Friday, May 31, 2013

The Form IV Fiasco- The Government Missed It's Opportunity. Again.

After the Form IV results fiasco earlier this year, the government put together a Commission to investigate what had gone wrong and provide recommendations. At the time I was very skeptical because commissions have been the government's rote response to all disasters, and there is little evidence that the recommendations of these commissions have the desired impact. In other words, the government has a habit of using Commissions in a most cynical manner for political expedience- that's the impression it has given the citizenry.

Nonetheless, since the problems that have been causing the gradual collapse of our education system are well documented, I was optimistic that the government would take genuine action to improve the situation. Besides, at the very least they surely have the best interests of Tanzanian youths at heart because who could be so monstrous as to damage their chances of succeeding in this increasing complex and competitive world?

What happened was not unexpected, but it is unspeakably dissappointing nonetheless. In the short term, the government chose to nullify the offending results, and this week it announced the new results which show a marked improvement in the pass rate. As for the Commission, I was sent a link this morning to Rakesh Rajani's letter to the Prime Minister explaining his reasons for withdrawing for the remainder of the Commission's term. Seems the Commission wasn't, in the end, quite allowed to do their job of advising the government. 

Bad move.

Having shoved its immediate problem under the mattress, the government might still attempt some reforms in the education sector. Nevertheless this incident raises concerns about the fitness of the people in office to govern, and calls into question the general competence of our public institutions. What does it say about the government when it literally refuses to be instructed in its business by the people- even in those instances when it is clearly politically beneficial to be responsive? 

The Weekly Sneak: The Drug Problem We Don't Have

Earlier this week Tanzanian hip-hop artist Albert Mangwair died, reportedly from a drug overdose. He was 28 years old. Because of the long relationship between the creative and performing arts and substance use, it tends to be celebrity deaths that provide an unfortunate reminder of the use and misuse of psychoactives in our societies. I have been meaning to write about drugs because it is one of the Big Silences that we generally maintain and while it is opportunistic of me to write about it this week, what happened to Mangwair pushed me out of my complacency. 

After drafting the article, I called up a couple of friends for moral support and ended up getting a lot of information about the devastations that alcohol abuse and other drugs have caused in our community, and on the positive end some of the efforts that a few individuals are making to address the issue. We are mishandling our situation, particularly with regards to exposing children and adolescents to alcohol. While we can blame it on the glorification of drugs in popular culture, I think the real failure is one of regulation, widely available  information, and treatment. It is a complex issue that is becoming socially critical, and my only way of contributing is to try and get that topic out there:

"Our silence on the issue of drugs contributes in the way that all ignorance creates opportunities for exploitation and perversion. Not all intoxicating substances are created equal, some of the legal ones are in fact more of a social threat than some of the illegal ones. Alcohol- the most widely consumed psychoactive in the world if we ignore caffeine and tobacco- is a pretty nasty customer. The stuff is highly addictive and I have to confess to being amused by the health advisory statements that get plastered on bottles. ‘Enjoy responsibly’ has got to be the most cynical, watered down warning message ever to accompany what is essentially a poison that only has dubious medical endorsement in small doses."

I picked on alcohol because of its prevalence as the world's favorite drug, and its social acceptability in our communities. If I made the article about heroin or cocaine it would be too easy to devolve into a discussion of crime and police ineffectiveness (not to mention corruption) while ignoring the elephant in the room. You'll never hear prohibitionist language from me since I believe that the point is to address issues of demand rather than supply, but that said, if there's any chance of us actually enjoying responsibly, we're going to have to change our approach. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: Let the Games Begin.

Actually, the series about the next President of this our land was going to end at number three in The East African. But then Bernard Membe told the press to focus on "more important matters" than who might inherit the skin shield and elephant tusks in 2015. Folks, I am only human. I can resist anything but temptation. So number four duly came by :)

"Imagine, if you will, a young President in 2020 supported by a civil service made up of peers who are motivated to create a brand new Tanzania, unencumbered by the lethargy and pathologies of the ancient regime, and tell me that’s not a beautiful idea. All good things come, they do."

A note to all those who have been so kind as to share their opinions of my work lately: thank you. We shall disagree on certain things, and agree on others. My only hope is to provide you with a toothsome opponent where necessary, or a loyal ally in service to the polity when things swing that way. And hey, look: we're finally fucking talking about 2015. Who needs to be right when the point is to be effective? 


Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: The Opposition Proposition

Onwards ho! with the discussion about President The Fifth. Two things I have always had beef with in our modern standardized practice of liberal electoral representative democracy. First: the power of presidency. Second: the opposition proposition.

Really, the power should lie in the Legislature. Of course as African countries we're all still trying to indigenize whichever form of copy-paste government system we adopted after independence, and that's alright except for the part where we transferred the village chief concept straight to the presidency. I don't care what anyone says, there is nothing intrinsic about people in Africa craving a Big Man. It's not a genetic predisposition. This is why we need to teach precolonial history in school... once we've mastered the art of actually teaching literacy and numeracy.

The legislature is where the real power should lie in a republic, and we particularly need it here so that we can put an end to this business of being so overwhelmingly vulnerable to the vagaries of one individual. But until that happens... Presidents are important, which is why we need to discuss this business of voting opposition.

Yeah, yeah- the opposition proposition. Listen: ideology is basically dead in East Africa, the only thing we all adhere to is Pragmatism. This fetish for the miraculous powers of voting in an opposition President is ridiculous. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes the last thing you need is opposition. Sometimes it's because the system isn't ready, sometimes it's because the devil you know is in fact far better than the howling nutjobs at the gates. Voting should be about the judicious selection of representatives based on self-interest and a view to the greater good. It should not be done out of some slavish devotion to an individual or an institution or- even- a narrow ideology that holds no water in your particular circumstances:
" When assessing a potential candidate for Presidency, I suspect most of us ask ourselves the same two questions.

First: could this person handle the beast that is our machine of state... or will it grind them down into an exhausted heap of failure and disengagement, unleashing mayhem and chaos upon us all? Second: will this person serve the interests of the Republic... or are they secretly a power-crazed sociopath who will make Iddi Amin look like a kindergarten teacher in comparison?

The first question is a very tough one for the opposition. The machine of state is hard enough to handle even if you come from within the bowels of the Establishment and were raised by the Green and Gold. An outside man would have to be exceptional to succeed at it in our current circumstances. When we reach a nice saturation point- lots more opposition in parliament, a professional civil service, an independent judiciary- then more voters are likely to gamble on a non-Establishment candidate."

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: In the Game of Urais, You Pick A Side or You get Herded

This week a 'fan' was kind enough to email and compliment me about the quality of my written English because- as he explained- I sure do write good for a Tanzanian. And then he appended his support for my 'campaign' to help the opposition win 2015 because that's what's going to save our English-mangling Tanzanians from ourselves.
Sigh. I know. He meant well. The road to hell... That said, it did tickle me darkly. Very darkly.

What I have to thank him for is the kick up the backside that motivated me to broach a subject dear to every Tanzaphile's heart: who is going to succeed Kikwete? Oh yeah, it's time to kick that door wide open:
"In the past, it is said that the Party used to have a healthy internal mechanism for the selection of candidates during elections. Perhaps. From the outside, it looks as though the Chairman always had far too much power to determine who his successor would be. In addition there was a shadow code of power-brokering that involved unwritten rules about who was viable, negotiating the management of religious and tribal and other considerations. Our Presidents have always been minority men, a subtle triumph of CCM statecraft that bears keeping in mind. But times have changed and our current political landscape is a little complicated."
Yeah. It's time. Let's play.

A little birdie told me...

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