Wednesday, November 28, 2012

From The Mouths of East Africans.

The Society for International Development has started a series of podcasts wherein they have conversations with various East Africans about their areas of expertise. It's a good series of interviews and a great way to get a taste of some of what's going on both on the ground and in our innovative and intellectual lives. I like that it showcases our diversity and better yet, our dynamism. 

And speaking of dynamism, this week's podcast featured Aida Kiangi. I think it took me about five minutes before I started laughing out loud... at the office. Which was a little embarrassing. I recommend this particular interview for two main reasons: first, she articulates what I consider to be the 'right' view of development, specifically Tanzanian development and the challenges facing us. Secondly because it's informative, entertaining and incredibly candid. And my goodness, we could do with some candor in our development discourse.

What's this so-called "right" view of development, you ask? Well, a comprehensive, deep, nuanced, intelligent and informed one. A 360 perspective, if you will. So often we get bogged down in a style of rhetoric- political, economic, development- that is reductive. There aren't many opportunities to address the issues underlying the issues underlying the issues, the less in a world where soundbytes and oversimplification are edging real knowledge off the map. Yet Tanzania is a deep game. So, you know, listen to the podcast because it contains not just information, but perspective and experience.

Missive From The Pink Ghetto

The Op-Ed Project's report titled 'Who Narrates The World' is excellent reading, and the first time I came across the term 'pink topics.' Namely stuff that women have traditionally written about: family, food, health, gender and style. Before the politics and social commentary took over this blog, it was decidedly more pink in content. I don't consciously draw distinctions between topics that way, so I'm chewing through the implications of the article's findings.

It's nice when there's numbers to illustrate some of the realities of this gendered world that we live in. Are female American journalists in legacy and traditional media not writing about 'general' interest topics like the economy, sports, technology, international relations etc because these topics do not interest them? Or is it because female participation in these areas of life are still relatively low? Or are there active barriers to entry in journalism in those areas? What does that say about the intellectual life of that country? I would love to do something similar for Tanzanian print media, and maybe I'll get around to it next year.  

What I'm really curious about is the trajectory of women who end up in the media industry- the experience of that 30-something percent of them working in male-dominated newsrooms both real and virtual. I was inducted to the media industry by women, my first editor was a woman and I suspect that I don't have a bead on the typical female experience.*

It has been a while since TMR tried one of it's trademark disastrous surveys, so here goes. I'd like to invite women in legacy or traditional media who read this pink post to share their experience of working in the industry. Submissions are welcome in the comments section, which has a handy anonymous option to protect your identity should you feel so inclined. Also feel free to email me at elsieeyakuze at gmail dot com. If enough stories crop up, and you permit me to, I'll share some of the information on the blog. In your responses, please don't forget to cover the following:

1. how did you get started?
2. how long have you been working?
3. what topics do you write about?
4. has your gender been a major factor in your work?
5. where are you from/where are you based?

Hope to hear from the sisterhood in media. (and y'all have no excuse, since you write for a living!). 

*Well, that's not strictly true but I'll get around to sharing some of those stories in exchange for some of yours...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Matter of Perspective

I recently found myself in the offices of a Big Donor on a panel with hefty scholars and superstar practitioners of Tanzanian development. By which I mean there were four greying Tanzanian gentlemen of distinguished repute... and me. Yeah, I don't know how that happened either :) Sadly for them, I don't think the Big Donor got what they were hoping for from my presence other than visual confirmation of the person behind the allegedly 'infamous' Mikocheni Report. I had a good time, though. I have never been within sniffing distance of a Big Donor's kitchen before, where some of the sausage of development aid gets made. It was instructive.

One outcome of the meeting was being asked to check out the new Ni Sisi campaign by Twaweza and share a few thoughts about it on the blog. A suspiciously charming and risky invitation on the part of head honcho Rakesh Rajani, but if he's game, I'm game. "Ni Sisi, a new campaign which promotes the idea that citizens can bring about change themselves, rather than waiting for governments, politicians, donors or NGOs to do it for them,"

Well, hello! Citizens are finally showing up in African development discourse :) Of course I have beef with the sentiment 'rather than waiting for government, politicians, donors or NGOs to do it for them.' because it implies that we who live in developing countries are inert. If we were that indolent, we'd have died out by now. You see, before the African was enslaved and colonized.... oh, alright, let's not go down that road again. But you get my point, neh? Our current 'helplessness' is as much a product of the states we have crafted these past umpteen years as anything else.

It's a matter of perspective. Tell me why you think so many Africans live in poverty, and I'll tell you the brand of development work that suits you best :) To give you some idea what I mean, I am a major Nyerere fan, but check out Mwalimu's Wikipedia entry. That, my friends, is what benevolent dictatorship can be like*. I like to assert that this is the first generation since his reign that Tanzanians have had enough breathing room, access to information and general freedom for the idea of active citizenship to be welcome, rather than politically threatening to the state.

Of course, I love what the Ni Sisi campaign is selling. This isn't the first nor will it be the last time someone is going to try to activate citizens. If they had attempted this in the 1980's, for example, Twaweza's staff would be languishing in exile/jail. But it's a new millenium and Africa ariseth from the ashes of her ignominous past like a glorious mythical beast. Active-citizenship campaigns are the right thing for this segment of our evolutionary path. So rock on Twaweza, and everybody else who is trying to give the power back to the people and stimulate that ever-elusive bottom-up transformation.

I do have a beef, but it is a small one. The Ni Sisi campaign TV ads so far are just a touch ridiculous, much of that having to do with the soundtrack. And the too-cool-for-school color palette. Haki Elimu- Rakesh's last gig- got the tone of their TV ads right because they were shot here for consumption by TZ-ians. These ones taste they're trying to appeal to a non-EA audience (donors?) in spite of the carefully placed Kiswahili signs. They are weirdly glorious, as though it's that easy to shame weevil-doers into better behavior. Ha! I mean, I get the point of aspirational messaging etc... but, you know, come on. The radio ads are better crafted.

*Yeah. History is contested, right? That wikipedia page is clearly full of agenda. Is it incorrect? Not really. Is it imprecise? Sometimes. Is it fascinating? You bet. Nyerere was good, and terrible, and a lot of things in between. Interpretation is everything.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Laughing Our Way To Better Politics.

So there I was last Sunday surfing the airwaves when I came across Wacha Masihara by accident. They were faux-news covering a surprise visit by Minister for Transport Harrison Mwakyembe on some unsuspecting TRA employees. It was the most welcome, upbeat, politically-incorrect fun I have had since Ze Komedy lost their mojo. Interestingly enough, it is funded by a number of civil-society organizations. 

Satirical media's sanitary effect on politics is a global phenomenon that's been building up for years. Does this stuff work here though? Will we be able to talk, laugh, debate and negotiate our way to the well-run together-forever Tanzania of our desires? We seem to be building, slowly but surely, a relatively healthy culture of free speech supported by increasingly smart media. And making the funny is a large part of it.  To get all Afrocentric on you for a second, this might just be a reclaiming of a fairly common social cohesion technique that survived from precolonial times and got used to great effect immediately after independence: utani*. 

The current free speech/governance/accountability 'upgrade' is being driven by a surprising relationship between youthful (not necessarily young) media, celebrities, savvy politicians and the few public servants who can stomach it. After years of being the reprobates, comedians and cartoonists and radio presenters and musicians have become opinion leaders with a mandate not only to access our leaders, but to mediate our relationship with them. That's lot of power to put in the hands of the creative misfits from the back of the classroom, but I feel so much more comfortable with them than the suits. 

Thanks to them, fun is entrenching itself firmly in our public culture. It's also squeezing the hot air out of our hierarchies and retraining us all as we transition away from the chauvinism of Ndio Mzee culture. Too much serious isn't just boring, it is a political liability. I have always claimed that we have a responsive political structure in Tanzania, and that it is possible for change to be driven from the bottom upwards. Sure: this isn't the mass movement with all the sturm und drang of an Arab Spring, but it's nothing to scoff at either. Oh, wait it is.  :)

As 2015 inches towards us at a snail's pace, I get increasingly obsessed by this notion that there is a growing divide between the politicians who get this, and those who don't. When hanging out with fellow political junkies we usually play at least one round of a popular game: predict who President Number Five is going to be. It is a lot easier to figure out who won't be making it to Ikulu than who will, but I think that the ability to navigate an open society is key. I get shouted down by those who are betting that Big Fat Corruption and/or CCM factionalism is going to trump all that. Is it too soon to start a betting pool?

Anyways, it's not all faux news bulletins and call-in radio shows this past month. Here's a couple of other media things that caught my attention:

1. Saumu Mwalimu's work in The Citizen, like this piece. She's got some of that good je ne sais quoi going on. I am reading her. 
2. Dunia ni Duara's post on the ins and outs of social media, hashtags and crises. Because it needed to be said. 
3. AK's post this week on Vijana FM. Now when someone asks me about social media uptake and numbers and Tanzania and context and stuff, I have a link to refer them to :)
4. Thanks Zitto for making us all secretly wish our MPs would get together and make a We Are The World style 'look how cool my region is' music video. Even if I can already hear the jokes about the Kagera version...

 *Utani translates as teasing but the concept is broader. There's flirtation and charisma and camaraderie in there, disarmament, comedic relief. It even shows up in formal applications in unusual settings like funerals though that practice is dying out.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Creeped Out by Google Maps

This week's EA article is about the new Ubungo-Maziwa commuter train of course. I am horribly jealous, actually, and will have to come up with several excuses to go for a ride and drag a few people with me. Yes, I know. It is very country hick to actually plan an outing just so as I can ride the train into and out of the city. But that's what makes development so much fun: the countless opportunities to be delighted by every novel advance, to be so easily pleased and entertained when things work. 

In anticipation of the treat, I went over to Google Maps to check out the new route. And ended up spending way too much time zooming in on the rooftops of various places of interest, including trying to see if I could spot my house. Which I can, almost down to the generous guava tree that is about to give us our third crop this year. Is anyone else mildly freaked out by this? If Google Maps images are this detailed, who else is playing Big Brother and how much better can they see my guava tree? Chilling thought.

A little birdie told me...

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