Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wikileaks Tanzania Files: We're Just Not That Into You.

The Wikileaks files on Tanzania were released a couple of weeks ago. I am a newcomer to the Wikileaks phenomenon because when the organization emerged as a contender in the media world, I think I was distracted by something else. So this is the first time I have actually read Wikileaks products. I have to admit that the Tanzanian files weren't as... confidential... as I was hoping. I thought we'd be swimming in dusty documents that had been finangled from seriously deep storage, but what we got was a parcel of internal communications between the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam and Washington as well as other American missions in various countries. The reaction in the media etc. has been relaxed because the cables aren't Tanzanian documents. So, you know, whatever.

Daraja and Swahili Street posted the two commentaries that I have enjoyed most, thanks to the light-handed analysis. I don't think it is possible to read too deeply and conclusively into the leaked cables, but they are invaluable in two important ways. The first is new information about what the GoT gets up to. It isn't all exciting, there is plenty of incredibly boring administrative twaddle in there. But every so often a gem emerges that gives some insight into what taxpayer money is being used for in our diplomatic missions, who has been where and why and the myriad little rituals of international relations. That's entertainment.

The second is finding out what America is up to with regards to Tanzania. I can't even tell you how fascinating I find this aspect of the cables. The selection of topics, the routine intelligence work, the relationship with Washington and other Embassies. The interpretations that the Embassy has of Tanzanian behaviors, its successes and failures in coercing the GoT to do its bidding. Even something so simple as keeping track of who was writing the cables, their tone and thoughts, the concern with image management. Imagine what it is like being the minion chained to a desk in the basement, reading the Tanzanian soul for the American people. Yes, I might have read too much Tom Clancy.

I know I shouldn't get too excited because: how did the cables leak? They might have been unimportant enough that they were leaked defensively to provide a distraction. They might, in fact, be worthless. No point in avoiding that suspicion (hey, everything I know about espionage I learned from a bestselling novel, and I know that goes for you too). However, if this is truly how America is operating in TZ... interesting. Now. If we could get the Chinese communications from their mission(s) in TZ, that would ice the cake

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