Sunday, November 30, 2008

Kenyans on us, again!

Hello friends!
A mdau sent me this link from The Nation and thought we could brainstorm about it.
Tanzania is proving to be a liability in EA integration

Posted Saturday,
November 29, 2008 at 15:12

It is time members of the East African Community called Tanzania’s bluff. Our southern neighbour has become a veritable impediment to integration and progress in the region.

Everytime a useful proposal is put forward, it throws a spanner in the works. Kenya, Uganda and the two candidate-members of the Community, Rwanda and Burundi, should simply shrug Tanzania off and forge ahead.

The latest Tanzanian objection is the proposal to allow the use of identity cards when crossing borders instead of the requirement for passports, which relatively few ordinary East Africans have anyway.

The effect of the Tanzanian veto is to limit the movement of people about, who in most cases are traders going back and forth. It is difficult to see the logic of Dar es Salaam’s objection. At this rate, the dream of federation by 2013 will remain dead as long as Tanzania is allowed to dictate terms.

Tanzania has for many years been consumed by a large deceit of thinking it is more important than it actually is.

Basically, it still lives in a time warp where it is forever harping on its old credentials of being a linchpin of the liberation struggles of southern Africa.

WITHOUT DOUBT THIS WAS A historically important role. But the world of today is being shaped not by re-living the progressive glories of the 60s but by learning to adapt to fast-changing economic trends of today.

Tanzania is dirt poor, its economy a fraction of Kenya’s. Further, it lacks the dynamism and skills to drive its economy forward at the pace of its neighbours. Even tiny Rwanda has a better capacity than can be said of Tanzania.

The latter’s prickly sense of wanting to be alone is sadly misguided. Regional prosperity depends on the exchange of skills that free movement of peoples and investment across borders allows.

It is myopic to think Kenyans who venture into Tanzania are only going to take away Tanzanian jobs and opportunities. They are bringing skills, money and enterprise which they cross-pollinate in Tanzania.

It is also wrong to fear that Kenya’s more developed economy is a threat to Tanzania’s and thus should be kept at bay.

That argument flies in the face of all known precedents. Mexico knows the immense benefits it reaps from the North America Free Trade Association (NAFTA) even though its economy can nowhere be compared with the United States’ or Canada’s.

Likewise countries like Slovakia or Croatia would not have been clamouring to join the European Union to be in the company of more advanced members like France and Germany. But the cost-benefit ratio in such situations favours the poorer members.

Of the leaders of the East Africa Community, President Yoweri Museveni is by far the most far-sighted on this question of integration, He is surely right in urging those countries for the idea to go ahead on their own and cast off the laggards.

One country cannot and should not be allowed to hold the process of integration hostage. Another leader who is emerging as a real visionary is Rwanda’s President, Mr Paul Kagame.

He has already okayed the abolition of work permits for Kenyan professionals going to work there. Kenya too, has agreed on a similar waiver for Rwandan job-seekers.

Lying to our children

Christmas is around the corner, and for those living in Northern Hemisphere, Santa Claus will soon be ubiquitous – in malls, in churches, and so on. Here in Bongo, we call him Father Christmas. I just have a couple of questions: Is it really morally acceptable to tell our kids that Santa Claus exists? We know that this is a complete lie. Are we not supposed to be completely truthful when kids are concerned? Or should we make exceptions if a lie makes a kid happy? When a child find out that Santa actually does not exist, and that the parents have been all along lying, what lessons are we teaching this kid?

In Times Like These: Lord Keynes in 1932

Almost everybody who is talking about the current global financial crisis is referring to the troubles of the 1930s. It therefore has been interesting for me to read what were on the minds of influential economists of that era, and, indeed, as far as Lord Keynes is concerned, of all time. Attempting to share views and offer a solution to the crisis, he penned an article titled "The World's Economic Outlook" in the May 1932 issue of The Atlantic Monthly magazine (one of my favourite magazines). Click the link and enjoy.

In the meantime, check out his concluding paragraph:

"Nothing could be a greater advantage to the world than that the United States should solve her own domestic problems, and, by solving them, provide the stimulus and the example to other countries. But observing from a distance, -- a nearer view of the prospect might modify my pessimism, -- I am unable to imagine a course of events which could restore health to American industry in the near future. I even fancy that, so far from the United States giving the example, she will herself have to wait for stimulus from outside. I, therefore, dare to hope -- however improbable it may seem in the light of recent experience -- that relief may come first of all to Great Britain and the group of overseas countries which look to her for financial leadership. It is a dim hope, I confess. But I discern less light elsewhere"

Siasa: Mchezo Mchafu au Wachezaji Ndio Wachafu?

Politics is about acquiring and maintaining power (and of course doing something good about it). But, is it necessary to dirt yourself up and others in the process of getting and keeping power?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Notable Books of 2008

At the end of every year, we are bombarded with the lists of "best books" of the year - books that we are told we should have read, or read about. The New York Times Book Review has a clever word for its list: 100 Notable Books of 2008. Highlights include (non-fiction):

THE DRUNKARD’S WALK: How Randomness Rules Our Lives. By Leonard Mlodinow. (Pantheon, $24.95.) This breezy crash course intersperses probabilistic mind-benders with profiles of theorists.

FACTORY GIRLS: From Village to City in a Changing China. By Leslie T. Chang. (Spiegel & Grau, $26.) Chang’s engrossing account delves deeply into the lives of young migrant workers in southern China.

HOT, FLAT, AND CROWDED: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America. By Thomas L. Friedman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.95.) The Times columnist turns his attention to possible business-friendly solutions to global warming.

HOW FICTION WORKS. By James Wood. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) Concentrating on the art of the novel, the New Yorker critic presents a compact, erudite vade mecum with acute observations on individual passages and authors.

MORAL CLARITY: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists. By Susan Neiman. (Harcourt, $27.) Neiman champions Enlightenment values with no hint of over­simplification, dogmatism or misplaced piety.

THE POST-AMERICAN WORLD. By Fareed Zakaria. (Norton, $25.95.) This relentlessly intelligent examination of power focuses less on American decline than on the rise of China, trailed by India.

PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. By Dan Ariely. (Harper/HarperCollins, $25.95.) Moving comfortably from the lab to broad social questions to his own life, an M.I.T. economist pokes holes in conventional market theory.

A SECULAR AGE. By Charles Taylor. (Belknap/Harvard University, $39.95.) A philosophy professor thinks our era has been too quick to dismiss religious faith.

THE SUPERORGANISM: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies. By Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson. (Norton, $55.) The central conceit of this astonishing study is that an insect colony is a single animal raised to a higher level.

TRAFFIC: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us). By Tom Vanderbilt. (Knopf, $24.95.) A surprising, enlightening look at the psychology of the human beings behind the steering wheels.

THE TRILLION DOLLAR MELTDOWN: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash. By Charles R. Morris. (PublicAffairs, $22.95.) How we got into the mess we’re in, explained briefly and brilliantly.

THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul. By Patrick French. (Knopf, $30.) French has created a monument fully worthy of its subject, elucidating the enduring but painfully asymmetrical love triangle at the core of Naipaul’s life and work.

The Maturity of Mind and Public Service

Every public servant finds inspiration for delivery and ethical conduct in his or her own way. Before going into public service, I stumbled upon the words of Dag Hammarskjold delivered in June 14th, 1955 at a lecture at John Hopkins University. Since then, these words, reprinted in his posthumously published notebook, The Markings, have partly embodied the theme of my adult life and have become an important source of personal strength and an indispensable basis for the discharge of public service. I quote a few passages:
"In the flourishing literature on the art of life there is much talk about that rare quality: maturity of mind…it is reflected in an absence of fear, in recognition of the fact that fate is what we make it…. the dignity of man, as a justification of our faith in freedom, can be part of our living creed only if we revert to a view of life where maturity of mind counts for more than outward success and where happiness is no longer to be measured in quantitative terms….there is no formula to teach us how to arrive at maturity and there is no grammar for the language of inner life….the rest is silence because the rest is something that has to be resolved between a man and himself…you may be surprised by an approach to international service and to the problems raised by present-day developments in international life, which, like mine today, is concerned mainly with problems of personal ethics.

The so called realists may regard what I have tried to say as just so many fine words, only tenuously related to everyday life and political action. I would challenge this criticism.

The thoughts I have shared with you are conclusions from a most practical experience. Politics and diplomacy are no play of will and skill where results are independent of the character of those engaging in the game. Results are determined, not by superficial ability but by the consistency of the actors in their efforts and by the validity of their ideals.
Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, there is no intellectual activity which more ruthlessly tests the solidity of a man than politics. Apparently, easy successes with the public are possible for a juggler, but lasting results are achieved only by the patient."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Language in this Blog

Watu kadhaa wamenitumia email kuuliza kwanini natumia Kiingereza kuandika kwenye blog hii wakati "lugha ya taifa" ni Kiswahili. Concept ya "lugha ya taifa" tunaweza kuijadili hadi asubuhi. Kwa kifupi, hapa ni ruksa kutumia Kiswahili au Kiingereza. Binafsi napenda kutumia Kiingereza kwasababu nadhani Kiswahili nakifahamu chote ila Kiingereza ni lugha ngeni kwangu kwahiyo napenda kuifanyia mazoezi zaidi lugha hii ngeni. And the only way to acquire proficiency kwenye lugha ni kuitumia mara kwa mara. 

And my sense ni kwamba mtu yoyote ambaye ameweza ku-navigate the web mpaka akafika kwenye blog hii certainly atakuwa anaelewe lugha ya Kiingereza. 

The Mystery of Capital

I read this very interesting book around 2003/4. I am told that this book was the basis/inspiration for our MKURABITA programme. For the buzz it created back then, its influence on public policy in  many countries, and certainly for the interesting history and background anecdotes entailed in it, I would recommed it. Anyway, let me summarise it quickly, and then make the point I want to make.

de Soto central thesis is that we are poor because we cannot turn our assets into capital. He starts with the obvious: that the basis of a market economy is capital and the basis of capital as an economic tool is rational property law. Therefore, without a complex system to delineate and protect rightful ownership, capital is "dead". He estimates that the poor in the developing countries posses an excess of US$9 trillion in informal assets, indeed a huge sum, that is "locked" for want of title deed. In our own country, where, through the invitation of President Mkapa, de Soto came to do research and design our formalisation programme, "dead" assets are estimated to worth US $29 billion. 

de Soto notes that most of "the poor" already possess the assets they need to make a success of their businesses (so they are not really poor). What they lack is the framework in which those assets can become capital. So, de Soto finds that the real problem that is keeping our countries trapped in poverty is actually the inability to produce capital because we hold these resources in defective forms: houses built on land whose ownership rights are not adequately recorded, unincorporated businesses with undefined liability, industries located where financiers and investors cannot see them. So because these assets are not adequately documented, they cannot readily be turned into capital, cannot be traded outside of the narrow local circles where people know and trust each other, cannot be used as collateral for a loan, and cannot be used as a share against an investment.

In that case then, a large part of a country’s commerce is bled off into the underground (informal) economy. This system creates a fundamental problem, the capital moves, but not in a manner transparent and secure enough.

Therefore, his prescription: formalise, formalise, formalise - and the rewards of capitalism will be realised. 

Now, with what is going on with the global economy, have we not now learned that formalisation of capital does not make it secure, in that it moves on paper as fast as it can be wiped out. 

We now know that, yes, you can have your title and your property can be "protected", but then it can mean and worth nothing.  

Politics and Language: Dimension Beyond Words

When studying Tanzanian political realities today, it is necessary to accept the existence of a dimension beyond words. Besides, since linguists discovered functions of language beyond its “referential” or “propositional” aspects, we have known that words have only figurative meanings.

New Swahili words and phrases are emerging everyday but many fail to grasp the fact that these words have tremendous social and political dimensions beyond their regular usage. The word “bongo” for instance has evolved to become a living philosophy justifying all sorts of defiance to authorities and disturbance of that social ‘order’ as conceived by the governing class. “Bongo” literally means Brain, but the deeper meaning it carries is that one can only survive in Tanzania by using one’s wits. Note the survivalist imagination that resulted into this word.

Secondly, the word Bongo and the philosophy that it embodies, justifies or at least makes understandable the breaking of the law and the suppression of received societal moral codes, thereby inviting chaos and disorder. When one builds a house on children’s playground and gets away with it, either through “commission” on his or her part or “omission” on the part of authorities, one is applauded for triumphing by using one’s ‘brain.’ That is what “Bongo” requires and other ‘Bongolanders’ who fail to emulate are doing so at their own peril.

A machinga, selling non-taxed goods at Dar traffic lights (and keeping the customers’ change as well as the recently ‘purchased’ goods as traffic lights turn green) is quintessentially Bongo. Another classic Bongo transaction, as narrated in Professor J’s songs, involves buying a fake gold necklace using counterfeit banknotes. The list goes on. The philosophy of Bongo encourages and rewards a healthy and active disregard for the law of the land. What is crucial here is that people see the law as an impediment to survival and Bongo is all about getting around this “impediment” to survive.

As long as “Bongoism” entails a refusal to conform to what is seen as established order, the usage of “Bongo” can be seen as an expression of political freedom. Since the instruments of violence are thankfully monopolized by the government, this non-conformist resistance takes on a subtle approach that slowly gnaws at the foundation of the system. It may take the form of a play on words, a theory of ridicule, a deformation of established rules, a refusal to follow instructions or an irreverent attitude toward the hierarchy in place. Indeed, the philosophy of Bongo embodies all these aspects.

In Bongoism, the methods of insubordination are so sophisticated that one occasionally stumbles upon veritable laboratories of philosophy. One has to simply read what is written on the backs of the daladalas to get an insight. In his famous novel “Bound to Violence”, Yambo Ouologuem writes about the African peoples’ thirst for disorder, which is ultimately linked to their desire to surpass and organize this disorder. We also know that Nietzsche, the father of nihilism, has counterparts among the machingas, wapigadebe, dancers, changudoas, and popular singers and so on. One can argue that this nihilistic tendency, which must entail the suppression of all religious and societal morality, has emancipatory value. While we are increasingly realizing that the process of decolonialism was flawed, and its heirs, now managing a yet undigested independence, have a different conception of order. The attitude of these new nihilists (the musicians, machingas, wapigadebe, etc) holds out hope – the will to resist the aftermath of the yoke. And the new language of bongoism, survivalist at the core, has to inevitably convey and embody this will.

The story is told of a Congolese civil servant who was caught red-handed in an act of corruption. He calmly responds that he is only applying “Article 15”, an imaginary article of the Congolese constitution stipulating: “Do whatever it takes to get by!” In Bongo, the word “Ruksa”, uttered by former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi in a different and arguably ‘innocent’ context, became a slogan to justify – and indeed defend – all that was deemed illegal and immoral. In the context of this article, ‘Ruksa’ is indeed “liberating” – freeing one from the moral compunction.

Another word that came along with tremendous popularity and usage in Bongo in the last few years is “utajiju”. The word, both in tone and interpretation, epitomizes defiance to received societal norms and expectations. “Utajiju” reflects a rather individualistic outlook on life in contrast with bongoism which is at best silent on responsibility to the collective. If bongoism is a countervailing force against established ‘order’ and codified law, utajiju extends that further by striking at the heart of collectivist instincts, our ‘utu.’ Bongoism alienates the governed from the governors, utajiju seems to alienate people from each other in yet another form of dissent – this time against a pretty deeply ingrained social norms.

The social transformation of the 1990s, ushering new conception of political power by the governors and the governed, the proliferation of beer groceries, the emergence of hordes of clearing and forwarding agents, the onset of our own ‘sexual revolution’ as demonstrated by the ubiquity of “changudoas” and proliferation of brothels and the blatant sexuality of our contemporary music and dance, and the appearance of new forms of violent robbery , just to name few phenomena, cannot be conceptualized without, and must be seen in the context of “Ruksa” as simple a word as it might appear. In Bongo people play with the wording of the laws and rules. Official bywords, slogans, speeches, leaders’ verbal tics – in short, the entire vocabulary of governance – is mimicked and mocked with impressive creativity.

We can spend many pages discussing the social and political significance of words such as “Ukapa”, “Kaula/Kaukata” (when one gets political position), “Utajiju”, “Fagilia” and so on, but the point should be clear: Language, its usage, is important in analyzing politics and society. New words and phrases that spring up each day in Bongo are not without social and political significance. 

Sony Labou Tansi, a Congolese novelist, speaking for the Africans, once wrote, “I am a man of the forest and the savannah, so straight lines are foreign to me. In the forest, it is impossible to move in a straight line. I suspect that, with respect to existence, straight lines have a censuring aspect”.

Could it be that the Tanzanians, in the small events, gestures, lyrics, words and actions of daily life, are refusing what our political leaders consider “social order” – basically a straight line, a logic of reason so alien to the harsh realities of Dar es Salaam life.

In the end, with all the subtle protest in the new music of the young people and language, it is hard to imagine, at least at the moment, an overthrow of the “regime of norms” that have carried us as a nation since independence.  Why did the 1998 Mwembechai incident or Machinga continual disorder not implode? The reason is clear. The insubordination cannot lead into the state of anarchy because most Tanzanians are clever in parting company with anarchists in formulating the strategy of insubordination.  They are aware of the consequences of crossing the line: the resulting disorder sanctions a brutal swing of the pendulum.

January Makamba

Who am I?

Seven years ago, inspired by [and twisting] Thabo Mbeki's words, I wrote this:

I am made of the fecund soils of Kyabalisa and the desolate dust of Kiomboi. I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the trees, the flowers, the lakes and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of my Tanzania. The fragrances of nature have been as pleasant to me as the sight of the wild blooms of the citizens of savannah.

The dramatic shapes of Udzungwa, the greenery waters of Lake Manyara, and the fractured soils of Hanang’, have all been panels of the set on the natural stage on which I act out the foolish deeds of the theatre of my day. 

At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the colourful leopards of Tarangire, the man-eating lions of Liwale, the gigantic elephants of the Selous, the yowling hyenas of Mvumi, the venomous black mambas of Sekenke hills and the pestilential mosquitoes of Ikwiriri.

I owe my being to the Hehe fighters, the Ngoni rebels, the Yao insurgents, and all of Kinjekitile’s warriors, whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of my beautiful land - they who fell victim to the most merciless and brutal wars my native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and dependence and they who, as a people, perished in the result.

Today, as a country, as we judge each other as thieves, we keep an audible silence about these ancestors of the generations that live, facilitating the obliteration from our memories a cruel occurrence which, in its remembering, should teach us not and never to be inhuman again. I am formed of the migrants who left India and Oman and Arabia and Sudan to find a new home on my land. Whatever their own actions, they remain still, part of me.

In my veins courses the blood of the Tippu-Tip slaves who came from the interior of my land - Ujiji and Tabora. Their proud dignity informs my bearing, their culture a part of my essence. The stripes they bore on their bodies from the lash of the slave master are a reminder embossed on my consciousness of what should not be done.

I am the grandchild of the RugaRuga warriors, the patriots that Mirambo took to battle, and the Kalenga warriors, the soldiers that Munyigamba taught never to dishonor the cause of freedom. I am the descendant of Mukama Rumanyika, whose court dispensed justice with sheer sophistication, and Zumbe Kimweri, whose wisdom and valor conquered the vast expanse from Pare Mountains to Pangani shores.

And I have been enriched by the addition of new parents and grandparents. Some are flamboyant and opulent citizens of Masaki and Oysterbay, while others are indigent residents of the Manzese slums. My brothers and sisters, dwelling in malnutrition, have formed shrinking cheeks, thin legs and protruding abdomens while my other siblings, buoying in lavishness, display, without a sense of shame and guilt, obscene flamboyance.

I am the son of itinerant beggars and dispossessed prostitutes who hoard Ohio street at night and Kinondoni brothels during daytime. At Samora Avenue’s sidewalks, my mother coughs and points to the baby asleep on her shoulder and holds out her hand for money - importunate, insistent, desperate. At night, in Ohio Street, my half-naked sisters line-up the dimly lit street – desperately dashing at their feet as the break lights of a passing car show life.

I am struggling to detach my being from a grown man who forces his manhood into a ten years old girl – or boy – inflicting dreadful pain and ultimately dispatching death. He is one of my people, a part of me. What pushes my fathers to cruelty inside the home and infidelity outside is ingrained in my bones.

A half-schooled politician in a paramilitary uniform, whose mission is to ascend to power at any cost, is as part of me as the one who pillage the treasury to satisfy his greed. I am the giver and the recipient of bribe; I am the corruptor and the harlot who demean my country. 

An Indian resident of city-center, who makes the Gogo scavengers pay for “valuable” garbage and empty cans, is my family. A Machinga boy, who starves by squandering his entire day’s earning trying Bingo lottery, further enriching a bald, bellied mogul, is my brother.

The dismal shame of poverty, suffering and human degradation of my country is a blight that my people don’t want to share. Each newborn seeks the residence of Mbezi beach, Masaki and Oysterbay even at cost of destruction of all sense of self-esteem. 

Some of my people are striving to be what they are not, simply to acquire some of the benefits which those who had improved themselves as masters had ensured that they enjoy. Banish the shame, purge yourselves of condescending pride, and remake yourselves into the midwives of our nation’s renaissance.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Case of the Speluncean Explorers

You probably have come across this interesting legal/philosophical puzzle. It presupposes no knowledge of law or philosophy of law, and should be an enjoyable exercise. 

 A gentleman called Lon Fuller wrote an interesting (and now famous) article in 1949 in the Harvard Law Review journal titled "The Case of the Speluncean Explorers" creating a fictitious legal case. The case tells the story of a group of cave-explorers in the fictitious fictitious Commonwealth of Newgarth, trapped in a cave by a huge landslide which blocked all the exits from the cave. Then they ran out of their supply of food and water. As they approach the point of starvation, they make radio contact with the rescue team outside. Engineers on the team estimate that the rescue will take another 10 days. The men describe their rapidly weakening physical condition to physicians at the rescue camp and ask whether they can survive another 10 days without food. The physicians think this very unlikely. 

Then the trapped explorers ask whether they could survive another 10 days if they killed and ate a member of their party. The physicians reluctantly answer that they would. Finally, the men ask whether they ought to hold a lottery to determine whom to kill and eat. No one at the rescue camp is willing to answer this question. The men turn off their radio, and some time later hold a lottery, kill the loser, and eat him. When they are rescued, they are prosecuted for murder, which in Newgarth carries a mandatory death penalty. Are they guilty? Should they be executed?

mwalimu nyerere, i presume...

This will go down in history as one of the most memorable pictures; Mwalimu trading jokes with Iddi Amin Daddah during an OAU meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. By the way, what would the political landscape in the region been like had the two been alive today - in office?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When cliché becomes deadly-moving from policy to action

I was saddened last night to see (on TBC) how two young boys are forced to live in a makeshift house from which they may be kicked out of anytime their friend's father decides that having a tenant would be much more profitable than hosting two brothers who study with his son. Their mother died of HIV/AIDS and their father is dying of cancer in a hospital they can’t even afford to go to to visit him as much as they feel they should. The eldest of the two is only seventeen.

Having worked with young people for most of my ‘working life’, I’m going to draw on my youth development experience to express how I feel that we have allowed ‘development clichés’ to kill, rape, abandon, oppress and suffocate any hope or opportunities we keep saying belongs to the very people it kills. Being a young person myself, I believe that this is the ‘realest’ (most honest) any writing carrying this opinion can get.

It sounds more like a broken record when I hear that investment in HIV/AIDS is tripling in billions ($) but it’s killing more young people than ever before; expensive media outreach condemning violence against young women but no-one to can take responsibility or help when we are because it’s a ‘family issue’; that youth development is primal to societal prosperity when there are two boys who literally represent a majority-for whom everyday is a struggle to survive, much less live.

Too many times I have sat in “opinion gathering” youth meetings in an executive meeting room of a hotel in which I could not even afford to buy a soda that day and saw in the papers the next day that youth opinions have been collected and will be incorporated in one youth development project or the other. Is it I who has the meaning of youth involvement and participation all wrong or has the actual concept of youth empowerment been restricted to lavish meeting rooms, regional pacts and documents only to make them seem more sensitive and inclusive? What I do know is that development for us is not a gamble anymore. It has become a matter of life and death.

There are now numerous ABC or EFG NGOs supposedly there to help me not get AIDS, to make sure I get the ‘basic’ education I need to get and keep me off the streets, without forgetting the ever so busy Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare that had my mother sit for hours at end to get “development assistance”, after several failed attempts with our tediously slow judicial system, just to be told that it was a ‘family issue’ when my father just decided to up and leave her with four school-going children after 23years of marriage, knowing that all she’d ever known to do in her professional life was be a housewife.

This leads me to ask myself, do the people who come up with lines like, “they live on less than a dollar a day” and “youth are the leaders of today(no longer ‘of tomorrow’)” really understand what they are saying, or is it just a farce- something to pass off as another statement that shows they have helped a couple of hundred youth in the cliché “so poor, so illiterate, so dependent margin” with flimsy t-shirts and posters to go home with. Do they know that while they sit in their cool, state of the art, plush offices, real people on the ground are struggling and dying? When did we allow that to stop mattering? Did it ever?

Do we need a dictatorship?

How many times have you heard a friend or a colleague or a relative say “we need a dictatorship in this country” for things to move.  For me, the frame that democracy and freedom can hinder progress is very interesting. And, this idea is even more interesting here because it is not subscribed just by the political elite who would thrive under any form of government. Regular people call for dictatorship!  Perhaps people in Bongo do not care so much that they are able to read 13 daily newspapers. (Yes, we have 13 dailies!) 

But, what is behind this yearning for a dictatorship?  Perhaps there is some validity in the idea that the whole apparatus of democratic accountability is cumbersome, and that it requires the maturity of institutions (which comes with time, expense, and a proper political culture) for democracy to deliver a better life.  And, since democracy inherently breeds contentious relationships, you probably need some “sociological capacity” to consume democratic freedoms (and to handle contentious politics arising out of stronger labor unions, nasty editors, shouting opposition leaders, etc).   

 No doubt, democracy is of intrinsic value but should it be an end in itself? In Western democracies, freedom is only useful to an extent that it enhances a good life.   America is always cited as the land of opportunity because of its system of democracy. But Singapore has achieved the American dream, but not in the American way. Singaporeans' average life expectancy is now 71 years. No one is homeless. Virtually everyone has a job. To produce his economic miracle, Lee Kuan Yew interfered with every aspect of Singaporean life. And try to find an unhappy Singaporean. You will be hard pressed. 

The key thing is that Singapore is a dictatorship with no corruption. It's an economy that uses capitalist means to attain socialist ends. Something to learn there. 

A good start Folks

I appreciate this effort to have a blog system that I hope, will remain civil and objectionable to the intended purpose. I expect to see clean language and short messages to avoid boredom :-) An extended post removes attraction to read and digest; members should be brief and to the point. My thumb up to you all. Cheers, Tony

The Politics of BongoFlava

Political scientists and sociologists who wish to understand the way Tanzania’s society functions need to look beyond macroeconomic statistics, and learn to decipher the text, tone and sound of BongoFlava - the music of the young people in Bongoland. While rates of economic growth, inflation and exchange may allow for the calculation of what for many are fictitious gross domestic product figures, music embodies a language and richness which can help us measure the per capita anxiety rate and gross domestic happiness – fundamental underpinnings of Tanzania’s culture and the glue of its social cohesion.

The unfolding freedom of expression in Tanzania is best observed at the level of the music. If one takes seriously both the axiom that all music speaks – even in the absence of lyrics – and the need to decipher the unspoken dimension of this art form, one cannot fail to notice the impact of music on some of the strong social currents of our time.

Seen from a purely political and economic perspective, for some, the process of social transformation in Tanzania seems to have been slow. However, BongoFlava, the sound of young Tanzania clearly suggests that sweeping social change is in the offing. The new sounds emanating from Clouds FM and EastAfrica Radio announce upheaval, yet retaining hope. BongoFlava musicians are at the forefront of efforts to interpret and transform reality. Now more than ever, the sounds, noises and forms of our music increasingly set the tempo for social change.

It was not by accident that Mangwair’s song “Mitungi, Blanti, Mikasi” was hugely popular. Nihilistic at its core, it depicts the social realities of Tanzania’s youth and speaks to their innermost desires. It challenges the dominant social paradigms, expresses the youths’ yearning for attention, embodies defiance to established cultural norms, and, significantly, pushes the bounds of political expression, basically saying “we enjoy consuming alcohol, procuring prostitutes and using drugs. There is nothing you can do about it and you can go to hell if you don’t like it!” Also, “bangi bangi”, a number by the cantankerous yet enormously talented young artist called 20% is another illustration. Indeed, as much as many young people enjoy the technical aspect of the songs (instrumentation, etc.), most relish the idea of provocation implied in the songs’ lyrics – a la Thomas Kuhn’s “disturbance of the paradigm” – and the fact that they can get away with it. For the songwriters and producers (in their 20s) and all those who enjoyed the songs, it was both a political protest and expression of freedom. And when the government announced that it is considering banning Mangwair's song, it played right into the hands of the song’s creators and the track had served it purpose.

What happened to what was called “Tanzanian traditional music?” Rarely recorded and now listened to less and less, traditional music has suffered from its association with the past and the rather conservative discourse of some of its practitioners. If it is still popular in some quarters, it is most likely because it elicits twinges of nostalgia and assuages their ambivalent and anguished feelings toward the dizzying pace of “modernity.” One must look on in some wonder and bemusement as Msondo Ngoma and Sikinde Ngoma ya Ukae try to “out-Wenge” Wazee wa Ngwasuma.

Despite the repeated prediction of doom, BongoFlava still dominates Tanzania’s airwaves and dancehalls. In touch with the problems of daily life, in tune with today’s atmosphere of disorder, it is often syncretic but nevertheless contributes to the development of a new social order. At times fumbling and repetitive, and occassionally appearing narcissistic or lost in the fun house of such fleeting trends as reggae, ndombolo, rap or zouk, BongoFlava has never stopped playing its essential role – that of recording the frenzied chronicle of young Tanzanians’ collective meanderings, ambitions, and dreams.

Those who dismiss Bongo’s popular music as imitations of American hip-hop and RnB are missing a crucial point. At any given time in a society, there is a hegemonic narrative about where the society is and where it is going. There are many conduits for this narrative and the predominance of each is contextual to a society in question. In some societies, paintings are more important while in others it is music that carries the main messages. In most countries, including Tanzania, before ‘liberalization’, the official cultural politics called for and dictated this universal narrative. In that respect, political insurgence entails the development of counternarratives – with the conduits remaining the same. The same value to be derived from trying to decipher the political goings-on in Medieval France through the paintings of the time can be obtained by doing the same with Tanzania’s music to help us understand our politics. What is evident now with the explosion of BongoFlava, with its technical creativity and incisive lyrics, is the development of a counternarrative. Since this is explosion is self-propelled and free of official sponsorship and endorsement, it is very likely a genuine contribution to what will later be the collective memory of Tanzanians.

The point I am making here is that a society ought to be judged a least as equally on the basis of its sounds, its music, and its taste in entertainment as on its aggregate statistics. Therefore it is necessary to alter our approach to ‘Bongo’s’ social realities - Bongo must not only be “seen” but “heard”. By deciphering the lyrics and the sounds of popular music in Bongo, we can better perceive the concerns and hopes of our people.

The use of language and the degree to which freedom is truly expressed needs to be evaluated through both the lyrics and what lies beyond them. Kiswahili is a multidimensional language and can sometimes be accessed only with the aid of well-defined keys. Similarly, what appears as an expansion and appropriation of freedom, particularly in BongoFlava, also needs to be explored at a strictly musical level (instrumentation), for freedom of expression is not confined only to lyrics. It also involves the choice of instruments, the philosophy underlying the way they are played, the combination of sounds, the construction of harmonies, and the development of arrangements that give a musical work its stamp of originality. To illustrate, the simplicity of instrumentation – a somber acoustic guitar – in Vitalis Maembe’s old “Sumu ya Teja” brilliantly portrays the youth’s desperation resulting from drug use while the lyrics delivers an intelligently sarcastic indictment of Tanzania’s prison and justice system. The fast tempo of Feruzi’s “Starehe” and the sharp tone of its lyrical delivery (even when you mute the content) are brilliantly aligned with the fatalistic message in the song.

A welcoming note

Welcome to my blog. I hope this blog will provide a space for a serious collective contemplation over the state and the direction of our society - everything to do with arts, politics, and letters. Feel free. There will be no those silly anonymous postings in this blog as we intend to elevate the level of discourse (both substantively and in tone). This is a place for serious knowledge-sharing.

I somehow feel compelled to explain why I started a blog. Over the years, I have learnt that writing things down is the only way for me to communicate effectively with myself about complex issues facing me, as part of the human specie, and our society in general. I could have of course chosen to buy a journal and do entries each day. By doing a blog, I gain the option of taking on board the comments and criticism of those who read my musings and feel compelled to respond to it. Therefore, while it is evident that I write this blog for me, I welcome comments and criticism and debate on matters that interest you. I have invited a number of friends to author posts as well, and I hope these will be challenged as well. The truth of the matter is, we do not know something until we have written it down. So, let us get down to it.