Friday, September 27, 2013

Westgate Mall

The Westgate Mall siege was terrible to see unfold. I have been (still am) quite speechless about it, confused and wondering what will eventually emerge as a way of making sense of it all, grateful that everyone in Nairobi that I know has checked in and is fine, sad for those who have lost people in the attack. It has been quite impossible to say anything. If the point of terrorism is to acquaint one with fear, this was an effective undertaking. 

There's a lot of pressure these days to be instantly knowledgeable about an incident before the smoke has even cleared the air, especially if you work in social media. But I find that so dangerous, the need to offer clarity and certainty when there isn't enough to go around. Already the grapevine has been offering up the most interesting interpretations of the incident, which I can't even begin to share here because it's the kind of speculation that leads to unforseen diplomatic fiascos. The age of instant information, the slow death of knowledge?

Here's what happens sometimes when you have to speak too soon about a thing to people: behold Bill Clinton explain the situation to David Letterman and cringe a little bit every time you hear Al-Shahab. Amongst other cringey moments... like the drone thing. And then read this. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: Do Unto Others...

Maybe I am naive about the extent of the "immigrant problem" in Tanzania, but this Operation Kimbunga looks frightening to me. Mainly because "illegal immigrant" and "criminals" gets used repeatedly in the same sentence, seeing as they are the targets of the same effort to "clean up" society. And it is being done by... yup, armed organs of security. Sigh.  

There are elements of a witch-burning to this project, an attempt to appease and distract a rather stressed out society. After decades of laissez-faire, the weakening of the presidency as the center of power, and intractable poverty, it was only a matter of time before the pendulum started swinging back from left to right. This is tangible in the change in tone of reporting, in the way language in the media and even in the pronouncements made by public officials and politicians is becoming harder, with a lot less uungwana to be found.

Anecdotes of people's rights being abused have already begun to crop up. The worrying thing is that whatever latent xenophobia we had that we tried to manage through the practice of utu- with varying levels of success- has been unleashed. It isn't that much of a step from xenophobia to all prejudices that can founder a country. It's a matter of prosperity, to be honest- wealth will come to Tanzania but at the rate we're going we might not have enough diversity, cordiality and good humor left to enjoy it. I don't want to live in a Lete Kipande society. 
"Besides which, it just strikes me as a little bit unfriendly to do this kind of thing to guests and neighbors. It is true, Tanzania’s been having some troubles and grumbles lately. If you read this paper on a regular basis, you will be familiar with every sensational aspect of the EAC’s little nervous breakdown by now, prodded along in no small measure by gleefully detailed reportage. It makes one think, a little bit, about the ethical ramifications of sensationalizing certain aspects of a story."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: On the Utility of Picking Your Battles.

To all the lovely, concerned people who have ever told me they worry about my prospects for a long and fruitful life because I like to say daring things about my Head of State: you are looking in the wrong direction as far as journalistic dangers go. Jay Kay is unusually emotionally mature for an African President. Believe me, he's not crying into his clove tea about some two-bit columnist's opinion of his excellent Italian footwear and soggy leadership skills. 

Developing an interest in drug barons, however? That is the kind of plain crazy that I don't have in me, not really. I know a boundary when I see one. 

Ever since Jay Kay declared an intensification of the war on drugs, things have been moving at a dizzying pace. Not a week goes by without a drug-related story cropping up, it's like the issue has been given the go-ahead to erupt. I guess it has been waiting around for a long time for it's day in the sun. 

Who can tell how this is going to turn out? I forsee a lot of bullshit, to be honest, and perhaps some terrible times ahead of us. This is some Prohibition Era drama. If we ignore for the moment the fact that it has only taken the Fourth Administration, oh, about eight years or so to develop an interest in this matter, the efforts so far only look semi-promising. I say semi- because there's still a lot of secrecy shrouding our drug trafficking problem, for all the obvious reasons. 

Ever wonder why no journalist has ever written an in-depth expose of the Tanzanian drug industry? Especially in these days, when there are awards a plenty to be won by the tough and willing? Yeah. So I, like everyone else, am going to skirt around the issue while trying to say deep and significant things about it:
"The burning question in our case has always been the same. How do drugs that we don’t produce locally in export quantities manage to get in the country and then leave without any implication of drug barons, time after time after time?"  

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Story, As Told by The COO.

Beginning at the end of August, Charles Onyango-Obbo embarked on a project. He's telling the story of East Africa... wait, scratch that. It's bigger than the region. He's attempting something of a contemporary geopolitical chronicle along historical lines, aimed (I think) at constructing a viable framework for the prediction of immediate and beyond threats and opportunities for a generous number of African states. El Qahira to the city of Andries Pretorius, with investigations to explain the frequent use of AK-47s in-between. 

It's fucking excellently informative work.  Here's the Go Button. Enjoy*. 

*by which I mean, respect the shit out of this work. Add to it, detract from it, but understand the majesty of the undertaking and behave accordingly. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: Que Sera, Sera, Baby!

A friend got in touch recently, slightly concerned that I hadn't commented on the current squabble between Tanzania and Rwanda and whatnot. This kind of trouble crops up from time to time in terms of topic selection: to be relevant or to leave well enough alone, that is the question. In this particular case, there is so much DRAMA going on I opted to sit back and watch. Somebody's going to get an Oscar at the end of it and who says it won't be Tanzania? 

Besides, I recently read this talk by Noam Chomsky and it only served to confirm my suspicions about integration. There is nothing so satisfying as finding a well-respected public intellectual whom you can quote when espousing your prejudices :) The bit about what the EU is doing to democracy in Europe was fascinating. 

Oh, right. Back to the EAC. We'll muddle through these current challenges and come out the better for it. Or we won't. We've already failed once, but did that stop us? Oh no, it didn't. Here we are, bigger and better and ready to fail again! If at first you don't succeed, et cetera. If nothing else, I find our perpetual (often inexplicable) enthusiasm and commitment to this project quite inspiring. 

That's why I don't spend much time worrying about the EAC- it's a big old dream that's going to take it's sweet time coming together. I figure our odds are fair, and they have improved with every post independence generation.  

I see a silver lining. Should we fall apart this time- and I am not saying that we will- but if we do then it might clear the way for upcoming generations of East Africans to negotiate a partnership that fits them like a bespoke suit rather than grandpa's hand-me-down tweed jacket. This ka-project of ours is more of an evolutionary process than a finite destination. Why not let the kids do it*: 
"Far more interesting to me is the bright-eyed enthusiasm of younger people learning from each other, collaborating across borders, enjoying the social glue that modern ICT technology has gifted us with.
 Our only job is to try not to cripple the integration project or kill it dead before the young’uns have a chance at it. But if we do, no worries. The African Boomer generation that’s coming? Will be online, aware and better equipped to take on the challenge." 
*This is becoming my default position. Heh.

A little birdie told me...

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