Saturday, January 30, 2010

Arm Chair Politics: the aid question.

"If you had to choose between getting rid of all the Development Partners in say five years time, or keeping the relationship as it is and continuing to receive aid, what would you do?" I was asked this last night, after a long and candid conversation about aid, development, politics and personal agendas. I was a few glasses into my membership in the Red Wine Political Party (In Vino Veritas), so the question triggered a powerful fantasy- you know the one about having a real chance to bring change?

I said that I would choose the first option, if in those five years I was able to make up the aid deficit through bi and multi-lateral trade agreements that favored Tanzania, increased foreign direct investment, internal trade green industrialization, smart agriculture, a booming services sector, a small but solid base of mining/oil. And high-quality low-volume tourism.

What would you have said?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Know your Em-Pee!

There is a general election coming up and if I can get my act together, I might just get to vote for the first time in my life. I am excited- for the past two elections the establishment has told overseas Tanzanians that it doesn't have enough money to help meet their democratic right to vote. The same government that orders fleets of Toyota Land Cruisers as often as I get a haircut. Whatever. I have been casting around for a party to support at the ballot (this is not going well) and I am keeping an ear out for news that independent candidates will be allowed (this is not going well either)>.

As part of my preparation, I skimmed the intertubes for news of my MP. A little late in the game, but like many I find that my legislator is of no discernible use to me outside of election years. Also, I live in Kawe which is full of disinterested middle class folks- too busy running businesses, "paying" taxes and creating employment, too suspicious of politicians, too few of us anyways. Since 'rich' constituencies are practically self-running, I can keep my opinion of Ms. Mlaki to myself. For the upcoming elections, it is going to be tough hitting the right note: a) support a female or feminist candidate without strengthening the CCM stranglehold, b) don't sell the vote for a bag of rice or t-shirt or pair of khanga either, but negotiate for a park/public school library/regular road maintenance, c) back an intelligent, committed and outspoken leader who shows up to Bunge sessions and reads Bills before they get discussed. We're all entitled to dream.

Every five years the constitutional landscape seems to change, I guess in keeping with the population growth and urbanization trends. Dar es Salaam is about to become an even bigger political presence in Bunge> than it already is, which is fine considering we are roughly 10% of the population. I can't wait to see what the political parties are going to cough up for Kawe in particular and greater Dar es Salaam in general. What's your voting plan*?

*Yeah, and good luck to the diaspora. Your government might just let you vote, but I wouldn't hold my breath... too many VXs to buy for the campaign trail this year.

A few new links

I have finally gotten around to updating the Blog Tanzania! blogroll, with an emphasis on the female bloggers. Don't worry, its not all estrogen up in there, but having toured the male bloggers' blogrolls I did notice that gender-based selectivity is the norm. Who am I to disagree?

There is some mild food porn, plenty of media/political commentary and one blogger who has a visual narrative thing going on. Sarah Markes' newborn Dar Sketches is the right link for you writers living in Dar es Salaam- mentioned her book project in this post. The blogsearch continues.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The obvious fate of unattended cookies

I got some awesome, home-made cookies yesterday. They were baked by a budding Independent Womyn who charged me TShs 8400 for the pleasure, and hand-delivered in homely tupperware with a hand-written thank-you note taped to the lid. Now that's what I call customer service. Sweet, chocolate chip cookies with the fragrant brown-sugar smell of freshly baked goodness. You know, heart-felt cookies? Nothing in the world tastes like heart-felt cookies. I am not good at maths but: I got twelve cookies and resold two (300 TShs mark-up) for beer money. I gave away one cookie willingly, and one cookie unwillingly and ate one. Twelve minus five is seven, but I got home with only four freshly-baked cookies...

When I was Alma's age, I was three years away from selling cigarettes in the dormitories at my high -school to make enough money to afford the toasted sandwiches and hot chocolate that the boys sold us illegally from downstairs. Alma's cookies are not that kind of contraband, they are nice-girl cookies, everything-I-wish-I-could-have-been cookies, and one of my (perpetually hungry) colleagues stole three of them. On the other hand, it took over six months for someone to help themselves to the lonely peppermint teabag that used to live on the corner of my desk. Mxiiiiii!

Instant classic: the erro alla plobrem strikes again...

Some timely political humor. I can only hope that this is how the election observers are going to be greeted at the airport when the time comes. The only valid response, really, is a very firm "Yes." Heh.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

M. G. Vassanji was in Dar es Salaam, and he said the same thing as Yoda

I was lucky enough to meet and chat with the award-winning author M G Vassanji over the weekend during an event organized by the Soma Book Cafe. It is always fascinating to meet successful artists and get a sense of the individual behind the creative work. I found Dr. Vassanji to be quiet, thoughtful and sensitive- and very patient with some of our clumsier questions such as "Is this your first visit to Tanzania?" And although I have heard this sentiment before, Dr. Vassanji's advice to aspiring writers resonated: just do it. That's the achievement worth working towards.

Flying back from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam yesterday was an experience. As we sat on the tarmac in the Coastal Aviation puddle jumper- barebones conveyance, no air conditioning in a sardine can with about fifteen passengers- we were delayed for nearly an hour because a Boeing that was meant to take off before us couldn't leave due to debris on the runway. The Zanzibar airport authorities were supposed to have taken care of the problem two hours ago. Instead, we got treated to the French accents of the Boeing pilot declaring: "Welcome to Zanzibaaarrr, welcome to 'ell" over the radio. Its official: Hell is a gorgeous tropical island.

As my boss had said earlier on during the day, it was surprising and perhaps instructive that Zanzibaris had come out en mass in support of Maridhiano had not once protested the lack of power on the island. This is the second month running since the undersea cable from the mainland snapped and here we were waiting for someone to clear pebbles off the runway so that a Boeing could take off, while hundreds of stranded tourists- the red blood cells of the Zanzibari economy- sweated out their bottled water in the airport lounge behind us. This island wants economic autonomy. Really?

"Do or do not...there is no try." Yoda said it, a nuclear physicist-turned-author-said it, sometimes that's just the way it is.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Very Exciting Project!

Calling all passionate and expressive residents of Dar es Salaam! I am participating in a Very Exciting Book Project on the City that brings together the art of Sarah Markes and the original words of those who would like to contribute. If you have something to say about the city in prose or poetry please get in touch with Sarah Markes. Nostalgia welcome.

Some days I can barely refrain from telling you what I had for breakfast which is why Twitter could be dangerous... and other Kitchen Sink Drama

I was recently lucky to get some essential tips on blogging from Pernille, the talent behind Louder than Swahili a couple of days ago. As she took us on a whirlwind tour of the powers of social media I couldn't help but focus on questions of style and substance. While there are many tricks, widgets and thingamabobs out there that can help a blog along and increase readership, it is ultimately the blog's content that will sell it. At least, that's what I chose to take from the lesson.

Naturally this made me think about the performance of Tanzanian fem bloggers, voice and representation. While my blog roll is shamefully empty of sistren, there are several out there. However, a quick blitz through the internet will show that most people blogging in Tanzania are menfolk. And as a rule we Tanzanian bloggers tend either towards political reportage/commentary, or social noticeboards masquerading as blogs. Original Content is a little harder to come by although some online political commentators certainly write reams of the stuff.

I am beginning to think about how blogging is subject to gender, how this affects the selection of content and overall style. This blog is inspired by a particular movement in food blogging that blends introspection with the love of a particular subject, the best of which has writers who should really be published. There was decidedly more passion than commercial sense in this introspective style, which is still dominated by women. If you have the right project at the right time you can make money off this sort of thing, and some have hit the big time, but ultimately this kind of blog is offering kitchen sink drama, which is some of the best kind.

So, my covenant with readers is that everything you find here is Original Content- the words, the pictures, the mistakes, the TMI, the snark, the aesthetic, the opinions and politics. As some bloggers know, in this market that could mean crazy phonecalls from rabid jingoists, or theft of intellectual property. But that's part of the fun, and an indicator of success besides, right? Right? Right.

Friday, January 15, 2010

...and Sanctioned too.

I have been ordered by my (grumpy, crotchety, curmudgeonly)* colleague to disclose the fact that this blog was reviewed by an employee of the company yours truly works for. So here: this blog was reviewed by a fellow worker. Fuller disclosure: he told me he was going to review it. Fullest disclosure: I practically avoided the guy for two weeks after telling him not to doctor anything in case i gave in and begged for a great review. Satisfied now?

*He prefers to term his mood 'self-righteous indignation.' And he's still griping at me. Some people...


The Mikocheni Report got reviewed in the Weekender supplement of The Citizen* newspaper today! There is the usual admonition to actually post regularly (ahem) and some suggestions on how to make the blog easier to find and interactive so that people actually read the damn thing, but it was a friendly assessment. My favorite section: "...compact opinionated posts and for once a blog with an artistic profile aiding the understanding of the post mirrored through the personality of the Blogger." Hell yeah. Have a celebratory weekend.

*click on the link to the digital edition to access the Weekender section.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wow, is it January already?

Happy New Year! It always amazes me how fast the holiday season goes. I was cruising along nicely in October and then suddenly I was decorating Christmas trees and people were throwing bubbly my way and when I woke up again it was an entirely different year. As the blog and blogger have both made it this far, thought I would celebrate with a look back at the Ohs, or the Noughtys if you like. And then, to make up for a 2 month hiatus I'm going to take on Sheikh Yahya and do a little predicting of what's going to happen in 2010. Here goes:

The Noughties were interesting because:
1. Oysterbay Beach was called Oysterbay Beach before it was re-branded Coco, and there were no plastic chairs if you didn't bring your own.
2. Ashok trees were the vegetation rage of the decade. As I write this, I am looking outside at a forest of them in the neighbor's backyard. I have no idea why we think they make good shade trees/fencing because they are the tree version of an exclamation mark.
3. Mobile phone company wars result in 'a Nokia in every household' or close enough. Love you guys. Keep fighting.
4. Hotel Kilimanjaro morphs into Kilimanjaro Kempinski. Its like, the story of Dar and foreign investment, redux.
5. No longer a fly-over zone, we got to see the likes of Jay-Z and Mo Ibrahim hang out in Dar. Its like the glamorous nineteen sixties all over again.
6. A soda cost about 100 shillings as recently as the mid-Noughtys, and one thousand shillings was real money.
7. The rise and rise of Bongo Flava. And youth. And youthful art.
8. Michael Jackson turned out to be mortal. Damn.

Rock Solid Predictions for 2010 (valid as currency):
1. Jakaya Kikwete will be voted President in 2010. Again. But not with 80% of the vote...this time we might pretend to be sane and give him only a 75% landslide victory.
2. 20-30% of incumbent CCM Parliamentarians are going to lose their seats, some to the opposition and some in their party primaries. Opposition is going to expand its share of Parliament by five to ten new seats.
3. Jacob Zuma will marry another wife, to celebrate the successful conclusion of the World Cup in August.
4. Big Brother Africa 4 (or is it 5 now? I lose track...): Tanzania's candidate will be a 25-29-year old person of slim androgynous beauty with the forceful character of a limp dishrag and the quiet cunning of a starving ferret. S/he will not be dark in skin tone, nor Asian Tanzanian. S/He will be voted out in week six and forever be more popular outside of Tanzania that within.
5. Tanzania will come second in the Zain Unversity Challenge. Maybe Sokoine University,, not UDSM anyways, though they do try.
6. The government will come up with a sincere and comprehensive thematic development initiative for the 2010/2011 budget: Vijana Nguvu Kazi! This will allow them to 'hire' the young unemployed to 'help out during the elections' ...
7. Sheikh Yahya will predict President Kikwete's exact margin of victory at the polls with stunning accuracy, as well as the winner of World Cup 2010. After the fact.
8. The World Economic Forum: take vacation time. The traffic is going to be completely impossible.

Have an excellent year.

A little birdie told me...

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