Wednesday, May 30, 2007

WaTZ and Globalization: Beats Me...

Recently, one of the readers of my blog posted a comment on my previous post on dual citizenship. As I pointed out earlier, I don’t know everything. I just try to be honest with my writing. Telling it like I see it. With the territory comes criticism and corrections. You are welcome to do that. That’s the way we grow.

Well, the reader decided to challenge me on my comment regarding dual citizenship. This is what I said:

Unfortunately, the world of physical borders is slowing eroding and we are increasingly becoming a global village.”

That didn’t sit well with this esteemed reader. So the reader threw the following challenge my way:

Who is benefiting from become a global village? The answer will be USA and EU multinational corporations. Why there is no CRDB branch (benki ya mijini na vijijini) in the US, UK, or other EU countries?

I typically don’t like the idea of having a entirely new post on a reader’s comment, but I have to do that at times. That is mainly due to the fact that some of the comments, in my opinion, are respresenting a position that is more likely than not taken by a majority. Since my blog is dedicated towards correcting some of the misconceptions we (Africans and particularly Tanzanians) have towards the West, I will take my time on this.

From the very core of it, the above comment is echoing (please readers, correct me if I am wrong) inferiority complex. I have no idea where this is coming from, but I am guessing it is due to a constant barrage of negative messages we have received from our cheap politicians over the years.

This is my message: get over it. Nothing is going to change because Africans are crying foul.

Secondly, the message has failed to take a critical look at a typical Tanzanians’ attitude towards business skills and competition. That is the very reason that Kenyans have a bank branch in Tanzania, while we continue to play politics. So this is the question regarding the banking industry, which the reader decided so cite as example: has CRDB managed to spread its operations across the entire Tanzania , even as far as Kenya? Well, the answer to that is a plain NO. That demands a second question, why not? The answer to that is lack of strategic vision, seriousness, aggressiveness, lack of true business mindset.

Due to globalization, there are plenty of opportunities for Tanzanian businesses. Just to name a few,IPP Media has a TV station that broadcasts both in Kenya and Uganda, Sumaria Group is running some businesses in Mozambique. You know why they are able to do that? Because they have a business mind. These companies don’t just play politics in their strategic planning. They are aggressive. They go where the market is.

This is my contention. Fear of globalization is based on relatively meaningless arguments. But it appears that Tanzanians are very good at coming up with cheap excuses. I was in high school when there was this commission appointed by then President AHM to collect views on multiparty system. Guess what was one of the reasons cited against the multiparty system? That Tanzania will get into a political and social turmoil like that in Rwanda or Burundi! A bunch of crap.

Baseless phobia is plain stupid. You know what? Everytime a change happens, there are beneficiaries and victims. In my personal experience, flexible folks who understand and go with the times tend to be the beneficiaries. Those who resist change, for no apparent reason other than their love for the status quo, tend to be on the receiving end. I would definitely not like to see my fellow Tanzanians being on the receiving end, simply because they opted to be whiny and whimpy.

Globalization brings with it a competitive spirit. Can you look me straight in the eye and tell me that the only reason CRDB don’t have a branch in Uganda is because some white man is putting a lid on their expansion strategy? Have you tried CRDB customer service of late? That should tell you the story.

We have the AGOA opportunities, right? What did Tanzania do with it? Very little. For instance, Kenyans export to the US on the AGOA program was $249 and $352 million in 2003 and 2004, respectively, compared to a pathetic $24 in both 2003 and 2004. And they you sit and cry about globalization? If we don’t play, we will get played.
Photo credit: Mjengwa

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wasteful Leaky Buckets...

I meant to reflect on this way back, but sometimes life just gets on the way...

I know some people will chew me for repeating this, but it is true. The primary and fundamental problem with African countries, particularly Tanzania, is the wrong mindset. We have just got our minds set on wrong things. One of the things that really irks me is this constant whining about how our problems are caused by colonialism blah blah blah…Don’t get me wrong, I know we have inherited some of the colonial mentalities that put leaders above ordinary citizens, like the colonial masters used to be, but it has been an average of four decades since the white folks got done with Africa. So let’s skip the whining, would you Africa?

I had a chance to visit Bongoland in late 2004. There is no way I could be in Tanzania and never visit my hometown – Shirati. True story: I know folks who would go home from the States, only to end up staying at Kilimanjaro Hotel and such. They would arrange for their parents to come and meet them in Dar. If you ask the core of it all, is that they have a western, civilized spouse, who can’t stand flies in villages. Talking about loss of identity and inferiority complex? There you go!

Man, I would go anywhere. As a matter of fact, I would board the daladalas with everybody. I know of some sophisticates fellas who would not want their American t-shirts to get dirty. Obviously, I have to adjust to the fact that the majority will not have deodorant in the bus. But who cares? I used to do the same. I would spray cologne in the direction of my armpits. Guess what happens when the Bongoland heat hits you? It is one cool stench! But that’s what I knew, so I would definitely cut my people some slack.

I think I just lost my trend of thoughts…well; I was talking about my visit to Tanzania in 2004. I came across a cousin of mine. His business proposal when we met? I send him a tractor, since I was in the land of opportunities. I was afraid to ask if he had sent the same proposal to a bank - him a retired civil servant and all. I didn’t want to offend. You know how folks tend to be sensitive in Bongoland. I didn’t want to bring up logical questions, for such questions never receive a logical response. The only you will end up getting a bad rap for being disrespectful. Age, feelings and emotions always take center stage in discussions back home. And old lady would not tell you that she needs money, but the virtue of visiting your home at 6:30 am before everybody fully wakes up and her emotional story of how she has been sick of late should tell you the message.

Now, let’s go back to my cousin’s story. That is a typical Tanzania mentality. Nobody would go to a bank for a loan. They would rather ask from a relative. And you know very well what happens in case of default. You could never recover your monies. The ukoo vikaos will condemn you for being such a capitalist, if you press for recovery. That’s the predominant culture and regardless of how much I blog about it, it will never go away easily.

The message the culture sends, however, is that it is OK to be beggars. It never puts every member of society to task with regards to his or her personal responsibilities. I understand that there are people who are victims of circumstances. Those should definitely be helped. Nevertheless, what about folks who decided that they would never use their brains, but sit around waiting for this cousin or that nephew in America, for instance?

You know what stinks? The begging mentality has spread so bad that even the president would consider it a success to beg and eventually secure foreign aid. The worst is this: we don’t use donor funds with respect. Donors used to send us money and money alone. Later they discovered we weren’t using the money as planned, so they decided to send the money and the personnel to oversee the use of the money. Nobody seemed to care though, because this wasn’t our hard earned money in the first place.

As I highlighted above, beggars do not like the idea of personal responsibility. As a matter of fact, I believe begging starts when someone feels that their success or breakthrough is dependent on someone else’s hands. So recently, the Auditor General’s report came out. Guess what? There has been rampant squandering of public funds in all directions.

We are certainly a joke, as a nation and collectively. I don’t see a sense of urgency or seriousness. Not from the president. Not from the PM. Not from the cabinet. Not from the MPs. Occasionally, you will see some flames of seriousness. For the most part, the folks we call leaders are a bunch of clowns. Serious folks would consider it a serious offense to squander the little resources we have. Try tipping over a food plate of a hungry man and see.

See, what makes me conclude that the president JK, like his predecessors, is a joke is because he is not viewing misappropriation of public funds as a serious matter. I mean, you deal with misappropriation in terms of billions by issuing a warning statement? I mean, how many times have we heard such songs before? What about prosecution of the offenders? But I guess the prosecution of the offenders would not occur. If you read the Auditor General’s report, some of the offenses occurred under the president’s own watch when he was a minister. So there you go folks, who ties his own hands?

See, the president can do whatever he wants to do as long as he is producing progress for Tanzanians. I really don’t have a problem with that. But isn’t it stupid to go out and beg and put all your “water” in a leaky bucket?

You be the judge.
Photo credit: Mjengwa

Friday, May 11, 2007

Do We Have Low Self-Esteem?

I’m a member of an email group that is mainly for Tanzanians living in Columbus, Ohio. As such, I do receive communication from other members. I get all sorts of messages – folks promoting their businesses, baby shower announcements, bridal shower announcements, birthday party announcements, misiba announcements, etc. Occassionally, political agendas, which are typically followed by a lengthy debate, would surface.

I love it though. It keeps the community flowing.

So a few days ago, one of the members forwarded the following message. I will let you in on it:

Kenya Airways na Ubaguzi

Couldn't help but wonder about the way the Western Media cover the KQ crash. Look at the following quote from

"The people on board included one American, five Britons, one Swiss, one Swede, six Chinese, and 15 Indians. The remainder were Africans, including at least 35 from Cameroon and at least nine from Kenya, according to airline figures."

So, the most important passenger was the American, followed by the Europeans, the Asians, the Southeast Asians, then the rest were just Africans.

Hey, doesn't matter that Africans comprised of the majority of the passengers in the fateful flight. The western media! Prejudice never fails to show its face.

You know, you could read the above message and sympathize with the writer if you elect no to exercise your mental muscles. In a very simplistic, African-politically-charged thinking, the above statements appear to make sense. Nevertheless, the above statements, which could have very well be given by any African politician, is just an expression of an epidemic of low self-esteem or inferiority complex that has engulfed the minds of most Africans, particularly when it comes to the way they view themselves relative to the Western counterparts. In my opinion, that is very pathetic and very sad.

So this is the deal, lets get deeper a little bit. Didn't the quote say "according to the airline figures"? Why can't we assume that this was the Kenyan Airways own presentation instead of going into the West vs. poor Africans card? Besides, don't we, as Tanzanians, tend to group all white folks into wazungu group and not according to their nationalities? Isn't true that the rest of the victims in the plan crash were Africans?

The western media is trying to communicate with the western audience - which still believes that Africa is one country. Read Tanzanian own reporting. Their focus wasn't on any other persons, but a Tanzanian soldier onboard the plane. Just read the Guardian’s article to prove my point.

If the Tanzanian media chose to focus on a Tanzanian citizen onboard the plan, why then would any Tanzanian cry foul when the Western media is highlighting their own?

News is supposed to be relevant to the audience. If you understand the Western audience, you can get where the using the general term Africans come into play. I come across American folks, both white and black, who have no clue where Tanzanian is located on the map. Some would actually want to verify whether Tanzania is an island in Australia!

We can surely criticize the Western media in some other instances, but that does not preclude us, as Africans, from being practical. If anything, this was (at best) an overly political reaction. The worst-case scenario, which I believe is the underlying psychological truth, is that we have a very, very, very, low self-esteem when it comes to the way we compare ourselves to the wazungus.

And that is just very sad. Isn’t that circling back to the idea of how one’s mindset affects they way they view life and themselves?

Photo credit: Mjengwa

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Should Nations “Mature”?

I love to learn. I love to grow. That does not mean the learning process is enjoyable all out. Sometimes, the process is painful. As painful as it is, most of us only learn through mistakes. Some of these mistakes could be very costly – including losing a limb or ones job. I have not gone to those extremes, but I have had my own less than glamorous moments that really help me grow and mature.

I hope I am not alone on this one. So don’t front. I know you have received your mama’s whopping now and then. If not your pops or mom, mwalimu wa zamu had a feast on your butts or hands with a number canes. This could be considered some sort of abuse by today’s standards, but I went through it.

One of the ways that I learn is to read and reflect on what other have to say. As a matter of fact, I think the entire global education is based on others’ ideas and insights. Just think of Mr. Newton in Physics. I know the stuff he brought to light would have been discovered by some other crazy genius, but thus far he is attributed to the Laws of Motion. Just pay a visit to a bookstore or library; you will get what I mean. These joints are full of ideas – other people’s ideas to be precise, that are nicely put together into a binding called a book.

What’s my point? We learn through others.

So the other day I was going through Kitururu’s blog and I came across this particular post.I didn’t run out on the streets naked, but I surely got mentally stimulated. Essentially, Simon’s reflection was on whether at some point, just like babies, nations should mature and stop acting like infants.

I really don’t have any concrete answer to Simon’s challenge, but I think it is worth paying a serious attention to. See, I have personally been an advocate for developing countries, Tanzania in particular, taking responsibility for their state of affairs. I don’t believe that being on the West’s welfare recipient list will ever improve anything in Tanzania. That is due to the fact that Tanzania has received an astronomical amount of grants and financial aid in the past, but there is no evidence of improvement in the lives of ordinary, poverty-stricken Tanzanians.

I can see the spirit behind financial aid to developing countries, so I can’t say financial aid to poor countries is meaningless. In a spirit of brotherhood, financial aid is necessary to jumpstart a needy brother’s vitality. Nonetheless, we have to be honest with ourselves; aid flowing to Tanzania is not helping. If it does, it is helping to fatten the pockets of a few crooks. I believe that aid is just strengthening a beggar’s mentality and a growing justification for dependency.

It is true that countries do not develop at the same rate you would expect natural human beings to grow. Things take a while. As such 46 years of political independence for a country like Tanzania, in a wider perspective, is not much. I would equate that to a 7 or 10 years old kid. Despite the young age of Tanzania, relatively speaking, there should be signs of maturity. We would expect that a 10 years old kid to know how to read and write. You don’t expect a ten year old kid that stopped wetting their bed at four (4) years of age to revert back to those bad habits, would you? Then why Tanzania is going back to fiscal indiscipline year after year? My point is this: there are things that Tanzania should be doing right now, given her age. I don’t think a nation ought to be over 300 years old to understand that spending money on expensive cars while there are no good roads is stupid.

I know this will probably not go anywhere, but I will go ahead and suggest it anyway. Financial aid to developing countries should be phased out. These countries are out to mature and grow. At some point the West has to stop babysitting countries that are deliberating wetting their pants and crying like little kids. Tanzania is included on that list. Look, Uganda decided to grow and growing they are doing. So we can’t justify our low GDP while we have plenty of resources.

Tanzanian is growing a moustache, but we still insist on breastfeeding. That is a mega shame. So Mr. Simon Kitururu, I think you are right. At some point, age limit should be set on countries from receiving certain financial aid. Writing a blank check to Tanzania, for instance, is senseless. If that doesn’t stop, we’ll continue wetting our pants while we should be courting for marriage.

You think I am alone? Even the Tanzania former president, Mr. BWM, is getting the fact that African countries are ought to grow (though I wonder why he is providing such wonderful insights that he couldn’t fully implement while in power). Guess what? Even IMF is starting to think that Tanzania should come of age.

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

National ID Cards: Thumbs Up...

I must admit it. I have been critical of the Tanzanian government; particularly on the way it has been making decisions. To be honest, and at least from my perspective, most of the decisions that the government has made are just ridiculous.

I have also committed myself to being fair. When the government makes a good decision, I will not hesitate to commend that. Besides, what I desire is for the government to constantly make great decisions. Good decisions do not only indicate a sign of maturity and accountability, it shows a sense of intelligence and superb common sense application. In the very end, the regular mwananchi becomes a winner. Isn’t a great a win-win situation?

One of the areas that have been a black spot in the Tanzanian government is the perceptions and reality that corruption is rampant when it comes to granting of major contracts. (But I think I can cut the Tanzanian government a slack, since signs of kickbacks and gross graft cloud contracts in most countries).

So through my web browsing, I came across news that the Tanzanian government has awarded Digimarc a contract to generate voters’ identification cards. That’s what Digimarc’s official website is saying, but I think these identification cards will be regarded as national identification cards.

The Tanzanian national identification card project will cost a huge financial bill. At the estimated $160 million, (according to story published by the Guardian, the cost of implementing the project is estimated to be TShs 162 billion, which is roughly equivalent to $160 million) that is not a small change for a country like Tanzania. I know there has been a debate on whether spending such an amount is justified or a priority given the fact that most school kids do not have school supplies or even desks and chairs. I am not going to dwell on that, but I like to run some numbers to make sense of some things.

Just by doing quick calculations, you can tell that $160 million divided by 35 million people (that is an estimate), will give you roughly $5 per each Tanzania. That is about TShs. 6,000. Given that national identification will be issued to every Tanzanian, there will be not preferential treatment in getting the national IDs. I would cry foul if just a fraction of Tanzanians will benefit, if the cost per each person was extremely high.

Besides, Tanzania is the only country in East Africa without national identification cards. It is about time we get one. If you ask me what the identification cards would do the lives of ordinary wakulima, I would not honestly be in a position to give you a straight answer. Nonetheless, I know some things are just necessary evils.

In the past, I know such contracts would have been awarded to some shoddy companies like Richmond Development Corporation or the like of Dowans whatever. I don’t know how Digimarc got the contract, may be through oiling somebody’s palms, but given that generation of identification cards is what the company does, I hail the government for selecting a company that will play within its core competency.

In addition, given that Digimarc is a publicly traded company, we can officially log a complaint against the company with the United States government, if we come across information that will indicate that the company has violate the United States laws, which includes paying bribes to secure contracts or do business in foreign countries. In addition, we can vouch the company’s background and past performance.

I am admitting it; the government has taken the best route with regards to engage an appropriate company for generation of national identification cards. For that, I sincerely commend them.

So this is the deal: If you are a Tanzanian living in the United States or Canada and can buy shares, just go ahead and buy Digimarc’s shares as a piece of your portfolio. That way, we can always take “our” money back. And I think that is smart.