Thursday, August 23, 2012

Think Out Loud: An Online Experiment

Folks, life dealt me a bit of a bad hand about ten days ago which means that I am currently confined to the couch/bed until I can heal some broken bones. I had all these plans to spend the time thinking and writing and being productive- because that's what Capricorns do, obsess about work- but this hasn't materialized. Thing is, having learned the hard way that sometimes life wants you to stop and change directions, I listened this morning to The Quietness and It said to me: "Hey, blogging is about dialogue, right?" Right..." I answered. "Well then," said That Inner Voice Which Sounds A Lot Like Morgan Freeman*, "Stop being a one-woman showboat and try to get some dialogue rolling why don't you?"


As I said on Mgahawa** this past weekend, one of the challenges of blogging is the near-lack of reaction or feedback from the readership- which makes the dialogue aspect of this work somewhat one-sided. I have had about four years to think on this issue and I understand some of the limitations. Some of them are mine, most assuredly: blogging in Engrish-is-not-Home isn't conducive to a broad discussion in Bongo. That said, this blog has benefited immensely from those who have reached out and written or reached out and spoken on various topics covered herein***.

So I would like to try something with your help, folks. I want to throw a question out there for you to answer whichever way you want to do it. It's a question whose answers might touch on issues of technology or globalization or policy or even political ideology. Email, video, graphics, audiofile, fingerpainting, anything is allowed. I will even put up a polling thingy on the right side of the blog for the week's experimental question. You can use the comments section or you can email me direct at elsieeyakuze at gmail dot com with instructions (do you want to be edited or not, posted or not, that kind of thing). Let's see how this goes, eh?

I have free speech in mind. To bring up Mgahawa again, one of the questions Omar posed was whether or not we should explore a way to control how people enter public dialogues online. This was particularly relevant in the Olympics this year, and affected the performance and in some cases the careers of several athletes. I want to hear from you: should we or should we not censor or attempt to control for the quality of public dialogues online using popular platforms?

*Listen, if you're going to hear voices in your head you can do worse than Morgan Freeman. And before you ask, my CT scan came out clear. :)

** A weekly program hosted by Omar Mohamed who is (finally!) on his way to becoming the broadcaster the universe intended him to be. Check it out, it's a good show.

*** Oh ye Facebook stalkers, you orators, you email correspondents of note whom I have so underserved: can I please, pretty please, post some of your excellent, humorous and thought-provoking musings on the blog? Please write. You know you want to.

The Weekly Sneak: Resource Schmeesource

For the first time in over one hundred and fifty something weeks, I missed my column deadline in the EA. I wish I could blame it on my bad karma, but it wasn't even that. It was a technical glitch- thanks, Gmail- compounded by a whole 24 hours spent offline. Perfect record: gone, just like that. But as my very nice editor pointed out: it buys me a week off, so, like, chill. Anyways, coming to an East African near you next week is this week's offering:

"Territorial disputes are nearly as boring to keep track of as footballers' careers, but I tried patriotically to have some – admittedly limited- interest in this particular one. The story that is emerging smacks to me of colonial baggage, avarice and no small amount of military restlessness. Even as I am of a mind to scoff at the thought of boys in uniform and their toys in matching camouflage getting excited about mud-wrestling over invisible lines, I am aware that there is a seriousness to these matters that should never be disregarded. Land is becoming a surprisingly valuable commodity in Tanzania, appreciating with every prospector who comes to scratch and sniff at what useful things might be lurking beneath."

If you've been keeping even half an eye on the regional news you'll have noticed that East Africa in general and Tanzania in particular is brimming with natural resources of all kinds. Oh, frabjous day, callooh, callay. Let me explain my disinterest thusly: resource curse. Stuff underground, especially in Africa, is usually a precursor to massive amounts of misery.

Take Tanzania, for example. If I thought there was even an inkling of a chance that those in public service were capable of engineering contracts that would squeeze every penny's worth out of our natural resources for the good of the collective, I'd say dig that stuff up right now (in an environmentally friendly way, of course). We could use our mineral wealth to jump start all kinds of development projects that would drive us into a glorious near-future. I might despise Dubai's tacky parvenu ostentation and Saudi Arabia's neanderthal gender politics BUT I do admire how the Arab nations transformed from nomadic desert tribes to ridiculously wealthy citizenry in the blink of a petroleum discovery. And let's not forget: they gave us Al Jazeera.

But our truth is that present day Tanzanian politicians lack the wherewithal to master our potential for the greater good. The political will is just about nil, and I don't doubt for a second that any and all can be bought by local and international "investors" for a couple thousand dollars, maybe a couple of million. Those that can't be bought... aren't anywhere near the wheeling and dealing, now are they? We're doomed by the petty hungers and limited ambitions of the men and women in short-sleeved suits.

And so I see two things coming out of our resource wealth in the near future. First, it will engender opportunistic greed in our friends and neighbors such as the Malawi debacle has shown. If in doubt, ask the Congolese how that mess works out. Secondly, may I drw your attention to the platinum miners in South Africa who have been thoroughly done over by their own police force for getting in the way of vested interests. Cautionary tale? Sure. It's not like Barrick has managed yet to quell for good the rumors of their malfeasance here in Tanzania. But let's not forget that for such gross inhumanities to take place the responsible government must be complicit. And ours is a government just writhing with excitement at the thought of being complicit, given the right price...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Vodacom Awards, The Blowback, Some Thoughts.

You'll notice I have put up the badge for the Vodacom Award for Digital Excellence right there on the right. Early days, so there's nothing to report with regards to the Fellowship on my side. Instead may I offer you some coverage from other sources:

1. The press release about the Fellows and the Awards.
2. The criteria on which Fellows were judged.
3. Some sweet love from a fellow stakeholder in the industry, because this is Tanzania and no event would be complete without it. My favorite passage:
"Kwangu mimi, utoaji wa tuzo hizi, umekuwa ni mwendelezo wa usanii ambao umekuwa ukifanywa na kampuni hii katika kuhakikisha kuwa wanatumia udhaifu wa kisheria, weledi na mshikamano baina ya waandishi wa habari wa mtandaoni, kujinufaisha zaidi wao badala ya kuwanufaisha wanahabari hawa ambao ni wazi wamekuwa wakiwafanyia kazi kubwa sana."


I mean, I understand some of the frustration. Not only was this not a popular award (it did not involve a voting mechanism that included a general public), it wasn't transparent (scoring was done by a shadowy cabal of experts in the field. They did not include the usual suspects since the usual suspects were probably eligible for the Fellowship, I suppose). Not to mention the diversity represented therein. But here's the trick: though the word 'Award' is used, this is in fact a Fellowship. Whole different ballgame.

While we're on the subject, a few people have raised the fact that there already exists a Tanzania Blog Awards. Why didn't Vodacom just sponsor that initiative instead of creating 'duplication?' Simple- they're different kinds of initiatives and hardly mutually exclusive. Perhaps they will merge in the future. I doubt it, corporations love their branding monopolies :) Perhaps Tigo or Airtel will creep up on the Bloggers' Award- which, incidentally, is driven by a nomination/voting mechanism. You can find the 2012 winners right here.

My concern is that there is an unnecessary separation between the English and the Kiswahili blogospheres, which is a shame as we could do so much more in a collaborative mindset. So far the Dar Bloggers' Circle hasn't been able to quite address this challenge to anyone's satisfaction, in spite of Biche's best efforts- and she's put a lot of excellent hard work into this. Suggestions warmly welcome, in the spirit of collective power. Let's make social media work for us, people. Kazi njema.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Weekly Sneak: George Orwell Was Visionary

There are things that we're good at in Tanzania. Efficient administration isn't one of those things. For all the time we've had government, it has been on a slow downward spiral of decay into Byzantine inscrutability and chaos. Which is why Jay Kay looked so damn good about eight years ago. He was a Modern Man! He'd bring us the future, things would work, the economy would grow. Ari Mpya, Nguvu Mpya, Whatever Else Mpya. We were going to emerge triumphant, covered in newness, modern in every sense, as slick and plastic as a flat-screen TV! 

Well. I think the last eight years speak for themselves. My particular concern, as a nationalist, is what I perceive to be the encroachment of non-Tanzanian interests in our general politics. I don't mind that my Celebrident is so xenophilic- he did spend a huge chunk of his career as Minister of Foreign Affairs. He's got that great smile, he's photogenic. If he's the posterboy for Tanzania abroad, I am not going to complain. Look at what Kenya has to work with. But then again, this is international relations. Nothing for free. Exactly what kind of attentions, relationships and interests are we attracting in return for gifting the world with Jay Kay's scintillating company?

Perhaps... National Identity Cards? Listen: Tanzania has never ever been good at keeping basic information about her citizens. Our government knows who we are, when it needs to. As a liberal, I find that charming. Less is more, as it were. So where is this coming from, this NID business? Is it, like biometric passports, another gift from the American people? Is it conveniently going to help the powers that be keep track of everyone during the elections, in case they need to apply a little suppression or retribution for disloyalty to the Grand Old Party? Probably both. Either way, it's unwelcome. George Orwell was right, and we need to be more resistant to any efforts on the part of the state(s) to monitor or control us. Totalitarianism isn't just a right-wing flavor these days:
"It may sound extreme to call the NID project totalitarian in its politics, but that's the trouble with certain 'reasonable' requests to enforce administration. This is not a reciprocal relationship request, and it gives a touch too much power to the authorities. So we get cards today, with that assurance that it's good for us. Tomorrow every person with a gun will feel quite entitled to demand identification, if for no other reason than to exercise a little petty power of their own. We're going to become increasingly rigid and racist about notions of citizenship- any non-Bantu, anyone with a funny accent or a poor grasp of Kiswahili will be targeted. It's going to give our creeping xenophobia manure on which to flourish."

A little birdie told me...

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