Saturday, May 29, 2010

Liberty, really.

I've been getting a variety of verbal reactions to some of my written musings on Jay Kay, challenging me to 'declare my politics'. The terminally suspicious jingoists are certain that I must be a puppet speaking on behalf of The Kenyan Invasion to undermine This Great Nation Of Ours. The professional malcontents accuse me of, how to put this, applying my reverently puckered lips to the collective backsides of the President and the Establishment. Truth is, I am doing this for reasons far more selfish than anti-patriotism or sycophancy.

Power interests me. This is part of an ongoing project to learn through experience and reading and conversations what our relationship is to formal authority and how that affects how we govern ourselves and who we choose to lead our public institutions. Natch, these 'governance' or 'political' issues affect how I live my day-to-day life: whom I am "allowed" to love, how much I pay for electricity, who has the right to disconnect my water, what I can wear in public, whether or not I can stand for public office, what I can afford to eat, how long I have to wait in line for a passport, so on so forth.

Since I do all that living in Tanzania, evidently I must study Tanzanian power structures. And since, generally speaking, Tanzania suffers from fantastically crap institutions, all roads lead to the President*. And since we choose to defer so much power to the President, it is in my interest to know what kinda guy or gal the incumbent is.

It suits me just fine, for example, that Jay Kay's technophilia and evident love of all things young, shiny and new makes him more of a friend to eMedia than an enemy (for the most part). As a liberal-slash-blogger-slash-aspiring-writer-slash-feminist-etc, I need a Head of State who is friendly towards freedom of expression and I prefer one who is not paternalistic in his approach to power. Jay Kay kinda-sorta fulfills these requirements (hey, everyone is a work-in-progress).

Just because I like him- and you do too, you know that smile is irresistible- doesn't mean that I agree with everything he does, or think that he is The Second Coming with a slice of foie gras on top. Charm can only get you so far. I suspect he's messing up very badly in certain ways, but I can't exactly walk into his office and have this chat over a cup of coffee. That is just not how the system works. However, I am at liberty to communicate in other ways. A liberty I evidently exploit and am ready to defend along with every other form of liberty I currently enjoy and any future liberties I might acquire.

The non-selfish part? No woman is an island, and these things must be negotiated with the rest of the folks out there. As long as people are willing to defend liberty, we all benefit. Kinda like a social JKT. So, I hope that helps clear up any questions you might have had, dear Tanzanian reader-who-is-likely-to-ambush-me-at-a-bar-or-workshop, about why I write about Jay Kay the way I do. It's imperfect- like him I'm learning on the job and I have certainly committed my share of mistakes. But at heart we both love this country and serve it to the best of our abilities. Thanks for asking. Let's talk. Please use the comments section- its there for you!

*Yeah, I know there's other "important" branches of government. But, like, not really. That's the problem.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tanzania...without aid?

There's a very interesting debate that went down on As I Please, the blog formerly known as African Bambataa. What's interesting about it is the competition between rhetoric and reality, that gap between what we want and what we can get. I must admit to a strong bias towards historically grounded political-economic perspectives of the 'development problem' rather than purely economic (or purely political for that matter) perspectives. And, of course, hard-nosed pragmatism. The comments section offers some revealing ruminations.

Anyways, for those who are interested in what development aid is like in practice- the flip side of theory and political rhetoric- this makes an excellent companion piece.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

TEDxDAR: Semi-final reflections

Never make a promise on your blog. Your colleagues are likely to gang up on you and demand that you actually fulfill it whilst enumerating the various lapses in logic that you suffered during the TED event. Don't they know accountability is for public officials, not ye Average Josephine? Here, then, are a few final thoughts on TEDxDAR.*

Undeniably a fantastic event, and one that has initiated the kind of conversational exchange I am sure we would all like to see more of. I understand that the Organizing Team is looking to do this on a regular basis so I suspect that frequency is not going to be the problem. The obvious question becomes how do we expand the dialogue to become more inclusive? There is the matter of increasing access: physically through good marketing and choosing amenable venues which can accommodate larger numbers, and intellectually by offering the event in Kiswahili as well as English.

On the flip side, is this an elitist event? Without a doubt, and in the best sense of the word. Yet registration to attend TEDxDAR was FREE. FREE talks, FREE food, FREE goodies. It doesn't get better than that, does it? Sure enough the event was oversubscribed, yet people DID NOT SHOW UP thereby blocking attendance on the part of people who wanted to come (or claimed they wanted to come, since even they didn't show up after tickets were freed up). I am not sure what this says about us. Sometimes I wonder where our collective head is at.

That's it from me. I'll be updating as I get my hands on TEDxDAR info or goodies from time to time. Cheers, and thanks to everyone who attended TEDxDAR, supported it, organized it and in any way shape or form continues to work for a smarter, better vision of our future. Let's keep thinking, talking, doing.

*I hope you guys are happy. Now will you delurk and shift the discussion to the blogosphere?

Sunday, May 23, 2010


It took us about two minutes to walk the wending inner streets of Mikocheni and arrive at the primary school. The room was nicely signposted, the government officials as warm and polite as one is likely to get. I got my picture taken after the nice lady told me to sit up straight and then adjusted my bra strap so it wouldn't show. Decorum. I asked the nice registration man if he was okay with me taking pictures too. He was nervous but he consented. People are kind to you when you tell them that it's your first time.

The classroom was peaceful and quiet, a civic cathedral where we all sat on the same narrow wooden pews that children would fidget on tomorrow. Someone had left a lesson on the greenboard in beautiful cursive. Kwa. Kwe. Kwi. Kwo. Kwu. It only took me ten minutes and a few questions to get inducted into the Tanzanian diocese of the Church of Electoral Democracy.

I was born in Mwanza City, Bugando Hospital, same as my four siblings. I will vote in Mikocheni, Kawe, Kinondoni- same parliamentary constituency as my three siblings and two parents*. I was handed yet another photo ID encased in hard plastic. Like so many of the best moments in life, it was wonderfully mundane.

Walking back home, the colors seemed brighter and the crows less annoying. This afternoon, I shall cook and dine with my favorite political operative and my oh-god-i-have-to-deal-with-government-hand-holder-in-chief to celebrate. While buying some brew, I asked my Duka Guy if he'd registered. He laughed and said he'd done that long ago. Everyone around me seems to have voted before, and I feel a bit silly being so terribly excited about this.

I can't wait. Have a blessed Sunday.

*That is where the similarities end. We have far too much fun twitting each other over political choices to sing from the same hymn sheet.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

TEDxDAR: And to conclude...

We are done now. The pictures are being taken on stage, the tone is mellow, the DJ has put on bass-heavy music and guests are trickling out of the tent. At the blogging table, aspirin or alcohol would probably be welcome depending on the recipient. Certainly I must thank Mr. Whatsisname from my WK days who insisted that learning touch-typing would be helpful. I hope you are still bullying high-school kids into doing their Mavis exercises :)

I am walking away from the group photo (strobe lights are brighter than they appear in the movies) and guided home through the dark by the warm glow of my Apple. It's time to shake some booty at the after party*. Tomorrow, or whenever, is time enough to do a proper post-mortem. So I'll just say this for now: mad love to the TEDxDAR team. You done good. Own it.

*Triniti, 7:00 pm onwards. I'll be the one having twitching to the break beats of James Brown.

TEDxDAR: Young Kimaro

And last, but not least, Young Kimaro. As an aspiring columnist, I have always admired the lucidity, pragmatism and humor of her writing in the Daily News. Also: she's cool peeps. She remembered to Big Up Kate Bomz (the hidden factor) for pushing like a demon to make sure she was here to support, organize and respond to Speakers for the event. Tech moment: Kate Bomz was actually online and managed to respond live.

Technology. Education. Development. x. Dar es Salaam. That's what's up.

Young Kimaro is hypnotically soft-spoken and I am tired, so forgive me if I don't do justice to her presentation. She started with illustrations from the tourism sector. We are understandably proud of our rich natural resources, but until she started breaking it down for me I did not think too deeply about how our relatively poor services are compromizing our tourism trade and making us uncompetitive in a world chock-a-block full of gorgeous places to visit. And that's just one sector.

"What if we all did what we do...better. every day, every week, every month, every year."

What if?

Young took us from the ideal to the applicable through the tool of Client Focus. And she broke. it. down. For the first time, the comparison with Asian Tigers- which never fails to annoy me because of the implicit historical insensitivity- made sense to me. She was so much better at giving me a credible explanation of the hidden factors that propelled them forward than anyone I have come across to date.

Told you she was pragmatic. Watch out for the soft-spoken ones.

TEDxDAR: Abdu Simba

Abdu Simba is a bit of a polymath, but for TEDxDAR he's here wearing what I like to think of as his 'visual arts' hat. Abdu was one of the founding members of the Flame Tree Media Trust, supporting photography in Tanzania. His talk is about a rather difficult subject to collapse: iconic images, identity and self-esteem. A subject whose complexity any African who consumes film and television is familiar with as we react viscerally to a range of emotions- from the humiliation of old reels with blackfaced minstrels to the triumphant appeal of Barack Obama's aquiline profile gazing thoughtfully into a beautiful American future.

Abdu took us through a slide show of iconic images, from the West and by contrast from Africa to help us think about the tropes, and expose the stereotypes. His ultimate destination was the iconography of Julius Kambarage Nyerere and how he has come to embody Tanzania's soul because he represents our greatest hour. I'll see about getting the slide show for you, it pretty much speaks for itself.

He did say this about the arts: in Tanzania, just as anywhere else, they are cruel masters. We may talk about 'incentivising' art all we like but at the end of the day artists are the ones who have to serve their craft or else they will die. If you are doing something else because art hailipi, you weren't an artist to begin with.

Sometimes it really is that simple. (Please don't use this as an excuse Not to Pay Artists for their Work!)

TEDxDAR: Modesta Mahiga

It is with great personal pleasure that I am blogging today about Modesta Mahiga, CEO of Professional Approach. She couldn't be here, so instead of dropping out without udhuru she recorded a video and sent it in. Committment haina feki, people.

Modesta is passionate about human resources, about developing people and that relationship to our fate as a nation. She's all about unleashing the power of the individual in order to win- in life, in business, as a collective made up of powerful actors. Her vision of our future is of a Tanzania led by confident, professional, patriotic, altruistic entrepreneurs. Of course, since TED is all about exposing such-like individuals in different fields I concur with her that this is not just rhetorical dreaming. This is already happening.

No link yet, but as soon as I get my hot little hands on the video I'll post it. It is good.

TEDxDAR: Selemani Kinyunyu

"Green is Sexy." Yes it is. With this message, Selemani aimed to recruit the participants into doing their bit for climate change* in Tanzania. Whether that means biking to work, separating trash and composting, not printing every email or any host of daily activities that can actually make a difference, however small, in the ultimate fate of the environment. He's already doing his part. Selemani's talk was about what climate change has to do with Tanzania.

I asked Selemani to try and explain what the heck this carbon trading business is all about. And he did: the market for the environment aims for reduced emissions from avoided degradation and deforestation. Carbon emmission is a good measure of environmental degradation. Since 60% of Tanzania's GDP comes from the extraction of natural resources (tourism, mining, agriculture), climate change will directly affect how NRs will be used in Tanzania. In effect, through this carbon trading market we can, as nations, buy and sell 'carbon emissions' in a global market. And this is where I leave you to venture ahead on your own because I 'failed' Economics more than once due to my complete inability to understand let alone speak Economese.

*In the interest of time I am not going to blog what Climate Change is and the fiddly bits of the Kyoto and Montreal Protocols. Please watch Al Gore's movie and use your Googling skillz.

TEDxDAR: Rakesh Rajani

Rakesh Rajani is best known to most of us for his helmsmanship of HakiElimu, the most notoriously successful watchdog NGO in Tanzania in the past five years. Using public education as a platform HakiElimu took the fight to the big boys, roasting the government in the fat of its own statistics at a time when it was political suicide to poke holes in the Primary Education Development Program in front of donors. At present, Rakesh is doing what he does extremely effectively: founding, fostering and promoting a new activist organization in Twaweza.

His talk was titled: "Development is Failing Miserably-lessons from 9 villages in Tanzania." Supported by a slide show of pictures taken by Pernilla Baernst taken in 2008, Oct 2009, Rakesh took us through documented experiences of 'failures' in various sectors. This is about getting to the core of development challenges- holding government to power, demanding accountability, rejecting the false stories and false consciousness of the development industry.

But- and this is where things get interesting- the talk was also full of stories of success. Of course 'poor' people in poor countries are not sitting around woefully acting out their poverty. Rakesh took us along as he met canny entrepreneurs and innovators who are powering along the Tanzanian economy by making the best use of what's available. If necessity is the mother of invention, it goes to stand that the powerhouses of innovation will be found where the need is greatest. Doesn't that just invert the power triangle?

I guess that ultimately, Rakesh's point is that we (Tanzania) do not lack money or people or donors or any other classic ingredient for development. What we need is imagination that knows where to look and how to create and invest where it will really make a difference.

"Imagination will make Tanzania Fly."

Now isn't it nice to get a positive development vision for once?

TEDxDAR: Lunch Break so Time for Some Pictures

TEDxDAR in pixels.

Participants checking out what's on offer.

Pete Mhunzi talking baraza-style about a bilingual Tanzania

Organizers! The people behind the excellence.

ePress Corps: Blogging, Tweeting is hard work. Check out the furrowed brows.

TEDxDAR: Maya Wegerif

Maya Wegerif: 18 years old. African. As she introduced her work as a writer, she hit on the point of voice and representation. Although she couched it in terms of stories told about Africa and Africans and incited us to claim our space, I was hearing her as an African woman who is frighteningly talented and challenging us, her sistren, to tell our stories too as best we can.

Tcha. Keep your eye on this one. We'll all be milling around her trying to get a photo op when she wins that literary prize in a couple of years. Best get your photo now ;)

And yes Maya: let's claim our stories. Check her out on her blog.

We were treated to another excellent TED Video. You can't pay for candor like that :)

TEDxDAR: Babu Sikare

"I was held accountable for everything"...just like everyone else. Babu said that his family was careful not to treat him any differently than his other siblings. There is a tendency in Tanzanian families to hide the kid with the disability, or 'protect' them from the world or the consequences of their disability. Sikare pointed out that his family was incredible in terms of making sure that wasn't the case for him- they probably knew that life would hold challenges enough without them making things complicated. Touchingly, several members of his family are here at TEDxDAR to support Babu.

So Babu has struggled and succeeded to build what he calls a Normal Life and what I call Self Actualization. He's an actor, a performer, evidently successful, in spite of his very real challenges and limitations. And now he is working as an ambassador against the killing of Albinos in our fair land.* He has a pragmatic approach: creating social awareness means explaining to people what causes albinism. But there is a hidden side to the story: albino killings get a lot of press coverage because of the gruesome nature of the 'entertainment.' However, on average albinos die by the age of 35 because of cancer. Not a sexy story, no press coverage. And so to address this issue, he started an organization. Check out Afrobino.

*Like, what the heck is up with that social insanity? I can't even begin to unpack the pathologies inherent in that practice. Kulikoni?

TEDxDAR: Vicensia Shule

"I was told..." Vincensia Shule used that phrase to jump off the received wisdom on Julius Kambarage Nyerere and tell us her story: to her, Nyerere was an Artist. As she is.

While explaining Mwalimu's role in promoting culture, she broached an interesting subject: under the British, western forms of art such as theatre were introduced for the enjoyment of the colonials, and the black elites, the 'Black wazungu' aka coconuts, aka Oreo Cookies or whatever other pejoratives might be applied to such folks.


Just to look next door for a second- Kenya has a fantastically vibrant intellectual and artistic scene with world class theatre, literature, music, etc. Tanzanian art is... well. Let's just say it's a good thing Wole Soyinka wasn't born here. We don't value arts and culture as a society, lip service aside.

Anyways, Vicensia tells us that Mwalimu established cultural groups and schools for the arts. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Culture has suffered from the same forms of neglect that the Ministry of Community Development, Women and Children, namely the Who Cares Problem.
Vincesia says that Mwalimu Failed *gasp!* the arts because he didn't put in place mechanisms to nurture and support culture and policy. We apparently didn't even have a cultural policy until 1997. He also forgot that *gasp!* This World Is Not a Socialist World. He didn't put in place a system to promote the arts and culture because it was all in his head and he didn't make allowances that we are not all mind readers nor do we all agree with his philosohies in perpetuity.

Vicensia has a very quiet voice and measured delivery, which is why I think that the challenges in her talk slipped into our Tanzaphilic ears so quietly to fester. Thanks for the corrections, Vicensia!

TEDxDAR: The Tea Break

One thing I noticed immediately coming into the TEDxDAR venue was that I already knew far too many people here. A couple of friends have remarked time and time again: Dar is very small. I deal with this by keeping as low a profile as I can manage, but in the end there is just a large group of us who are Unavoidable at Certain Kinds of Events. I wonder sometimes if this is a Tanzanian adaptation of what C. Wright Mills was writing about in 'The Power Elite."

It's not all cliques and insiders though- I managed to meet and greet a couple of Really Awesome Women. One is a blogger who sat next to us on the blogging table and introduced herself thus: "I am an independent blogger, not one of the organized ones, but I am blogging the event." Word.

So it was utterly unsurprising to find that her blog- Raging Squid- is actually hosted under the URL irreverentwench dot blogspot dot com. Link up on the blogroll soon.

Anyways: may the outsiders never ever stop infiltrating ;) It's what leads to events like TEDxDAR

TEDxDAR: Mejah Mbuya and Sarah Markes

Attention: Dreadlocks on stage! Mejah Mbuya is presenting a brief history of Dar es Salaam, accompanied by Sarah's fantastic drawings. Because, like me, Sarah considers microphones to be mortal enemies. Nice management of the situation, Sarah ;)

I have blogged about the Street Level Project before, check it out if. Chema chajiuza. It is also an excellent lens through which to present Dar es Salaam in the 21st Century, this city which some of us love so much. Karibuni Bongo, kuna historia...

TEDxDAR: Leo Mkanyia, crosspollination

Leo Mkanyia stepped in because Nakaaya was not able to join us today. Ahem. Leo Mkanyia is an Afrojazz guitarist, and performed two songs for the event. Acoustic guitar, clear voice with the slightest rough suggesting that maybe the blues is around the corner, lefty political lyrics.

As I Please: " Prof. Mhunzi says, when he moved to TZ, he conversed with his house keepers in Kiswahili. But the language of chores was English. As a result making Kiswahili the lintellectual language and English the subservient one. The resultant code was flipped. His is a fascinating way to think about the debate we've been having in this country about which of the two of our national languages we can elevate. A provocative start."

TEDxDAR: The Leadership Challenge

Oh, my people. There is something about our West African brethren isn't there? They don't suffer from quite the same Culture of Silence and Acquiscence as we do here in East Africa. No, sir. Taking a break while George Ayittey talks about my favorite thing in the world: governance. Yes: Power, the Power to Self Rule and What we Africans Have Done With It. Oh yeah, and markets and the relationship between the market and politics. We should have left it Political Economy in my opinion, you can't have a one-sided coin.

Watch the video, there's nothing else to be said.

Bloglink: Shurufu is also liveblogging this event, check out his posts.

Jamie Yang- TEDxDAR

Ah, poverty. And the business of eradicating it. Jamie Yang hooked me into his talk with this simple observation: The stories that are told about the poor are quite different than the stories that they tell about themselves.

What Jamie does is deal with energy issues, bringing light to the poor. Everything costs more when you are poor- more money, more effort, more strategizing, more diverse little income streams, more ingenuity and opportunism. Jamie works in Social Investment, the strange no-man's land between NGO funding (aka 'free money that make you lazy') and venture capital (Evil Capitalism). I can't say that I understand how it works, exactly, but I will always applaud people who put their thinking caps on to work in poverty alleviation.

Peter Mhunzi- TEDxDAR

"My goal is to encourage Tanzanians to value equal bilingualism"

He's talking about English and Kiswahili and how we treat them in Tanzania through the lens of diglossia. This is some deep stuff, and something I know that many of us Anglophones struggle to master in an Kiswahili+'Tribal'tongue society. In diglossia:

- The high language is that of 'governance' has formal prestige
- Low language is the language of everyday discourse

Not hard to see what's happening here, if you have ever wondered why our leaders speak fluent Kiswanglish. Worth noting of course: TEDxDAR is being conducted in English. More importantly- you cannot fully participate in the Intellectual Life of Tanzania if you avoid English. You cannot fully participate in the Everyday Life of Tanzania if you avoid Kiswahili. There lies the rub.

This is the first time I have heard someone acknowledge, define and promote the inescapable fact that Bilinguality is a better and more honest state of being for Tanzania than the often politically-motivated adherence to one language.

Fantastic talk by a fantastic speaker- Peter Mhunzi.

TEDxDAR 2010 Live Blogcast

Hi Folks-

Salaams from Masaki. I am sitting at the back of the tent at TEDxDAR, cursing the forest of tall men sitting in front of me getting in the way of the screen and trying to hear over the sound of the three massive fans behind me. It's going to be an interesting ride. I hope to take you along with it, in this the first liveblogging event for the Mikocheni Report.

Nadeem Juma has just welcoming us all to the event, introducing the organizers (big up Kathy Bomz) and taking care of some housekeeping. I am slightly distracted by the rain- sitting at the back of the tent it is hard for me to ignore the fine mist that is messing with the computer...

This place is IT'd to the teeth. We're talking livecasting, blogging, tweeting, texting, not to mention the usual recording and stuff. Unfortunately, the rain wasn't factored in and this means we're pausing a little bit as the people up front figure out how to protect all this sensitive electrical equipment from the ultimate enemy- water.

In the meantime, waiting on Peter Mhunzi whose talk, titled 'The Need for Bilingualism' has just been demonstrated quite nicely by our host :) Seriously, this is a topic close to my heart as well. I'm listening, more later.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Good Phat is Good Love.

For those of you looking to combine, here is where TEDxDAR and the Goat Races are best placed to collide:

And a little Taj Mahal to accompany the artwork. Sadly the YouTubes didn't have a vid to embed. See you there.

Quick and Dirty Restaurant Review: Boodles

So last Friday, La Dee says to me: "Russian Ballet in town. Shall we brave it?" Hm. You have to understand, my tastes in art are rather particular and entirely limited by visceral feeling. I get: syncopated beats, heavy brass and percussive strings, electric guitar, the color blue, righteous vocals. I don't get: ballet, woodwinds, chinese opera, italian opera, modern painting. Still, you have to try to expand your boundaries...

Luckily for us, the tickets were sold out. Plan B turned out to be excellent- since we were in town we were at liberty to explore Boodles Bar and Restaurant at JM Mall. Their ads have been teasing us with the promise of Creole food* for a while now, and we finally had a chance to see if they would have some jambalaya and gumbo, blackened catfish, jazz and moonshine. We went for the A la Carte menu.

I was going to write a long review but I haven't the heart for it. Here, instead, is the condensation:

A la Carte menu = Unacceptable substitutions. Unacceptable omissions. Dried out fish, ugh. Good vegetables. Exceptional honey mustard dressing. Decent salad. Middling dining room. Charming view. Suitably heavy, matching cutlery. Clean linens, if musty. Decent staff. Dismal lighting. Nice South African wine list. Surprisingly manageable prices. Maniacal air-conditioning. Soulless atmosphere. Overall: okay, I guess, for a conversational dinner where the food should not distract. But the wine is Not Box. That's the best I can do.

*Yeah, right. And the jazz? Not so much either.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Cool Kids Are Coming to Town.

Hey, you. Been feeling a little down lately? Losing your faith in a beautiful Tanzania filled with talented people doing good works, fuelled by passion and principle? Need something, or someone to believe in? I've got some good news for you: TEDxDAR is around the corner. Please register to attend on the website. That speaker list is kicking: chock full of real-deal self-made talent, all of it Bongo flavored. If that doesn't soothe, excite and satisfy your Tanzaphilic soul, nothing will.

I know, I know- the annual Goat Races are on that day as well. Ten year anniversary: a decade of good work raising funds for charity and providing idiosyncratic entertainment. Two excellently worthy causes, happening on the same day in a city that is completely underserved in this department. What are the chances, eh? But we all know that a true Bongolander is unfazed by the idea of rocking two joints, or three, or four in one day. So come get your mind stimulated in the morning, then take the kids out for a good time and drop some heavy cash at the Races in the afternoon*.

May I digress for a minute: when the goat races started, all the attendees were either bourgeois or expat. Boy did we get a lot of flack for daring to have a little silly fun while raising money back in the day. Watching nyama choma bleat its way around a dusty track was one of those Things That Africans Don't Do. But look where they are today. Crusted with every form of Bongolander to be found for the price of a ticket. That's what's up.

Speaking of causes, there's a new blog in town. High Five to Bottom Up Thinking where MJ is going to testify about her...his...shim's experiences in conservation and development. In a similar vein to Land Affairs, this one is for you kids who like to jiggle your grey matter with some thoughtful, BS-free reportage from logical types doing hands-on development work.

On that gender tip, a retraction and an apology: it did take me a few weeks to figure this out, but Rasmus of Land Affairs is a he-blogger not a she-blogger. Which is totally cool even though I am now less one she-blogger on the Blog Tanzania list, because Sociologists are like manna.

*Calling all fellow Capricorns: what say next year we hook this Goat Race thing up? I got some ideas. Holler.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sticking it to The Man.

It has been so sunny and peaceful lately you would never believe that all these smiling Bongolanders were on the verge of eating their young during the WEF/Rains reign of terror just last week. Remember the HIV/AIDS activists who were turfed out of Tanzania after the World Economic Forum? Well, they have decided not to take it lying down. I am skeptical about their chances of success: African Union Heads of State aren't exactly paragons of moral rectitude. Still, best of luck to the underdog.

Speaking of bear-baiting...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mobile Ambivalence

I am a bit of a luddite when it comes to mobile telephony. Even My Lady of the Pixellated Smiles is quicker than me to use any new phone's features and I am a good generation younger than she is! It is embarrassing. I suspect that camera phones were invented with grandmothers in mind, as were picture email attachments.

This is a very loud world, but I can't help being part of the introverted minority for whom the written word is infinitely preferable to the spoken one. We are happiest when left in complete silence (silence!) with a good book and a person who knows that the art of conversation involves give, take, and thoughtful...silences. Libraries and bookstores are sacred places of worship. But, you know, it's the 21st century and I must live in it, amidst the extroverts. Besides, I only know two people who still writes letters by hand.

So this morning here I am surfing the intertubes and reading in blessed silence (silence!) when a totally surreal IT technology/Social Media moment comes my way. A friend had just got off the plane at Schiphol and was promptly greeted with a welcome message from Zantel. Being a savvy Tanzanian, he naturally has a simcard for every service provider but he only bothered to load up credit on his Tigo, Vodacom and Zain numbers so that he could roam at will. Because, you know, they are big companies that know their stuff, right? Right? Wrong. Said networks were useless in Amsterdam. Which led to him sending me an IM- from Amsterdam- to SMS his credit dealer- in Dar es Salaam- to send him credit on his Zantel line so he could use it in- Amsterdam.

Dude. Science is Magic.

In my day, when wild beasts still roamed the wilds of Mbezi freely and there was nothing but swamp and cattails in Msasani, you had to book a phonecall one week in advance with TTCL and then wait nervously to get connected to Nairobi or wherever so you could have a mangled conversation with someone struggling to comprehend you on the other side. Then TTCL would bill you an astronomical amount for that dodgy service because someone had been using your line illegally. A young girl might, under these circumstances, develop a fondness for letter-writing.

I have been preached at by the experts and the zealots, told about the power of mobile telephony to "transform Africa", et cetera ad nauseum. Yeah, I get it. I am even a massive fan of telephone banking services and all those little thingy-ma-bobs that make my life easier: what's on at the movies, what is the price of a goat at ving'ung'uti, how is the shilling faring against the dollar today. Jeez, I even ventured into the waters of a smartphone- me, who believes that handsets should be chunky rugged childproof bricks that do only three things: light your way home at night, call and text message. I suspect that even with all that power under the plastic keypad, the best feature of this phone will remain the text messaging function. God, I love it. It is silent.

Anyways, have a totally connected weekend. Just don't be that obnoxious ass yelling into your bluetooth headpiece in the middle of a nice quiet lobby. Shhh, for goodness sake!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

WEF Day Two Quick Fix.

Well, it rained today, which means the IM lines and facebook updates were full of information about commute times, road closures and flooding.

The Zimbabwean leadership, meanwhile, seems to have come to WEF with an agenda. Economics, achieving what democracy has failed to do.

And as Swahili Street reports, sadly yesterday's HIV/AIDS activists were quietly deported after having their human rights handed to them on a platter. Politely, of course- we Tanzanians take pride in our pleasant reputation. Outside the country: outrage. Inside the country: huh?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

WEF, eh?

Apparently, it's all good. TUCTA didn't strike *big gasp* after Jay Kay told them not to. On the TBC news today, we got treated to the sights and sounds of opposition leaders telling us how undemocratic Jay Kay's threats were in juzi's speech. Right. When has the state ever allowed the unwashed masses to embarrass it in front of foreign dignitaries? Besides, the Tanzanian in me must ask, how did TUCTA appease its members after such a volte-face? Hmm.

In the same sweeping gesture that saw TUCTA muzzled, the police revoked march permits that had been previously issued. Which is how this story came about: spunky NGO gets ready to march and hand over a letter to the WEF- something about government keeping their healthcare promises, especially the ones pertaining to HIV treatment:

"Hi everyone,

Please see press statement from African civil society advocacy forum taking place in Dar Es Salaam, in lead-up to World Economic Forum on Africa that opens tomorrow. We held a press conference today that was well attended, tomorrow we'll protest at the WEF. Meeting docs will be uploaded onto the website soon...

Governments being callous and unwise about health commitments

African activists decry backtracking on health funding commitments at opening of World Economic Forum on Africa

4 May 2010, Dar Es Salaam – Donors and African governments are making callous and unwise decisions on funding commitments to HIV and global health, according to a group of African health and human rights activists gathered in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, to carry out strategic planning and advocacy in the lead-up to the World Economic Forum on Africa from 5-7 May.

And then the police told them the march would be illegal:

"Dear all

We have just been informed that the march planned for tomorrow to the
venue of the World Economic Forum has been banned by the Government of
Tanzania. Apparently, a strike had been planned to coincide with the
Forum, and all demonstrations were subsequently banned. A call was
then received from the Police advising of the decision to cancel the
consent to the demonstration, even though it was planned as a peaceful

Then they were told (and here is where things get murky) to go ahead. To the WEF, where they were promptly taken into custody, and a natural progression of things:

"hi everyone,
from what we have heard it was 10 activists arrested. Apparently the police thought they were sneaking into the Forum after agreeing that a small delegation would hand over the letters. They are at the police station but are expected to be released today."

There is in fact an alternative event being held at the Tanzania Gender Networking Progamme (TGNP) grounds during WEF where the weird kids are welcome- sorry, I don't have a link yet. And there's this going on. And this. Thus went some of day one.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A little rain, a little traffic, a little meeting in the 'hood.

I can't be the only one chuckling at this: Nairobi hosted East Africa's World Social Forum (WSF) 2007 where all the lefties, greens, civil society beasts and other fringe types come together to wag a collective finger at Evil Corporations and Bad Governments. This year Dar gets to host the World Economic Forum on Africa where Governments and CEOs come together to make big economic plans, preferably without the drippy intrusions of the fringy folks. Nairobi got the Lefties. Dar got the Corporates. What is the world coming to?

Whatever. My real beef here is congestion- something that has been bothering Bongolanders of all vehicular stripes since the masika rains decided to go for broke. I wasn't going to say anything- lord knows there's been enough yakking about drainage systems and urban planning to satisfy the bitterest grouser. However the combination of flooding, road damage and totally insane road closures because of the WEF has tipped us over the edge of RIDICULOUS commuting times. Oh, you should hear the pathetic stories from people who live in the Outer Reaches of Beyond, like Kimara. Waking up at 4:00 or earlier to wade through backed up sewage/drainage pipes and being forced to push their stalled daladalas. It is inhumane.

So while it is nice to hold this Big Important Meeting to which Watus Are Not Really Invited right here in Dar es Salaam, my beloved center of the universe, I must admit regretfully that we don't seem to have the infrastructure for it. Mister Popularity was cracking jokes amidst his thinly veiled threats to TUCTA about not striking tomorrow, but if they do and lock up the city center we're going to end up killing each other at gridlocked intersections.

Likelihood is that tommorow is the endtimes anyways. They are closing Ali Hassan Mwinyi for four hours per day! Decades of Tanzanian civilization will be wiped out in one day. We should have traded in a couple of State House Taxis for helicopters so that your people could fly these Very Important Nuisances hither and yon and leave us alone. Because life is already plenty hard enough. Just sayin', Jay Kay. You'll be that president, know what I mean? The Weffers might go home with fond memories of how fresh the fish was from the buffet and how gorgeous the view from Level 8, but we the Watus will remember it a little differently.

A little birdie told me...

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