Tuesday, July 24, 2007

While Accusing Me On Culture...

You know what? I thought communicating verbally was more difficult compared to communicating in writing. My rationale wsa that there are so many factors that could affect the listener's ability to fully comprehend what is being communucated, when communication is done orally. As I continue to grow in blogging, I have come to realize how that theory of mine is not working. Man, it is hard to believe that folks could actually misread you. What I like about ideas put down in ink and paper is this: you can always go back to a sentence and quote it as it is, leaving no room for such excuses as “that’s not what I heard…err…read”.

Just on my last post, one of the readers just decided to take my post out of context and put words in my mouth…well in my writing hands. That is sad. I don’t want to school anyone in reading skills, but I believe that understanding the context in which the writer is writing can always help the reader understand the message. But I take the challenge also as a writer to be more articulate.

Going back to this particular reader, he or she accused me being an advocate of the importation of the Western culture and ideologies. I am hereby, ladies and gentlemen, vehemently denying those accusations. I know, I know…it might sound like I am pro-West. I am not. I am actually a pro-progressive African. The difference is this: I am proud and bold enough to say that in order for Africa to make any meaningful progress, the continent has to embrace formulas that have worked. I believe that is being realistic than political.

I know that is troubling some folks, because the point of reference, with regards to the working formulas, will always be the West. To some people, making such a proposition is equivalent to selling the continent out. To some folks, that sounds like that poor Metty is suffering from inferiority complex, that he can’t see any other alternatives, but to embrace the Western ways.

Wait a minute people. When was the last time Tanzania had a self-sufficient budget without foreign aid? For Pete’s sake, we can’t even fight malaria unless Bill Clinton visits town! You know how pathetic that is? This is my position: pride without substance is stupidity. Sadly, my observation has been that Africans who like to be known as “super patriotic” also like to portray this hypocritical, meaningless pride. This is so sickening; because on one hand we pretend to hate the West, while on the other we are so proudly begging for their money.

My call is very simple: let’s stop begging for fish and learn to fish. If that makes me a sell-out, I will accept that.

Going through the Tanzanian news, I learned that Tanzanian’s national television (TvT) has secured the rights to broadcast live English Premier League (EPL) matches. Well, the underlying force is the available and adequate demand for the English soccer in Tanzania. But how did we get here? What is the message?

I think it would be very myopic to define culture in terms of traditional dances alone, for culture is more than that. Google defines culture as “the attitudes and behavior that are characteristic of a particular social group or organization”. If I understand this definition correctly, culture includes why and how a particular society does certain things. If that is the case then, all aspects of life, including economy, sports and entertainment, economy and politics are greatly driven by the underlying culture.

How is that related to the EPL then?

Obviously, random forces do not drive the quality of the EPL. It has to be the British culture that emphasizes organization, accountability, quality, creativity and all the good things that are lacking in the Tanzanian context (if we had those qualities, we would have been exporting Tanzanian soccer to England instead). I have not heard of a scientific research that has concluded that Tanzanian soccer players are less talented that the European or South American counterparts. The difference, therefore, has to do with culture (And not money, as some people would quickly cite finances as a reason. This is a whole new topic on it's own).

I always emphasize critical thinking for a reason. I do that because it is very easy to be swallowed in the general wave of life to the extent that one fails to decipher the underlying messages. As such I chose to think and not just go with the general crowd. If one decides to hate me for challenging our (Tanzanians) thinking, go ahead and be my guest. Nonetheless, as you admire the British soccer, just remember that there is a culture and a mental attitude that brought the quality EPL football on your TV screen.

As you watch the EPL too, remember that you are celebrating not only the game, but you are being a consumer of the British culture. And it wasn't Metty who called for that, it is the very Tanzanian national TV, that is doing the importation.

Which begs the question: who’s better for Tanzania; Danstan Tido Mhando who decided to import the British culture, as it is, or Metty who’s calling for learning how the British created the EPL so that we can create our own? Furthermore, what’s wrong with copying positive aspects of the British culture for our own benefits as opposed to blindly embracing the EPL like stupid cheerleaders?

So while you are accusing me of being a pro-West, the national TV is importing the same very culture through the back door. Go figure.

Amkeni jamani!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Progress With Twisted Logic? Impossible...

I don’t intend to open up a can of worms (as this has been one of the hottest debates), but I am strongly convinced that Tanzanians (generally speaking) are struggling mightily because of the twisted mindset. From my observation, an average Tanzanian would rather draw their arguments from cultural norms and not from pure logic.

I must agree, culture defines what people are. Culture is one’s identity. So I’m not despising drawing one’s arguments from a cultural perspective. Nonetheless, leaning so much on one’s culture has its disadvantages. One of them is being locked mentally in a cultural box, particularly when one is not equipped to think critically.

Being on cultural lock-up is particularly difficult when a particular culture is forced to interact with other forces. As much as Tanzanians like to ignore it, there is a cultural war going on right now. Opening up borders for free market will not only bring it quality goods and products, but also a change in “how to”. That is a blanket concept, because it encompasses how a person will conduct himself or herself in the labor market, for instance. At the end of the day, those who are quick to think outside their cultural box would benefit the most.

I believe that changing from one’s culture and assimilating to the new environment is one of the ways one can make a cultural reconciliation. Nonetheless, I believe that there are aspects of life that are common to every culture. Furthermore, there are certain things that a reasonable human being, regardless of cultural assimilation, would do. I think that’s where the word common sense kicks in. I believe common sense stands for knowledge, concepts, issues that EVERY reasonable human, regardless of race or culture, is expected to know. For instance, you don't have to be Chinese or a white person to know that when you are hungry you eat, or when you have to wee wee, you go.

Is common sense so common? I don’t think so. We still have idiots in every culture.

Are Tanzanians (generally speaking) lacking in at least an ounce of common sense? I don’t have an answer to that. But sometimes I wonder if that could be true. I am not trying to be ridiculous, and I will try to present an evidence to prove my point.

Recently, Minister Philip Marmo contended that expensive and luxurious sports utility vehicles that the Tanzanian government (despite being one the poorest countries in the world) has employed for the use of high-ranking officials are not luxurious at all, but tools for work.

Pose for a minute. Take a deep breath and think.

I am sure you got it.

That is load of crap. You know what is soooo sad? Ordinary Tanzanians just swallow that crap and zipped their mouths. I am not suggesting that they could have rioted, but at least a journalist, a member of the parliament, somebody who is acting in the capacity of representation of the larger mass could have asked this dude this question: what defines a luxurious vehicle?

See, a luxurious car is not defined by what it is used for, but rather its make, model, costs and other bells and whistles that move it from a basic status to luxurious. Mr. Marmo, simply because somebody like to Bill Gates can take a Lamborghini to run errands does not diminish the Lamborghini’s status as a luxurious car. Some lunatics have taken their expensive, luxurious cars and smashed them in Hollywood. Does that reduce these cars to meaningless toys?

Was Mr. Marmo just acting dumb for political reasons or was he really escaped by common sense? I think he is in a better position to tell. But from my point of view, we (Tanzanians) are really making a fool of ourselves as a nation. If I were the president, I would tell my ministers to at least come up with seemingly complicated cost-benefit-analysis to sound intelligent than provide cheap explanations that could easily take one to the top of the list of idiots.

If we have a Minister who can’t tell what a luxurious sports vehicle is, what makes Tanzanians think that we can get where we want to go? I strongly believe that progress starts in the mind. What Minister Marmo demonstrated is a twisted logic that you could only find in Tanzania.

And you wonder why we are still poor?

Photo Credit. Yahoo.com

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

There Is More To Buzzwords...

I am glad to be back. If I were in control of every aspect of life, I would have been posting new reflections on a constant basis. Of course, that would mean that I would be controlling every happening in Bongoland. I would mess up situations, then reflect on them and provide wonderful insights on how to fix them, just to solidify my position as a genius.

Hey, I am just kidding.

The point is, I had to take care of other life issues that kept me from blogging.

Just to let you know, my wife reads this blog. For y’all married men, you understand what that means. Every word and every concept is scrutinized. Man, that is a lot of pressure. I mean, as I hoped that this would be my private corner, I didn’t realize that everywhere I go I have to be in my best behavior and make the best presentation.

So of late my lovely wife challenged me to focus on other social issues and not “those political stuff”. I felt like my head was spinning. At the bask of head, I was just asking myself, what other social issue in Tanzanian that is not affected by politics? May be my mind is so focused on politics that I see it everywhere, but… Let’s take marriage for instance: when a girl is about to get married, you’ll start hearing about all these uncles and aunts who never took part in upbringing her, but demanding a share of the dowry. Then that’s where hell breaks loose, with uncles and aunts fighting and bickering.

If you look at it critically, these uncles and aunts would have had a better understanding, if only they had gone to “school”. Then you realize that they are victims of their surroundings. The best school around is a torn down primary school with neither adequate teaching supplies nor teachers. As you ponder some more you come to the conclusion that the schools don’t have the necessary tools because of pathetic government policies…all of a sudden, you are back to politics.

So yes, politics can easily interfere a very well planned wedding in Tanzania. Trust me on that. I know my example was a bit of a stretch, but there are plenty of “non-political” social events whose outcomes are influenced by the political climate.

The bottom line is, I am not sure if I can get away from political analysis completely.

And I believe this could be the best point to go back to the heading.

In the most recent past, I had a conversation with one of my relatives. We happened to be talking about the dual citizenship
debate in Tanzania, and my relative’s contention was that supporters of dual citizenship are doing so for their own benefits, and not for the “faida ya taifa” (national interest, for non-Swahili speakers).

You know what? Back in the days, I would have just let that go. I’d zip my mouth because that is a politically correct argument (in a typical Tanzanian context), which carries with it a sense of responsibility, accountability and patriotism. So I posed this question to this patriotic fellow: “what is a taifa”? Well, the guy didn’t answer. He looked dumbfounded. You know why? He had recited this buzzword for ions without critically looking at what it really means. And plenty of folks in Tanzania do that.

So this is what I kindly and nicely told him. A nation is made up of individuals. When a government draws up a national policy, such policies are drawn to potentially benefit every citizen at an individual level. For instance, universal primary education in Tanzania was geared towards benefiting every child in Tanzania. Nonetheless, not every child is motivated enough to pursue primary education. As a matter of fact, I know a person who dropped out of school at around Grade Three. The point is this: what benefits the nation, benefits individuals first. How each individual benefits is a question of personal preference at times, and the government can’t control that.

So this is my message. It is imperative that we look beyond or critically at buzzwords. Again, I’m a firm believer that the Tanzanian education has not established itself so much into equipping students with critical thinking skills. As a result, we have a huge population of “educated” folks who can’t ask the right questions.

Just a little consolation to my Tanzanian people: even in the United States, there are very familiar concepts that “ordinary” folks never stopped to ask what they really mean. May be laziness to think is so rampant across the globe. May be it is due to global warming… I don’t know, I am just trying to think aloud. One those concepts is this running in most workplaces when one makes so many copies of a document “unnecessarily”. You would hear someone talk about that as “killing some trees”.

Killing trees is a concept that has been drummed up by environmentalists. I do understand and support taking care of the earth, but that shouldn’t be done through perpetuation of ignorance. The truth is this: there is a whole paper industry that controls the inventory of suitable trees. Besides, not every tree is suitable for making paper. For people in Tanzania, mbuyu is definitely not a raw material for paper manufacturing. So by making plenty of copies of your favorite joke from the Internet for distribution in the office, rest assured that your favorite miarobaini are safe. The Mgololo folks have no business with your miembe. So relax.

My message is that we should be better thinkers. Better thinking individuals eventually make up a better thinking nation. The challenge is whether we currently have that in Tanzania. If we do, such thinkers are a tiny little minority.
Photo Credit: Mjengwa