Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tutti Frutti: around the web in 72 hours

Oh, what goodies the internet has brought! Here's what's been on my multi-tab browser these past two or three days. I need to post this so I can close the damn tabs and open new ones. All content found through your tweets, emails, IMs, FB updates and various soc-med. High Five.

Vijana FM said they would do it, so they did it: crowdmapping the General Elections 2010 through crowd-sourcing. Ushahidi is running under the bonnet, but we have to gas the thing. It's YOUR country. Vote like you OWN it.

For those who believe that autocracy in Africa equal economic growth and a steady supply of Kitenge and prosperity and safe, affordable public transport and all the other good stuff? William Easterly says you are wrong. :).

In the arts: Dar Sketches is about to put on a show. Don't miss, the prints are way worth it and if you love Bongo you will have a great time. Also: FaceBook is on the big screen in the Social Media movie. Yup. FB, the movie. Just... yeah, I know. Lastly, The First Grader. The casting is appalling, yes, and the tear-jerking is unfortunate. But the story, the story... there might be something there.

And a little modern feminism: the little college that would. :)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Politics and Media: The Party That Gagged Itself

The Establishment is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to political material to blog about. CCM has shown creativity in its campaign media strategy. However it recently earned itself the distinction of being the only party in Tanzania that is hostile to dialogue. That's right: a political party that is hostile to dialogue during the campaign season of a general election year. WWNT*?

A couple of weeks ago CCM forbade its candidates from participating in political debates. This blanket ban covers presidential, parliamentary and local government candidates and includes private and public media as well as political rallies. CCM has decided to do this during the 2010 elections that mark the dawn of both the media age and democratic competition in Tanzania. Stop laughing, I couldn't make up this kind of PR disaster if I was paid to do it.

There is no bigger gift that CCM could have given the opposition than their silence. These days, tune into the radio or any of the major TV stations and you are likely to trip over a political debate. The beauty of the exercise is that candidates are invited to these debates, deferring the costs of having to place ads and packaged messages to promote their manifestos. An opportunity that the opposition has embraced and CCM has chosen to ignore

A couple of nights ago, My Lady of the Sly Smiles called me to tune into ITV. Veteran journalist and agent provocateur Jenerali Ulimwengu was moderating a debate between youth candidates from the opposition at the Kilimanjaro Kempinski. Some of those candidates are very seriously impressive. One or two even displayed gravitas, a nice characteristic to have as a politician. The empty CCM spot stuck out like a missing tooth in a supermodel's smile. In protest, one older gentleman in the audience captured the mike and asked the GoP in absentia a rather irate question. Heh.

There is a saying that 'tis better to remain quiet and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. Running for office must be the exception to the rule. Even in the public-image-driven US where a number of leaders have been superbly dense (Quayle, Bush II, Palin...), ways have been found to manage the situation. The same could be done, surely, at the presidential candidate level. For all his accessibility and genuine love of people, Celebrident Kikwete does NOT do spontaneous Q&A sessions with the press around. It is one of the wonderfully bizarre contradictions of President The Fourth's character, and his administration.

Through its gag-order, CCM is deliberately giving up on the most critical media, as Jiang Alipo points out:
"TV is even more intimate than the closed meetings they have which only die hard CCM members and leaders attend. A candidate explaining his/her policies on my TV screen is more intimate; it feels more like one is talking to me in my seating room. The good thing about TV debate is that we see the communication skills of the candidates, particularly those capable to debate issues and answer questions about important issues direct from the voters."
It may be that this decision is based on CCM's belief that it will win no matter what, that the opposition poses a negligible threat, and that voters are content to elect a party that does not respect their intellect. The implicit message is that CCM don't have to work for our vote, they just assume we'll give it to them. What a brave notion. Alternatively, the gag order is an act of sheer desperation. Maybe the Party believes that it will be used to mop the floor clean if it engages with the opposition and with voters in policy debates. If that's the case, I would have to encourage the Party to gird its loins. Better prove to be a fool in public than give off the pungent odor of political cowardice.

*WWNT= What Would Nyerere Think? Ruling parties are often prone to desperately bad PR decisions, but this one surely deserves a prize. The ghost of Mwalimu is probably crying at the sight of such political incompetence.

Open Season on TMR at Vijana FM

Hey there: Interview! TMR gave a long-winded answer to five questions on Vijana FM. Check it out, and feel free to throw in any questions of your own this week. High five to SN and the Vijana FM crew. Blog Tanzania :)

You Are What You Eat?

Food has been on my mind a lot lately. Over the last month I have fielded questions about what makes up authentic Tanzanian food. It's a pretty interesting question, culturally-speaking and I think it can probably be answered about 100 different ways... Octopus curry, for example, might be common on the coast but you'll be lucky to find a Lake Zoner who will cheerfully eat sea food. Best way to figure the answer out is probably to just travel the country and eat. Simple.

But if you can't get around it all, Chef-in-training Issa has put together this impressive food blog in Kiswahili. Hidden between posts about apple-carving and thai dishes are excellent recipes for some staples like maizemeal ugali, chapati, maandazi, dagaa etc. The man loves his food, and judging by his following he's an institution :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Education, education, education.

Swahili Street posted some very interesting news today:

"Uwezo - an initiative of Twaweza - decided to measure [education] and launched their findings just this morning (in the luxury of the Kilimanjaro Kempinski – always a questionable choice for NGO affairs, I feel). Their survey of over 22,000 households and their 42,000 children confirms suspicions. 80 percent of primary school leavers (that is, they have completed all seven years) can read to a level they should have reached in their second year, and maybe higher. And 70 percent of primary school leavers can deal with second year mathematics."

Tafakari. Ting! Ting!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Not Like Sheikh Yahya

Our resident celebrity "master" of the predictive arts, Sheikh Yahya Hussein, has a habit of forseeing political performance long after the election results have been announced. He also likes to plays it safe by stating the obvious.

Why let him have all the fun? Since we have a month to go, this is a good time to read some tea leaves of my own:

1. Jakaya Kikwete is going to be re-elected as President. Tanzania always re-elects the incumbent. Besides, there is no viable candidate for the Union Presidency outside of the CCM yet. This won't be the case in 2015 and 2020 if our opposition keeps maturing (which is hardly guaranteed by the looks of it).

2. Jay Kay is going to win with maybe 60-65% of the vote. Of course CCM knows it can't reproduce it's ridiculous 80% win from 2005 even though it has plastered Jay Kay all over anything that sits still long enough. There is nothing like staring at an incumbent's feet of clay for five years straight to kill off any romance.

3. Which means that Dr. Slaa (Chadema) will come second with maybe 10-15% of the vote, and the other stragglers will split whatever is left over.

4. Maalim Seif (CUF) is the next President of Zanzibar, unless something dramatic happens between now and October 31st.

5. Opposition is going to increase its presence in parliament significantly- it may even work it's way up to 25-30% of the Bunge if voters wield that pen right.

6. These elections and the next five years will really test CCM's powers of cohesion. CCJ might have been an aborted exercise, but I predict that the first real splinter group is likely to appear before 2015.

7. Without a doubt there will be, um, 'discrepancies' in the poll numbers as they come in. But thanks to our friends in the IT industry and the nascent movement of independent citizen oversight and reporting, rigging this vote is going to be tougher than usual. This is good: some jobs are just too important to leave to a state organ like the National Electoral Commission. No chads will be left hanging...

Overall, October 31st is going to be about consolidating the inroads made by the opposition, considering policy and ideology along with political personalities, and opening up Tanzania's democratic spaces: local government, parliament, media- especially social media.

Speaking of social media, Uchaguzi2010 is working as an online aggregator of online election coverage. The blog lacks an 'about us' section, which I find problematic, but the content is all referenced. The best part is the GoogleDocs candidate list, which should become very interesting as of October 31st 6:00 pm onwards. The Revolution is being broadcast: tune in, think, connect, vote, report.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Elections 2010: Zenji

I did the usual survey of political opinions in Zenji while I was there the past week. From the man on the street, it sounds as though the predictions for the coming elections are positive. Taxi Driver Number One told me that Zanzibaris were only waiting for the elections to formalize the coalition government since Maalim Seif is the favorite candidate. Taxi Driver Number Two confirmed this, and the only CCM member I could corner said something along similar lines. Other things that I learned: Zanzibar is interested in renegotiating the terms of the Union in it's favor, consensus politics are preferable to oppositional politics, Eid ul Fitr gets celebrated for four days straight (!), the Zanzibari/Zanzibara distinction is alive and well.

The mood on the island was quite relaxed as far as I could tell, even though there were more campaign posters than there are Zanzibaris. Upon leaving, I got a bit of ribbing about not hanging around to see the vote... but much as I would love to watch Zanzibar ease in a genuine coalition government, elections is no time for a mainlander to be hanging around without a press pass.

Back in Dar, I got The Question from the two drivers I regularly work with and one electrician: what's going on in Zenji? In the discussions, seems like everyone is interested and invested in the outcome of this election, and the overall message is quite clear- party politics are all well and good, but this time around people are voting for individuals. Evidently, the High Court needs to get on the independent candidate wagon already...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Music and Politics: Tanzania

Last week, President Goodluck Jonathan used Facebook to declare his intention to run for office. I thought it wasn't the most presidential of platforms, but thanks to Manuel Manrique for pointing out this informative post on the Africa Works blog.

It appears that Goodluck isn't the only one who is being innovative in his use of media. Last week, I was handed a CD full of political tracks in support of CCM. Political music is hardly news, I know. What makes this Vijana Zaidi effort interesting is the fact that the CD has re-recordings of popular songs done by the artists themselves. You read that right: the artists re-recorded their own creative works with CCM-positive messaging instead of the original lyrics. So Bongo Flava, which used to be the art form of urban youth protest and political consciousness, has been co-opted by The Establishment.

Since the tunes are catchy and familiar, the CD works on a subliminal level making it a brilliant piece of marketing. I had a whole spiel prepared about independence, integrity, art and politics, but life is too short. If the big time BongoFlava artists want to be part of the state propaganda machine, I'm sure they have thought through all the consequences for their subsequent careers. On the flip side, the always brilliant EATV Channel Five has started up a youth talk show centered around the elections called Uchaguzi Express Live- Mondays and Thursdays at 9:00 pm hosted by Modesta Mahiga. Today's topic was the media's contribution to the elections.

One thing is for sure: this election is nothing like the previous one. People are interested in policies and manifesto rather than parties and personalities. TAMWA, HakiElimu and Policy Forum are only three of the NGOs that have put out non-partisan messaging encouraging citizens to vote. Every political discussion makes clear that negative campaigning is unwelcome, and CCM's inexplicable reluctance to join in political debates organized by media organs is undermining its public image.

41 days to go and counting...

Five Days in September.

Last week I had every intention of blogging on a daily basis. I thought I might ease one or two mild bodily discomforts while learning what this thing called Afrikan Yoga is all about. Certainly, I was looking forward to having a lot of quiet time by the beach to do some writing and thinking and resting and all that good stuff that one associates with a retreat..

...not so much. Who knew these things could be so exhausting?

Day one was fine. I felt like a beached whale trying to do the samba but that was only to be expected after two years of inactivity. Besides, there were six other retreatees to meet and get to know. And lots of fresh teas to consume: cinnamon, vanilla, lime, lemongrass... Babuu, a bouncy young entrepreneur with pecs the size of grapefruits and a plot on a spice farm, would get his mama to brew up some teas for after the evening practice with stuff he picked fresh as we watched him.

On day two I saw the right side of 6:00 am for the first time this year when I woke up for morning meditation... and learned to my surprise and through powerful experience that meditation should come with a mental health warning. I was slightly more graceful at yoga (think gimpy manatee), but the day passed in a haze of total highness brought on by excessive deep breathing of fresh air and consumption of herbal teas. I am starting to understand why some yogic types float and twinkle their way through life sustained by nothing but water and sunshine.

On day three, total system shut-down. Yoga done right is holistic, which means that you experience a lot of physical as well as emotional and psychological sensations as you open up to the practice. Physical detox is hard. While I wasn't as sore as I had expected to be considering the 4+ hours of practice per day, I was certainly ready to rip out someone's liver and eat it raw. Not quite the tranquility I was expecting...

...but on day four, I woke up in peace. I spent the morning smugly enjoying the sensation of being ten kilos lighter and the afternoon being kneaded into a coma by Asha, the most nurturing masseuse who has ever laid hands on me.

Back in Bongo for 24 hours, it is already getting hard to recall that sense of total relaxation. So, what is Afrikan Yoga* in a nutshell? Basically, like any yoga, it is a mind-body system of practice with a spiritual component to it. A couple of hours per day composing blogposts in my head hasn't yielded an answer on how to describe the philosophy or sensations of Afrikan Yoga. So I won't bother trying to reduce the experience. I'll just say this: it is fantastic, and I am hooked. You should try it. Especially if you are African.

There will be some more Afrikan Yoga information/opportunities in the next few months- I'll keep you posted.

*Tamare Smai Taui. Also: there are pictures but my intertubes connection is so slow that I was re-incarnated three times before the damn thing realized it couldn't handle so much data.

Social Media and Politics: Nigeria

According to this week's Economist political news update,

"Goodluck Jonathan, the president of NIGERIA, announced on his Facebook page that he would contest the presidential election next January"

I guess that's one way to state your presidential aspirations... A little light on dignity for me, but whatever works, right?

Monday, September 13, 2010

That Hudu That You Do So Well...

Pablo The Afrikan Yoga Instructor puts it this way: Hudu is African Tai Chi. And that's some of what we were doing today on the beach in the morning. I cannot answer the question "What is Afrikan Yoga" yet, and I suspect that a week is too little time for me to understand enough to offer a comprehensive answer.

But here's some of what I have picked up so far: this is not a variant of yoga as we understand it, meaning that it does not spring from Hindu tradition. It is in fact called Tamare Smai and springs from ancient Egyptian philosophy. Did the image of Yul Brynner in a loincloth just pop into your head? That's what happened to me. But we're talking about Kemet here, and further back into exogenic creation mythologies. So why bother with terms like Yoga and Tai Chi? Because these are terms that are more widely understood, saving the Tamare Smai practitioner precious explanation time that could be used for meditation.

Thus, most of the movements I know as sun salutation from my brief affair with Ashtanga Yoga I encountered as the Journey of Ra this morning. Which brings me to the second important point: like any mind-body practice it only looks peaceful and easy to the uninitiated. One of the little secrets that yogic types like to keep to themselves is just how much of a physical wake-up call a person's first lesson is. Your body gets an opportunity to vent at you for all the ills you have put it through.

Apparently the old body's not very happy with me. In our first session I felt every single cigarette, every late night and bad posture, every skipped meal and ill-advised "one for the ditch" in my recent past. I discovered I weigh as much as a baby elephant when trying to do my push-ups off the floor, that no amount of exhaling was going to get my fingers to meet my toes in a sitting leg-stretch and that even my fat-tired Suzuki has a nimbler turning circle than my spine.

And we're going to do it all over again this evening...

So. Afrikan Yoga Retreat eh?

Yup. I am in Zanzibar for the week being introduced to Afrikan Yoga courtesy of Umoja Travels in exchange for a slow version of live blogging. The barter system is alive and well :) But honestly, James didn't exactly have to twist my arm. I have a very healthy 'alternative' side that made resisting the offer of a restful retreat in Zanzibar doing two mind-body training and healing sessions a day completely impossible. Also: Afrikan Yoga? I want to know what that is. The free 45-minute massages included in the package had nothing to do with my decision...

My friend James Chagula, who is based in London, started Umoja Travel (website under construction, link will come later) with the intention of putting together packages that afford his clients a chance to experience the Tanzania he knows and loves rather than the rather frightening "Africa" that is so often portrayed in non-African media.

His philosophy is based on personal experience. He found that what affects him most profoundly in his travels has been the people he meets- the human connections that get forged across our differences. Hence the name Umoja Travel, paying homage to the connections of our human experience.

Also, he's had a long-term interest in mind-body practice and this is the first Yoga retreat put together under Umoja- an experiment, if you will. A couple of Facebook messages back and forth between us about a month ago and here I am with our teacher Pablo and a group of ladies from London treating my body to healthfulness while ignoring the thoroughly captivated fishermen watching from the shack twenty meters away.

And you know what? It is perfect. No televisions, free WiFi and I haven't heard a single truck, voice raised in anger or vuvuzela in the past 24 hours. The permanent knot that lives in my upper right shoulder is about to get an eviction notice.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Twitter...

Some people, like My Lady of the Youthful Smiles, adapt to new communications technologies and formats with the ease of a fish taking to water. I am not one of those people. I can just about get around the interwebs unassisted, but some forms of social media/tech are not in the least bit intuitive for me. Like The Twitter and Smartphones.

I was recently asked about The Twitter phenomenon by a non-user and found myself in the bizarre position of trying to explain/sell it when I myself am at best a lukewarm convert and remedial user.

Yeah, yeah, I know. How can a social media user/blogger/whatever be so useless at this stuff? I don't mean to be, it's just that 140 characters of 'space' feels like being offered a small shot glass of lukewarm water when I have a raging thirst. Also, I have a low connectivity threshold. Still, it is one of the Big Three for social media practitioners (Blog, FB, Twitter) and cannot be avoided entirely.

Which is why I was delighted to see this. No matter what your problem is in life, someone else is going through it :) Anywho, was doing some research to help me navigate the hashtag-riddled world of twitterese and found this resource. Strange neologism and ridiculously indecipherable acronym I fear thee no longer, for I have The Google and The Wikiverse on my side. Mwahahahahahahaaaaa!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy Holiday :)

It is so easy to live in Dar and forget to go to Zanzibar just for the pleasure of it, so imagine my delight when one day I opened Facebook and a seven-day holiday dropped into my lap from out of the blue. I am going to be here, doing this with these lovely folks for the next seven days*.

As I write this I am on the ferry staring out at flying fish and the traffic jam of ships waiting for space at the port. I am trying to calm down after being brutalized by our No Self Respecting Bongolander Ever Stands In Line If She Can Shove and Elbow Her Way Onto A Vessel policy. I don't know why, for such polite people, we turn into that girl from The Exorcist when there is travel involved.

'Twas a minor inconvenience in an otherwise awesomely-timed trip. The tail end of Eid el Fitr in Zanzibar? Partay! I remember tickets costing about 25,000 shillings last time I took the boat, but I only paid half of that for this trip. Even cooler: free complimentary breakfast in the waiting lounge. I think Azam might be running a holiday special, which is bogglingly decent behavior to observe in a business. In my experience public holidays = stratospheric price hikes in the transport sector.

This year we can thank Pastor Crazy for raising the issue of religious tolerance... and encouraging a few of us to do some interwebs reading on Islam. I don't suppose it was his intention to shine a light upon either issue or give anyone cause to ponder them. Heh. Evidently you don't have to belong to a faith to appreciate the good it has to offer in spiritual or mindful practice. You just have to be a half-way decent human being. Ukarimu is a rare quality, and a difficult practice for most of us, but it is beautiful at heart. One of my favorite things about living in Bongo is the way that Iftar is shared across faith and class, offered in generosity and friendship.

So a belated Eid Mubarak whatever your faith may or may not be, and I hope you have had a long weekend filled with generosity and friendship and excellent feasting. I sure did :)

*Lots more info on this in the next few days.

Going Bureaucrazy

I don't know about this official documentation/regulation business. On the one hand, imagine the possibilities for social research if we could insert a tracking and recording device under the skin of every forearm in the country so that we could track, record, document and interpret information about everyone, everywhere, all the time. We should start with politicians as an expendable experimental grou... uh, I mean pilot study population.

On the other hand, being documented is a pain in the ass. There is constantly something expiring, being lost, being required that I do not have and that takes forever to chase down: Taxpayer Identification Number (s), Vehicle Registration, Annual Road Licence, Insurance (s), Driver's License, Voter's Card, Passport, Biometric Passport for the USA, Birth Certificate, Travel Health Card, Original Documents for the Driver's License, High School Diploma, Certifications and Degrees on paper, Various certificates of religious sacraments (can't find a single one. hmmm), Luku Receipts (just in case), DAWASCO receipts (for Operation Kata Maji), Housing Contracts, Library Card(s), Video Library Card (s), Student Cards, Social Security Card (you never know), Simcards, Client Contracts, Bank Cards, Mobile Phone Registration Forms, Application for another piece of plastic with my face on it, Register this, Renew that, Something Always on The Verge Of Expiring Especially If You Need It To Travel Next Week, paper, plastic, photobooths and forms, always carry a pen, you need a pen to live...If done right, you can easily accumulate your own weight in paper trails over a lifetime. Which is why I loved this piece when I saw it here. Click to enlarge the pix.

Few things in Bongoland can cause more confusion, distress, loss of money and time and sanity than trying to get the right document in a timely manner from an official through legal means. But today, I won! Take that mister traffic cop, all my paperwork is watertight :)

By the way, is it just me or would this make a perfect torture chamber to lock bad bureaucrats in when they have been mean? Question for the artist, perhaps.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mjumbe! And some geeklove.

I finally met my ten-cell leader. I think. Well, he's some kind of Local Government Guy. Clad in the obligatory CCM green, this gentleman (who could have used a shave, I think) came by to let us know that Lyoto and Co. were no longer going to be providing us with our spotty once-a-week garbage collection anymore: there's a new trash boss in Kinondoni. Who has apparently instituted an on-the-spot fine for those of us who don't keep things hygienic within and around our properties.

Could he tell me how often my trash would be collected now? No. Could he tell me if we would still be paying 10K for the service? Not really- they are looking into the matter and (waffle, waffle, waffle, yawn). Could he tell me his name? Sure. Could I tell him mine? Hell yeah. Keep your friends close and your service providers even closer. Did I spy one of the trash collection guys wearing a GreenAndYellow baseball cap? Mh-hm. Coincidence? Hm. Is there an election around the corner, let me check.... Evidently Mr. Lyoto was unable to hold on to his lucrative garbage contract in this electoral period. I am keen to see how his, um, 'competitive successor' does.

On the blog front: a couple of newcomers: Volunteers! I love them. They smell as fresh as new cars: nothing but Birkenstock leather and boundless possibilities. Better yet: they put their money, health, strength and minds where their mouth is. They have a FB page too, if you want to holler at them.

And then, this gem. to tangent a little, since so much of our public discourse is dominated by Development as Hegemony (my caps) we should be somewhat interested in the one social science whose purpose is to study society, and social change. This is a pretty decent resource, feel free to geek in.

And finally: Social Media Seminar Humor. I didn't even know this was an industry :) But you know, it's part of what I do of late- though my part three is usually a practical session. Here's more webcomix for ye geek.

A little birdie told me...

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