Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Weekly Sneak: For Real, Mwalimu.

This week's offering in the EA is a stream of consciousness thing. When you write for an important paper like the EA, there is some expectation that you'll bring your Alpha Male game to the table. Certainty, expertise, statistics, journalistic authority, yadda yadda. I'm not complaining by the way: my inner Alpha Male loves this job to death and plays with it like a cat on catnip. 


Sometimes as a writer you have to show up. Showing up is the most important aspect of the calling. Of any calling. 
"In this era of conclusive statements, statistics and oft-undeserved confidence, please allow me to do like Nyerere did and admit to humanity. This was supposed to be an article about the discussion on President the Fifth and the ICC and the new constitution and other terribly important matters.
 Instead I found myself winding through thoughts about the effects of legacies, social trauma, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, all the countries that I care for so much without the ability to explain why. And ended up remembering Nyerere. There is something about the importance of character, isn’t there? Perhaps even something more tender, worthwhile and important and lasting than success."
Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumuba, so many others- I really wish I had met you too.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Paper Trials

I've been playing dodge with Dawasco for the past two months which I don't recommend, by the way, for reasons of it sucks to get your water disconnected. Nope, it's not what you're thinking: I love paying bills. Love it. Makes me feel like a useful piece of meat on this planet, besides which what the hell else is there to do with those colorful bits of paper we call money. Bits of paper for super-clean water that I don't have to go fetch at the well and carry in buckets on my head seems like a fair exchange to me. Mine was an administrative problem. 

So anyways, I had to sort it out today and dammit now I have to confess that there might be truth to the idea that privatization can have a positive impact on service provision. Although there was a fair amount of luck involved, I got my connection back within about an hour and a half of wading into said administrative problem. I walked into a public service provider's offices expecting the worst and what I got instead was excellent service, compassion and documentation. What the hell?  

I remember sitting in a class about development and the effects of privatizing on access to basic services and making some rather grandiose, socialist statements about that. At the time Dar was in a fiasco, DAWASCO had really dropped the ball and things were not looking good. This helped to fuel my justification, smugness and idealism. 

Fast-forward to today, I'm chatting with the engineer who is reconnecting me. Turns out that DAWASCO no longer receives government subsidies. If employees want to get paid they actually have to do the work, collect the revenue, be efficient. They have performance targets, uniforms, and internet connections that work. 

Now don't get me wrong here: there is the usual dose of nefariousness involved. DAWASCO rarely actually bills me, they just sort of charge me fines for not paying a bill that I never received. Turns out the trick is to go and pay your bill unasked. Keep One Step Ahead of Extortion is a familiar game for Bongolanders, all you have to do is learn the particularities of each institution. Tanesco doesn't behave like Dawasco, which doesn't behave like TRA and so on and so forth. Oh lord, the fricking migraine of trying to keep documented and on top of the game is monstrous. 

Anyways, back to the issue: good things happened today at DAWASCO. The folks there are motivated, efficient, personable and every other adjective I thought I would never use to describe service provision in TZ. Apart from the TANESCO Mikocheni hotline, who are superb... wait... what? Is something happening? Are things actually getting a little bit...better in some departments? I have to go lie down, optimism is too confusing to me right now*.

*Jokes aside: if you've been treated right by a public service provider lately, share your story. Positive reinforcement works. 

The Weekly Sneak: Medium Alert.

Ben Taylor's post on the recent banning of Mtanzania and Mwananchi newspapers gives an excellent analysis on what's happening to our media industry. Of course this week I had to address the issue in the EA because as civilians we're having a fight with the powers that be about the shape and limitations of our freedom of expression and information. This most recent banning? Might be the precursor to further actions as the government continues to react poorly to the effects of having liberalized the press. 

In writing the piece, however, I got distracted by the government blog. I commend the government for trying to keep up with these times, but the execution could do with a lot of work. I understand- this is a generational issue. The median age of the government's management level must be hovering around the upper fifties, perhaps not the most tech-savvy group there is. All that youth unemployment, all those poorly-designed, outdated websites... can't we do something about this?

"Since we’re pretending to hold each other to account about our general use of media, I really must protest the decrepitude of the government’s online efforts. To begin with, that blog is a crime against design and the very idea of blogging. And things only gets worse with every website. Seriously? In 2013? Sometimes I think it’s the government that needs to be put in the naughty corner for a time-out with such behavior. Quality, old boys, standards. Ban things if you must (it doesn’t really work) but at least hire a twenty-something to handle you online, sweet befuddled political dinosaurs."

A little birdie told me...

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