Thursday, February 01, 2007
"A Fool Is As A Fool Does"
That is an American saying. I am not sure if I know of any Swahili equivalent. The saying highlights what I have come to admire about the American culture, and that is the strongest and the brightest idea wins. It is not the fastest talker or the loudest in the crowd. Because the American culture believes in making logical decisions, a person who fails to exercise common sense is deemed foolish or stupid, regardless of their age, gender, academic accomplishments or any other social status
I once had a conversation with an old Kenyan college buddy of mine. We just happened to marvel at how changed one’s life become once you step on the American soil. It is not clear when such a mental u-turn happens, but I am sure the change is so gradual that it is difficult to notice.
A change that one goes through hits you when you interact with folks that are “fresh” from Tanzania, for instance, or even going there. A simple conversation that you could have with an American or even a Tanzanian, who has been in the Diaspora for a while, could turn into a huge cultural fiasco that you cannot contain. For example, having a logical conversation with a typical Tanzanian is difficult. That is because you cannot ask for someone to give you a logical explanation for his or her position on an idea or concept. If it is your dad, it is granted that age will be thrown in the mix to thwart your strong logical position. If your parents sense that they are about to lose a mental battle, be advised that threats of curses and stuff will be thrown your way so that you can stop challenging the status quo of your dad or mom’s thinking.
My theory is that we struggle so much in Tanzania, even among seemingly educated folks, because critical thinking is not part of our experience. Feelings and norms tend to be the deciding factor, and not pure intellectual analysis. That is not to discredit feelings and norms, but it stinks when that those elements are taken to the extreme.
The reasoning for bringing this American saying up is simple: there are plenty of education folks in Tanzania who would easily and justifiably fall into the fools’ category. And that is not because they can’t read, write, or hold PhDs. It is because they act like fools. You think I am kidding? Let’s just review this story published by Daily News on January 10, 2007. I had planned to reflect on this way back, but got held up by other issues.
The story is about how the Ministry of Energy and Minerals was optimistic that following the RDC’s ownership swap between the Gire brothers and the Dowan Holding of the UAE, nothing bad would happen. Let me quote the reason for such optimism:
“ We went to South Africa to South Africa and did the technical inspection and three engines to produce 60 MW were in good shape. We did not, however, do any tests”.
Just stop right there. Notice anything?
Let me break it down for you. These guys went all the way to South Africa to perform a “technical inspection”. Why in the world didn’t they perform any tests? How then did they conclude that they engines are in good shape? By looking at the paint? Reading some materials? If that was the case, why not just send somebody from the Tanzanian embassy in South Africa to go take a look at the engine and fax or PDF some manufacturer’s specifications for the completion of the “technical inspection”? See, I don’t see anything technical about this inspection if they didn’t perform any tests.
See, a fool is as a fool does. So let’s use a car buying experience to highlight my point. Who goes to a car dealership and buys a car simply by looking at the car’s body paint and reading some papers or listening to a salesperson pitch? If you are intelligent enough, and knowing that the car is probably necessary for your economic and social well-being, wouldn’t you take the car for a test ride?
You know what sucks, they Ministry calls this due diligence. Are you kidding me? Let’s be real. These folks went down to South Africa to get their per diem. That’s it. No more, no less. So they came back and handed over a report to Tanesco’s Board of Directors, who also blindly endorsed Dowan Holding due to their “satisfactory financial and technical capabilities”. Well, I can’t say anything on Dowan’s financial capabilities. Nonetheless, we know for sure that Dowan’s technical capabilities stink.
If not, why are Members of Parliament up and arms?
I don’t like everything about America. Likewise, I don’t like everything about Tanzania. But at least for now, I can tell you that Americans recognize that fools are those who do foolish things, regardless of the social position, bank account balance, age, gender, etc. I am yet to find a reason to not to regard these people who conducted a “technical inspection” in a non-technical way as fools.
If there were a pill that folks could take to transform their minds, I would have supplied that in Tanzania long time ago. Seriously.