Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ten For Eleven

Hello and Happy New Year! I know that 'Tis The Season is over, but I'll just do this one thing as it's trying to become a TMR tradition. Ten things from 2010:

1. Remember the Y2K scare? Funny to think that was a whole decade ago.
2. How about those elections, eh? Not the best, but not too shabby either. Congratulations to all the freshman MPs, let's see if there's anything to the idea that the younger generation will infuse our politics with "new" ideas and energy.
3. The FIFA World Cup Totally Rocked! Until the last African team struck out at the bottom of the fifth inning. I think that Azerbaijan won the coveted sport's Palme d'Or trophy...or was it the Dominican Republic? Either way, it's nice to see an underdog team do well in such an important international sporting event. I loves my soccer.
4. Power rationing after the elections. It's some strange kind of cycle, that. Almost like the infrastructure is thumbing its nose at authority... heh.
5. Dar no longer closes for the holidays. Either that or we're all too broke, like yours truly, to go inland.
6. A life without DSTV is more productive than a life with DSTV in it...
7. ... but Jacob's Cross makes a life with DSTV in it worth the loss in productivity :)
8. Perfect steak: has been found. Just a note for those who love their beef: Kongwa beef, export grade, is available at two outlets in the city. That stuff is superb, specially the Flintstone size ribs.
9. A non-embarrassing party to belong to, however, remains elusive in spite of my best efforts to believe in something during the elections. Oh well.
10. But I got my MP of choice. La la la la la la la...

And one wish for 2011:
11. A steady electricity supply for the purposes of blogging consistently without watching my power icon in an anxious sweat at odd hours of the night or day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Please excuse me: it's been a long time and I am going to expend a lot of hot air in this post. If you want a quick read, the next post is going to be short and sweet.

It's that time of year again. Resolutions are a-knocking. I gave up on detailed resolutions a long time ago since obsessing about my failure to stick to a plan would derail any actual progress made in the resolution area. Besides which, resolutions are a bit like coasters- you only bring them out when there's company in order to appear more "together" than you really are. So these days I give inconclusive answers, sort of meander towards a vague goal or two and hope for the best.

That approach is also a good way to describe Tanzanian governance at present. Inconclusive answers (so, who actually stole the money?), sort of meandering (lack of focus and commitment) towards a vague goal or two (grand ideas "vanquishing poverty", no tangible targets) and hope for the best (because ultimately, accountability is just a four-letter word). Maybe we only bring out development policy to appear more "together" on the world stage than we really are. Heh.

I have been media-fasting since sometime after the elections, and trying to get a more intuitive and experience-driven 'feel' for what this second term of Jay Kay's is going to bring. Well. Remember the power shortage issues The Establishment said it would fix by its' next term? The kind of laissez-faire attitude that led to the Richmond/Dowans shenanigans? Five years down the line and we're back on power rationing through a very hot December. The Cabinet continues to grow at an impressive rate, if not the economy. And The Establishment is using up it's 2010 supply of teargas as it practices oppressive maneuvers against the citizenry. By the way, I hear practice makes perfect. Mwananchi: watch out for an FFU near you lest you want to learn how to leg it from the authorities every time you dare to express a democratic opinion.

I admit, I don't hold out much hope for the second term of Jay Kay's presidency. So far all the signs suggest it's going to be more of the same. I am beginning to suspect that there might not, after all, be any hidden depths to my President's character*. No lurking resolve, no secret masterplan, no overarching vision. And if that's the case, I guess he's just one of our transitional incumbents (we like to flip between active presidents and passive presidents, apparently). More worrying than Jay Kay's excessive need to be liked is the simmering threat of vindictiveness that's coming off the ruling party like a bad stink.

More than one apparatchik has been overheard saying things they really, really shouldn't. Like, constituencies such as mine which voted in an opposition candidate are going to feel the negative effects of that decision. Yeah, CCM: that's one way to endear yourself to a hostile votership. Or that Tanzanians are generally too stupid to know what's good for us because if we did we would vote CCM forever. If you hate fellow Tanzanians, what are you doing in politics? My favorite? That Tanzanians' failure to vote in CCM the way they wanted to be voted in is a sign of ingratitude. Ah, now there's the Party we're familiar with: ever gracious in defeat, the cream of Tanzanian society.

Anywho. The exciting part is that in this coming Term Two of Administration Number Four a number of meaty issues are going to show up in Bunge. The Freedom of Information Bill will likely be snuck in through the back door at some point because The Establishment would like for us not to know what's up (transparency sucks), and the Opposition and Civil Society and the media would like more access. A battle shall ensue.

Second: our Newspaper Act dates back to 1977. A fine year for democracy, that... not! Going to be keeping an eye out for the Media Bill that's sure to show up soon. Also troubling signs in this area: the government is going to try to restrict our constitutionally enshrined right to express ourselves publicly (accountability sucks), the Media Council of Tanzania, Tanzania Media Women's Alliance and various other CSOs are going to kick up a fuss, it's going to be interesting.

And last but not least: the Independent Candidate Issue. Chief Justice Ramadhani is no longer on the bench, there's a new sheriff in town. The last "ruling" on the government's appeal against the Supreme Court's previous ruling that... Whatever. Basically the Judiciary folded like a house of cards in a tropical thunderstorm on that issue and reminded us that the executive branch of government is still the only game in town. Next five years, hard to tell. Who knows if Independent Candidates are going to be allowed? Which leaves me wandering the wilderness, spending another year in search of a political party that is not embarrassing to belong to, supporting the tenacious Reverend Mtikila on his quest for legal activism.

The good news is that Zanzibar promises to be a very interesting case study on "shared" power in the region. I wish them the very best, and from the outside anyways it looks like the ingredients for success are there. We'll see, won't we?

*Fine, go ahead and say "I told you so." You know who you are.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Christmas Allegory

When I was a kid, I used to get told stories all the time. There always seemed to be an older relative around who could be cajoled into telling us about Abnuasi (sp?) or any number of tricksters. These stories were almost always quite dark and some were frankly revolting... none of that Disneyfied twaddle for us pre-TV kids, no Hakunarrrr Matatarrrrrr here.

What was really good about these stories, this dying art, is how very best of them could condense deep insights into human nature and the way of the world into a half-hour's entertainment. Politics, thrift, love, loyalty, cunning, competitiveness, character... a philosophical answer to almost any issue lay just one story away.

So when I came across this great allegory* a couple of days ago, I thought y'all might enjoy it too. It's a fun read for the big kid in you and has some rather interesting things to say about "a richly-endowed country, possibly Tanzania"'s contemporary history not to mention our development policies... and our leadership. I'll tell you this much- it doesn't exactly paint Bongo as an Emergent Democracy.

I have a few things to say about the political reading- I find that it could be more nuanced- but there is something to be said about the way in which we are often run more like a monarchy which kow-tows to patriarchal and hereditary power than a Weberian bureaucracy. Still, the story is the most candid, nimble and humorous piece of musing on Tanzanian development I have read in a very long time. Love it? Hate it? Holler in the comments section.

*You have to click on 'view' in the right hand bar under 'Current News' to read The Choice.

Monday, December 20, 2010

One Year, One Month and Seventeen Days...

That's how old The Mikocheni Report is, and I missed the blogiversary... again. What can I say, it's turning into a tradition.

I was going to wait until after Christmas to write up the blog's performance as promised. But. I have this pending assignment and I would rather have my toenails torn out than face the draft report again, know what I mean? So here's me procrastinating.

First up, some numbers. I have the use of three blog trackers, one in-built and two free. None of their numbers match on a day-to-day basis but they do give me some relatively similar information on performance. Yes, you read right. Three trackers. I am anally retentive that way. Here are some highlights:

- Visits: Tracker One says 11,771 hits and 7,441 visits* since January 2010. Tracker Two says 7,402 page loads and 4,210 unique visitors since July 2010. In-built tracker says 11,352 page loads since May 2010. Having very little ambition, I think those are great statistics!**
- Popular posts: Tracker One says that the TEDxDAR post on Modesta Mahiga is the most popular with 145 hits since January 2010. Tracker Two is not equipped to deal with this data. In-built Tracker tells me that Elections 2010, Social Media got 146 hits since May 2010.
- Where y'all from? Turns out that most of my readers have Tanzanian ISPs. Tracker One says that 39.9% of you are resident in Tanzania, followed by 23.6% in the U.S. and 6.38% in the UK. Tracker Two is constrained to 500 entries but it reflects a similar pattern: 51.6% from Tanzania, 20% from the U.S. and 5% from the U.K. In-built tracker doesn't give percentages but the top three countries are: Tanzania, followed by the U.S. followed by the U.K. in similar proportions.
- And for a little fun: Tracker One tells me that 68% of y'all using Windows, 23% using Mac and 33% y'all using Firefox followed by 30% on Internet Explorer and 19% on Safari. Tracker Two ain't equipped to deal with this kinda thing. The In-built tracker says that 74% of you use Windows, 20% use Mac with 34% on Explorer and 31% on Firefox and an impressive 16% on Chrome.

Okay, conclusions. First: there are more readers of the blog than I would ever have expected, to be honest. Second: the graphics aren't as horrible on a Mac, for ya'll laboring with a decrepit Windows machine. Just saying. Third: y'all love you some Modesta Mahiga :) Fourth: readers outside of Tanzania are concentrated in prime areas of the Tanzanian diaspora: the US (East Coast) and the UK. Also, big up to the significant minorities: readers in Canada, Kenya, Scandinavia, Norway, Switzerland and India. Hello, friends.

Major big-up: the reader(s) in Russia who have inboxed me some of the most fascinating Tanzanian-Russian political analysis it has ever been my pleasure to read. My goodness, you guys. You rock. But why y'all been so quiet lately?

Which brings me to the most important thing: you.

I "outed" my blog because a cantankerous friend of mine wouldn't stop nagging and nagging and nagging me about doing better. So I did. And then I met blog friends. And artist friends. And I found perfect steak. I got contacts, content, professional opportunities and intense conversation. I got laughter, and a wee bit of stress, but mostly I got some incredible and unexpected support and a platform from which to speak my sarcastic mind.

If I were to go into the debt of gratitude that I owe my readers, my friends, my blogfriends and all of you who have challenged me and given me content and made it all more than worthwhile... well, this would have to turn into a Hallmark movie. So I'll keep it simple.

Thank you, so very much. I hope you keep reading. I hope you keep commenting. I wish you the very best for the holiday season, and the coming year.

*The difference between hits and visits is that hits can come from anything: webcrawlers, wetware, misguided souls and various internet ghouls. Visits, however, occur when someone deliberately clicks on your blog/link and then spends some of their time reading your content. So visits are the human subset of hits. Also: every tracker has it's own jargon. Go figure.

** I was planning to put up pictures of the blog trackers and then realized that I couldn't be bothered. It's December in Dar es Salaam. Enough said :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Just Desserts

Yup, that was the sound of my government flushing yet another decent civil servant down the toilet. And to imagine there's former ministers who are still MPs, walking around with the temerity to claim that they are innocent and... wait for it... "misunderstood". I beg to differ: no one is more misunderstood than honest public servants, all three of them. Heh.

Before Tido Mhando joined the national broadcaster, there was TVT. To say that it sucked would be to heap far too much praise on it. What it did, in fact, was embody the worst aspects of a captive party mouthpiece with tricks employed by the likes of Mobutu in the 1980s. Although Mobutu's propaganda machine had some pretty unbelievable craziness* going for it which made things interesting. The only thing TVT had going for it was access to archival footage.

Then Tido came home from a long stint at the Beeb, got hired by The Establishment and apparently decided to put the Public back in our public broadcaster. He's had a four-year run. It has been glorious, each year better than the last. So you can imagine, I have been laboring under the impression that the Kikwete administration is genuinely media-friendly.

Which doesn't mean that The Establishment feels the same way. I suppose it was only natural that it punish Tido and team by firing him unceremoniously. TBC's election coverage was too focused, too professional, too non-partisan, too bloody detailed and well-researched. If I was a zealous apparatchik, I imagine I would fire him too for having the audacity to do his job.

If this firing thing really sticks, it's going to be very interesting to see what happens next. I certainly look forward to making fun of his successor. If we're lucky, perhaps Tido will stick around to teach aspiring Tanzanian broadcasters how to do their job, because lawd knows we could do with some standards.

What's the lesson here? Work for this here government at your own peril. Unless you're a kleptomanic "misunderstood" "socialist", in which case you'll feel right at home.

*Like, the daily broadcasts would start with an image of Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku wa Zabanga and all his titles descending from the skies to the strains of the national anthem. And at night, naturally, at the end of the broadcast he would ascend again into the heavens. It has to be seen to be believed :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Constitution

It has been a quiet time in the political scene. Okay, maybe not but I have been taking a news break and so far not even the WikiLeaks saga has managed to suck me back into the vortex. But this Constitution thing, it's got me itching. Twitching.

But first I have to ask, on the right hand side in a poll: have you read the constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania?

Tales of Family Life in Tanzania

Last night's launch of the Mama Dar collection of stories and poems was great. Four of the 27 contributors read their work, and I wasn't the only one who was choked up by the emotional power of the pieces. I learned a number of things there:
  • If all goes well, thanks to the sponsorship of Standard Chartered and CI and everyone who buys a copy of the book, this project may be able to raise 16 million Shillings for the House of Peace. That is some very impressive philanthropy, and a job well done.
  • The House of Peace, established in 2002, is the only half-way house operating in Tanzania at the moment and that getting it off the ground was- surprise, surprise- not at all easy. This is the first time they have been on the receiving end of a charitable activity. Which burns my ass when I think of all the money that could really be mobilized if more companies had reasonable CSR policies (exempting Standard Chartered and CI from this rant).
  • I was surprised, pleasantly, to see that the founder and Director is a gentleman (who quite firmly warned us that we could visit the crisis center near the American Embassy but the location of the half-way house is not available to the public for obvious reasons). Serves me right for being a closet sexist.
  • 'Feminist' is an active, not a passive label that does not discriminate. Can't believe I nearly forgot that one, need a refresher course. Of course this also means keeping a firm grip on the crucial difference between men who adore women, and male feminists. Very important distinction, that.
  • Just one gentleman submitted his work for the project, an insightful meditation for fathers. The irony is that one of George McBean's piece is a comment on the general, and generally accepted, absence of men in the daily nitty gritty of childcare. The event was flooded with women, a light smattering of supportive spouses and, of course, kids running everywhere and making the event lighthearted.
  • There really should have been more Tanzanians at this event. Really.
  • The physical and therefore social experience of being gendered female is inescapably intense and complex, at every age, across all borders. This intensity and complexity infuses much of our literature, where the body and all her exudations, her shapes and vulnerabilities and compromises, her pains and pleasures and surprises is overwhelmingly present. I think it makes for a pretty physical kind of writing, quite a different experience from the non-tactile discussion of intangibles such as Ideas.
The editors of the book, Amy Brautigam and Debbie Ventimiglia are both relocating soon, and this was a parting gift to a city they have come to love. Imagine if, in our travels, we all managed to leave something so good behind...

So in the spirit of sharing, I'm happy to announce TMR's first real give-away contest. It relates to the issue of gender equity. Best 150 or 200-word anecdote in the comments section on someone you admire who has done good work in this area in Tanzania wins a signed copy of Mama Dar: Tales of Family Life in Tanzania from yours truly. Dar residents only (sorry about that Hinterlanders, Diasporans and foreign readers of the blog!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mama Dar: The Book

Hey people: the Mama Dar book launch is happening this evening. Black Tomato, Makutano House in Oysterbay. The editors and authors will be there, yours truly included, signing copies.

To date, this is the only point of sale for the book so if you would like a copy do turn up. There will be readings, and refreshments. The book is all Original Content and revolves around our beloved city of Dar. The proceeds from the sales are going to the House of Peace, a shelter for women and their children leaving abusive situations at home. I think that altogether it makes a perfect gift for yourself if you love local writing, and for a friend or three.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jeez, 49 Already?

On Thursday Tanganyika celebrated 49 years of independence from British rule. I always enjoy Independence Day because it means curling up on the sofa to make fun of the various dignitaries during the live broadcast of the national celebrations. This year was no different in that respect: I noticed that military guests of all nations like to tape the parade (intriguing), that our youth show was obviously Chinese-trained (the martial arts moves gave them away) and that the President didn't address the nation this year. Also, Maalim Seif is wearing suits now, which is really strange to see after years of CUF t-shirts and an impressive collection of flower bouquets masquerading as shirts.

I found this interesting article about patriotism. Of all the various forms of love there are, love of one's nation-state has got to be the one that demands the most imagination. And perhaps a touch of illogic, when you think about it. I got the question once by a civil servant - with the heavy implication of course that being a civil servant is the sine qua non of patriotism. It made for great debate, all things considered. TIA, buddy. There is sometimes no greater enemy of the state than those who work within.

While I don't think it's a fair question outside of wartime (ati, what have I done for my country... how do you mean it!), and I can think of a few people whose definition of "public service" is essentially criminal in nature, at the core the idea of communal endeavor is an appealing one. Some do it by joining the armed forces, pacifists do it by talking everything to death. Some start businesses, some siphon off the odd vijisenti from contracts with multinationals, some just pay their taxes and get on with life, some write.

But the real patriots, the unsung heros? That prize goes to the hardcore handful of Tanzanians who willingly drink Dodoma wine. Now that is a love that knows no fear.

Pecha Kucha Volume One

No, it is not another craptastic promotion thought up by one of our rabidly maniacal mobile phone companies. What it is, is this: "a forum for ideas on architecture, design and creativity.*" Hopefully fuelled by holiday good spirits and spirits galore. Don't worry- the event is organized by my Grrrrrl the inimitable Sarah Scott who couldn't throw a bad party if she tried because I suspect she's the kinda woman whose souffle always rises. Always.

Happening tomorrow at the new Makutano House from 20:20 pm. This is another cool kid operation, which means guaranteed fun, excellent conversation and beautiful products from creative minds. Hope to see you there!

*click on the image, download the poster, read the blurb, c'mon over.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Uh. Maybe?

There was a recent poll on the blog about whether or not Tanzania is an Emerging Democracy. Record numbers of people (n=13) flocked eagerly to the right hand side bar where they cast their vote and said resoundingly: "What the hell are you talking about?" (n=5), followed not so closely by "Yes" (n=3), "No" (n=3) and "Steak" (n=2).

Thanks to all who took part in the poll. In the fine tradition of TMR, this statistically insignificant sample is about to be given some untoward weight. First up: steak. There's a place, quietly hidden in the Peninsula that serves slabs of meat with the blood still in it if you like your meat rare. But more importantly: Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Musoma. Goat. Get thee some.

As for the "No" camp, well... you qualify as Nay Sayers. The "Yes" camp qualifies as Yea-Sayers. And Tanzania might not be the emergent democracy that this blogger wants to believe in because, uh, what the hell is an emergent democracy? (n=5). Not to worry: this is the silly season, the time to unwind, when we all need a break to deal with the realities that January might bring.

So, have a good holiday. Let's pick this up again next year, hey?

A little birdie told me...

Follow MikocheniReport on Twitter