Tuesday, May 31, 2011

This Writing Life: How Bloggers Can Cheat

Hello! Sorry about the silence, total inspiration collapse in the past few days. I have a sneak preview for you, as a peace offering. Well, it is only kind of a sneak preview since I reheated some leftovers for The East African in an effort not to blow my deadline. Barely squeaked through. But since I did cross-post between the two platforms, here's a bit of what's coming for budget week:

"Every year during the pre-budget frenzy, the conversation is usually being held far above the civilian’s head. Civil society watchdogs want the government to do this or that particular thing, the donors suspect that something fishy is going on but are prevented by the rules of international relations from saying so directly, and the government is busy performing a very delicate and graceful balancing act to keep everybody happy- especially itself. The Tanzania Revenue Authority is the only institution that cares quite directly about the taxpayer, and that is the one institution that nobody wants anywhere near them."

The idea originally was to do a riff on the famous "death and taxes" statement and then somehow stuff other subjects into the article- donors and their role in our governance structures, what does it mean when civilians are treated as recipients and not really seen as healthy contributors to the national project, civil society's watchdogging, individual agency, and the fact that nobody willingly pays public officials- especially when you know that your government is corrupt...

But, you know, it's only 800 words. I had to get a grip on reality.

Truth be told, I find blogging much easier that columning. Blogging is relaxed, like throwing on a favorite pair of jeans and a crisp white t-shirt. Writing a column, on the other hand, is like constantly panicking about your business formal attire. This week, I caved in and reworked an old blogpost idea for the column, which I suppose is like wearing the white t-shirt under your jacket and pairing sneakers with your pinstripes. I'm sure it'll happen again, when the deadline is breathing down my neck. So that explains the title of the post: this is how a blogger can get away with feeding her column reheated leftovers.

Technically speaking, it is not exactly a cheat. People do it all the time- recycle the same content across various outlets. It has it's uses, but in principle I'm not a fan since I am obsessed by the idea of Original Content. One of the writers whom I admire tremendously offers OC across a mind-boggling number of platforms. And if I ever grow up, I want to be just like that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On False Advertising: The Rapture

Y'all have to understand: I was raised High Catholic. For real. Since those kooks in New York have been nattering on about The Rapture this and The Rapture that, all my demons have come out to play. The seven horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Chosen ones, the triple six and Nostradamus- been there, read that, amongst other things. Dan Brown has nothing on the crazier corners of Catholic psychosis.

It has been a long journey, lapsing from all the Hail Marys and learning how to live without the scent of frankinscense and myrrh, and not an easy one. So here's my beef: why raise all those expectations of The Rapture- only the most feared and anticipated event in Christiandom, ever- only to drop the ball at the last minute? sSomeone needs to be sued for false advertising. I want my anxiety back, every last minute I spent scouring my soul and prematurely making peace with God. And while you irresponsible prophets of doom are at it, catch a clue: market research is a good thing.

The King's Diary: The Importance of Fighting Corruption

Dear Me

I have come to appreciate the importance of anti-corruption work. The other day I used the TKP’s anti-corruption drive to purge from the party my biggest opponents. And last week, our donor friends offered $ 100 million in return for a long overdue anti-corruption report. Making money has never been easier!

The Kingdom has benefitted in many ways from this anti-corruption survey. First, when after many years of haggling the TKP agreed to the survey, we received good marks (i.e. money) from our friends. Then we refused to release the results for 2 years. Our friends got so frustrated that they offered big money if we did. So in a demonstration of sincerity I ordered the release.

After I ordered the release we tried to pull another trick by distinguishing between releasing in principle and when to release but this did not fly. So we published the report on a web link that does not function. But somehow the report did come out.

Not that it matters. There is hardly anything new in it. 86% of households consider the traffic police corrupt. Duuuuh. 73 percent believe that the judiciary is not fair or impartial. Oooooh. That compromising civil servants is an important way to maintain loyalty to the TKP and that this, in turn, keeps the country stable is something that donors fail to grasp. But never mind.

The survey did contain some useful information as well. 57% of households do not dare to report a corrupt act for fear of victimization or because they would not get protection. Good to know the TKPs system of repression remains effective!

As for next steps, with the report in hand I am going to ask the donors to address the corruption as identified. I did the same with the ICF, and received a lot to reduce roadblocks (sic). I am quite convinced that the donors will agree with me that major investments in computers and vehicles as well as elaborate ethics training and salary increases are likely to help bring down corruption. It will cost a fortune, but it’s worth it. Not?

Anti-corruption .... I love it.

The Sheikh

Sheikh Yahya Hussein passed away on on the morning of Friday the 20th May, 2011. He was 81 years old. At the time that I got the news- via Twitter- I thought I would wait a little bit before saying farewell. The occasion seemed to require a dignity that is not conferred by social media's minimalism.

The Sheikh and I inhabited different planets when it came to systems of belief, but I can't deny his influence as a public figure. If the position of National Mage existed- and why shouldn't it- the Sheikh would have been the only reasonable choice. His predictions have been a source of great interest and comment for years now, and his TV show had to be seen to be believed. Sheikh Yahya single-handedly brought numerology, astrology, phrenology, clips of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, werewolf movies, zombies, gemology and a host of other supernatural arts right into the homes of thousands of Tanzanians.

I admired him because he was unapologetic about it. This is a society in which interesting statements get made with no irony attached, such as: "It is our culture to believe in God!" and "Of course I don't believe in witchcraft personally, but I have seen things..." The dual character of the postcolonial African: one foot mired in your heritage, one foot slipping off the cliff of "modernity", about to do the mental splits and not sure what to cling to if anything. Sheikh Yahya suffered none of that confusion. His approach was to hold the door open: come one, come all, as long as you want to believe in something and have a little time to spend doing so.

How spiritually sound this approach might have been, is now between the Sheikh and his maker. In an era of perpetual religious fragmentation, I found him comforting. I will miss his democratic approach to matters of faith, not to mention the creativity that his social-spiritual entrepreneurship enabled. And indeed, how many countries could boast about enjoying the services of a public clairvoyant? Farewell, Yahya Magus.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Social Media as a Tool for Social Change Brought Me Here

Yes indeed, what am I doing so far away from home? It came out of the blue, really, I was parachuted into a seminar about socmed and social change in Nairobi at the eleventh hour. It was a meet organized by the MEDIaE research project. Also: Kenya. Like I said, I wanted to take a peek at what's cooking in the region's communications power center, maybe make some friends.

Based on what I learned, I think that the occasional pilgrimage to Nairobi as well as a regional tour whenever money and time allows is probably de rigueur for the serious EA socmedian. The seminar was very interesting- there is no way that I can capture the breadth of information that was presented. Here are some things that stood out, in no particular order:

- February 28th was a watershed moment. The "my country first" attitude is the default position in Tanzania so I didn't pay much attention at the time. Hearing about it from a Kenyan opened my eyes... I got my first hint of an idea that's going to show up in the next post.

- I can now confirm my suspicion that Nairobi and Dar es Salaam are on different planets when it comes to social media. Content, reach, quality, approach, politics, preferred forms of media- you name it, we are each walking our own paths. What unites us most is the mobile phone, I guess. We've got a lot to teach each other, but make no mistake: two very dissimilar markets.

- Speaking of mobile phones and marketing... the Nokia presentation was very interesting. Let me put it this way: if you live in EA and have a limited budget for a handset, they might just be the friend you're looking for. And no, I am not getting paid to say that, I just like EA-centric merchandize.

- Check out these numbers. Statistics are always good, and yes they can be used by people other than marketers who are trying to embed their product in your cerebral cortex. Arm yourself with knowledge.

- There was a lot of concern about policing social media content for "quality." This made me worry, actually. It's one thing to hear from your government that they support the idea of censorship, but to hear if from socmedians? Unexpected.

- Erm. I spotted a generational difference in approaches to/thinking about socmed and media in general. But age ain't nothing but a number, as one of the participants- I'll call him Mzee Poa- reminded me. It's in the attitude.

- Content producers were thin on the ground. It was interesting to hear from organizations that use social media with clear transformative agendas, but it did make me wonder. What, if any, is the value attached to free-range social media content producers? The bloggers especially, who are working in a longer form and not necessarily trying to sell you on mosquito nets, or local government meetings, or anything in particular really. Is there space for... dare I say it... simply expressing? That's a real question by the way, if you have an opinion I would love to know in the comments section.

Post-meeting networking and here I am today enjoying the iHub's fast internet connection thanks to my new buddy Daudi Were. Who has promised to send me a list of Kenyan blogs I should be reading, si ndiyo? It is a comfortable space in the way that only Web-obsessed people can create: couches, coffee, a million power outlets, suits and ties are probably banned. I am out of my depth- there's techies around doing that stuff that they do so that tech-challenged people like me can sort-of use the web. But I'm getting a bit of a notion that Bongo could use something like this...

Nairobi: it's been tight. Keep fresh, I'll be back soon I hope. Peace. TMR out.


I am in Nairobi in the hopes of learning a little something about social media from the Kenyan scene. It's pretty exciting actually- in regional terms the social media scene doesn't get any bigger than this and hearing from Kenyans about how they go about it is an opportunity I could not pass up. Might tweet or blog interesting tidbits if I get the green light. Oh, in case you ever despair of being a broke and ignored blogger in Bongo, listen: there's folks out there looking for people to throw money at. It's a good time to be a social median, know what I mean?

In case you're wondering about the title, I have been shivering since I set foot on KQ and don't expect to warm up again until I am back in Bongo. No doubt about it, I have the physical temperament of a swamp rat. I have to say though, the city is impressive. Bright lights, paved roads... public parks with green manicured lawns. Hey Nairobians, what say we exchange city council members for about five years, eh? You can have all of our mayors for free, however many we're afflicted with, and you don't have to give them back either. In fact, just go ahead and keep them- they make wonderful living sculptures for public spaces but we have a surplus of that going on in our government offices.

Oh, I have noticed that almost everybody speaks Kiswahili these days. Cool.*

For a bit of fun, I tested the Tanzanian Charm Offensive on a couple of folks today. Immigration guy fell for it, he even welcomed me to the country with an "enjoy your stay" - after silent treatmenting the two Kenyans ahead of me in the line. The taxi rank guys practically gave me celebrity VIP treatment. The taxi driver, however, was thoroughly immune. I have to say, Nairobians are a little susceptible to the TCO. Johannesburg was much, much tougher- especially those angry people who insisted on speaking to us in Zulu even after we told them we weren't Safrican. Dude. A lot of latent anger going on down there. But then again, I am not sure they knew exactly where Tanzania is. **

I have got to get to Kampala, Bujumbura and Kigali soon...

*Cool because that means that on average Nairobians are bi or trilingual at the basic minimum. Which is always better than only operating in one language of business.

** It's that huge landmass that you fly over on your way to your holiday in Zanzibar on the non-stop SAA flight. :) Sorry, but that's what you get for saying that you're going to "Efrika" every time you contemplate travelling north of the Limpopo. Aw hell, there goes my SA visa eligibility...

The King's Diary: Dubious Spending

Dear Me

Last week I considered using public rankings of performance to motivate civil servants. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea. There is quite some information available that could be used for this. Moreover, if I go about it smartly it could restore the TKP’s legitimacy and help deliver better services to thepeople.

The other day I got a ranking with amounts in outstanding audit queries by district, derived from information of the Auditor General. It shows how district officials manage taxpayers’ money. Out of 134 districts there are only five without any dubious spending: Chato, Kilolo, Songea MC, Iringa MC and Njombe. All others spent public money in ways that are unacceptable to the Kingdom’s supreme audit institution! Some managed to misspent as much as Kingdom Shillings 8,000,000,000.

(click to interact with the PNG)

It seems a good idea to honor the officers who have done well, maybe by giving them a promotion and allowing them to manage even larger budgets. In particular those in Njombe deserve credit. They have not had audit queries for years! There are also a few districts that managed to improve their financial management considerably recently: they cleared large amounts in outstanding queries. Especially officials in Iramba, Mpwapwa and Dodoma MC deserve to be praised for this.

On the other hand authorities in Kilwa, Same and Ukerewe do an extremely poor job. Each of them generated at least 6,000,000,000 Kingdom Shillings in dubious spending last year. These people need an investigation by the Kingdom’s Anti-Corruption Bureau; if I decide not to fire them right away!

Hmmm … this ranking could indeed work for me. Let me call a few journalists and television stations and organize a nice ceremony for the good performers.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pen&Mic II

No point in lying about it dear reader: I had a long detailed post all drafted up for your consumption about Pen and Mic II. And Blogger lost it all during it's recent maintenance fiasco. I just want to have a moment of silence here in order to embrace the realities of being a social media user when you don't own the means of production.

Alright then. Pen and Mic was just as good as advertized and a lot more diverse that I had expected to see. Case in point: where else are you going to have a violinist solo for the opening act, meander through feminist poetry and listen to Mzungu Kichaa back up Kwanza Unit within the space of a couple of hours?

The talent in the room was inspiring and fearsome. If this is just a sampling of the culture we have lurking around this city, well we're sitting on something very hot. Actually, I am not in the least surprised- I am old enough to remember the emergence of BongoFlava and East African Channel Five through we've been exporting our brand of Bongo Cool to the neighborhood for a couple of years now.

But don't get me wrong: this is an open-mic kind of event. Which means that after the scheduled programming, we got to listen to some rawer talent. Some of it was magnificent, such as two singer-songwriters who can obviously compose rather well (no beat box!). One of them even has a voice that is pure Motown gold. But then there were others, some of whom I would very lovingly encourage to head back to the drawing board and explore what lies beyond the rhyming couplet.

That said, a major shout-out to those who got up and performed. I know from experience how incredibly hard that can be for writers, which is why I don't demand it of myself*. But I want to send vibes of love, encouragement and inspiration to every single one who faced the mic. I also want to big up the gang behind the event: the organizers, the hosts, the volunteers who supported performers and took pictures and video footage and the audience who put something in the collection plate. Art should be free and accessible. Our government can't do it, so support your local scene where possible.

The event is free, quarterly and if you are interested follow them on Facebook.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Do It Yourselfness

Hi. So I have been sitting on this post forever because I couldn't figure out how to dump a whole bunch of links in one place and make them thematically consistent. But now I really have to close the tabs on my browser, so I have settled on Do It Yourselfness. It's my favorite attitude in the world: the intentional grasping of whatever you got in hand in order to create (or try) something that you want to see done.

So my top hit do-it-yourselfer is here. I asked a question about Tanzanian hip-hop, politics, gender issues and poverty and got such an awesome answer that I was partly sold on the whole hip hop thing. There's nothing like getting the low-down from an inside man. In the same vein,here is some free content addressing the Arab Spring and stuff. Look for the music breaks.

This event is another gem from some of my favorite do-it-yourselfers: Pen&Mic is back at Saffron, second edition. I missed the first one and have been virtually excommunicated. So I will be at the second one (that'll be me in the corner downing brandy and stroking egos). But on a serious note: this stuff is the good stuff. Don't miss. 7:30 until late, Saffron Restaurant, bring your art if you can.

Ah, Ariana. Miz Huffington did indeed build her online newspaper from a do-it-yourself perspective. Pity about her morals and ethics. So the lesson here is: don't give your content for free unless it's your blog. Otherwise you'll get Huffingtoned.

Every so often I get a call to go out and spend a pleasant hour or two "helping" baby activists get their blogging skills on point. I'll say this much: it is surprisingly hard to actually set up a blog and write one consistently, especially if there's a group involved. These guys might be rough around the edges, but I think they are getting the hang of doing it themselves. Content and design. Go team go!

And then there's this little scuffle in Bunge, which delighted me. They do say watch out for the quiet ones. Trevor Noah is by no means a quiet one, my goodness that guy makes political incorrectness irresistible. Watch out for the little inappropriate moment at the end.

To cap it off with a bang: I read a lot of stuff about Africa trying to puzzle out the blanket "governance problem". I tend not to agree with most of it, and I really have a hard time finding whose thinking rings true. But David Booth? He's definitely onto something. And it's not the same-old-same-old either.

And because not to mention it would be a shame: William Easterly recently accepted Feminism as his personal savior. I'm going to take a flying leap over all the things that I could say in response to a powerful white man in the development sector coming to Jesus at such a late stage in his life, because someone else is sure to do it far better. Instead I want to point out one thing: one key difference between a male feminist and a man who thinks he's a feminist but isn't is the temerity to defend this political stance against "your own." Easterly has a long way to go in his induction to the -ism, but I'll celebrate his breaking this glass ceiling.

Content sourcing: hat tip to Shurufu and Swahili Street twitterfeeds and a few others (sorry! I forget! tabs open too long!). Raspberries to La Dee for finding that awesomely terrible Trevor Noah clip. If I never get another visa to the States it's your fault.

... And Other Measures

His Majesty has just asked me to ask you if there are other rankings of performance, other than that mentioned in his last love letter to himself, that you would propose to him. In order to keep track of the performance of the TKP cadres of course. He's in a receptive mood, so make use of the comments section.

The King's Diary: Crusading Against Corruption

And now... a note from His Handsome Highness who I am sure you've been missing as much as I have.

Dear Me:

I’ve had little time to write over the past few weeks: reorganizing the TKP leadership required all my attention. That is behind me now. I believe I have successfully used the fight against corruption to strengthen my grip on the party and to rid the TKP leadership of some of its more problematic members.

Could I use the fight against corruption to consolidate my power over the lower rank and file of the TKP as well? It is an attractive proposition. Could it work? Citizens seem to be getting sick and tired of never ending tales of embezzlement. If I were to be seen as fighting corruption, I could definitely regain some of my popularity. Moreover I could get rid of some lower level administrators who block progress by eating and creating nothing but unhappy citizens.

Corruption by TKP rank and file is perfectly acceptable. It is necessary even to assure their loyalty. But if the TKP is no longer seen as working for the people, its legitimacy is at stake. At present too many officials in the Kingdom appear to believe it is sufficient to be loyal to the TKP and to do nothing more. My friends from the Empire of the East tell me that this is an unsustainable situation that breeds unrest and opposition.

In the Empire they have perfected an approach that demands loyalty and performance from their cadres. Only those who deliver are allowed to steal. I like their approach but could it work in the Kingdom? Do I know who delivers and who does not?

Maybe I should change the question. Do I need to know? By setting a few strong examples I could change the behavior of many, especially when those who are not mentioned believe they may be next.

The other day, I received a report from the energy and water regulator with information about the performance of urban water utilities. Why not make a start and use this information? I could create a ranking and publish it with great fanfare. I could then promote the managers of utilities that come out on top and fire the ones at the bottom. Or better, I could make sure that the non-performers are accused of corruption! Hmmm … I may be onto something here

Performance ranking of urban water utilities


(from worst to best)

Urban water utility

Percent of water that was produced for which no revenue was received

Average hour of daily Service(hrs)

















































































Sunday, May 1, 2011

Nearly Ten Years Down The Line

Strange day. When I woke up to the news that Osama Bin Laden had kicked the bucket with a little help from American special forces, I guess I was hoping to feel something more than surprise. Instead, I find myself far more interested in the circumstances surrounding his capture, execution and subsequent burial at sea than in the outpouring of joy or relief that seems to be taking place around the world. It didn't help that Tanesco sprang a surprise day-long cut on the neighborhood, so I have been outside of the newsloop for the day. I appreciated the quiet, and to be honest one hour of international outlet footage has pretty much suggested that this is not a complex story with any nuances to be had (yet).

Osama bin Laden has been the most infamous international villain of our recent times, a man who clearly reveled in having the blood of innocents on his hands. That pretty much spells EVIL in any language. I regret that I did not study his grievances against the world in great detail. The particular insanities of despots and powermongers aren't my favorite reading material, but still- information is always good to have. If nothing else, some insight into his politics would have been handy.

I do find it gratifying that someone welched on bin Laden- finally! Impressive as the secrecy around his whereabouts has been, to be honest I was beginning to wonder if he had quietly perished somewhere and was being "kept alive" by judicious al-Qaeda militants for PR purposes. As a pacifist, I can't say that I approve of his execution- I do prefer trials followed by life in jail so that despots can savor the bitter fall from power - but I can't seem to care about the matter. Whatever.

The details that really intrigue me are:

1. He was close to the elite Pakistani military training base? Talk about a diplomatic disaster. There is no way in hell Pakistan's authorities can pretend they didn't know about his presence there with any credibility. The implications are veeeeery interesting (stroking double chin).

2. I wonder who got the thirty pieces of silver, and why now. I wonder about their safety and that of their family. And, like, do they have to pay taxes on that?

3. Okay: special forces, a bullet through the skull and burial at sea- talk about no loose ends. The burial at sea? Now that's interesting. I can understand the wisdom of denying his supporters a grave or a body to turn into a pilgrimage point. He's been fed to the fishes, mafia-style. Whether he was actually buried according to the tenets of his faith? That's something for the US military's PR department to handle...

The message being sent today by America is a strong one: we won't rest until you're a dead enemy of the state, legalities be damned. Well, Osama did want to die in battle and I see that he and the US were able to accommodate each other in the matter of his demise. I get the sense that no one is going to quibble because, seriously? Yeah. Is his death "a major setback to terrorist organizations around the world" as the international press is reporting? That remains to be seen. But I have a feeling that we're not out of the woods. Yet. And to be honest again, that's what I really care about, in the end.

A little birdie told me...

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