So there I was last Sunday surfing the airwaves when I came across Wacha Masihara by accident. They were faux-news covering a surprise visit by Minister for Transport Harrison Mwakyembe on some unsuspecting TRA employees. It was the most welcome, upbeat, politically-incorrect fun I have had since Ze Komedy lost their mojo. Interestingly enough, it is funded by a number of civil-society organizations.
Satirical media's sanitary effect on politics is a global phenomenon that's been building up for years. Does this stuff work here though? Will we be able to talk, laugh, debate and negotiate our way to the well-run together-forever Tanzania of our desires? We seem to be building, slowly but surely, a relatively healthy culture of free speech supported by increasingly smart media. And making the funny is a large part of it. To get all Afrocentric on you for a second, this might just be a reclaiming of a fairly common social cohesion technique that survived from precolonial times and got used to great effect immediately after independence: utani*.
The current free speech/governance/accountability 'upgrade' is being driven by a surprising relationship between youthful (not necessarily young) media, celebrities, savvy politicians and the few public servants who can stomach it. After years of being the reprobates, comedians and cartoonists and radio presenters and musicians have become opinion leaders with a mandate not only to access our leaders, but to mediate our relationship with them. That's lot of power to put in the hands of the creative misfits from the back of the classroom, but I feel so much more comfortable with them than the suits.
Thanks to them, fun is entrenching itself firmly in our public culture. It's also squeezing the hot air out of our hierarchies and retraining us all as we transition away from the chauvinism of Ndio Mzee culture. Too much serious isn't just boring, it is a political liability. I have always claimed that we have a responsive political structure in Tanzania, and that it is possible for change to be driven from the bottom upwards. Sure: this isn't the mass movement with all the sturm und drang of an Arab Spring, but it's nothing to scoff at either. Oh, wait it is. :)
As 2015 inches towards us at a snail's pace, I get increasingly obsessed by this notion that there is a growing divide between the politicians who get this, and those who don't. When hanging out with fellow political junkies we usually play at least one round of a popular game: predict who President Number Five is going to be. It is a lot easier to figure out who won't be making it to Ikulu than who will, but I think that the ability to navigate an open society is key. I get shouted down by those who are betting that Big Fat Corruption and/or CCM factionalism is going to trump all that. Is it too soon to start a betting pool?
Anyways, it's not all faux news bulletins and call-in radio shows this past month. Here's a couple of other media things that caught my attention:
1. Saumu Mwalimu's work in The Citizen, like this piece. She's got some of that good je ne sais quoi going on. I am reading her.
2. Dunia ni Duara's post on the ins and outs of social media, hashtags and crises. Because it needed to be said.
3. AK's post this week on Vijana FM. Now when someone asks me about social media uptake and numbers and Tanzania and context and stuff, I have a link to refer them to :)
4. Thanks Zitto for making us all secretly wish our MPs would get together and make a We Are The World style 'look how cool my region is' music video. Even if I can already hear the jokes about the Kagera version...
*Utani translates as teasing but the concept is broader. There's flirtation and charisma and camaraderie in there, disarmament, comedic relief. It even shows up in formal applications in unusual settings like funerals though that practice is dying out.