Friday, December 28, 2007

RTF: Those Congested Dar Streets

I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas. Mine was terrific. Got together with some friends, had nyama choma and plenty of other foods. Of course we had a wonderful time just relaxing and having a wonderful conversation. May be it is my “old” age or something, but I don’t get excited about Christmas as I used to when I was a little boy. There was something magical about Christmas time then.

Oh well, I will just let my kids take my place of Christmas enjoyment. May be, as a parent, seeing the twinkle in my kids’ eyes would rekindle something magical in me.

My experience has been that during Christmas, Dar-es-Salaam becomes a “ghost” town. All my friends from the northern side of the country (you know who) always head back migombani for Christmas celebration. May be to show off a few shillings skimmed in Dar-es-Salaam or just to have a good time with friends and family. Regardless, other folks too tend to head “home” for Christmas.

On any other time during the year, Dar-es-Salaam streets tend to be crowded with cars and people. When my brother first came to the United States, he was surprised to learn that downtown Columbus was not crowded; particularly during the hours that Dar-es-Salaam would be going insane. What he missed was the fact that Americans, for the most, part do work. That means you won’t find folks taking long lunch hours, gossiping or running personal errands during typical work hours. Right there, you can conclude that Dar streets gets crowded with folks who could otherwise be sitting at their desk, producing.

Apart from the cultural reasons (work ethic) that contribute to the crowding of the Dar-es-Salaam streets, technical reasons, in my opinion, make a huge contribution. The city’s infrastructure cannot handle the growing population and economic growth that has resulted in an unbelievable number of cars imported annually. Putting aside those statistical numbers, there is unexplainable concentration of businesses in the city center and Kariakoo.

I think it is crazy that someone would board a daladala from Mwenge just to buy onions at Kariakoo! But that is happening. You know what is crazy? The Temeke and Kinondoni municipalities are just letting Ilala run the City! I know probably vigogo in Kinondoni do not want the Kariakoo-type hustle in their neighborhood, but at least that would help decongest Dar city center.

I have just described the internal workings of the City. You what else contributes to the insanity in Dar-es-Salaam? It is the stupid concentration of power within the government. I know these guys talked about Madaraka Mikoani stuff. That is a bunch of rhetoric. The show is still being run from Dar-es-Salaam.

Honestly, I think something of the services that are typically offered Wizarani only could be offered at a regional and district level. Let me give you an example. You want a birth certificate? Good. You have to start from the ward to the district level to process your application, but the actual stinking piece of paper must be issued in Dar-es-Salaam! Try to imagine just one single office serving over 30 million people! Honestly, does it really mean that Vizazi na Vifo folks in Dar-es-Salaam are more qualified to issue birth and death certificate that those at the district level? Try to imagine someone coming all the way from Kigoma, spending about TShs 100,000 for a document that is worth TShs 2,000.

I think that we justify Dr. Watson’s theory of African’s lack of intelligence unnecessarily. Really.

The birth certificate issue is just one simple example. There is a host of other matters that an ordinary Tanzania makes a follow-up in Dar-es-Salaam unwarranted. There are such issues are business registration, issuance of a secondary school certificates, etc that one has to be in Dar-es-Salaam for. The effect of that has been that the City gets crowded. Of all those people you see standing at the new Post Office's daladala stand, chances are that 30% of them are from upcountry, following up something at a government office in Dar!

The most damaging effect, in my opinion, is that concentration of power on one individual at a ministry to serve 35 million Tanzanians leads to only evil – corruption. Sluggishness you see at government offices, especially those charged with offering some kind of service to the general public, is by design. That provides an incentive for kitu kidogo, as customer is typically left with no alternative. One is forced to either wait for 5 years to get a service that would take 10 minutes or part with an incentive that would speed up the process.

I think the three-lane idea to decongest the Dar roads was good, but there is much more that contributes to congestion of the City in general. One of them is the fact that Madaraka Mikoani is just a political hoax, with no practical meaning. If you still have to get some basic services in Dar, then what is the government decentralization for?

Friday, December 14, 2007

RTF: Down The Memory Lane

It is Friday again and I am looking forward to a great weekend. You know, some weekends you just feel like resting. This week, I really need some rest. So I will savor my days off work.

I am not intending to bombard you with anything heavy either. If I have to relax, that has to start with my mind. So I’m allowing my mind to roam and wander around trivial stuff. It is not like I don’t have deeper stuff to muse on, but you would agree with me that life is not only about deep philosophical stuff. There are also minor, but relevant things that make life exciting.

Those minor things could be taking yourself on a journey through a memory lane.

So I couldn’t help myself but wander down the memory lane also. Man, how I miss the good old days! Trust me, there are things I couldn’t go back for in my childhood in Tanzania, but I certainly have good memories to make me nostalgic. How about those chandimu pickup games? You could temporarily shut down the street for a heated soccer game; occasionally being stopped by a passing beat up truck. What about going home all dusty after a long day at a manati factory?

If you didn’t make toy cars and trucks from old empty cans, please don’t think I am crazy. But I know someone out there can relate. Honestly, being creative is where I drew my childhood joy. I know some fellas who were so creative that the entire street soccer team depended on them for a bouncy, well manufactured soccer ball from rugs and old clothes. Of course, that didn’t go without some political power. Occasionally, this fundi would stop the game by threatening to take his ball, if he wasn’t allowed to play or someone, somehow, got them mad. Talking about power play!

Childhood, on the other hand, had its downside. I know older folks were teaching discipline by commanding strict rules on some areas, but I hated the idea that I was subjected to the obedience of every older man or woman in the village. That made me to desire growing up so bad, hoping that I would gain some kind of freedom. Of course I have gotten that kind of freedom now, but boy, little did I know that it was better for someone else to worry about my food and clothing!

Probably what I like the most about childhood is the honest ignorance that goes with it. Just like most of you, I wondered about those people talking in the radio. Just like you, I wondered how they were able to fit in that little box and attempted to open the back of the radio to see them! I also wondered if they even slept. I wondered how they looked like.

And talking about the radio, I always believe that when the program host announced that “Naona bendi ya Mlimani Park wanaanda vyombo kututumbuiza”, Mlimani Park Orchestra was actually in the studio tuning their guitars, trumpets and all that stuff. So when the song came on the radio, I was convinced that the band was performing at that very moment. Don’t laugh at me; that’s what I believed. I am sure you have your own secret stories, where you believed the universe functioned in a certain way, only to realize that you were innocently ignorant as a child.

I also got the idea of rain wrong as a child. In my universe, I believe that when it rained in my village, it was also raining across the globe! Fortunately, I grew out of that scientific theory very quickly. I learned that my theory was wrong as I listened to the conversation between my mom and relatives who resided in some other towns. They would talk about the weather, particularly the rain as it meant so much for the village economy, and in some cases they would talk about how it rained in their town and not ours. Something clicked that I needed to tweak my understanding of the universe.

I still don’t understand why the rainbow moves when you get close to it though.

My best childhood experience is when I learned how to read and write. That tops them all. I can remember vividly one day I was walking with my brother, who was by then in Standard Four. At the time, I had started to put letters together. So on this day, we passed by a dump with TAKATAKA letters on it. I remember putting the ta-ka-ta-ka word together into a marvelous takakata. You should have seen me exploding with excitement. I tell you what; it is like the world opened right before my eyes. I guess I never looked back on reading.

So what’s your childhood story?
Photo: Mjengwa

Friday, December 07, 2007

RTF: “I Pity The Fool”

Man, it is cold around me. If this is Columbus, Ohio and it is this cold, I wonder what is going on with my friends Jeff and Patrick in Canada. I wonder how colder it is for anybody situated in the northern most part of this globe. Honestly, this is the time I miss Bongoland the most. It is nice when it is snowing, but I am not fond of the extreme coldness and the ugliness that follows.

But guess what? It is appears like it getting colder for our beloved president, Mr. JMK. According to recent polls conducted by the Research and Education for Democracy in Tanzania (REDET) and reported by This Day, Mr. JMK’s popularity has dipped to 44.4 per cent.

The poll’s outcome is not surprising to me. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that the country has no clear vision and direction. Just read Mr. Lusekelo’s musing to get the gist of it.

The poll definitely revealed some interesting information. For instance, 40.7 % of respondents “approved” the performance of CCM, while just 19% picked the opposition parties. That is a bit strange. Wouldn’t you expect 59.3% of respondents to pick opposition parties then? That indicates that folks are neither satisfied with CCM nor opposition parties. In a nutshell, Tanzanians think their political leaders are full of crap!

Let’s be honest, would you elect Mr. Mrema to be the Tanzanian president? Would you elect John Cheyo either? And that’s where the problem is. Opposition political leaders, generally speaking, have failed to bring anything new, fresh and inspiring. The opposition camp is just terribly wobbling. The camp has failed to gain credibility. I guess that's where wananchi feel they should stick with CCM, at least this is a familiar devil.

Despite other interpretations you assign to the poll results, one thing that strikes me the most is this: According to REDET co-chairperson Dr. Laurean Ndumbaro, the researchers found a direct co-relation between those who approve or disapprove of the president’s handling of national affairs and their education level. That is, most educated Tanzanians do not approve of Mr. JMK’s performance, while most of less educated Tanzanians think the president is doing a good job.

So why is this disparity? It boils down to the empowerment and freedom that education brings. And there is nothing as bad as being mentally enslaved.

The educated minds in Tanzania are capable of filtering political rhetoric and buzzwords that don’t mean much. But that is true everywhere. You cannot just walk up to an informed person, who is able to critically think, and just starting shooting your blah…blah. Statistics don’t lie, the poll results have clearly indicated that fact. Nevertheless, for CCM, this is also a scary reality: with an increasing number of graduates in Tanzania, true educated Tanzanians will make CCM extinct. Read my lips…err…my pen. I said true because there are educated folks in Tanzania who are nothing more than a joke.

I seriously think the Tanzanian politicians have been, for ions, feeding wananchi plenty of junk. Unfortunately, the uneducated mass has been consuming this junk left and right. I know this is a critical question – which an uneducated mind would probably fail to answer – but what is it about Mr. JMK’s performance that makes one happy and satisfied?

If you have to know, I stand with the 18.6% of Tanzanians who disapprove of the president’s performance. I would be insane to approve of a president who goes on public, claiming that he was scared of receiving his HIV test results. If we all have to read between the lines, the conclusion we deduce is this: the president gets around, unsafely. And for me, a high moral standard is a requirement for my kind of president.

This poll also tells the story as to why CCM has brought constant beat down on the opposition parties during elections. CCM feasts on the ignorance of the poor people, though the opposition parties have also brought this outcome on themselves by being pathetic. It is not surprisingly then, that there is no true desire from the CCM machinery to improve education in Tanzania. The machinery knows too well that eating off a blind man’s plate requires the victim’s condition to stay constant. Ukila na goes a Swahili saying.

In the very end, the vicious circle continues. Ignorant Tanzanians continually elect politicians who are not really for the people’s welfare.

This gets me sad. In some ways, just like Mr. T likes to put it down, “I pity the fool”. I wish there was some magic I could do to make things better for my people. Nonetheless, there is little I can do to save the uneducated 80% of Tanzanians who are willing to bite any bone politicians throw their way.

How blessed I am to be slightly educated!

Enjoy your weekend.

Photo Credit: KP via Mjengwa