Saturday, July 31, 2010

In the Deep Midwinter or Goodbye July

Where does the time go? We're at the bottom end of winter with the end of July upon us and the sweet, cool days of 23 degrees centigrade about to roll over to a warmer August. Here's some stuff I have glimpsed here and there:

1. New Blogfriends: These guys are so interesting, I am embarrassed to only have come across them recently through some mild cyberstalking. And the cheerful Chick About Town comes as close to a lifestyle blog as I have seen in Bongoland.

2. This just in: Dr. Slaa fell in the shower yesterday and injured his arm. The World's Best Housekeeper is already wearing her cynical look. I'm not sure if she's implying foul play on the side of the establishment, or a bid for sympathy on the part of the good doctor. I guess we're not the most trusting votership on the planet... eh bwana pole. Endeavour to keep relatively intact until October would you please, sir?

3. The Steak of Ages, the one that can vanquish the cravings of the bloodthirstiest carnivore, was recently found hiding at a supermarket in the 'hood. Slapped it on a smoking pan with nothing but pepper and rosemary. Taste test subjects have reported extremely positive responses on several occasions. I suspect the secret is fat, happy grassfed Tanzanian beef and a little Halaal treatment. Quest continues: is there a joint in the city that can top this experience? Stay tuned.

4. Does anyone else think that perhaps this company should have aimed for a different acronym? Feel free to suggest slogans for them in the comments section ;)

5. Speaking of carnal pleasures, Karambezi has such seriously good burgers that they might be giving Palm Beach Hotel a run for their feta cheese. Further research will be conducted. In the meantime, here's a visual equivalent of Easy Listening to close out the month. Contemplate it while stroking your brain cells, and be sure to have a relaxing weekend.

The Morality of Tanzanian Schoolgirls

Just caught a Saturday radio program targeting women. La Dee did mention something interesting: Saturday morning is a strange time to broadcast with women in mind seeing as 99% of us are busy taking care of the chores that couldn't fit in the week, double-and triple-burden lives that we live.

Anyways, today's issue was schoolgirls pregnancies which isn't a topic I can walk past without taking a glance. It was not as encouraging a debate as I had hoped. Aside from the first guest, an NGO activist agitating on behalf of women's education, the discussion revolved around the thorny issue of 'morality.' Not social mores mind you, just the 'morality' or lack thereof of schoolgirls who get pregnant.

I was forced to conclude that Tanzania must be the only country in the world where young women of school-going age manage to self-impregnate, saucy little hermaphrodites that they are. Our solution: kick them out of school. Because pregnant teen mothers with a truncated education is what we need in order to combat poverty.

During the program, they ran the Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA) radio ad encouraging women to stand for office and encouraging us to vote for them because They Can. Not to be cynical or anything, but 40+ years of women in politics in Tanzania and we still have shockingly medieval laws on the right to choose, child custody, inheritance, divorce, asset ownership, freedom from sexual violence, sexual harassment, glass ceilings, age of consent... I've run out of breath. And this is with one third of our parliament made up of affirmative action special seats MPs whose only- ONLY- job is to represent the concerns of their gender.

Hm. One strategy might be to vote in opposition candidates in every constituency that puts up a woman and kill three birds with one stone: kick Umoja wa Wanawake Tanzania in their gonads by reducing their elected presence, increasing the number of women voted into office and increasing the opposition's share of government. In the hopes that any woman smart and strong enough to make it into elected office will have the big brass ones she'll need to slay our patriarchal demons.

Maybe then those slutty schoolgirls who regularly experience the miracle of immaculate conception might have a fighting chance.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Paul Kagame: The Ghost of Governance Future?

I have been sort-of-losing a long-standing argument with a number of friends with anti-democratic leanings. Much of it stems from disgust with our very low opinion of the government, on which premise they base the argument that elites should take over the running of the state and that we should be subjected to a benevolent dictator. Ah, the sweet scent of paternalism.

In the blue corner is me, valiantly trying to believe in the rebuttals I toss their way: that just because our government is donor-dependent, corrupt and turning predatory is no good reason to get rid of popular democracy as a mechanism for choosing our leadership. Besides, we've already had one benevolent dictator in our history and it's a little greedy to expect more quite so soon.

In principle I can stand by my argument- it isn't hard to choose between a system that attempts to distribute power somewhat, and one that embraces authoritarianism as a governing doctrine. On the other hand it is hard to resist elitism from a meritocratic perspective: if we expected our politicians and public servants to actually deliver from time to time we might gravitate towards voting in the best and the brightest instead of the murky mess we have now.

President Kagame crops up during these debates with distressing frequency. It is undeniable that Rwanda is emerging as the shining star of East Africa under the stewardship of Mr. Kagame. Okay. Can Rwanda's successes be reproduced in Tanzania with the adoption of a similarly endowed, benevolent dictatorship? Um. Let me rephrase that: can the recent successes of a tiny, highly motivated, landlocked, post-civil war, post-traumatic, land-hungry country with high ethnic homogeneity and no recent record of presidential transition be reproduced in a large, coastal, stable-for-three-generations, complacent, highly heterogeneous, weak-but-functional multi-party democracy with four times the population?

And is Kagame even a dictator? Not yet he isn't- he has until 2017 to finish up and we will only know then if he's going to go down the tiresome road of Presidency For Life. At present he is what's popularly referred to as a 'strong leader,' and I suppose some of the romance can be explained by the allure of a soldier-king with a warm, administratively efficient, environmentally-conscious heart... This, this and this make up a fantastic trio of articles on Kagame and Rwanda's contemporary history though the author has been accused of some pro-Kagame bias.

But this isn't about Rwanda or Kagame so let me bring it back home to Bongoland.* I have to admit I am intrigued by the elitist argument. So: poll on the right of the blog. Vote and let's see what happens, coz this be a democratic space. Heh.

Protest Vote?

First things first: I am looking for a comprehensive, well-written, credible book on contemporary Tanzanian history (post-independence and as deep into the 21st century as possible) that is preferably Not a biography, autobiography or family history. If you can point me in the direction of one I'll be grateful.

There were a couple of interesting political stories in the news today. First, our Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children has been arrested and questioned by the Prevention for Corruption Bureau on allegations of electoral corruption in the Umoja wa Wanawake (CCM women's wing) polls in Tabora. My favorite part?
"...the suspects were arrested on Tuesday at around 1:55am at a guest house known as Camise situated in Cheyo A area, 100 meters from the regional PCCB office. "
It is good to see CCM women excel in numerous areas of Tanzanian public life, including the all-important practice of corruption. I wonder what the Speaker of the House thinks? Anyways, proponents of the theory that women will make "better" leaders because of gender traits like non-violence, listening skills and the propensity to place communal welfare above individual ambitions.. stop laughing, I'm trying to make a point here... might want to study Umoja wa Wanawake Tanzania.

Dr. Wilbrod Slaa, who was asked by Chadema to run as its presidential candidate, has received heroic support from his constituency. I wish them luck. I was debating his chances of winning this morning with a civil society friend and realized that I am likely to vote conservatively in the presidential race. Much as I admire the good doctor, and suspect that he will be a fiercely focused policy-maker, what's the point? A non-CCM president would be hamstrung in the current environment where the GoP is indistinguishable from government. However my friend did suggest that if nothing else, voting for Dr. Slaa would do two important things: let the government know how many people think he's a better choice than the incumbent, and deprive the incumbent of that vote.

The first point is dubious: being a brilliant mind and a focused, committed opposition member doesn't translate to being an effective president since effectiveness requires the cooperation of your government. The second point, that of the protest vote, is reasonable though risky- look what happened in 1995 when we nearly voted in (or did vote in, depending on who you ask) one Augustine Mrema. I have yet to meet anyone who isn't relieved that things didn't pan out for him and for Tanzania...

The biggest disappointment with multi-party politics has been our lackadaisical approach to institution-building. This is hardly astrophysics: if just one party had started out in 1995 with a canny vision to be implemented over the course of a decade or two, maybe CCM would actually be facing a credible threat. Instead here we are today still under the unbroken thumb of the Establishment. Under these circumstances it is difficult to take the opposition seriously. We need independent candidates to challenge the status quo.

Le sigh. I suppose the fact that there might be an alternative presidential candidate worth considering is a tentative step along our road to competitive democracy...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What the Face!

I've been debating the whole Facebook since about six months ago when I realized that FB had sold our collective souls to the commercial vampires by violating the notion of privacy. Having abdicated responsibility for the protection of our data, FB invented something called 'privacy settings' to make the individual user feel as though maybe, just maybe, fond memories of adventures past- which were diligently recorded by friends and oh-so-generously shared on Facebook- did not become a collection of double-edged visual mementos.

One strong impulse is to just scrap the whole project- which is actually very appealing. My inner hippie does believe in living the Great Unplugged Life if one can stomach it. But Facebook death is a major liability when one thinks of its potential- and that of other like social media- to enrich one's cyberlife... and for a blogger, FB death is perhaps a form of electronic self-amputation?

Anyways, if you are facing similar FB ambivalence and need some help cleaning up your page, my technical consultant* gave me this wonderful link. Too good not to share.

* I'm so embarrassed to need one, and it doesn't help that he responds to every request for help with a long and evil laugh before taking pity on me. I used to be the kid who took apart electronics in the house and then put them together again better than before... and now I am fossilizing long before my time. I blame technology- it's moving too fast for me to catch up.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Fine Romance Part The Third: The Legacy Years

The campaigns are kicking off, so I had better hurry and finish this three-part musing on Jay Kay before we head into griping about vote-rigging, campaign funding and hamstrung election monitors.

In the last musing I concluded that:
Jay Kay is a pretty good fit for this moment in our political journey: a free-marketeer with a redistributive philosophy, a technophilic democrat, a canny executive and a patient, dedicated, opportunistic man of ambition who lacks the predatory instincts that make the Putins of this world so frightening. While I don't doubt that there are smarter, tougher, cannier men out there who would make 'better leaders,' all in all Jay Kay is at worst inoffensive and at best very useful, which is not a bad range within which to work with for a young African democracy."

I think I still stand behind that statement... the trouble with writing about Jay Kay is that he presents an exercise in indecision. While he remains a 'man of the people' this has taken on a distinctly celebrity-obsessed sheen in the past couple of years. This is supported by his careful selection of public speaking opportunities: no independent journalist interviews, no hot seat, no on-the-spot question sessions except out in the rural areas where folks are too cowed to say anything except 'Thank you Mr. President.' There is a canny indirectness to his accessibility which I find quite pleasantly Machiavellan.

What I really want to talk about is his second term, and his legacy. There can be no doubt that Jakaya Kikwete's first term in office has seen an impressive and peaceable change in our political culture. Having seized the media by their short and curlies, he has set a dire trend for politicians both nationally and regionally. Thanks to him, demonstrated charisma has become an important political asset as have camera-friendly looks.

This same exploding media scene has also seen incredible advances in political coverage- most of it driven by the obsession with grand corruption. Of course Tanzania's media isn't 100% free- TIA. But it is a lot more active than it used to be under Benjamin Mkapa. The irony: Mr. Mkapa was a journalist. Go figure. It took a genuine democrat like Jay Kay to open up that dialogue, even as he avoids dialoguing...

And yet there is still a sort of malaise, born of the sensation that at best this administration has a mixed record of achievement and is dragging its feet. As a friend said once: you can have potential for so long, but if you don't fulfill it you are a failure. I'm paraphrasing. Judging by Jay Kay's continued popularity we are still expecting much from his presidency, and from him.

So what could be better than a second term? Even with the continued growth of our opposition parties, there is no viable alternative to the URT presidency outside of the CCM candidate. Jay Kay is home free with another five years in which to get down to serious business, i.e. the building of a legacy. I wonder what he's going to pick to fill that expectation vacuum.

Legacies tend to be brutally circumspect, and they rarely have to do with the tangibles- no one really remembers who built what dam or dreamed up what 25-year plan. Because, well, who cares? The popular legacy of a Tanzanian President can be identified pretty easily through his nickname. Check it out: Father of the Nation. Followed by Mzee Ruksa. Followed by Mzee Ukapa. Followed by... Handsome Boy?

So as he goes into his second term- with a slogan that promises...more of the same- I am hoping that Jay Kay will show us his serious side and leave the celebrident lifestyle behind him. Judging by some of what this administration has already laid down- the embracing of the market economy, media, (sort of) agriculture and (sort of) education- there is plenty of scope for our incumbent to lock down a President-sized "solid policy initiative" for the ages. Psst: Jay Kay- the trick is to pick something that makes you look good for, like, ever. Might be University of Dodoma. Probably ain't. Let's see shall we?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Final Terms: "We need to keep loving one another."

First of all, my heartfelt condolences to those who lost friends and family in Kampala bomb attacks that took place during the World Cup Finals this past Sunday. This is the third big terrorist attack on a major East African city, after the 1998 bombings. Yesterday's Citizen had this to report on Museveni's first public reaction :

'Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has vowed to crush the militant Somali group al Shabaab group, which has claimed responsibility for last Sunday's twin bomb attacks, which killed 74 people in Kampala. "We are going to go on the offensive and go for all who did this in al areas, starting here." [...] President Museveni also appealed to Ugandans not to target the Somali community in the country, saying they had nothing to do with last Sunday's bombings. 'Some people may interpret the tragic events on Sunday, but Somalis living here are part of the system.'

We do need to keep loving one another, as Jay Kay said to parliament yesterday. Some things only get better with translation.

World Cup post-mortem? Not so much. Spain won. Okay. Africa... well, South Africa really... proved to the World what We (They) are Capable Of. I was impressed- I honestly thought there would be some trouble with crime but it was not so. I don't know what the SA authorities did but it worked! Zuma was on the tube yesterday talking to some talking head somewhere overseas and he hinted at the Olympics as the next South African target. High Five.

The election season has finally kicked off. Jay Kay has selected his running mate, Mohamed Gharib Bilal, an (old) soft-spoken scientist-turned politician and one-time Chief Minister of Zanzibar. Meanwhile, the other (old) soft-spoken scientist turned politician, Dr. Shein, is CCM's candidate for the Zanzibar Presidency, running against CUF's (old) candidate Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad. It's a gerontocratic Vice-Presidential-Chief-Ministerial Merry-Go-Round. No sign of Chadema presidential aspirations. The others? UDP, DP, TLP, NCCR-Mageuzi? Meh. Let's not even raise the specter of CCJ. This is going to be an one-horse race.

Of course, the real game is in the parliamentary and council elections. Jay Kay's address to the outgoing parliamentarians was... well, interesting. My Lady of the Crooked Smiles thinks he's shown signs of personal growth over the past five years. Teachers, eh. To me, it sounded like a bit of a cop-oyt. It's going to be very interesting to watch a couple of promising young(er) politicians handle their first time running, as well as keep an eye out for major upsets as greyheads get pushed out- hopefully- by some serious competition :) Will the coming Bunge contain more thinkers and doers and fewer sluggish, corrupt, entitled, ancient, ineffective, apathetic money-sinks? Hope so.

The Best Housekeeper in The World, meanwhile, is keeping me appraised of the shenanigans that local government is indulging in on the streets. She was barred from a 'rally' meeting the other day because the candidate was CCM and she isn't a card carrying member. Her neighbors who were card-carrying members attended the meeting and got 5000 TShs for their trouble- roughly three dollars. Le sigh. None of the opposition parties have resources to compete with such flagrant 'grassroots mobilization.'

Thursday, July 8, 2010

On Inequality.

I asked a question a couple of days ago, and got some thoughtful answers in the comments section. Just wanted to share some highlights: It is awesome. And then this:


accompanied by this:

"Will more recent data show an increase in inequality, since many of the mouth-watering shangingis you saw are probably newer than 2007 models? I daren’t hazard a guess. But an interesting question suggested itself to me, and I want to ask it of you as a sociologist: does a higher gini coefficient – more inequality – lead to more aspiration and motivation for self-improvement among the people, or does it engender more resentment and desperation?"

Reminds me of a discussion we had in my Soc. days when Prof. Washington (I think it was him) was telling us about a study which showed that in the U.S. Airforce, where promotions come faster and 'easier' than in the Army, the levels of entitlement and discontent amongst airmen was higher than amongst soldiers who were used to the idea of a long hard slog to the top. To tease that out a little, the answer to the inequality/social consequences question has to examine people's expectations and their experience and perceptions of social mobility and social justice.

I don't know if there is a universal answer to that question- societies differ considerably in their tolerance of inequality. America is exceptional in its ludicrous insistence on "equality" but under Pax Americana many of us have acquired an aversion to inequality. Not a bad ideal, just a bit out of touch with human reality and sadly insensate to human history.

I will venture this opinion on the responses to inequality in Bongoland: inequality is breeding some motivation for self-improvement amongst the minority who have reason to believe they can be socially mobile, and resentment and desperation in the majority that knows that upward mobility is unlikely in their case.

Those of us who have a solid education- one that imparts skills rather than rote learning- are in the minority but entirely cognizant that this is an asset in a hungry and protectionist job market. Some of us are choosing crooked ways to get where we need to go (yes ten-percenter, I am talking about you) and some of us are happily working away to become part of that beautiful and important modern institution: the middle class. And it really is a worker's market- is there any industry or profession in this country that couldn't do with more competent people? This middle class has the potential to build up all the other institutions we so crave in order to achieve a western-model modernity: professional associations, service industries, small- and medium-sized businesses, intellectuals, professionals, innovators, etc. We believe in social mobility irrespective of gender, race or religion because education and employability are more important- and useful. And we abhor inequality, as long as this belief does not interfere with our cushy lives.

Then there are the barbarians at the gate. Dubious literacy and numeracy thanks to a shockingly inept public education system and a brutally unconcerned government. Exploited mercilessly by petty rural officials, ignored by the primate city and her big-time officials. Young men flooding to Dar looking for any job to put food on the table, send money home and maybe earn them enough to afford a family. Pregnant schoolgirls who get expelled. Grandmothers raising their offspring's children who died of AIDS. No roads. No electricity. No market for surplus goods. Splashed with mud by passing Shangingis. These guys, Aidan, are the ones throwing rocks at the ministerial and presidential motorcades. They are righteously pissed off. They are thinking that maybe this democracy thing is a load of bullshit, and that "development" is a scam run by twice-a-year Mzungu visitors and their local enablers. Missionaries are exempted.

Nyerere gave us a gift and a curse when he told us that every Tanzanian was worth as much as any other Tanzanian. He built a nation on this dreamer's fallacy, and inculcated us with a slightly useless human rights perspective of life with socialist leanings. So we are have the sense of entitlement of a U.S. Airman. And the slow-ass chance of promotion of a U.S. soldier.

We are quite schizophrenic, as my former boss used to tell me. We kill albinos to get rich. We attend charismatic churches preaching the gospel of affluence. The UtuNet is incapable of absorbing all the fallout. Corruption stories hit media peaks like no other kind of story as we hunger to see the bastards bleed. We are young, and angry, and ready to punch fisadis in the face. And times are a-changing fast in this emerging market, leaving all the unfortunate laggards behind. Left-behind is a sensation that would induce anyone to bitterness.

"does a higher gini coefficient – more inequality – lead to more aspiration and motivation for self-improvement among the people, or does it engender more resentment and desperation?"

In Tanzania? Yes, and Yes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Talking for a Living.

I got rolled yesterday. I paid 10,000 shillings to buy a business card from the oiliest man I have encountered to date, and Dar is brimming with shifty sorts. I haven't had this much fun since my last live concert*. Dar is a great city for small-time hustlers, it's part of her seedy charm as a port city.

The hustle: Someone knocked down our guava tree while we were all out. Just another day in paradise. My hustler, an enterprising neighborhood do-nothing type who hangs around waiting for opportunity to knock was "lucky" enough to witness the incident. It involved a 'Mzungu Church Lady'... ka-ching! She must have been overwhelmed with Christian guilt- she actually gave her business card to this dubious character just because he promised to follow up the issue for her! He must have played her like an electric keyboard.

Sure enough, my friend turned up at sundown accompanied by a strong silent type, a combination body-guard-slash-intimidator. For the next half-hour we danced: he had to extort money without appearing like the crass and grubby opportunist that he is, I had to play mildly stupid while making all the right sympathetic noises to bring the price down, Non Speaking Part had to glower convincingly. We had a grand time. For the pleasure of his extremely creative and highly entertaining 'Kiswahili kirefu,' I parted with one Msimbazi- on the promise that the kids would get to eat Ugali na Dagaa tonight instead of the whole thing disappearing down the Gongo drain. I think I just made a couple of new friends/parasites. Either way, I believe artists should be paid for their craft and talking money out of a bongolander is a pretty nifty skill. In another life he would have been a superb salesman.

I'm going to miss watching the schoolkids try to harvest fruit off our tree on their way home though. One less bit of green :(

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Tanzania is a Poor Country, but Bongoland is Blingtastic

I was staring out the windscreen at a 100,000 USD car and praying that we wouldn't scratch the metallic paint on it when La Dee piped up: 'Tanzania is a poor country?' Um. Maybe, but not judging by that car... We were on the peninsula trying to pick up something to eat after a surprisingly long-winded wedding planning committee meeting, because grease makes everything better. Sadly we had forgotten: Sunday Night.

On Sunday Night inhabitants of the city center, Upanga and other surrounding areas get into their vehicles and go hang out on the Peninsula. Every single establishment we passed was crusted with people- malls, bars, restaurants, shops. And showing off? Forget about clothes: it is all in the cars. Gleaming vistas of air-conditioned 4x4s in all their variations were practically parking on top of each other wherever they could find space. Same people that bitch up one side and down the other about traffic congestion*. Genius.

It occurred to me as we- phew- avoided scraping the expensive metallic paint job that Tanzania might be poor... but much of Dar doesn't seem to be. The number of new cars on the streets in the past three years, the blinging ego-mobiles people can afford, the number of families treating themselves to a nice meal in the most expensive part of town- disposable income anyone? Nothing at all like the 'bad' old days when I was a kid and we had to forage far and wide for any kind of eatery that had seen fresh produce in the last month. You couldn't throw money at anything back then. There are definite benefits to being an emerging market, why lie.

But for me the deeper issue is a tough one. For every dollar Bongolanders spend making themselves feel good about living in the 21st century with all its modern conveniences, how many cents are making it down the chain of consumption to our brethren and sistren who are living simpler lives out in the hinterland? Why does the Village Supermarket stock beans imported from Argentina? Seriously? Have we gotten rich off the fat of our fellow countrymen's poverty? Where the hell is all this money coming from, and how much of it is ethical (forget legitimate)? Oh, and can TRA actually try to come up with a rational and progressive taxation system?

Don't get me wrong: I have no beef with legitimate affluence. Hell, I aspire to it. Kind of. But I do get a bit twitchy about callous inequalities- how does one drive a Shangingi around town when you know in your bone marrow that the majority is getting totally shafted. So, economists, I have one question for your number-loving brains: what is Tanzania's Gini coefficient? First one to give me a reasonable answer and explicate it without mentioning elasticity wins a couple of cocktails with one cantankerous liberal blogger who likes to annoy economists for sport. How can you resist :)

*Yeah, I own a pair of wheels as well but they are superbly fuel-efficient and well-maintained Japanese works of art with little mileage on them. Heh.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Quick Look Around the Blogosphere

I don't know if Uruguay cheated, but I do find it intriguing that William Easterly used the incident as a metaphor for the interplay between rules and norms. Of course I don't agree with the implicit Afropessimism (economists are not my favorite social scientists) but it is a nice examination of utilitarian approaches to 'winning' which must from time to time clash with norms.

Give a big hand to some new friends on the TZ blogging scene: Slim Shady has crossed over from 'quiet guy who only comments under duress' to curating a blog of his own. Got a good eye too for the pictures, no poverty porn here. Some of us see the beauty first...

I am always on the lookout for the holy grail of the Tanzania blogosphere: Original Content. Which is where the Tanzania Media Fund's 2010 Fellows come in. About a month ago, four print journalists put on their big girl panties and waded into the scurrilous world of blogging. Here are the results of their efforts, with more to come soon.

A little birdie told me...

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