houses, drinking bottled water, driving to most places, 78% chance of employment, more than one mobile phone/smartphone, first intercourse 18.5, first marriage 23 yrs, finish university at 21, husband 26 yrs, first child at 23 yrs, last child at 32 yrs. Both Zawadi and Vanessa get married pregnant (zawadi 3 months, vanessa 5+). Number of children: more for Zawadi, fewer for Vanessa. However, in terms of power consumption, the pattern falls apart... our energy consumption is erratic, cannot be entirely determined by income bracket. And so on and so forth, January contrasted the top 20% with the remaining 80% to challenge our perceptions and thinking about how our country is structured.

The Question: what would it take for Zawadi to live the same lifestyle as Vanessa? On the consumption side, here are just a few data: by 2050 72% of tanzanians will have water problems... Zawadi's income would need to increase x6. For Zawadi to eat meat we would have to slaughter 7 million cows a year- the current national herd numbers roughly 15 million. Electricity consumption would have to increase x28. The list goes on. But here is something to challenge your thinking: the Hadzabe eat better than the average Tanzanian, and enjoy a better quality of life in many ways. Is it that Zawadi should be aspiring to Vanessa's lifestyle, or should Vanessa and Zawadi maybe learn something from the Hadzabe?

January's presentation used data from the Demographic and Health Survey of 2010. It is available on the NBS website, the report was launched a few months ago and apparently makes for riveting reading.

As a final point, Nadeem asked January: 'What can we, the Vanessas of Tanzania, do to improve the quality of life of all the Zawadis?' I think that the answer depends on a person's politics. In that vein, I am going to try and get a bit of a Twitter argument going with Shurufu kicking around some ideological perspectives. Let's see if that works...

TEDxDAR 2011: Msafiri Mzawose

Talking about culture now: Msafiri Zawose is a musician from a family of musicians, at least a second generation performer himself. I am listening to his take on the history of culture in Tanzania, stating that under Nyerere culture was supported by the state. Especially traditional music. His father, Hukwe Zawose, was a world-reknowned musician who had many recordings, he was also one of the first musicians to teach traditional music at the Bagamoyo School of Arts. Hukwe Zawose passed away in 2003, but as part of his legacy he left behind 18 children- some of whom have followed in his footsteps.

I actually got to see Msafiri Zawose perform with some other family members at a Pen&Mic event, and his music is lovely. He pointed out that music is dynamic when asked how he differed from his father, in that it keeps up with the times without necessarily departing from its roots. Currently traditional forms of art including music are struggling, in large part because the government hasn't been interested in traditional arts since Nyerere gave up the throne.

It has to be said: he has a point. We're at the National Museum and I can't claim with any honesty that the government has put much effort into curating what few displays it has. There is that sense hanging about the air of- this is nice... but it could be so much bigger and better if somebody actually cared. However, Msafiri's observations have raised a question: would it be possible to stimulate some kind of commercial interest in traditional music? Can consumers, in this particular case, bring Zinjanthropus back to life?

Excuse me now, Msafiri is playing a song about modern life accompanying himself on the illimba and I want to really get into those Gogo harmonies. Familiar as they are, it's a hard sound to hum along to, and try as I might I can't get that ka-inbetween beat down...

TEDxDAR: Erasto Mpemba

During the Roland's talk about renewable energy he mentioned William Kwamkwamba, the boy who harnessed the wind using a little brain power and whatever was at hand. Which was a nice set up for the talk by Erasto Mpemba who recounted how he found out in Form One through a little observation that warm water or warm liquid freezes better than cold liquid. It is a good tale of a curious boy who was a natural scientist, and the challenges that he faced getting his discovery taken seriously. He finally got published in the American Journal of Physics in 1969. It is called the Mpemba Effect. Researchers are still trying to figure out the 'why' of it.

Every so often the issue of intellectual productivity comes up. In traditional measures of intellectual productivity, for example the number of peer-reviewed journal articles published per country- Tanzania does not perform well. Somehow I don't think that this necessarily reflects what is going on, or not going on, in the sciences locally. There are quite a number of academics and scientist lurking around quietly or working overseas. Where the challenge seems to lie is in recognizing the utility of the intellectual resources that are available to us. If the Arts are neglected in our education system, the natural sciences are really struggling- we simply don't invest.

So to bring it back to the theme of Zinjanthropus: if we have so much natural talent hanging around, what are we going to do about it? Did we kill Zinjanthropus by gutting our education system? Can we invest in our intellectual resources, in the sciences, in our scientists?

Mr. Mpemba is currently a herbalist, having travelled the world and perhaps seeking the next discovery where his intellect leads him. He is talking about the confluence of herbalism and modern medicine, certainly an interesting field. Here is a free tip from Mr. Mpemba: if you suffer from a cranky stomach, take 6o leaves from a guava tree and boil them down. Drink up the 'tea' and you should feel better.

TEDxDAR 2011: Roland Valkenborg

'You as energy consumers have killed Zinjanthropus' - We are addicted to energy and electricity. Now this is just about my speed. Roland Valkenborg started off by pointing out that it has become normal for most of us to expect to have energy at the touch of a switch. We don't spend much time thinking about where all of this is coming from.

So naturally the electricity went off for about a minute during Roland's talk which left me split between trying to listen to him talk about renewable energy- his field is wind- and trying to get back online after I had been kicked off WiFi. And I am back just in time to say I missed the bulk of the talk but I did gather this much:

-there is an energy crisis going on globally, whether we like to admit it or not.

- renewable technologies aren't able to take care of our thirst for energy entirely, but it's an area worth developing

- look into it. conserve energy at home and think about investing in renewable forms.

On a personal note: living in Dar I am amazed that no one has really developed solar technology for the private market. Photovotaic cells on the roof of a house in Dar make a lot more sense than trying to get a Tanesco connection, but until the price comes down and the technology can do more than run one lightbulb and half a fan, what's the point. There's a challenge.

TEDxDAR 2011: Framing Ideas In the 50th Year of Independence

TEDxDAR is underway and the sponsors have been thanked. It has to be said: without the help of sponsors and all the volunteers who have given their time and skills towards this event it wouldn't happen and it wouldn't be free to attend, nor would it get online and out to the world, so much appreciation.

Nadeem Juma, our host, has kicked off the event with an introduction of the theme: 'Who Killed Zinjanthropus.' It is an ambitious theme, I think, in keeping with the idea of discussing the dynamic tensions of our living past's effects on our present, and our hopes for the future. He mentioned that the majority of Tanzanians are currently aged between 26 and 34 years of age- I believe the number is 60%+-. This is reflected in the TEDx Team of organizers and volunteers.

Whoever Killed Zinjanthropus, seems like young Tanzania is trying to rescucitate him. Karibu TEDxDAR 2011. Let's talk.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Independence, Post-Colonialism, Post-Post Colonialism and Literature

Got my hot little hands on Binyavanga Wainaina's new novel 'One Day I Will Write About This Place' and it's been plugged into the 'to read' queue. Here's an excellent podcast about the post-post colonial literature that is emerging from writers of my generation.

I think that what excites me most about this new wave in African literature is that it isn't trying to drag the carcass of the colonial discussion around in it's wake. Much of the grandiloquence that I found a bit difficult to digest in the works of akina Ngugi et al (our dear Old African Men) is disappearing. The new approach is certainly more interesting to me: female characters who are complete in themselves as opposed to being the canvas upon which some male character is trying to project his story, the mundane details of life, kitchen sink drama, realism, candor. We are products of our time and so it is satisfying to me to see African literature moving with our contemporary realities. However, there is a little fly in the ointment.

It is a sad reality that we simply don't seem to be able to support our writers through commercial success on the continent, which means that to really hit the big time you still have to make it in it in Europe and America, South Africa somewhat. This has created an interesting situation.

While chewing the fat about African literature, a friend pointed out that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's book Half of a Yellow Sun has one of the most puzzlingly superfluous characters ever created. There is a shiftless Englishman in the book who spends most of his time being confused by the political machinations around him and trying to sleep with one of the main characters who is clearly out of his league. He is a bit of a lump of unseasoned tofu, so why were we subjected to his narration? Come to think of it, isn't it interesting that the film The Last King of Scotland had us observe Iddi Amin through the eyes of a shiftless Scotsman who was confused about the political machinations around him and trying to sleep with a woman who was clearly out of his league?* This is not a motif that I detect in the books I have read from Chinese or Indian authors so far, not to mention Latin American authors. Food for thought.

Anyways, if you now feel like buying a book really cheap you are in luck! Dar es Salaam Book Week ends tomorrow but there is still time to check things out at the National Library. I believe participating booksellers are marking down prices in celebration, it is a good time to pick up local authors at crazy good prices. Happy reading.

*Ekse, give me the bad-ass women of Jacob's Cross any day! If you're going to be emotionally messy and make dubious choices, at least try to pick the millionaire in the sharp suit who lives a complex and interesting life.

TEDxDAR 2011: One Last Thing...

Here's what we've been waiting for: the Speaker line-up for TEDxDAR 2011. It is a very exciting gathering of individuals and I am very much looking forward to the presentations. But I do want to point out one speaker in particular whose presence has got me all knotted up with excitement. Bi Kidude is the stuff of legend.

At the moment I am meandering my way through Shaaban Robert's 'Wasifu wa Binti Saad' or Binti Saad's Biography, about the Taarab musician Binti Saad who mentored Bi Kidude. These women's life stories are incredible, and you can imagine that to see/experience the continuity between a literary work that is part of Kiswahili canon and the real life people who ARE the story is all kinds of mind blowing. How often is history, and literature, quite literally alive for you?

Bi Kidude is also a bit of a feminist/libertarian heroine to me, though I doubt that she would use those terms to describe herself. If I had just one quarter of the je-ne-sais-quoi this woman has, the world would be my cocktail.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

TEDxDAR 2011: Is Zinjanthropus Stuck Outside?

The final sub-theme in TEDxDAR takes the outcast by the hand: 'As the river finds its way by taking the path of least resistance, so too, uncomfortable subjects have been left out of general discussion.'

Taboos are wonderful things, often bizarre beyond belief with a hidden logic that is oddly compelling. Everything from food interdictions (why can't a woman eat fish, or eggs, or chicken?) to sexual mores (why is it alright to rob a woman of her vulva?) to physical expression (why must a woman kneel to greet a man?) to the absurd (how come women can't whistle in public?) can be governed by these seemingly arbitrary rules.

Can we talk about this? Who dares to talk about this? Find out on Saturday if you register.

TEDxDAR 2011: Did the Consumer Eat Zinjanthropus?

The third sub-theme of TEDxDAR addresses the issue of Energy in the broadest possible terms, travelling from the issue of food production and consumption through to green energy and by intimation other forms of energy such as labour, or intellectual production. The core question is:

'Could energy be the linkage between what we hope to achieve and the act of achieving it?'

And the other side of the coin:

'What happens to our land, environment and resources in the process [of producing/consuming energy].

Having finally seen the speaker lineup, I have put in my questions nice and early to January Makamba (CCM-Bumbuli) using some oh-so-convenient social media. If he has time to answer, this might provide some insight into policies and initiatives that are environmentally conscious... and hopefully friendly. Haven't registered yet? Still some space left.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

National Service!

So apparently National Service will be coming back anytime now. Anytime. So while we wait the obligatory decade for this plan to come to fruition, I thought I would play around a bit with the idea. I actually love national service and think it is a shame that it was abolished. I would have gone for it, and if it is revived I might just take a gap year to get fit and cruise around the countryside if they let non-youth volunteers in.

Dar traffic is becoming horrendous. The city is full of young people whose idea of democracy is to complain, agitate for an armed revolt and then suggest that we import Kagame to run us like a boarding school. There is no reasoning with this mix of desperation, misinformation and youthful hubris. Our politicians have lied to us about how much personal agency we have to change our society WITHOUT them. So yes: National Service gets my vote. Why not direct all that frustrated ambition and drive somewhere interesting. Coming to an East African near you:
"National Service is a good idea for one primary reason: it could be the institution that gives Tanzanian youth practical skills as well as that sense of achievement and success that comes from hard, constructive work. Let's face it, the education system is nowhere close to offering them that opportunity. In theory, schools are meritocracies: you play the game right and do well, you get rewarded. You play the game poorly, you get penalized with bad grades and dubious employment prospects. In reality, the Tanzanian public education system is a finely honed machine that is designed to destroy all belief in the relationships between hard work, success and fair play. Too often graduates are cast out into the wilderness of adult life with partial skills, and the dawning horror that these may not be enough to conquer their world."
Besides, I continue to be disenchanted with the culture of complaint so... since 'tis the season and merry and all that, I plan to spend the rest of the year being cheerful online if it kills me. Grinches, you have been warned: offline sessions please for offloading of misanthropic feelings. Sixteen days to Independence and counting...

TEDxDAR 2011: Our Governors, Ourselves

The second sub-theme for this year's TEDxDAR touches on issues of relationships and agency between individuals, society and the institutions we create to govern our lives. The question being: "What are the avenues of finding voice, articulating demands, and taking a stance against and within institutional constraints?"

I smell a political discussion brewing :) This is the good stuff, and I am so glad to see that it is framed so generally as to demand that we actually think a little about the structures of our politics and our own agency within the polity that we have built. From my perch online, it seems to me that Tanzanians have been Finding Voice in a big way in the past few years. It is getting easier and easier to be heard whether it be online, or because some reporter is polling you or interviewing you or a development worker/researcher is trying to turn you into a case study or your politician actually needs your vote and is willing to talk to you...

What are we saying, who are we saying it to, who exactly is saying it, why, and what do they hope to gain from speaking? Thinking of attending on Saturday? Registration is still open.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Coming Soon: Two Tanzanian Movies.

I wish I had more to say about the TZ movie scene to frame this post, but the truth is that I stopped bothering with it when we started taking our cues from the execrable Nollywood tradition of craptastic moviemaking. As usual, the independents* have come to save the day! Check out these two trailers:

CPU is Dar like I've never seen it shot before... dynamic, in saturated colors, with actual actors who are acting and all the good stuff that goes with competent movie making. The execution suggests that maybe this director/producer/writer team should look into making a couple of these until they hit on the Great Dar Crime Thriller. Really digging the subject matter too. Friday 25th November opening:

And then there is Mkwawa the movie. A biopic of the great Hehe chief who gave the German colonials proper grief in his hey day. Mkwawa may have been one of the great resistance generals of the early colonial period, warrior extraordinaire and peer to Shaka Zulu**. But... guns. You know? And that was that. This one opens timely on the 10th of December to give a sharp angular flavor to the celebratory energy of Independence Day:

On a personal note: it is simply not easy to get certain kinds of creative projects off the ground in this market. Whenever one comes to fruition, there is cause for celebration. So High Five: keep on trucking you gorgeous movie people! Love the arts, support your local artists.

* Arguably all TZ movies are independent since we don't really have a big studio system. I guess in this case the question is independence of creative vision...i.e. quality.

**It has been forever since Henry Cele and his granite jaw rocked the leopard skins in Shaka Zulu. Clearly we should do a lot more biopics. With historically accurate costuming.

TEDxDAR 2011: Then and Now

The first sub-theme of TEDxDAR 2011 is the tension between the past and the present. This is a subject that just keeps giving in my opinion, and a salient discussion in present-day TZ. By far my favorite question there is: how does modernity differ from development and where do they intersect? I don't think we do enough critical reflection on the distinction between modernity and development, so it will be interesting to see what emerges on Saturday.

My take is that while I can understand anyone who gets exasperated by our habit of glorifying the past- and we can really lay it on thick- we still have to dredge it up to inform our current perspectives and decisions. We also need the past to tell us who we are now and how we got here in the first place. Without that reflection, we simply can't make informed decisions. I see this affecting everything from the production and reproduction of culture to governance and how we understand our leaders' responsibilities towards us. Without that reflection, it does become difficult to distinguish between grand ideas like modernity and development. It is hard to figure out what we mean by them, or why we desire them in the first place...

Not signed up yet? Registration is still open.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Only So Much Hypocrisy, Please.

I've been sitting on a piece about governance seen from the flip side. It wasn't going anywhere for months until fellow writer Peter Muthamia- you read him in The Citizen amongst other places- suggested that I investigate why Tanzanians have so much pent up anger towards the government. That did the trick: I was inspired again. Perhaps not in the way that I suspect Peter meant, but inspired nonetheless.

Why indeed to Tanzanians have so much pent up anger towards the government? Are we really that divisible from our government to begin with? I am obsessing about citizenship and agency more and more over time. I'm thinking less and less about individuals and political personalities. I have become convinced that root of the problem lies elsewhere... so next week in the East African:
"Take the corruption issue for example. The reason we have been circling the drain on the corruption issue is that as a society we happen to endorse it. In Dar es Salaam choosing not to pay bribes to lubricate the gears of life is as radical a lifestyle choice as being a vegan non-drinker. Most of us can't quite muster the moral strength for this and have paid a little something to somebody somewhere to get the land, the car, the license, the tender, the client, the mailing list, the deal, the interview, the job, you name it. What's even worse is that far too many of us have also encouraged our politicians to steal bigger and better so that they can redistribute their wealth to us. We solicit them for church fundraisers and school fees for the orphans, for connections and wedding contributions, for “hela ya soda” and a sackful of rice all the while pretending not to know where the money might be coming from"

Pending Improvements and Other Social Media Stuff

Year's end, doing a bit of work on the blog and thinking about what to improve. I know there's a lot to do: you have been very patient with what is clearly a rather amateurish approach to graphic design and I appreciate that. As is tradition on this blog, you are cordially invited to share your thoughts as 'stakeholders'. Heh. If you have comments or suggestions please inbox me/use the comments section.

There are a few cosmetic changes for now. The Zanzibari balcony was soothing as a header, but it had to go. Now up is one of my favorite pictures of all time, a beautiful mural created by a collective of artists aged between toddlerhood and the very early double digits. I am fairly certain that it is a landscape, and the giraffe is a rather inspired depiction. Enjoy.

I also put up the Tanzania Blog Award badges that I scored this year. The fact that the TZ blog awards socmedian is possibly worse than me at design (imagine!) is an indicator that this is one seriously homegrown initiative. I am very proud of those badges, and thanks for voting if you did.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dar Es Salaam Bloggers' Circle November Meeting

I mean, it would be stupid not to announce the Dar es Salaam Bloggers Circle on the blog, right? Wednesday November 16th at Cine Club (Mikocheni, oye!) from 6:30 pm. Our convenor is the ever-patient Chick About Town and she keeps us informed and on time with a smile. The beers are cold, we don't bite very often and there is always some support, advice and networking to be had with this crew. Karibu.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

TEDxDAR 2011: The Past Is Alive

There are only ten days left until TEDxDAR 2011: "Who Killed Zinjanthropus." I am going to enjoy this one, I think. *Stepping onto soapbox* History, historicity, perspective- these things matter! Finally someone is going to talk about it on purpose. We might even avoid the dreaded "Nyerere" word. But probably not. *Stepping off soapbox.*

The biggest selling point of the TEDxDAR events for me is that they provide a non-partisan (or should I say a pan-partisan?) forum for the discussion of ideas. It's not that Ideas don't get Discussed in Bongo, but of late it has been very hard to keep these efforts from getting sucked into the vortex of partisan political agenda-setting that plagues every attempt at dialogue. So I'll be there, listening and liveblogging (I hope) and generally enjoying the fruits of Tanzanian intellectual exchange. More posts to come as I digest the four themes that have been advertized.

Just a few details for now:

1. If you haven't registered, there's still some time to do so. As free Saturday events go, there's not much better out there for people who like to talk.
2. You can still nominate speakers! I know you know someone really cool who should probably be on that podium. Get them on there.
3. The National Museum has just been through some major overhauling. Aren't you curious to see the new place? I hear there's a theater and everything... how sexy is that, huh? Yeah, you know you want to go the Museum on a Saturday. You know you do. The pickled coelacanth might still be there.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Postcolonial, and Not About To Forget It.

I was chatting with a Maasai gentleman the other day, trying to get an idea of why it is that whenever I park anywhere with Maasai security guards I get service with a huge smile and the occasional marriage proposal*. We meandered through a couple of other cultural points of information and arrived at the conclusion that surely there cannot be two tribes more inclined to grand self-regard as ours. Of course we then had to warmly congratulate each other and indulged in some mutual admiration, as one does amongst proud Africans. Imagine that: proud Africans.

Until I left the continent as a young adult I didn't even realize that the world does not revolve around Africa in general and Tanzania in particular. Imagine taking that nshomile munno attitude to a country where most people can't identify your continent on a map let alone attempt to pronounce your last name. I have never learned how to cope with assumptions of African inferiority and don't intend to, though I can tell you some hair-straightening stories about the things that people say to you when you're are African and abroad. I could tell you some real eye-rollers about development partners too. It is largely because of these experiences that I don't like to talk racial politics too often or in too much detail on the blog.

However, I work in an industry where it is impossible to get through a day without at least thinking about intercultural encounters if you're not busy having them. You can imagine that for a left-leaning Africanist obsessed with the study of power, development is irresistible. Been learning a lot over the years, not much of which can easily be expressed on paper.

It was through this lens that I observed Prince Charles's recent visit to Tanzania- a former colony and now a Commonwealth member. That's going to be the subject of next week's article in The East African. Oh, I also had to find a way to work in my utter annoyance at David Cameron for his supremely useless statements on homosexuality in Africa**.
"If we get really candid about things, the development sector is only the 'nicest' part of international relations and it is not necessarily all that nice underneath the sloganeering and the fund-raising campaigns. There is a lot of good that gets done, don't get me wrong. But there is also a lot to be suspicious of, everything from tied aid to conditionalities to hidden extractive trade all the way down to the culture of 'international' vs. 'local' staff salaries and benefits which gives rise to a shady little practice called The African Discount. Development is a heavily hierarchical industry that requires constant vigilance because of the not-so-hidden power dynamics. The attitude of gratitude has no place in these relationships, it creates freakish circumstances. Why else would a British Prime Minister get it into his head that he can tell African countries how to legislate their sexual politics and hope to get away with it?"
*Apparently I look like a Maasai woman, a compliment I won't turn down. Had a cocky young Moran offer 30 cattle for me at the entrypoint to Ngorongoro a couple of years ago, and I turned him down. What was I thinking, right?

** Clearly David doesn't Get It. This is one of those conversations we're just going to have to handle ourselves and the more he "helps" the harder it will be to have sensible dialogue with Afrochauvinists and those with religion-based opinions.

PS: gossipy social media angle- there's a Royal Channel on Youtube. No, seriously. Anyways, they have already posted some footage from the Royals visit to TZ. Let's just say there is at least one incidence of public dancing on there. :)

A little birdie told me...

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