Yes, yes: I wasn't going to do any election coverage this year. But this week my street is absolutely plastered with election paraphenalia and it is to weird not to share. I observed the madness in Arusha a couple of months ago with considerable smugness, never expecting that Dar might succumb to such provincial declarations of love. How wrong was I?
Some snapshots: spotted one dude down the shop strip who usually comes across as eminently reasonable, riding his bike with a party flag awkwardly attached to the handlebar. To which the only response is: good luck with the aerodynamics on that, buddy. And then some wazee taxi drivers at the stand, awkwardly wearing brand new hats they had obviously been given for purpose? Ha! It is always amusing to see a grown man self-humiliate by wearing silly things. Don't even get me started on the arms race between Chadema and CCM flags. Incontrovertible proof that size does matter, and if she tells you otherwise she really, really loves you.
I have been hate-reading* all non-Tanzanian coverage of these elections to see if it matches up with how things feel here. It basically doesn't. Nobody writes articles about how pleasant it is to spend five minutes or more cordially disagreeing with the butcher/duka guy/hair stylist.
Nobody writes about the work it takes to keep a lid on the provocateurs, or that being 'chill' is actually a political tool not a sign of ignorance or idiocy. Want to neutralize a nuisance looking for a fight? Ignore them. If they insist, either employ humor or just play stupid. Oh, and nobody writes what they really think (know). I mean what they really, really think (know), except for a few notable agitators here and there, because why bother when so many "communications consultants" are being paid to subvert whatever truths may emerge?
The reality on the ground is simultaneously more complex and less dramatic than any media operative would wish for. Frankly, 99.9% of daily life is precisely as boring as it should be. Annoying construction noises, birthday parties, traffic jams, morally-ambiguous bosses, overpriced petrol, stray cats, screaming babies, movie nights, gossip, cable guys who just don't show up, upcountry trips, cattle, Nokia Torch (lights up your third-world!), quiet dinners, laundry days, family arguments.
With a week to go to the most hotly contested election in Tanzania so far, it makes opportunistic sense to report that things are tense and terrible and exciting. Underneath the fanfare, though, you'll mostly find a bunch of people with a penchant for excellent tailoring trying to get a good deal on a piece of fresh fish or a public hall for a wedding party. Welcome to Tanzania.
*Extreme prejudice. I am reading TZ "coverage" and I am totally judging you, international press. And there's almost nothing you can do to measure up. Yes, Kenya, this includes you. BTW, can somebody please help CNN find the Google button? There is every danger that they might label Tanzania wrong (again).