Saturday, June 8, 2013

Feeding Back the Feedback

In response to the series of articles that I wrote in the EA to stimulate debate about President the Fifth, I got a rather delightful email from a reader titled "Revolutionary?... I don't think so" And I quote:

"... after reading your last two submissions I think that you have compromised the revolutionary credentials that most Tanzanian youth wear so proudly. I cannot understand why you would take positions of certain people who declare that they do not see anyone who was fitting to replace them as head of state. How can you DISS such a large proportion of the youth which you represent with such an easy swipe when you discount anyone outside of a small clique of the current government operatives as capable of being a good president?

Please remember that you and your generation are the future of this country and the sooner you all rise up and take up this noble cause, the sooner Tanzanians will have a better life.

I put it to you that a part of your job is to inspire the youth to rise up and take their rightful positions in the society. It is not to try to perpetuate an old and tired approach. Can you just look across the border and see what is happening in the way when last did you visit your neighbors to gauge where Tz is in the scheme of things?"

Folks, that there is how to administer an ass-kicking. I loved it. 

So this week the draft of the new constitution has come out and one of the recommendations is that no one under the age of 40 should run for President- there's a bottom threshold. For the record I think there should be a top threshold as well- no one over the age of 65 should run for President either. Possibly 60. We have to keep things reasonable and a 20 year threshold gives hopefuls two decades to work the magic of their ambition.

As for 2015: nope, still not keen for a greenhorn to inherit our current mess. But a recent discussion with My Lady of the Considered Smiles I was offered another potential candidate who could be absolutely perfect for a Caretaker President who could manage a solid transition. So now there's three folks I am personally interested in. Gotta go do my homework on the new candidate. Bonus: finally, a female candidate to- possibly- get excited about :)

As for the neighbors and what they can teach us about how we should run this our fair land*: Burundi? No comment. Rwanda? Even less comment, especially at this delicate time when Tanzanians are practicing diplomatic restraint in the face of a storm in the aftermath of recent comments made by Jay Kay. Let's see...hmm, Malawi? Nah. Mozambique? Interesting, I like what little i have seen of the opposition's work. Zambia? Um. I need to do my research. Uganda? You're joking, right? I mean, definitely admiring of the citizenry but that political set up is ridiculous. Sorry. Kenya? If we ignore the glaring problems of hereditary power with hints of monarchism, inequality and exploitation issues, pathological tribalism... sure. That vetting thing they're doing with public officials? Very nice. We could do with that. And the deliver-or-starve work ethic has its benefits. 

Oh, wait. Did I leave out the Democratic Republic of Congo? Enough said. 

*You know, nobody tries to "understand" or "predict" Canada by studying Mexico. African comparative politics? Not my favorite thing kabisaaaaaa. We're not that simple, we should not be that simplified. 


  1. Oh, don't know how I missed this one!

    Yes, I do remember you saying you are not a fan of comparative Africanology :)

    I think I see where you are coming from but I think you take it to the extreme sometimes!

    A good comparison can be enlightening and highlight strengths and weaknesses. This only works if the things being compared are similar enough of course!

  2. Heh. Maybe I do, take it to extremes. One continent. Fifty odd polities. Two major religions, infinite minor ones and so much diversity that frankly even cataloguing our languages is a Herculean task. Phenotype, genotype, terrains, cultures, histories and histories and histories upon histories. Who came when, where, what did they eat, grow, what do they believe in, how is that shaping today's reality? Our richness is enormous, and empiricism is reductive- it can't deal with complexity. A good comparison can be a thing of beauty, but it has to be done right. Haven't Africans been generalized enough already?

  3. Aaah, but if you are talking about Sub-Saharan Africa then you are basically talking about Bantu people and then there are plenty of similarities including at the linguistic level. Even TMR has to admit that kiHaya, kiNyarwanda and kiNyankole are extremely similar just to take an example close to home.

    So yes I agree a very broad brushed empirical analysis which doesn't take into account that one country had the Biafra War and another one had the Arusha Declaration will be lacking. But I can tell you dear TMR that when I visited Accra last December, my overwhelming impression was how how so similar it was to Dar. The people, the architecture, the weather, the culture, the feeling. It just felt like I was in a bigger, more developed, better English speaking version of Dar with far fewer nice beaches or tourism industry (nice beaches, socialism and somewhat less tribalism are the only 3 aspects I can think of in which we definitely beat Ghana! :-))

    So as far as what your correspondent was suggesting, from Ghana we can look at how they went from a one party state to a fairly competitive multiparty democracy. Just because our countries are different doesn't mean there aren't some ideas we can pick from them.

    But it seems you're suggesting that since Africans shouldn't be generalized there is no point in looking at or comparing our indices, policies or outcomes with those of any other country. That because of our "enormous richness" we should only argue from our own experience without any reference to comparative data. Then I have to say dear madam, on behalf of empiricists everywhere, you have gone a step too far! :-)

  4. @Dr.Bob: hrrrrm. that's my deep rumble of satisfaction at the sight of a decent fight which i might lose. let's go point by point:
    1. it is true that much of SSA is populated by Bantu, but not all. There are smaller populations of indigenous and other folks who occupied the lands before the bantu migration from west africa worth noting and respecting. Your example of the Lake Zone is a good one- for all that the nations you describe have similarities there are also differences and influences from other cultures. these subtleties are not worth overlooking in a quest for homogenization.
    2. I'm glad you liked Accra. :) Maybe visit Mauritania next, tell me how that fits?
    3. Um, learning from others is what what we do anyways- who has leapfrogged as much as a modern african polity trying to fit into the narrow confines of modernity? that said, learning is not the same as emulating. and Ghana's trajectory cannot predict ours, even if similarities exist. I am a big fan of indigenizing external concepts so that they fit right.
    4. Precision matters. I am saying that stop trying to figure out any EA country based on your knowledge of another one. Maybe one day I will tell you the stories of all the horrors that get perpetrated with oversimplifications like that. Like teaching pastoralists how to fish. I am amused that you think i dismiss empiricism- what we should really have a throw down about is methodologies for studying and trying to predict human societies. even physicists, sir, have the humility to admit: we don't know it all.


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