Friday, March 23, 2012

March For Women.

International Women's Day was a few weeks ago, but here's the thing: I think that one day to reflect on the status of women in particular and gender dynamics in general is laughably brief. So I do a month of it, if I can. Here are four articles that have challenged and inspired me this month:

1. Are women people? Oh dear.
2. Do women make better leaders? The old debate gets quantified. Properly.
3. What does development know about gender issues? Not much, apparently.
4. Oh, for God' sake! #obvious.

Got these from links from friends who have the interest- hey Mavis, Steve!- and other wanderings about the web. Trying to build up an article about feminism, in the hopes of opening up a discussion again or at least thrusting the topic in the face of as many East Africans as I can before the month is out.

The article about women's leadership qualities in particular is interesting, as this is an age-old question which tends to change answers based on current assumptions about gendered character traits. I treated myself to a viewing of the Iron Lady last week, because how could I possibly resist Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher? Seriously. It was as toothsome as promised, and has given me a temporary fetish for blue suits, but what really made the movie interesting was that it didn't pull punches in its portrayal of Thatcher's character. I have never subscribed to the notion that women necessarily make better leaders than men, and it's nice to see a study that more or less confirms this. The point is simply to get more kitten heels clacking down the corridors of power, for the benefit of us all.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Perceptions of "Aggression" in East Africa

So this blogpost goes out to Njore, who asked for it.

What are the differing perceptions of aggression in East Africa? My experience is fairly limited, but I do know far more than my fair share of what some Kenyans think of themselves, and of Tanzanians, thanks to Facebook's chat feature. Here's what my handful of Kenyan correspondents think of themselves: that they have a monopoly on "aggression" in the region, which is a substitute word for all kinds of qualities. Aggression as I have seen it used can mean a strong work ethic, timeliness, speedy delivery, a refusal to tolerate bad or slow service and a willingness to firmly demand your due. In some instances, aggression meant violence, and I guess we have seen Kenya at breaking point in 2007.

Here's what they think about Tanzanians: that we lack this vital quality, entirely to our detriment. Oh, and that we've got a lazy grace to us, we're puzzlingly polite in circumstances that don't require it, that our language is dead sexy.

... ahem.

In the interest of free and open dialogue I am going to pass on this opportunity to state my opinion about the matter. Instead, I'd like to open the discussion up to whoever might be reading, and familiar with our corner of the planet. Fellow East Africans, and experts on the region, what do you think? What's your perception of the "aggression" factor of the various EAC member states and what does it do for them? See you in the comments section.

Articles and Blogs in the Pipeline- You Want to Contribute?

Hey folks. So every so often, someone gets in touch online with a suggestion for the East African articles. Which is nice, actually, because there are 52 weeks in the year and not every one of them is inspired*. So I thought I would open it up a bit to the hivemind that lives online- regular reader of passerby who got lost on the blog while looking for something else. Feel free to toss a potential topic this way. Caveat: I might never work on your suggestion, I might work on it immediately, I might sit on it for a while. Even I don't know what's going to happen from week to week, which is the only way a sedentary writer can build a little thrill into her life :)

The Weekly Sneak: Play Well Together

Last Sunday's Citizen had a big front-page spread about the Zitto Kabwe- January Makamba affair. I thought it was wonderful that they have finally been outed as the collaborators that they so frequently are. In actual fact, it's not just the two of them- a number of politicians are guilty of skipping merrily across party lines when the need arises. But that's their business, and there are reasons why they only do this kind of thing behind closed doors. Interestingly enough, the article was very 'neutral' in its tone while managing to sound hopeful that this would all end very badly for all involved. :) Journalists, eh. Don't let the truth get in the way of drama...

So that's the topic for the coming week's East African column: collaboration. It's totally trending right now, and it gets us all away from the craziness of partisan politics. Because democracy doesn't have to be a brawl, every day, does it? Nah.
"Some commentators have raised the concern that this new class of politicians is too high-ended, well beyond the ken of the “average” Tanzanian. That their interests are those of the dreaded bourgeoisie, and as such this unholy alliance of ambitious young men will result in even more kleptocracy and neglect of the poor. A distinct danger, to be sure. However, thanks to our socialist past and humble beginnings, there hasn't been a generation of heirs until rather recently. Just about every one of our grand corrupters and super-kleptocrats has come from modest beginnings. Much as I hate to contradict my fellow armchair socialists, let's just admit that there is no more nobility in poverty than there is in riches- in leadership it all comes down to character."
Oh, I also took the opportunity to poke a little fun at Zitto and at January- the magic twins. Seems every time they cough there is a camera there to record the event for social media dissemination/frontpage news. I feel like I am constantly tripping over their PR. But I also know that all the incessant jostling for public visibility is a very smart part of their clear ambitions to one day hear someone call them "Mr. President." Probably not simultaneously, though... heh. And won't that fight be great to watch?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day, 2012.

There is still a lot of work to be done. I recently attended a women-only event, something that I do very rarely outside of kitchen parties and bridal showers, organized by TANZICT. The idea was to bring together female social media practitioners to talk about their work and give their sistren an idea of what social media can do for them. Dunia Duara, Chick About Town and myself were recruited to speak- the event is covered here by Pernille.

The reasons for making it a single-gender event were explained by our convenor Catherinerose Barretto quite succinctly: when men are in the room, women's participation decreases. Even those of us who are lucky enough to be employed and otherwise 'empowered' women can attest to the fact that living in a patriarchal society comes with its inescapable daily challenges. Watching the morning news today, listening to the various gender activists talking about the particular problems of Tanzanian women, I wondered to myself if we are giving this issue the kind of emphasis that it needs.

I don't think that we are. Not as a society, not as self-identified feminists, not as gender activists.

In the past couple of months I have been embroiled in more discussions about gender than in the past two or more years put together. And to my dismay, the topic still meets with more male suspicion and hostility than it warrants. Clearly, the dialogue needs to be opened up and men need to be recruited to the cause.

So: Happy Women's Day, whatever your gender. There is work to be done. *rolling up sleeves*.

Trending: Creative Commentary

Good Tanzanian political fiction is in short supply, for the same reason that fiction is in short supply in Tanzania. We are only just beginning to unfurl our intellectual wings and get into the swing of a creative culture that goes beyond the oral forms. It is a large gap to fill and I won't even pretend that I have my finger on the pulse here- I can't remember the last time this crazy city life actually let me finish a book. However two really excellent developments have come about recently:

First is this bitingly sharp satirical Tanzanian news blog: My Tanzanian News. At the moment the team behind this brilliance is keeping a low profile but hopefully they will come out of hiding. In the meantime I really hope this is not a short-lived affair because they know exactly where to stick the knife in while keeping things light. That is a skill I seriously admire.

And secondly, Vijana FM have introduced a story-chain titled 'Beyond The Global Eye.' In brief, it is a fictional story that provides a platform to discuss international media, investigative journalism, social and political issues and globalization with an international cast of characters and a Tanzanian recurrent theme. I haven't come across anything like this before and as a true believer in the power of fiction to tell truths I am very excited about the experiment. So far only two authors have contributed but it is open to submissions from the public. To date there are three episodes with two more in the works. I strongly advise you check it out- current affairs are discussed in a most thinly veiled manner and the characters are engaging.

The Weekly Sneak: What Does A Nationalist Wear

It has been a bit heavy weather lately and I thought it would be nice to take a break from the sky-is-falling sensation that the news has been giving me lately. So I tackled one of my favorite subjects, one that simply does not get enough attention: political fashion. Coming to The East African in a couple of days:

"Word in the backrooms of the various tailor emporiums of the city is that the real jackpot for design houses is to be able to reinterpret this basic costuming for big CCM meetings, campaigns, and spouses of prominent politicians. Anyone paying attention to the visual reporting on these events and people will have picked up on it. Given the restricted palette of green, gold and black and the requirement that whatever happens a tie cannot be part of the outfit, it is amazing what designers have been able to come up with. Especially considering the color green can be quite difficult for African complexions. More impressive still is the skill of the tailors involved: the socialist suit is very unkind to pot-bellies. Yet as waistlines have expanded one administration after the other, political dandies have managed to keep looking sleek rather than sausage-like in uniform."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The NEC Meeting: A Fighting Chance Not The Chance To Fight.

Every so often I actually write a complimentary article about the government or the Grand Old Party and the February NEC Meeting provided such an occasion. I submitted a piece to The East African for a planned "special" on the event and... nothing. Nothing the week after than either. Oh well. So this is incredibly not fresh news, but since the piece is written I thought I might as well share it here:

"CCM has finally held its highly-anticipated National Executive Committee (NEC) Meeting this month. Although we are not all card-carrying members of the Grand Old Party, there is hardly a Tanzanian living today who does not have a stake in how it conducts itself. The big CCM meetings offer a glimpse into the general mood of the party, and the implications for politics in the country. Watching the flows of power across the various levels of the organization does provide a good insight into what the future might hold.

It has to be said that outside of the more colorful encounters between the state and reformers of all stripes, the Kikwete administration has been consistent in its pursuit of its own vision of a better governance system whether or not we agree with it. And while it has been struggling under the weight of kleptocracy, somehow CCM 2012 is a more open and democratic organization than CCM 2005. It seems that the internal shift of power from one generation to the next, and the shift in attitude that this entails, might be a relatively smooth one and it might even take the party back to its glory days when members felt true ownership.

“The way in which the ruling party has remained legitimately in power by pragmatically adapting to the demands of the time has allowed successive regimes to pursue relatively continuous development objectives throughout a transitional period.”

Generally speaking, the meeting outcomes that CCM announced give hope. Barring incumbent MPs from being members of NEC is an excellent move, especially in light of the overwhelming greed that CCM MPs have displayed. In principle, the less power resides in the hands of CCM MPs the better off we are as a society- at least with this particular intake. Also commendable is the Party's decision to amend its 1977 Constitution, hopefully to bring it into the 21st Century. The decision to select NEC members from Districts is a good way to devolve power away from the center further down towards the grassroots, and arguably gives some measure of control of the party back to its natural constituents: its foot-soldiers and faithful voters.

Finally, the decision to create an advisory council of elders is also welcome. We have hit ten years without Mwalimu's wry wit to guide us, and his legacy has yet to be adapted for a contemporary votership. It has been hard of late to pinpoint where the intellectual and ideological centers of the Party reside. If the GoP has the benefit of the experience of leaders who have made it to retirement age, they should certainly use it. Continuity is important. Besides which, it creates an excellent counterbalance and resource for the incoming generation of leaders who are only just starting to earn their stripes.

CCM's ongoing challenge is to continue to manage the competing political groups that contest its autonomy, ranging from aid donors whose good governance agenda has specific political ramifications to competition from opposition parties, civil society's role as the poor's advocate and watchdog, the welfare and employment of the poor in urban and rural localities, the unquiet union with Zanzibar, the emergence or regional politics, and the effects of increasing inequality- though it must be said that the current administration has contributed significantly to the growth of the gap between kleptocrats and ordinary civilians.

“In order to succeed in growing its economy and redistributing the benefits of such growth, its greatest economic asset remains its overall political stability. So far there is every indication that the ruling party is cognizant of the importance of the continuity provided by the stable political system of which it has been the main architect”

It is worth repeating here that the current President has remained staunch in his avoidance of straight autocracy. With a Party chairman willing to exercise a bit of authority in order to retain as much of the spirit of 'public good' as he can manage, CCM has proved itself to be the chameleonic, learning organization that is smart enough to follow the winds of change. And as long as it is willing to flex and adapt to the times, however small the adjustments may be, then Tanzania retains a fighting chance, which is entirely different from the chance to fight. There is something to be said for that, and it is a lesson that I hope opposition parties are paying attention to."

It's a mix of old and new as I blended some predictive Poli-Sci writings from about six years ago with commentary on the current behaviors of the GoP. CCM has managed for 40 years to adapt in a pragmatic way to contemporary demands... and I see it doing that for a good long time to come. And yes, I do think that's a good thing. But I still refuse to get that party card :)

A little birdie told me...

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