Friday, November 30, 2007

RTF: “A Good Start” Isn’t Enough

I am sorry for not being here last Friday. You want to blame me? Right, go ahead. But I wouldn’t blame myself. Last week was Thanksgiving. You saw some Tanzanians in Houston, Texas, celebrating in their own way. I did not take that H-Town route, but spent time with family and friends thanking God for his endless blessings. So did you really expect me to have the energy to write after a wonderful bata mzinga feast? Come on! You wouldn’t demand that from a brother, would you?

Let me just get back to what I wanted to muse on.

So I was having a lunch break at work one day and I saw a flash of a commercial clip with an African tune in the background. I couldn’t see the whole commercial, but I definitely caught the last graphics. Tanzania was dangling on CNN!

You can watch the clip here .

I have made a call on this very blog that the Tanzanian government should do more to promote brand Tanzania . I applaud the government for putting this commercial on CNN and other media outlets. That is definitely a good start. Now, don’t take it that I am never satisfied or I simply get gratification out of criticism. I am not. I just like to call out things that folks tend to ignore. I just like to provide an honest feedback.

Doing something that has never been done before definitely deserves an applause. Nonetheless, good start is not good enough in some cases. In this particular case, the Tanzanian government attempted to do something that was long overdue. That deserves some praise, but does that justify doing a sloppy work?

A good start is not enough when you are spending tons of taxpayers’ money. A good start is not enough when you are just toying with competition. I am not a marketing expert, but I have seen enough commercials to tell what works and what does not, especially if you are going to advertise in a country like the United States of America. I have seen the Jamaican government advertisements, and I can only say that those guys know what they are doing.

From my little understanding of marketing, I believe commercials are intended to inform and persuade customers to consume a product or service. As such, commercials are meant to provide adequate information and tell a consumer why they should consume a product or service, and where to get that product or service. And that communication should be accomplished in a shorter period of time possible. Short of that, the commercial is just a waste of time.

Please revisit the Tanzanian government commercial again.

I don’t have any problem with the images and the background music presented in the commercial. Honestly, I think he images and the background music are great and are capturing the essence of the Tanzanian life. Nevertheless, the commercial does not communicate its core objective, which is to lure folks to visit Tanzania. Honestly, who suggested that informing viewers that Tanzania is the land of Kilimanjaro, home of the spice islands of Zanzibar and home to the greatest animal migration is good enough?

Why don’t you go out and say it flat out that “Hey you, Mr. Smith in Oregon or Arizona, come to Tanzania and experience all these things”? I mean, why would someone in Canton, Ohio care that Mt. Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania? You have to have a message for Mr. Smith to care about Mt. Kilimanjaro. The last time I checked, the Internet is full of that general information already. Kenyans have used the Mt. Kilimanjaro bait for so long. Your commercial must have a clear, differentiating point.

Let’s talk about the American market base, which this commercial targeted. It is a general expectation of an American consumer that all businesses have a website, where a customer can visit for further information on the company. Unfortunately, this commercial does not direct the viewer to the Tanzanian government or tourist board’s website. I know those websites do exist, but why in the world were those websites excluded from the commercial for further information and marketing?

I know Tanzanian government is full of bureaucrats who are experts in shoddy dealings, but when you want to play in an international arena, please bring your “A” game. Leave your Kaunda suits behind and know the league in which you are about to play in.

I expected that the Tanzanian government, in its attempt to woo the American tourist, had done their homework to figure out the behavior and general expectation of the American consumer. That is just common sense. Apparently, that was not done. I know the excuse will be that the Tanzanian government is new at this. That is fine, but when your commercial is not free; you better make sure that you are not spending that money on something half-baked.

Uurrgggghhhh! Let me just vent a little. Phew!
Photo credit: Maggid Mjengwa

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

When The Vision Isn’t Yours…

Well, I guess to err is human. So I am not going to hold Mr. KP, a famous Tanzanian cartoonist, hostage for his sexist cartoon that I previously posted on here. I have see this guy’s cartoon for a long time, and I know he is capable of using his artistic talent to pose some hard, critical questions. I guess he was just carried away or simply rode on a wrong sexist mentality of men around him.

Nevertheless, the above cartoon is a wonderful thought provoking piece of work. Whether the addressed people are paying attention is another topic of its own. It appears to me though; those fellas in power have found some super glue to block their ears from listening to anything meaningful.

I strongly believe that a great leader, at any level, must be a visionary. That is, such a leader must have a clear goal of where he or she wants to take the people and how and when he or she wants to get there. And visions don’t have to be complex or overly intellectual. Take Bill Gates’ vision for instance. The guys dream was to have a computer in every home and at every business office. How simpler can you go than that?

It should be scary to be in a situation where the leader does not have a vision.

In his trying to defend his political party’s promise to establish a kadhi court, a court essentially run by the Islamic laws, President Kikwete contended that the kadhi issue is not his brainchild, rather was handed over to him as part of the CCM manifesto. The president explained that the CCM manifesto is prepared long before the party’s presidential candidate is elected. I didn’t make that up; please check with IPP Media right here.

Let me break that down for you. The president is essentially saying this: he is running the country on a vision that is not personally his. He was just handed a book or something like that, which he is utilizing as a guide.

That, amigos, is ridiculous. I don’t know of any country where the president is visionless.

A vision must be a leader’s own brainchild, and not some ideas copied and handed over for a leader to baby-sit. Please don't ge me wrong, I am not saying a leader can't consult others. But a vision must come from the leader’s own personal and philosophical conviction. Leaders die or thrive with their visions. A leader’s biggest tasks are to share that vision (so that those charged with execution obtain clear understand of the vision) and to recruit quality people to carry out the vision.

Despite my disapproval of Mwalimu Nyerere on some areas, one thing I admire the most about the guy was his ability to create a vision and to stick with it (regardless of how faulty that vision was). The country’s culture, though turned to be full of corruption and ineptitude, is Nyerere’s brainchild. The CCM system itself is Nyerere’s own vision. The ability to create a vision and execute that vision has been the separating point between Nyerere and his successors. You couldn’t tell Mwinyi or Mkapa’s vision. The current president has already admitted that he is currently running a country on a guide, which he did not even take part in preparation.

For lack of personal vision, Nyerere’s successors have embraced everything without taking a closer look. That is acting like puppets. Look at the cartoon again. I believe Nyerere had a vision and plan, which led to the concentration of power on him. Nevertheless, we live in different times and change must come our way. Surprisingly, folks are still blindly following Nyerere’s vision and system. I honestly think it is dumb to do that.

Seriously, no one in the CCM camp intelligent enough to realize that concentration of power on one individual is a guaranteed ingredient for ineffectiveness? Isn’t it ridiculous that one could be charged to execute and evaluate their own performance? Honestly, give me that opportunity and I will tell you how great of a performer I am. And that has been happening in Tanzania for years.

Given that none of the presidents after Nyerere have ever had any visions of their own, ineffectiveness we see in Tanzania shouldn’t come as a surprise. Mr. Kikwete has just confessed that he is visionless. When the president is just handed over a plan to carry out, he or she becomes more of a midlevel executive officer. That is not the way it should be.

Honestly, I wonder where the president gets the inspiration to carry out a vision that is not his own.
Photo Credit: KP via Mjengwa

Friday, November 16, 2007

RTF: On The Other Hand…

Here go folks. It is another Friday. November 2007 is also about to come to and end. Man oh man, how does time fly this fast?

Anyways, this is Richard Bizubenhout thing is still hot in Tanzania. As a matter fact, I have read stories where the dude is being referred to as a superstar. I don’t doubt that. I know of some reality television super stars that have turned their exposure into some really cool careers. My advice to little Richard, go ahead and soak yourself into this before people forget you. Stars are born everyday.

My stance on the whole BBA show is still the same. I don’t believe for a minute that this show is helping the foster positive outlook on morality. For one, HIV/AIDS cases in Tanzania are high. You don’t want a television show that promotes the idea that a married man can go out, wag his you-know-what for the audience in the name of entertainment. You don’t want a show that does not hold marriage serious, as it should be. My moral campus does not allow me to swallow the idea that for the sake of entertainment, I could compromise everything that I hold dear and true.

Fortunately, I am not the only one who holds those views. I have read comments on various Tanzanian blogs and there are folks who stressed on immorality of the show. On the other hand, there have been those who have endorsed the show. I am presuming that the later group is the one that showed up at the airport to give Richard a hero’s welcome. Obviously, some folks took the opportunity to herald their political ambitions. Some CCM guys went as far as claiming that Richard fulfilled the CCM manifesto. What a bunch of crap!

Regardless of my personal convictions, people flocked the airport. You know what? That got me thinking. There must be something that brought people out. There must be something that made people feel that Richard actually made them proud, regardless of the platform and how Richard brought that pride. Mhh…what could that thing be?

The fact of the matter is that Tanzanians have been and being battered by life. I am not sure if you can find something from a political arena that gives Tanzanians a sense of meaning and achievement. On a daily basis, there is just bad news floating around. It is not wonder then, when Taifa Stars won a couple of games and hope of going the to the African Cup championship was still alive, something in people got stirred up.

There is a natural pride in all human beings. There is a natural desire in all of us to feel important and capable. Nobody likes to be defeated. We all like to be numero uno. Nonetheless, defeat has been a Tanzanian story. Defeat has been a Tanzanian daily experience. When was the last time Tanzania had sense of victory after the Ugandan war? May be Tanzania has experienced little victories, but none that ordinary person in the streets of Dar-Es-Salaam or a remote village in Sumbawanga could relate to.

It is for that reason; Richard’s victory (though none of the people who showed up at the airport would benefit from anything) means something. It brought a sense that Tanzanians can win at least something. It means that Tanzanians are actually capable of achieving something. It is for that reason the morality of the show is being overlooked. It is for that reason, whoever is criticizing the show is viewed a party spoiler. I mean, who would seriously care about “internal affairs” between Richard and his wife, while the dude has uplifted the spirit of the country?

The same feeling of inspiration and meaning also came surfaced with Asha-Rose Migiro was appointed UN Deputy Secretary General. In reaction to her appointment, the whole country went crazy. People look for inspiration. And it appears that Richard has brought that inspiration to the people of Tanzania. Richard has given Tanzanians something to escape the realities around them.

And I can’t blame any of wananchi.

Photo Credit: Michuzi

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

BBA: May Be U, But I’m Not Proud

So the Big Brother Africa is over and the Tanzanian “representative”, Mr. Richard Bizubenhout, is declared a winner. Well, the amount of dough, $100,000 is not a cheap change. That could very well clear a huge portion of someone’s mortgage. So go ahead and spend that money wisely, Mr. Bizubenhout.

The saddest part is how a Tanzanian cartoonist, following Richard’s victory, wants to portray Richard’s “ex-wife” (and women in general for that matter) as cheap and stupid, to the extend that they are willing to sell their values for money. I don’t know if that is how the cartoonist (who recently got married) views his mother, sisters, nieces, and even his wife.

Please see the cartoon above.

What prompted me to write this article is what Richard said in a press conference following his victory. Fred Ogot, the Guardian writer, quoted Richard as saying that he has made Tanzanians proud by winning the BBA top prize. Well, may be he has made other Tanzanians proud, but not me.

You can refer to Fred Ogot’s article here.

I am not a values police, and I am not trying to be. Nevertheless, I believe that there are certain things people would only do if and only if, their moral sensitivity is going down the drain. I am not speaking for all Tanzanians (because there are folks already planning parties to congratulate Richard), but this much I know – the BBA show is nothing more than a product meant for folks who are unable to evaluate values imparted on them through a television tube.

Given my location, I did watch any of the BBA shows. Nevertheless, I can only presume the show was another soft pornography transmitted for unaware Tanzanian minds to wholeheartedly consume. And they did. Well, while Richard is regarding himself as a hero, others are regarding him as a “rapist”. Read on. And that is what Tanzanians should be proud of ?

Folks, television and movie producers will always tell that their work is only capturing life. Well, I got news for you. Movie and television producers want you to see life through their own eyes. In other words, television producers communicate their values through their work. Well, let’s just look at the mind behind the Big Brother show, for instance.

According to wikipedia, Big Brother reality television show is a brainchild of Johannes Del Mol. Del Mol, not surprisingly, happened to be a native of one of the most liberal countries in the world, Netherlands. It shouldn't come as a surprise then that sex and alcoholism is the cornerstone of the Big Brother show.

I know, I know, I sound like a grandpa. Nevertheless, I would rather sound like grandpa than being stupid. You know, sometimes wisdom is needed in discerning what is good from what is a bunch of crap. Television, just like any other medium of communication, could be used both positively and negatively. Television could be used either to build or to destroy values. I wonder if average folks understand how imagery could distort our understanding of life and even who we are.

So for any Tanzanian who is soooo proud that Richard became a winner of the BBA show, just be informed of this: you just made Mr. de Mol a few bucks richer, while consuming his personal values and convictions. And I am not very sure if those values align well with conservative, Tanzania values.

There are plenty of Tanzanian folks out there, doing meaningful things that I am definitely proud of. Richard, unfortunately, does not make that list.
Photo Credit: Michuzi

Friday, November 09, 2007

RTF: Forgotten Money Source?

It is another Friday. So let my mind wander everywhere. I promise, however, that I will stay within sanity boundaries.

I don’t want to be the person to bring bad news to you, but the most recent CCM general meeting produced nothing but a bleak picture for the future of Tanzania. Honestly, I don’t think that Makamba, Msekwa and all other members elected to the top posts have anything new to bring to the table. It is the same old CCM with no direction. I didn’t originally come up with loss-of-direction thing. Just go verify that with Mr. Butiku .

I have been reading comments on various blogs that covered the CCM meeting. Honestly, some of the comments were plain shortsighted. See, folks got happy that John Malecela was finally voted out as the party’s vice chairman because he was too old, but missed the fact that his replacement – Pius Msekwa – is virtually of the same age! So I guess it wasn’t so much about the age, but about being tired of the meaningless comments that tend to flow from Mr. Malecela’s mind.

Why I am even talking about CCM? I guess it is because they are currently running the show in Tanzania and hence whatever decisions the party makes affect the daily lives of my brothers and sisters in Bongoland.

What I really wanted to say is this: the Tanzanian government has ignored one crucial source of tax revenue. And that is revenue generated by witchdoctors.

I am not losing my mind, if you were wondering about that. I am serious about this. Really, I am. There are plenty of stories to back me up. OK, just recently, some members of the Dar Young Africans soccer club launched a witch hunting attack on the club’s leadership, trying to establish accountability over money dished out by the club’s sponsor. Just reading the story, you will realize than nearly $10,000 of the sponsorship money was spent on the “technical” stuff.

Well, we both know very well that Simba and Yanga encounters are not short of witchcraft . activities. As a matter of fact, witchcraft is rampant in the Tanzania soccer. Honestly, the voodoo craze goes beyond the soccer field. The belief in the “dark” powers is so rampant to the extent that some even made to believe that prosperity could be obtained through witchcraft. Just read this story and see how sad the situation could be.

By no means this should be construed that I am trying to condone witchcraft. I am far from doing that. I am just trying to point out the fact that as long as the there are consumers for witchcraft services, then the government should regard witchcraft service providers as businessmen and women. And with that, “doctors” should apply for a business license and pay appropriate taxes. That is due to the fact that the industry is generating a lot of money.

Just consider this, if Yanga alone spent nearly $10,000 to win a soccer game, how much do you think Simba spent? How much do you think other teams in the Vodacom Premier League are spending on “doctors”? How much do you think ordinary folks in Tanzania spend on non-soccer related aspects of life such as health, promotion at work, love, job security, prosperity, protection from evil spirits, etc? How many kids have you seen dangling charms on their necks or arms? You didn’t think the hiziris come for free, did you?

I am not in a position to come up with an exact figure of how much is generated by this industry, but you can clearly tell from just the two figures presented here. First, Yanga spending $10,000 and secondly, $115,000 swindled by a “doctor” from the unsuspecting mwananchi. That is a lot of money from my perspective.

I know that my suggestion would definitely hit a snag. If the vineyard is supplying accurate information, then some political leaders in Tanzania will not be pleased with taxation on witchcraft services. Story goes that wakubwa tend to flock Bagamoyo during elections. As such, tax on the “doctors” services is likely to hike service prices. Adding that tax burden to the cost of takrima, implementation of my idea could potentially end someone’s political career.

Seriously though, money is being made in the witchcraft industry. For some of us who are not customers, we could benefit from the industry through tax shillings. Let those who prefer the service be served, but let the entire Bongoland get good roads and electricity. Our school kids need teachers and textbooks too.

Enjoy your weekend.
Photo Credit:

Monday, November 05, 2007

I Ain’t Bragging…

Seriously, I am not. However, when you point out something and then folks in the system pretends like they have an epiphany, one is bound to feel very good. Man, I feel like that right now.

What’s the story that got me all giddy? Well, according to IPPMedia, the Director General of Board of External Trade (BET) Director General, Ramadhan Khalfan, pointed out that education could generate the much-needed foreign currency in Tanzania if improved.

Hello someone, didn’t I say that on November 29, 2006? As I pointed out earlier, this something that I shoud not be bragging about. That is because the potential of education in generating a whole lot of money is not a "revelation". It is as wide and in the open as the Indian Ocean is. It is a matter of principle and reality. Education is a product or service, if you will, just like clothes, cars and food. It could be sold and bought. Honestly, people put concepts and ideas in the bound form (called books) and make tons of money. As intangible as ideas are, people who are endowed with the talent and the ability to put books together, well, make money. The same goes with education.

As far as the potential of education as a money-generating machine, you don’t have to be a genius to recognize that Kenya and Uganda have been exporting education to Tanzania for ions. “Intelligent” and able Tanzania parents figured it out long ago that Kenya and Uganda could provide a better education than Tanzania and hence decided to take their kids there. Whether education in Kenya and Uganda is of high quality than that of Tanzania could be debatable. Nonetheless, this much I know, there are very few (if not none) Kenyan and Ugandan parents sending their kids to pursue primary education in Tanzania.

I think these talks about Tanzania’s potential in this and that is getting old. Don’t you think so? Don’t you get annoyed with some big shot gets up on the podium to share his or her “revelation” on potential things in Tanzania that are actually being implemented in the neighboring country?

Photo Credit: Mjengwa

Friday, November 02, 2007

RTF: What’s Your Dreaming Lingo?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like cold weather. Much to my dislike, the temperatures are dipping on a daily basis now that winter is just across the corner. If you are in Bongoland and you have never experienced this, you probably could never relate. I know that I could whine as much as I like, but that won’t change God’s design.

So I have just to zip it up and move on. Besides, there are more than 300 million human beings in the United States of America going through the same. I have to admit it though, this is the time I miss the warm weather in Bongoland. See how our priorities and preferences change? One day I am up and arms against Bongoland, the next I want to go back. I think human beings are naturally conflicted. Sometimes we don’t make sense.

It is Friday and I allowing my mind to wander around. Just yesterday I was thinking of this. Honestly, if you are a Tanzanian, where your first language is Swahili, then regardless of where you are currently stationed in this globe and the language you utilize to communicate with people around you, occasionally Swahili will pop up in your head. So my question is this: which language do you typically dream in? Primarily English? Swedish? Polish? Swahili?

I think it is very funny that when I first came to the United States, I used to solve mathematical problems silently in Swahili and then provide an answer in English. Unfortunately for me, there was only one other Tanzanian in the same school. The other Tanzanian was a junior (third year student) when I was a freshman (first year student). As such, he had established his own social clique. Coupled with the fact that we both had to complete our weekly Labor Program assignments (Berea College, my alma mater, required all students to work a minimum of ten hours weekly as part of the scholarship stipulation) and regular schoolwork, we had very limited interaction.

You can only guess what happened next for me. Being is a situation where I had to choice but to use English on a constant basis led to my diminished ability to process concepts in Swahili fast enough. I am still puzzled at this concept, but I could be true that anything in your body – be it your muscles, brain, bones etc that are not exercised and remains idle for an extended period lose their ability. I am convinced that also extends to even linguistic abilities.

I knew that I was losing my Swahili when I talked to my mom. See, though my situation is not overly unique (as there are plenty of other Tanzanians in the same boat), it presents its own challenges. My mom is located in Shirati, Tarime, where the predominant language is Luo. Well, this much I know about Luos, they are very proud of their heritage, which includes their own language. As a matter of fact, they have a website where there are stories in Luo. Can you believe that? If you think I am kidding, visit

So can you see the social expectations that are upon me? Particularly based on the fact that I am man expected to carry out family traditions and all that jazz that comes with it? Well, on of them is the ability to speak Luo. As a general rule, when I talk to my mom, the conversation is expected to take place in Luo. I have always gotten away with not speaking in Luo sometimes because nimekulia mjini kidogo. I typically use that mjini card when I can’t articulate my position well enough in Luo. So what happened when you can’t even articulate a concept well in Swahili? It is a mess.

See, what happened to me was that I would be on the other hand of the telephone with my mom trying to translate what I wanted to say from English, to Swahili then to Luo. It some cases, I could just jump from English to Luo, but that did not help with the time lag that required to complete the interpretation. That really stunk. Did I mention the unintended “ums” and “yeahs” that flew out of my mouth at unconscious level? At one point my mother was bold enough to tell me that my accent, my voice, or something has changed.

See, I used to be critical of folks who would come home from majuu with certain mannerisms that I thought were a little on the side of kujidai. Obviously, I knew little how one’s social environment has so much influence to the extent that we acquire and assimilate to certain social tendencies. We do that to as a matter of choice, but as a matter of survival. No one wants to be a social outcast. I found out quickly that some social skills that served me well in the Tanzanian didn’t work well in my new environment. Certain habits, like keeping time in the United States are necessary, but trying to do that in Tanzania would definitely get you a quick label of uzungu. See my point?

I don’t remember all my dreams, but I would want to believe that I dream in English now. I know that for sure because I dream in English in the first days I go to Tanzania. Then it switches to Swahili at some point. The same is true when I come back to the United States, dream in Swahili for the first few days then switch to English.

So what language do you dream in? Happy dreaming and enjoy your weekend.