Friday, July 27, 2012

The Weekly Sneaks: A Semi-colon, Finally.

Two things this week. I got a nice little invitation from Parselelo Kantai* to write a piece for The Africa Report's column The Last Word. Mission: creative accounting, public budgeting, creative writing- what do they have in common? Discuss.

I gave that puppy the old college try with about 800 and something words, and the eds trimmed it down to...well. A cleaner, focused, tighter length. I admit to a grim reluctance when it comes to being edited, but I know a good edit when I see one. Best of all: they gave me a solid semi-colon, the one punctuation mark that I have never used with any confidence or certainty in my life.
"One of the outcomes of being a donor darling for too many years is the encroachment of laziness and entitlement. As with an author who has been too successful for too long and whose plots become formulaic, the urgency and ambition that drive endeavour can fail a government. How else to explain Tanzania’s propensity for what can only be termed ‘budgeting by rote’? Our government has succumbed to a lazy sort of autocracy; cantankerous about making the budget process transparent and participatory, and jealous of its power to push through budgets whether or not they bring every Tanzanian a better life."
I then had to handle the weekly splotch for The East African. It was a bit of a brain squeeze after the Africa Report piece. I hope it wasn't a wash-out, for once I don't know. Still trying to frame and articulate a republican, democratic approach to this We The People business, but it's a rocky and dimly lit journey:
"In our African states, there is a crucial step we never quite committed to after achieving self-rule and we are paying for it now. The transition of leadership from colonial administrators to local revolutionaries by-passed the people. There was no time, apparently, and no need to 'confuse' matters by introducing too much democracy to folks who didn't have the “education' for it. We never did confront our deeply rooted paternalistic approach to leadership. It was a terrible act of condescension to the people, but it does explain why our governments still behave as though mass obedience is their right and due."
*Yes. Yes I did. I totally name-dropped Parselelo Kantai. :)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Vodacom Award for Digital Excellence

I was minding my own business, lamenting the fact that the blog doesn't get updated nearly enough and that there aren't enough hours in the day, et cetera, moan moan moan, woe is me. Then Vodacom Tanzania decided to include me in their inaugural intake of online Fellows. They just kinda emailed me out of the blue. Bam! Award! Fellowship! Want it?

Um. There are folks in the Tanzanian blogosphere who embrace the intersection of commerce and social media. I am not one of them. I was confused as to why an advertising-mad telecom would reach out to a feral and outspoken anti-capitalist like me. Calls were made.

Turns out, it's not the Devil trying to buy my soul after all. Well... not my whole soul, just a touch of it. All I have to do in exchange for all this 'love' is put up the Vodacom badge on my blog. For which I will be awarded cool gadgetry and a year of free internets (yay!), money (whatever. redirecting to charity/utility) and a wee bit of prestige (I'm a Capricorn). And you know what? they actually put thought into this. So yeah, I am doing it.

Life is too short to just accept prizes as if they were manna. This is a Fellowship, neh? I think they should demand far more of us than a simple photo opportunity*. So I bounced some ideas off the organizing team about things like actually setting us a goal, forcing us to work together for the greater good, perhaps even setting a precedent for their next intake. I suggested mining our experience and competencies for something constructive to the people of this here great land whose hard earned Shillings are keeping us healthy and wealthy. Giving back, in brief.

I am grateful for Vodacom's recognition of this blog. I share it with the crucial people - they know who they are - who got a lazy bourgeoise to actually do something, for once. I shall be putting up the badge. You may, indeed, call me a Vodabitch for the duration of the year. And I will take it. Because if I can help it, something good is going to come out of this. Something thoroughly unprofitable, thoughtful and hopefully engaging. Inshallah.

*these guys have the worst planning ever. By consequence I will not be there to do the press conference, but a homeslice is kindly going to do the shake-and-grin for me in front of the cameras. So press people, get it right: I do exist, I can't be there, msilete uzushi.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Weekly Sneak: Science, Already.

It all started when CERN scientists announced that they were about 99% sure they had found the Higgs-Boson earlier this month. And I thought: go Homo Sapiens! One step closer to figuring out how this universe of ours is actually put together. And then it was suddenly deadline day for the EA and I wanted to write about it but I hit a wall. I didn't want to expose my nerditude for the whole of East Africa to laugh at. I know the rules of the game. Talking about theoretical physics in a public space is exactly how to get yourself socially lynched. Blackballed. Avoided at gatherings for being the queer girl. I already wear glasses, for God's sake.

So I sat and thought it out for a minute and realized that I was actually furious about this. Deeply furious as in: why the fornication do I live in a society that's so hostile to intellectual pursuit? Why am I ashamed to read a book in a public space and casually insulted with the collective derogatory term "nyie wasomi" whenever it suits a person to do so? Who the hell made Tanzanians so excrement scared of knowledge, of deep, broad, rich, beautiful knowledge? Who mislead us to believe that education is about schooling and degrees? And what are the implications of all this willful ignorance for our survival?

That's the article that I ended up writing instead:

"Our traditional methods of addressing questions of human development are letting us down. We've been getting excited about our so called resources- speculating in gold, producing gems, rubbing our hands over the fossil fuels lurking underground, and getting ready to rape the Serengeti so we can bring more Uranium into the world.

We're not up to managing these resources. Not when we have ignored our most important factor: people. Not when students are “graduating” from schools unable to read, or write, and this has been going on for years. Graduating? Ha! Where do we imagine the skilled labor to master a complex economy and a complex society is going to come from, exactly? How many of us even know what Uranium is, let alone what we'll be mining it for? Our system has created a nearly unbridgeable divide between those who can read and those who won't be allowed to contribute their natural talents to the polity. I used to believe this to be just another effect of our broken public sector, but I am beginning to suspect it's worse than that."

I think that this Africa 2.0 business is only a fart in the wind unless we can leverage this "emergence" to garner real investment in the stuff that matters: African grey matter. No amount of Vogue Italy special issues will convince me otherwise. We're fashionable now, and our exploitation by the rest of the world will be "gentler" and more participatory but it will still leave us at a disadvantage. We can't take control of our destinies without knowledge. China arises because they have science and technology and a gajillion Chinese who can think, think, think as well as do everything else that builds a solid economy. Japan rose on the power of it's ability to innovate and sell us stuff we didn't know we wanted. Korea. India. They all invest heavily in the knowledge industries. But Africans? We're still trying to sell raw commodities and act like this is a great idea. We need to wake the fuck up. Uninformed choices is not the way forward.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Little Less Corruption: Is That Too Much To Ask?

I mean, come on. In June, I got caught by all kinds of predators. The bloody Fire Brigade was out, "fining" drivers if they didn't have a fire inspection sticker and an extinguisher in their car. It ended up costing me twenty. Then the cops were everywhere, checking for any excuse to stick people with that thirty thousand fine- in multiples! Someone lax could easily rack up 120k in fines in one ambush! I want to know how unnamed cop dude spotted that my insurance had expired by six days from over 100 meters away. Apparently our traffic police have Enhanced Vision Superpowers but they can't see all the jacked-up rural buses that regularly kill passengers on our hinterland roads. I coughed up my thirty for the pleasure of being regulated by my state, and have the receipt to show for it.

Don't get me wrong: the 'rebel' vibe is a sham. I am thoroughly square. I believe in rules unless they just are plain stupid, at which point I believe in using other rules to rectify the bad ones. I get the point of taxes, and fines, and all of that tedious folderol. I am happy to be an obedient citizen because I have an affinity for order, and peace, and anything that doesn't get in the way of striving for a deliciously contented life. But in exchange for this shameful and self-serving bourgeois complacency, I expect something back from my public sector. So it killed me to pay the Fire people anything when just a few years ago I got to watch the apartment above mine burn to cinders because these people failed to show up and do their job. And it killed me to pay a fine to traffic police who are good for nothing much other than fining people like me.

Nobody wants to pay for a broken system. It's like being forced to pay premium for rotten eggs at the market- how do these public servants of ours think it feels? I would gladly hand over all the contents of my wallet if there was a glimmer of a chance that the money might actually buy medicines for government hospitals or top up the salary of a teacher striving to bring the light of the word and the number to kids stuck in the neglected ruralities. But have you seen the potbellies on the senior ranks of the police force? If we were to eat them, we could feed a medium village for two weeks that's how fat they are. The forms that were filled out for my fines- no names, no numbers, no way of following up with the "arresting officer."

Let's not play games here folks, did you really need to hold me up for twenty minutes just so you could make enough money to afford your boss another cholesterol-laden boozefest at his dingy bar of choice? Our police chiefs have potbellies, but we "can't" afford to pay teachers a living wage? Nor stave off doctors' strikes? #Mxiiiii.

A little birdie told me...

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