Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: Et Tu, Mizengo?

The man seemed so reasonable. Mizengo Pinda, I mean. If anything happened anywhere- and my goodness we've had a lot of excitement lately- he'd usually show up at the scene looking as grave and concerned as necessary. Making the right soothing noises, creating some space for calm decision-making. And then off he goes and tells the police to beat 'law-breakers.' Harsh reminder that underneath it all, he's is part of the Establishment after all. Disappointing, but a welcome reality-check nonetheless:

"... “Wapigwe tu!” was unexpected. There are plenty of thugs in short-sleeved suits from whom such a pronouncement would have been thoroughly unremarkable. What happened to that spirit of conciliation we have come to depend upon from the Prime Minister, considering our Head of State's aversion to dealing with complicated domestic issues? Surely, if for no other reason than to uphold the tattered pride of the Grand Old Party, silence would have been a better option. Not a perfect one, but one that displays the common sense that is becoming so scarce."

On the flip side, there has been a lot of attention paid to the police force in the media lately which is good. It is a long shot, but perhaps this will encourage them to start working on long-overdue reforms. They need to assert their independence from the government and especially from CCM, try to become a non-partisan institution which upholds at least a few professional standards. Yes, a pipe dream, but at least now there's no need to mince words about the situation. One too many civilians harmed. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: Hail To The Chief

I have been asked a couple of times what Tanzanians think about Obama's impending visit- hazard of the job. Honestly, I haven't got the foggiest. I imagine there are those who are terribly excited, like, say, the entire Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with State House and various political/business creatures who are certain to benefit directly. And then there's the rest of us, who hold a kaleidoscope of opinions.

So, you know, I'm just going to channel some solo opinion here. I do get the whole whoop-de-doo about being 'honored' with a visit from the Leader of the Free(ish) World. Symbolic win? Sure. I don't get why it's a competition to attract the attention of an American president, but since it apparently is, I am not above enjoying the thinly veiled venom of our disappointed 'competitors.' That said: meh. 

It's not personal. Barack Obama the human being is intensely appealing, so much so that I keep away from POTUS footage in order not to get dragged into his vortex. Best of all, he's married to Michelle. If I grow up, I want to be Michelle right after I am done being Morgan Freeman (don't ask, it's a long story). But this is the real world and he's the American president and I am one of those Africans who likes to toss the word 'neocolonialism' around:

"Supposedly between China and America we have been honored with diplomatic and economic attention. Ah, sure. Camaraderie, is it? We the plebeians are still asking ourselves and each other what was the exact nature of those very many contracts that we signed with China. Now there's going to be a delegation of hundreds of businessmen in the Obama entourage looking to explore opportunities in Tanzania. There is something disconcerting about being considered a sweet little morsel by America on the planet on the one hand, and China on the other."

Seemed mean-spirited to admit that at the moment I am far more preoccupied with issues of police brutality, internal security and civil rights, inflation and corruption and state incompetence than I am with presidents. And I don't think I am the only one. Gas, Africom, the Millenium Challenge Corporation, businessmen- what are these in the face of our current situation? Yes, Barack Obama is coming to Tanzania. If he could bring along plane-load of respect for civil rights and inject it directly into my government's veins I would be happier. But I understand POTUS has a few problems of his own respecting the freedoms of  Americans- like, say, freedom from state surveillance? *shrug.*

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Feeding Back the Feedback

In response to the series of articles that I wrote in the EA to stimulate debate about President the Fifth, I got a rather delightful email from a reader titled "Revolutionary?... I don't think so" And I quote:

"... after reading your last two submissions I think that you have compromised the revolutionary credentials that most Tanzanian youth wear so proudly. I cannot understand why you would take positions of certain people who declare that they do not see anyone who was fitting to replace them as head of state. How can you DISS such a large proportion of the youth which you represent with such an easy swipe when you discount anyone outside of a small clique of the current government operatives as capable of being a good president?

Please remember that you and your generation are the future of this country and the sooner you all rise up and take up this noble cause, the sooner Tanzanians will have a better life.

I put it to you that a part of your job is to inspire the youth to rise up and take their rightful positions in the society. It is not to try to perpetuate an old and tired approach. Can you just look across the border and see what is happening in the way when last did you visit your neighbors to gauge where Tz is in the scheme of things?"

Folks, that there is how to administer an ass-kicking. I loved it. 

So this week the draft of the new constitution has come out and one of the recommendations is that no one under the age of 40 should run for President- there's a bottom threshold. For the record I think there should be a top threshold as well- no one over the age of 65 should run for President either. Possibly 60. We have to keep things reasonable and a 20 year threshold gives hopefuls two decades to work the magic of their ambition.

As for 2015: nope, still not keen for a greenhorn to inherit our current mess. But a recent discussion with My Lady of the Considered Smiles I was offered another potential candidate who could be absolutely perfect for a Caretaker President who could manage a solid transition. So now there's three folks I am personally interested in. Gotta go do my homework on the new candidate. Bonus: finally, a female candidate to- possibly- get excited about :)

As for the neighbors and what they can teach us about how we should run this our fair land*: Burundi? No comment. Rwanda? Even less comment, especially at this delicate time when Tanzanians are practicing diplomatic restraint in the face of a storm in the aftermath of recent comments made by Jay Kay. Let's see...hmm, Malawi? Nah. Mozambique? Interesting, I like what little i have seen of the opposition's work. Zambia? Um. I need to do my research. Uganda? You're joking, right? I mean, definitely admiring of the citizenry but that political set up is ridiculous. Sorry. Kenya? If we ignore the glaring problems of hereditary power with hints of monarchism, inequality and exploitation issues, pathological tribalism... sure. That vetting thing they're doing with public officials? Very nice. We could do with that. And the deliver-or-starve work ethic has its benefits. 

Oh, wait. Did I leave out the Democratic Republic of Congo? Enough said. 

*You know, nobody tries to "understand" or "predict" Canada by studying Mexico. African comparative politics? Not my favorite thing kabisaaaaaa. We're not that simple, we should not be that simplified. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: The Pragmatic Application of Optimism

It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago during a 'discussion' with some well-meaning folks from abroad that I had to admit to myself how fearful I really am right now. The specter of dread has been been stalking me for a while as the gulf between what Tanzania projects and what she's really like grows with every sunrise. In principle, and on paper, we're a peace-loving folk who are married to the practice of Utu. The reality is... well, not that. 

In the fine tradition of killing the messenger, Tanzanians- be it the government or just us- abhorr having our dirty laundry hung out to dry in public. So there's a lot of silencing, an integral part of our so-called peacefulness. Unfortunately, every conversation I have had with my usual range of inspirators- old folks, radio taximan, bright-eyed youth, friends- has a note of distess hidden in between the words. What is becoming of us, what does the future really hold, and who knew how truly horrifying it could be to live in a country which is steadily abdicating the rule of law. 

Lest you think this is a philosophical discussion, it isn't. Seeing as I don't own the stories I can't share them here but people from all walks of life have been subjected to incredible acts of thievery, thuggery, violence. Murder, unlawful incarceration, coersion are on the ascent as we ourselves descend into the worst applications of 'might is right.' And to be honest, I place this situation entirely at the feet of our morally defunct leaders. You can't have a country administered by sociopaths and hope to thrive. 

Leadership is a dangerous concept in that it demands the creation of a follower class. I don't think this was the point of gaining independence, but I am resigned to the fact that this is going to be a journey. The only way to be optimistic in life, sometimes, is to be able to stare into the abyss that you're sliding into and say hey! It's pretty awful down there, but we can do something about preventing it. There is always choice.

Thankfully we have a new constitution in the offing. It's not going to solve everything but it is a step in the right direction. The most pressing need is to make sure that we get it as right as we can before time runs out on us in November. We'll have to stick to our guns and refuse to let entrenched powers pervert the document and the process:
"The good news is that we seem to know this. Power is like manure- you can’t just let it sit there in a heap you have to spread it around for it to do its work well, and a solid constitution is just the shovel to help us get the job done. In the process of drafting the new constitution so far we seem to have avoided its capture by the usual entrenched interests. It is early times but there are encouraging signs that it has been participatory in spirit and in practice. And so far yes, it does look like it designed to contain and prevent the executive from usurping all the power."
One step at a time.

A little birdie told me...

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