Monday, July 29, 2013

Times in the Presidency: The Teleprompter Magic

January Makamba
July 29, 2013

In 2004, I was working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the Department of Africa and Middle East (before it was divided into two departments) as Foreign Service Officer II. I was an eager civil servant Рoften taking initiative to write unsolicited and unassigned analyses about what is going on in Africa and the Middle East. When I got a wind that our Minister intends to run for President, I took upon myself (with a mix of naivet̩, graduate-student idealism and a bit of courage) to write to him about how he should organize his campaign. I wrote an analysis, put together a campaign organizational chart and so forth. Then I forgot about it and went on about my work.

One day, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, back then Mr. Philemon Luhanjo, who would later become Chief Secretary, called me to tell me that the Minister wants to see me in Arusha (he was travelling to Arusha for East Africa Community meetings). My heart pounced. I took a flight to Arusha and, upon landing, I attended with him the East African Legislative Assembly meeting (and got to see Hon. Harrison Mwakyembe, back then EALA Member, perform on the floor of the Assembly).

Later in the evening, I had a meeting with him. He brought out the papers I wrote and asked me to do a presentation for him. I was very nervous. It was easier to write than to talk about what you have written. Nevertheless, I braved the nervousness, and did my best. He liked what I had put forth.

I was then asked to take a leave of absence from civil service and join his campaign as a campaign aide. I was extremely thrilled.

My main task during the campaign was to accompany him throughout the country, write statements and speeches, organize his correspondences, contribute in strategy, serve as sounding board, do research and so forth. We were only two assistants. I found myself carrying an office in my bag – a laptop and printer, which became battered after the trail in every corner of Tanzania.

It was such a rewarding experience and I cannot be grateful enough to the President for the opportunity.  I got to see EVERY corner of my country. Even more, I got to learn about the challenges we face as a country (one of my roles was to prepare background notes for every rally that the president did. This involved summarizing local issues in ALL of districts of Tanzania so that whenever he speaks, he touches major national themes but also local issues where the rallies were taking place – for instance, if you are in Maswa, you need to mention cotton, cotton ginneries and cotton buyers and how they ought to provide correct weights for farmers’ cotton that they bring there). So, sleep time was work time for me. And I fully enjoyed it.

After the election, the President appointed me as one of his aides. I was sworn-in the cabinet room, during the cabinet meeting, in front of all Ministers. But my work had started even before the election: to participate in preparing his first major speech in the Parliament. The speech was written over time, during the trail, in evenings, where he would speak aloud his vision and I would take notes and share them with others who participated in the speechwriting, and we would fashion together a draft.

We decided that he would use the teleprompter for the speech – the first time ever in Tanzania. Almost everyone in the team was against it but the President was keen. So, on the big day, I went and set up the teleprompter in the Parliament (the old chamber back then). Almost nobody knew what it was. Many people in the team thought that the President was ill-advised to use it. What if it gets stuck? What if something goes wrong? The whole country was watching. Pressure was on me as a champion of teleprompter. But we had a contingency plan, including a hard copy of the speech at the podium. The President was ready. And he delivered a masterpiece.

After the speech, as a custom, one Member of Parliament would give a vote of thanks. This time it was Hon. John Momose Cheyo from Bariadi. In his statement, he said he was gratified that the President talked to the nation – from the heart – for 90 minutes without reading. I slept like a baby on that day. 

1 comment:

Frank said...

Do you still have the TelePrompTer? I need one lol