Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Kawe Candidate Question

Ask the blogosphere and the blogosphere shall provide. Turns out that not only is Ms. Rita Mlaki not running for the Kawe constituency, Halima Mdee is :) High five @ shurufu for the retweet.

Election Lexicon

I wrote this a while back for the Serengeti Advisers Monthly Media Review. It seems a shame to let it go to waste, so here goes:

Yellow Couch: A Political Lexicon for 2010, Part I.

This is an election year, which means that for the next ten months there will be nothing but election talk. You will find it in the bars while decompressing after a long day. You will find it in the produce aisle when fondling mangoes and making passing remarks to that person you only ever bump into at the supermarket. It will be in the airwaves as you drive to work, and in schools as you listen to your child recite her latest lesson in civics and the ‘glorious’ history of the ruling party. Your barber will share with you the latest philosophies on multi-party politics (and you better listen- most barbers know what they are talking about).

In acknowledgement of this, Yellow Couch is jumping into this election business from the get go. The earlier we all get used to nothing but election talk, the sooner we can all stop being driven crazy by all the nit-picky, hair-splitty, he-said-she-said-yack-yack-yacky stuff that the media will be throwing at us for the rest of the year. There is a rumor going around that a World Cup might be happening somewhere on the continent, but please don’t let that distract you from your patriotic focus on the all-important election.

The top of the year is a good time to talk about basics, such as the Tanzanian political lexicon. Here are some thoughts and interpretations on the true meaning behind several common terms and phrases that will become even more terribly familiar in the coming months:

Mwananchi wa Kawaida,’ or ‘The Average Tanzanian’- analoguous to the American Joe Sixpack. This creature exists, like Inter-Chick roasters, to absorb flavors from other sources. Generally believed to have no native intelligence, Mwananchi wa Kawaida is assumed to have no capacity to speak on her own behalf nor understand the hard realities of her political or economic situation. Mwananchi wa Kawaida is beloved by donors, the NGO sector and people losing a political debate who have to fake credibility by speaking on behalf of an undefined and undifferentiated mass.

Mimi ni mtoto wa Mkulima’ or ‘I am the product of a peasant household.’ Famously coined by Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, this is a carefully calibrated and wonderfully nuanced statement of credibility. Implicit in the statement is The Tanzanian Dream: if you are ‘lucky’ enough to have come from a tough rural economic background, join the ruling and work for two thirds of your life in an underpaid and unappreciated position, and you too can become a member of cabinet… unlike these uppity foreign-educated capitalist smart-alecks who haven’t earned their stripes. Many leftist parties around the world manipulate the fiction that the underserved masses can trust the revolutionaries in power, and in order to do so it is useful to throw up an ‘I am one of you, I understand your struggle’ type of statement every so often. This is best done while wearing an ill-fitting suit.

Lugha Yetu’ or ‘Our language’ which is shorthand for Kiswahili. If one makes the convenient mental leap of forgetting that Kiswahili is the bastard love-child of the encounter between slavers from Portugal and Arabia and the peoples that they enslaved or bought gold and elephant tusks from, and lightly skims over the fact that it was the Germans who first instituted it as a language of administration, then of course Kiswahili is the only language that has cultural validity. Often used by fluent bilingual politicians who do not want to explain why their own children are being sent to English-medium schools.

Mimi ni Mzawa/Mzalendo!’ or ‘I am a Patriot!’ This phrase is used to affirm a speaker’s sense of legitimacy and nationalism (desirable) while distancing said speaker from the pollution of ‘foreign’ blood such as an Asian heritage, or close relatives who happen to be Rwandese/ Kenyan/ Mozambican/ European due to an accident of migration or the European colonial project (undesirable). Because it privileges race over legal definitions of citizenship, ‘mzawa/mzalendo’ statements must be backed up by proof that at least three generations of your family are Bantu and have toiled in sacred poverty within the current borders. If you are not a Mgogo from deepest darkest Tanganyika, use the phrase with some care.

Fisadi!’ or ‘Big stinking corrupt person who hasn’t shared their ill-gotten wealth with me.’ In order to be labeled a true fisadi, one must violate the current social contract by refusing to spread your stolen public goods around to everyone’s satisfaction. Alternatively, one may be sacrificed for political expedience and cool one’s heels until the powers that be decide to re-instate you by sending the Prime Minister to visit your constituency and endorse your ‘good works’ because they need your election contributions. The more public money you steal, the higher your immunity to punitive action.

Report Pres Jakaya Kikwete for Spam :)

No, I didn't. But it was one tempting click away...

My Lady of the Concerned Smiles dropped by with a bag of hyper-tasty oranges from one of her friend's farms, plus news that Halima Mdee (Chadema) is going to run for the Kawe parliamentary seat.

Cough. cough. Huuuuurghgghgh! ptuh. Excuse me. All good, thanks for asking. The pneumonianthraxallergy is being contained. Where was I?

Oh yeah, so we spent a wonderful hour or so fantasizing about how we are going to vote this bright young woman in and she was going to slay all the female oppressing legislation single-handedly. Very exciting dream. I can't confirm this because at the moment I am living under a rock like a grumpy scorpion, and I can't find the damn article online. Just take my word for it with a hefty pinch of salt and I'll get back to you about The Kawe MP Question.

But while I was swirling around the intertubes looking for a link, I checked my email only to see that... Sweet matoke, the Kikwete Kampaign has found The Twitter? This is an interesting development. The kind in which a long and erudite essay lurks about eMedia, politics, cult of personality, emergent economies, democracy, electoral strategies and the role of 'me also!' in The New Tanzania. Do yourself a favor and check out Kikwete2010 on The Twitter so you can observe The Establishment's spin dexterity first hand.

Also, I found a new friend: love the way this guy's mind works.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Practical Feminisms

I have been lucky enough to join a very recent initiative that aims at investing in women, both financially and socially using ITC technologies for the betterment of us all. It is my pleasure to introduce the beta version of the brand new Malaika Web. I hope to be editing content for them in the near future and hope that y'all will give a hand to this fabulous, homegrown, young Tanzania initiative.

In a nutshell, this is an opportunity for women to network, learn, invest and grow as entrepreneurs. For the die-hard sexists who might be wondering: why women? Because it's practical, and because it is necessary:

"Recent local evidence shows that:

· Targeting women works! The 2008 Impact Evaluation of Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF) II preliminary findings suggest that targeting women can have a positive impact on health, education and nutrition countrywide. It has also been observed that as women get wealthier they tend to invest more in their families and reduce household vulnerability while as men get richer they divest more and tend to increase household vulnerability.

· Microfinancing women works! As of December 2009, BRAC Tanzania was operating in 18 regions with a cumulative disbursement of US$44 million in its microfinance programme.

· Mobile connections work! As of March 2010, Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) reported that the total subscriptions to mobile networks amounted to about 18 million generating average revenue per user exceeding US$ 10 per month."

If a woman does well, her whole household does well. Elementary social truths, m'dear Watson. And to further allay any grumblings: half the team behind the scheme is xy-chromosomed. Inclusiveness is very much a part of this initiative. So let me encourage you here to join up with Malaika Web's Beta version and take the journey. Let's see where we end up :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Independent Candidates: the disappointment.

I have sung Chief Justice Ramadhani's praises elsewhere in the blog. And I have talked about the independent candidate issue. I admit, I did not expect that the collision of the two would prove so disappointing.

I don't happen to believe in a structuralist view of the world: rules are there to serve us, not the other way around. We engineer our social systems, and therefore must always question the basics: who are the rule-makers and in whose favor are they rigging the game? So while there are probably legally defensible reasons for the Chief Justice and his learned friends to throw the problem back to the toothless parliament, in truth their decision was a weaseling of the highest order. It has the paw prints of The Establishment all over it.

Having wasted our collective time, these people are going to leave it to the next parliament to address the issue. Which we all know they will not do in time for the next general election. And so the patriarchy wins again. Oh, my kingdom for an activist Judiciary!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Some News Makes Me Smile

Oh, I do hate marketing monopoly advertising tsunamis and the World Cup is so stuffed with them it makes my teeth ache. So you can imagine how much joy I got from this story. Lots. Keep fighting you big-hearted beer companies, and cheers to you.

This little tale of swift and decisive retribution also floated my boat. I likes Mr. Hamad very muchly- literate, committed, intelligent, fully bilingual, unwavering, dignified... Mr. Hamad, any thoughts or comments on your long-overdue presidential candidacy?

Also, Mr. Cheyo's protest is quite hilarious. Why oh why is it taking so freaking long for the campaign season to start? (yes, I know CCM is cheating a little bit but I'm ignoring it).

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Pan-African Thing.

It is not politic to be anti-Pan Africanist. I know this. And for my sins, I was soundly rebuked recently when I was informed that "You might not need Pan Africanism, just as Pan Africanism doesn't need you." And here I am soundly rebuked again.

Bring it.

If it makes folks happy to come together under the African shade tree of their own free will, I got no beef with that. Part of the fun of World Cup 2010 is watching the pervasive marketing scheme, ati "Africa's World Cup" complete with celebrities* flown in from across the continent and the world (mostly black, of course) to help celebrate things with a nice cultural mash-up. But didja know that Africans have, like, the worst record for intra-continental travel? Those of us who can afford a certain lifestyle would rather go to London or New York for recreation than, say, Cairo or Antananarivo...

Anywho, my problem is with imposed collectives, which is why for example the East African Federation doesn't work for me. Especially not with Museveni's extremely naked ambitions to crown hisself King of East Africa if he's given half a chance. Likewise, the African Union idea is being peddled hardest by... Muammar Ghaddafi? Um, no thanks?

These things don't need to be forced, especially not when the major agenda behind political collectives is to stroke the egos of some imperially-minded Presidents For Life. We've been doing modern nation-states for all of half a century, and the relative frequency of explosive political situations all around indicate to me that we're still finding our feet. This One Africa business will best be engineered by private sector initiatives (like Zain's really useful multi-country thingy) and regular folks travelling around for school, for jobs, for business. I figure we'll get there in a healthy manner, especially if the political collectivists stop trying to push us around.

*You know what wasn't right? Having superb musicians like Bra Hugh and Femi Kuti on the stage for 30 seconds only during the opening ceremony and then letting that R Kelly guy do a whole song. Puke.

Traffic Jam at 2:00 pm

So I'm driving back from city-sides this afternoon at around 2:00 in the afternoon, and to my surprise there's crazy traffic. I thought to myself: 'Where the heck are all these office folks going? Shouldn't they be food-comatose in the corporate rec room trying to digest the day's portion of ugali-samaki?' Apparently not.

I am evidently still getting used to the New World Order of traffic in Bongoland, and I spend much of my time trying to maintain my composure while navigating the general chaos. But who expects traffic at two in the afternoon? It was full blown misbehavior all around- cars overtaking on the left and on the right, people driving down the wrong lane*, pedestrians testing my braking skills, kuchomeka, gridlocking, totally inappropriate lane-changes, those (expletive deleted) bajaj... you know how it goes.

It all put me in mind of something that was said during an excellent discussion recently on the politics of development. In other countries (alert: totally unquantifiable generalization), traffic takes care of itself when there are no cops around. I had the chance to see this in South Africa at some four-way intersections where people went one by one all around- no gridlock, no road rage.

Can't we just do this in Bongoland? I figure (and we all more or less agreed during said excellent discussion) that it is because of those all-important substructures. Call it culture, informal institutions, whatever. See, in other countries (warning: seriously unquantifiable generalization) folks are used to taking care of business for themselves. Active citizenship, like. This means that they don't need to rely on the state, i.e. traffic cops, to come up with a set of rules for them to get on with life. But I am optimistic- something's going to give.

Remember the bad old days when folks would not queue up at a bank and just skip the line, coming up to the teller while you were still counting your loot? Not so much anymore. I suppose that we are on the same slow learning curve with our road manners. And I figure, once we can deal with each other somewhat politely on the road, much of the rest should take care of itself.

Aside: the Mo Ibrahim foundation has decided not to award anybody for the second year running. But they have announced an initiative to incubate talented young African leaders of tomorrow. Tenterhooks.

*Seriously? Only if you are The President, The Prime Minister, or The Army. Otherwise you are asking for it, and it shall come to you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Money, man. Money.

'Elimu ni kila kitu, dada'ngu.' I was arrested by this statement as I watched my friend struggle to figure out what he was going to do next. Out of a job in 24 hours due to circumstances outside his control. Kids growing, rent is due. Not enough jobs to go around, and he's that most undesirable of human surplus: young, male, too few years in school. This guy is far too sharp to land anywhere except on his feet, but it makes my shoulder blades itch to think about all that latent power in the labour market- strong, smart, motivated, creative, frustrated...

No doubt about it- if we had such a thing as a functioning education system, my friend would likely be heading a corporate empire and I'd be slaving for him. But, you know. Family had few means, crap education and here he is, a self-taught transportation services provider. Our conversation made me wonder a little about Jay Kay's promise to create a million jobs in his first term, and those Ward Secondary Schools with VodaFasta teachers. Itchy shoulder blades!

Speaking of government, Minister Mkullo is in the background saying something about promoting Export Processing Zones. The World's Best Housekeeper* is giving me dirty looks because she just lost an argument about food price controls. Asking for a raise is well within her rights, but she can forget about that command economy business. Happy Budget day.

*Oh, yeah, she also chuckled evilly while reminding me that this is the last Bunge session for those MPs who haven't got a chance in hell of being re-elected. Might as well enjoy your seating allowances, buddies :)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Closed for Maintenance.

The plant needs it. See you soon.

A little birdie told me...

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