Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Africa Free Trade Area: For What? Mangoes?

Trust me, African presidents can dream big. I’m not talking about their stomachs here (which are proportionally bigger than any in the world), but I am talking about their actual day dreams. I’m talking about that making-Africa-better rhetoric.

Unfortunately, the current head of the African “state” (my beloved Tanzanian president), is heading that rhetoric.

In his recent speech in Maputo , Mr. Kikwete contended that the current EAC and SADC bloc are just temporary; because once the formation of an African free trade area, these blocs would be meaningless.

The rationale for absconding EAC and SADC are actually valid and technical, if true. According to Mr. Kikwete, the World Trade Organization prohibits one country from joining more than one customs union. So the formation of an African free trade area would bring about a blanket customs union that would allow African countries to vend their goods within the continent, while complying with the WTO mandates. Honestly, that is absolutely brilliant.

According to other African leaders, however, the rationale for the proposed creation of the African free trade is to “enhance trade African countries and international community to improve wealth, employment and Africa’s overall economic well-being”. This definitely sounds good, but impracticable. Haven’t Africans heard of this type of self-reliance rhetoric before?

The fact of the matter is this: most African countries, particularly in the COMESA, EAC, and SADC blocs lack capacity. When one cites a cool rationale as “enhancing trade with the international community”, what exactly is one communicating or advocating? Selling or buying more from the international community? If selling more is what Africa wants, then the question is selling more of what? Mangoes? Coffee?

I am not trying to be comical, because the continent is primarily a supplier of raw materials. African ain’t going to supply computers in the near future. African ain’t going to supply cars and heavy industrial products in the next two years. Africa ain't going to take a leading role in technology. Africa is not going to lead in research tomorrow. Africa is not flying to the moon next month. Let’s be real.

So what about focusing on capacity building first, instead of jumping into all these brilliant ideas that won’t yield anything? What about focusing first, for instance, on creating an environment that would lure back the brightest African minds that are currently building the Western world? Who does not know that trade alone would not change the African fate, but a paradigm shift within Africa itself?

Furthermore, if the African continent is trying to emulate EU or any other; that is reinforcing what Africa has always been – reactive and lacking in unique, revolutionary, and progressive ideas. I understand the power of collectiveness, but collecting more foolishness in a larger pool will definitely explode into stupidity, the worst of its kind. EU and other blocs have succeeded because they are expanding what has already worked, not experimenting.

Let’s get some facts, shall we?

According to data released by AGOA, excluding Nigeria, Angola and South Africa, other African countries didn’t do much trading with the United States as recent as September 2008. Of the $60 billion of good Africa supplied to the United States, 80% of that trading was generated by Nigeria and Angola, mainly from oil, not technologically produced goods. My beloved Tanzania, whose president is talking about Africa's free trade area? A meager $1.8 million!

Either Americans don’t buy the African mangoes or Africans don’t know how to sell their mangoes. You be the judge.
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Photo Credit: AGOA.gov

Monday, December 22, 2008

EAC Noise: A Pointless Debate?

Just recently, a reader stopped by my “house” and dropped a comment. The reader simply wanted me to join the Michuzi blog to share my views on the raging East African Community formation debate. Well, the reader was kind enough to let me know that my “house” was lonely.

While it is true that I don’t hold the 5 millionth viewer contest, that does not bother me a bit. To get widely recognized is definitely a good thing, but with it pressure tags along. I’m not in a hurry to duplicate what Michuzi has done. That is his voice, and I am very proud for him. The point is this – I will stick to my “small town” environment. Sometimes, the best gifts come in small packages.

Despite all that, let me go back to the call that my esteemed reader made – and that is for me to contribute to the EAC debate. I promised that I will talk about that, but right “here here”.

I have said this before and I will repeat this again – Tanzanians are not very good at paying attention. If they did, they would know that there is no clear direction as to what the country wants to accomplish, how, when, and with whom as partners.

When it comes to the East African Community debate, the above point is very much applicable.

So let me cut through the chase and let you know why I think this debate is pointless. There are so many and conflicting voices within the Tanzanian government that should make Kenyans and Ugandans even more ticked off.

a. Tanzania’s President, JM Kikwete, thinks the EAC integration is just a temporary thing. Tanzania has bigger goals. Read here.

b. Tanzanian is actually crying wolf, thinking that the EAC integration could die because other East African countries (not Tanzania, because we are so holy and forthcoming) are hypocritical and putting their interest ahead of EAC. Read on...

c. Tanzania want to put the country’s interest first in EAC (didn’t you just cry wolf above?). Read on...

Seriously, which is which?

Until Tanzanians have a clear vision of what they want to do with the EAC integration, Kenyans and Ugandans are somewhat justified for slamming Tanzanians. If I'm, as a Tanzania, not clear as to what we want to do, other East Africans can't read our minds. The only best assumption our neighbors can make is that we don't want in. And who can blame them?

Good partners make their minds and positions known, regardless of how unpopular those positions could be.

At this juncture, it is pointless to bebate with Kenyans or Ugandans, because they have been good at driving their agendas (whether those agendas are beneficial to all EA countries is not the point of my discussion). Tanzanians have not. And I don't believe shouting back at Kenyans and Ugandas on online forums is compensating for lack of leadership that our political leaders have exhibited.
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If anything, we should demand Mr. Kikwete and Dr. Kamala's blood.
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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Smarter Than A Standard Five Kid?

This past Thanksgiving, my wife and I hosted a dinner. As Thanksgiving is a time for family, I was blessed enough to have my own brother – who lives a half a mile from me – and a cousin who drove all the way from Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to family, we had a Tanzanian couple – who are family friends - join us.

We kept pace with the American tradition, which required a turkey feast. Nonetheless, I pretty much enjoyed the Tanzanian menu – the vitumbua and such. Home is home bwana.

I don’t know about you, but from some strange reasons when men gather, either sports or politics will crop up as a topic for discussion. I can only come up with this theory – politics and sports are inherently in a man’s nature. Politics attract men’s attention because it involves leadership, influence and power. On the other hand, sports involve competition – which in so many levels connected to victory or conquering. All those things fit well in the men’s natural “calling”.

Don’t ask me why the ladies stayed around the dinning/kitchen area for their conversation. I couldn’t tell you. Nevertheless, it did happen.

So we talked about politics, mostly Tanzania’s politics and current affairs. We obviously talked about lack of quality leadership in Tanzania. One of us raised an argument that the problem with Tanzania’s leaders is that they are shortsighted and ignorant. That point faced an opposition from onother member of the “council”, who contended that those dudes are actually smart, because everything corrupt they do is deliberate and calculated.

It just so happen that I revisited that conversation today and I just wanted to muse publicly. Is it true that Tanzania’s leaders are not that ignorant, but have elected to deliberately loot the country?

My position is this: despite the fact that some of the Tanzania’s big shots are actually PhD holders, they are nothing more that ignorant. Just consider this: if you are ignorant, how could you tell if not for someone else shading some light on that ignorance? Besides, ain’t all ignorant people just intelligent and wise in their own eyes?

Trust me, even Mugabe thinks he is a genius and the rest of you are just a bunch of imbeciles.

Think with me on this – which an intelligent and a wise person would steal the money intended for road construction to buy an expensive Mercedes Benz, only to drive the luxury car on a dusty and potholed road? What about fixing the road first and stealing later (hey, any government is presumably a going concern, so there will always be a tomorrow)? I am not condoning thievery, but I think the later would be a smarter choice.

Furthermore, driving an expensive (or any car for that matter) on a potholed road leads to one thing – frequent breakdown of the ride, which leads to expensive repairs. Guess where corrupt leaders get the funds for maintaining their expensive toys? They dip their hands again in the same depleting public coffers. And the cycle never ends.

To me that is a cycle of dumbness.

I know this musing was inspired but a dinner conversation, but the deeper you look at most African leaders’ thinking; one can easily conclude that they ain’t smarter than Standard Five kids. Trust me.
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Photo Credit: Michuzi

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Compassion Shouldn’t Be Stupidity

I am no genius by any stretch. I am just a regular Joe who is trying to navigate through this crazy maze of life. So whatever I say, it is just a matter of my own point of view. Not trying to be smart.

One of the things that got me writing this piece is an editorial commentary by the ThisDay’s editor. Read on. In a nutshell, the editor was commending the prospects of an introduction of a Bill in the Parliament that, if enacted, would bring tougher laws against albino killers.

In a civilized world, all human beings should have the freedom to live without any fear of death simply because God, in His supreme wisdom, endowed some with different skin pigmentation. Furthermore, albinos are no different than the rest of us. Despite physical difficulties that some albinos may face (for instance, having difficulty in handling scorching sun rays), there is no scientific evidence that albinos are less human or less intelligent than the rest of us.

Given that albinos are a part of our social fabric, we are supposed to express genuine concern and compassion. Nonetheless, that does not give us a free ticket to overreact. Expression of our compassion towards albino shouldn’t be a permission to be irrational and stupid.

Let’s take the Bill that ThisDay’s editor referred to. The core of the Bill is to introduce tougher laws against albino killers. Uh?

Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t killing just killing in the eyes of the Tanzania Law (barring different scenario and motives for committing the offense)? Isn’t the death penalty, which is permissible under the current Tanzania penal code, the ultimate penalty one can receive for killing another human being? So when an MP says that they are introducing a Bill that would pave a way for enactment of tougher laws against albino killers, what kind of penalties, for instance, would the MP propose? Killing the albino killers by torture?

I am not trying to be funny, because I’m not endorsing the killing of albinos. Nonetheless, I’m just trying to draw our attention to the fact that either Tanzanians are lazy in understanding the legal frame that is already in existence or we just like to overreact. The editor, in my opinion, could have done the Tanzanian society a great favor by challenging the merit of enacting unwarranted “tougher” laws.

The bottom line is this – albinos’ killing has more to do with ignorance than lack of tougher laws against the killers. We can’t solve social problems if we don’t know or deal with the root causes.
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Photo Credit: Michuzi

Friday, December 05, 2008

RTF: The First Impression…

I heard a lot about “dress to impress” slogan when I was in college. That phrase was mainly used for seniors who were being coached to jumpstart their careers through job interviews. Guess what? Even my small college in Kentucky, Berea College, had a deal with S&K , where the company would sell suits to seniors for a huge discount. I bought my interview suit there.

I must concur that first impression is a big deal. That is because for the most part, human beings are judgmental. We make judgments about people and things all the time. I know it is pathetic, but I make judgments even at Wal-Mart! I know judging a book by its cover is a fitting as a very good advice, but let the truth be told; we are creatures who pass judgment so quickly.

As such, with all your great qualifications, try showing up at a job interview in flip-flops (kandambili) and see if the interview will go well. I’m sure that wonderful Human Resources personnel will make a quick judgment about your character the moment you walk through the doors.

Has this first impression anything to do with Tanzania? You bet.

I remember back in the days, waaaay back when, I had an encounter with a now defunct Alliance Airlines’ General Manager in Dar-es-Salaam. (Sorry my American friend, a GM position in Tanzania actually means something serious). I was hustling for some deals – not exactly a “mission town” type of deal, but something more respectable. Me being unaware and all, I showed up the best way I knew how – in jeans and a t-shirt. The Alliance Airlines’ GM was kind enough to mentor me about the first impression – he commended my “intellectual understanding”, but pointed out that I couldn’t sell what I had in my head because of my appearance. Phew!

I don’t think the lesson sunk it then. I was a victim of a slow and rigid culture around me.

It is over 11 years since I received my lesson from that kind airline GM, but folks in Tanzania have not changed much. The problem, believe it or not, is even with big corporations and institutions that are supposedly have funds to put the best store front. Surprisingly, they don’t.

I made a vacation trip to Tanzania at the end of 2004. While in Dar, I just wanted to see if I can transfer my United States’ CPA credentials with me when I move back to Tanzania. The best place to go was obviously the National Board of Accountants and Auditors, located near the National Library.

The first person I encountered at NBAA was a guard (mgambo) at the main gate. I tried to explain what I wanted to accomplish, but the poor guy couldn’t give me proper directions. He resorted to directing me to some two ladies (who by the way, were on breakfast break early in the morning, and one of them actually completely ignored me). I had already started going back to the Bongo’s it-is-slow-down-here mentally, so I didn’t mind the snail’s pace response.

Nevertheless, let’s go back to the mgambo guy. Why in the world would a reputable organization such as NBAA put a mgambo as the face of the organization? I know the mgambo is there for security purposes (and to swing the gate open when the big shots drive in and out) , but shouldn’t NBAA find an educated receptionist who has a clear understanding of what NBAA is all about and where to direct visitors?

With exception of Vodacom, I encountered similar situation at TTLC and other big corporations where a typical receptionist showed signs of not having adequate information about the corporation. The worst place for this offense is government offices, where a receptionist can actually give you the nastiest attitude.

I’m not qualified to educate corporations on the best practices, but I know that first impression goes a long way. And I surely know when the first person you come across is a mgambo, it is sure sign that the company or the entity you are about to deal with ain’t got a clue…

Obviously, this is all tied to customer service, which stinks in Bongoland. I know I have a witness out there…
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Photo Credit: Michuzi

Friday, November 28, 2008

RTF: "I Pity The Fool (2)..."

It is Friday and I know that most of Bongolanders in the US participated in some form of Thanksgiving festivities. For the rest of you fellow Bongolanders, Google can actually help you find out what Thanksgiving celebration is all about.

So as you digest your turkey, take a moment and think with me.

My reflection today will be on the most recent news that the government brought a case against two prominent former cabinet ministers – Basil Mramba and Daniel Yona. Given the recent developments in the “fight against corruption” song, the news that the two ministers actually got arraigned gives the impression that the government is playing tough against corruption. In an ideal situation, such steps should be applauded.

But before you raise your glasses and take your hats off, let me rain on your parade.

Can we revisit the charges again? According what I read, the two ex-ministers were charged with “abuse of office and occasioning loss of over TShs. 11 billion to the government”. Specifically, Mr. Mramba, for instance, granted tax exemptions to M/S Alex Stewart Assayers.

Is that it? Is that all?

The problem with the above key charges is that they are very light in substance.

Let’s take Mr. Mramba for instance. While it is true that by extending tax exemptions to M/S Alex Stewart Assayers, the government lost some loot, the charge brought him does not specifically spell out that he fraudulently did so. As such, there is not criminal intent cited by the government prosecutors.

If anything, this case brings to questions Mr. Mramba’s competence and judgment. And that’s where the case against Mramba loses its juice – Tanzanian Law actually allowed him – as a Finance Minister – to extend tax exemptions, regardless of what TRA suggested!

So this is the reality check: incompetent folks who apply bad judgment typically don’t go to jail, unless criminal intent is established. They simply get fired from their jobs. Worst still, the Public Procurement prosecutors cited only suggest “disciplinary actions” against folks who violate the provisions of the Act!

If I have to decode this whole saga for you – this is a CCM’s political propaganda at its best. At the end of the day, Mr. Mramba and Mr. Yona will walk freely in Dar streets, laughing at all y’all fool who got duped into voting for CCM again in 2010.

Hey, did you notice that the prosecutors said the investigations into the case have not been completed? The question is this: why bring a half-baked cookie to the party? What's the rush?

How I pity the fools!
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Photo credit: Mjengwa

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Just Hate Stupid Rhetoric

I can’t blame having two little ones in the house for not being able to blog as much I want to, but in a way I do. I know there is someone out there who understands my experience. But I promise this – whenever I can squeeze some time, I will definitely write.

So don’t you give up on this blog. Keep hope alive.
Recently, Mr. Pinda, Bongoland’s Prime Minister made an appeal to the Southern African Development Community and East African Community governments to put in place legislations that would enable the private sector to participate effectively in the development of the energy sector.

Read the story here

Maybe it is just me, but I hate political rhetoric and more of it. I hate political rhetoric because it fulfills one major duty – and that is filling newspaper columns, television news and radio airwaves. Nothing practical or meaningful follows thereafter.

Let me get down to the impressive statistics that Mr. Pinda cited. For your convenience, let me quote them for you:

“Africa has the lowest access to electricity at the rate of 25% per cent. Tanzania, for instance, has only about 10% of its population accessing electricity services, with only 2% of the rural population connected to power”.

Those stats should make any sensible person jump on the let-revolutionize-the-energy-sector chorus. And I am not saying that sarcastically, because Tanzania in particular should. Besides what is the point of generating statistical numbers if they don’t act as a strategic basis and a reason for action?

What makes Mr. Pinda’s remarks as a load of crap with no practical meaning is this – Tanzania has not successfully implemented reforms he is talking about. Unless I am living in a world far apart from that of Mr. Pinda, why preach what you can’t or have no desire to implement in your own backyard?

The basis for my argument is this: Tanzania’s own Members of Parliament shut down a Bill that was set to revolutionize the energy sector. See the story here …

So my point is this: if you ain’t going to do anything, stop the stupid rhetoric.
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Photo Credit: Michuzi

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Africa: Get Ready for Disappointment

Surely, Obama’s victory has sparked hope and optimism among many around the globe. No doubt his presidency has helped to lift the head of many black folks around the globe. Surely, his Kenyan roots have brought a sense of pride, especially for the Luo tribe, but even for the entire Kenya as a nation.

But pride is where story starts and ends.

I know that at the back of many African presidents, there are hopes of frequent White House trips. I know African small and big fisadis are expecting generous aid packages that will flow directly to their pot bellies. I can bet my life on this – that there are Africans who are hoping that the African story will change, that the continent will now see prosperity.

Let me just rain on that parade before it gets started. Ain’t nothing going to change.

The high expectations are rooted in Africa’s own mentality and cultural tendencies – and that is of harboring tribalism. I can surely tell you that Luos in Kenya are feeling good right about now. That is because from a traditional view, Obama is not representing Michelle, Sasha, Malia and the American people alone, he is representing the entire Kogelo. He is representing cousins and aunts he has never met.

And that’s where the cultural warfare will begin.

See, the truth is that Barack grew up in the American culture, where having Kenyan roots is just that – having Kenyan roots. That is because America is formed by folks with ancestral roots in other countries. It just happens Barack can trace those roots one generation removed. I wonder if, in his mind, he views his role the way his Luo cousins view it.

Contrary to the African culture which promotes communal connectedness, the American culture (which Barack grew up in) stresses individual responsibility and accountability. As such, the hopes that Barack will now carry the load of the entire Luo “tribe” will meet a disappointing response.

Another stumbling block for my African brothers will be this – while Obama will be the most powerful man on earth, his political power does not go unchecked. I know, I know, African presidents have all the power. So if you think Luos will start getting Federal jobs like Kibaki offers them to Kikuyu in Kenya, sorry amigos. The American system of true checks and balances will hold Barack primarily responsible and accountable to the American people, and not to his own family and friends.

I can only predict one thing: that by the virtue of Obama being black, he will actually have the power to crush and whip crazy mentalities that African leaders have held for years, without being accused of exercising some sort of a Western supremacy. If his trip to Kenya as a Senator – where he urged Kenyans to act tough on corruption was any indication, then expect more tough stances.

My point is this – Obama is not an African president. He is the president of the United State of America. The sooner that sinks in the minds of Africans, the better.
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Photo Credit: Michuzi

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Shortsightedness of Party Lines…

The election in the United States is another history. I can remember exactly where I was when McCain conceded. I attended one of the Obama rally and I saw the man live. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

As a Christian and an African living in the United States, it is always hard to elect sides – that is, between the Democrats and the Republicans. That is because there are legit issues that confront me in making that choice, mainly from a traditional and historical perspective.

The Dems are traditionally viewed as liberals, with open arms to social groups that the GOP, for their conservatism, would not welcome. It is for that sense of condemnation from the GOP gay groups, blacks and other social minorities would rather support the Dems. It is for the same GOP’s sense of moral soundness that Christians (or rather evangelicals) flock to the GOP.

The independents, of course, swing either way.

We all have the right to associate ourselves with any party we want, because our political affiliations are driven by our personalities.

Maybe I am on of those who fall into the independents category, because I honestly think being stuck with either the Dems or the GOP is crazy.

While I can understand the legit reasons for associating with the Democratic Party as a black person, should the color of my skin alone be enough for me to support the ideals of the Democratic Party? Can any black person stand up and testify that they earned a PhD simply because there was a Democratic president in power?

Likewise, being a Christian is not a guarantee that the Republican Party is automatically suitable for me. Seriously, did you see the craziness that transpired during the Sarah Palin campaigns ? I can understand the whole idea of social conservatism, which it tied to the Christian faith, but what about skinheads and members of the KKK who are typically GOP supporters?

Even more, can anyone stand up and testify that in the past eight years, morality improved in the United States under George W. Bush?

Does this have anything to do with Tanzania? You bet. Just like Americans, Tanzanians are human beings. They are either governed by hope, faith or fear. While I don’t belong to any political parties in Tanzania, I’m of the opinion that folks vote for CCM simply out of fear and not hope for a better future. Granted, there are those who have dared to go the opposition way, but the majority still lean towards CCM.

I am not sure if the opposition in Tanzania could fare better than CCM in terms of bringing positive change, but surely it is crazy to vote along traditional party lines just for the sake of it. I think that is utter shortsightedness.

I really don’t know why folks vote either way, and I am not trying to suggest they should follow my path. Nonetheless, I would hate for someone to hijack my skin color, my faith, or inject fear in my head for their political ambitions. Besides, I don’t recall the last time a politician put food on my table.
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Photo Credit: Anyone who took the photo

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama's Presidency: Blessed to Witness...

Obama's presidency will definitely go down as an historic event in the American experience. I'm just glad that I was blessed to attend one of his campaign rallies in Columbus, Ohio.

It is one thing to hear about it, but it is another to be an "I" witness...Surely, Daddy will get to tell his kids he was there when history was in the making.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gotta Love Them Tarimeans

Among folks who should talk about the recent Chadema victory over CCM in Tarime, I believe I should be among them. Heck, I hail from that area.

If you have to know my political affiliation, I don’t belong to any party in Tanzania. I just love good leaders who could move the country somewhere positive. That’s why I think Mr. Kikwete and the CCM party is a joke. Not only that, I believe the opposition also is full of career politicians who just very good at rhetoric. Mr. Lyatonga Mrema anyone?

Regardless of my neutral political affiliation, I just abhor CCM. That is because these folks have been in power for ions, but there is nothing to show up for it. I know Mr. Makamba and Chiligati, as the spin doctors would tell you otherwise, CCM simply stinks.

Honestly, I also had hope when Kikwete came along. Boy, did he impress me the first few days of his presidency! I’m ashamed to admit it, but just as my hope ascended I got discouraged as the days passed on. October 31 is just this week and I’m looking forward to hearing what the president will do with EPA thieves.

Trust me, nothing will happen.

It is for my “hate” for CCM that I was happy for Chadema snatching up the parliamentary seat. But leaving my “joy” aside, I would just like to drum it up for my fellow Tarimeans. Theirs is a story of courage.

It is undeniable truth that tribalism, though not problematic in Tanzania, is part of the Tanzanian life. As such, it is not uncommon to see folks electing a leader (regardless of the merit of doing so) solely to “represent” their tribe. Given that the Father of the Nation is laid to rest just a couple of miles from Tarime, shouldn’t we have expected the folks in Tarime to embrace the party and ideologies that their “homeboy” Nyerere brought to life?

How could you explain the fact that despite Tarime’s lack of concentration of educated folks (who lives and votes there), those people still had the guts to do what sophisticated and educated folks in Dar-es-Salaam and other urban areas failed to do?

I believe the only explanation is uncommon courage. “Defecting” from the normal social and political expectation requires courage. And I believe that Tarimeans have the courage that ordinary Tanzanians lack.

I know, I know, Tarimeans at times go overboard with their “courage”. Man, have you been to Tarime? My people down there are angry and mad all the time. I mean, sometimes it seems like fist fights or machete fights is a normal way of settling philosophical differences. The constantly reported clan clashes in Tarime are partly due to fight over cows (one clan stealing from the other), but also the fights are an attempt to show a clan’s courage. You don’t mess with a “mura”. Period.

If you think I am kidding, just go ask Mr. Makamba who dubbed Chadema a party of hooligans. Say whaaaaat? I know if that was is Dodoma, my Gogo friends would have just moved on. Not in Tarime. I am sure if it wasn’t for security protection, those boys would have sliced Mr. Makamba’s throat, literary. [I’m not advocating slaying folks, I’m just telling you what happens in Tarime]

I know that some people in Tanzania regards the Chadema’s victory in Tarime as a sure sign that CCM is going down in 2010. Hardly. I hate to rain on someone’s parade. CCM ain’t going anywhere. That is because this is not the first time folks in Tarime have elected someone from the opposition party – remember Mabere Marando for NCCR, anyone? Secondly, the courage you find in Tarime is not found anywhere else in the country. Do you honestly think folks in Rukwa will let go of their beloved son – Mizengo Pinda – despite his lack of strong leadership qualities?

Surely, nothing stays the same forever. It is more than likely that CCM will lose some feathers in 2010, but as of October 2008, I am just glad that my fellow Tarimeans have demonstrated the kind of courage that the rest of Tanzania lacks.

Honestly, those people in Tarime are not rich. Those people are just ordinary folks who go through the same struggles like anyone in Kibiti or Korogwe. The only thing that has separated them from your ordinary Kalumanzira is courage. And you can just go ahead and read my lips on this: Nothing will ever change in Tanzania unless folks learn a thing or two from Tarime.
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Photo Credit: Michuzi Blog

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bongo Series: A Pictorial View

After all the yapping I have done about my Bongoland experience, I just thought of letting you see what my camera was able to capture....

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bongo Series: Wrap This Thing Up

I typically have this awful feeling when I have stuff hanging over my head. If it wasn’t for life getting on my way, I would have finished sharing my Bongo experience a long time ago. I will try that today.

So wrapped up my stay in Dodoma and headed out to Dar. Quite naturally, the Scandinavian bus service became a bus of my choice. Folks in Tanzania claim the bus is a bit expensive, but I was not ready to sacrifice safety for cheapness. Bure ghali, they say in Swahili.

I’m typically reserved and more observant when travelling. For one, it is safe that way in Bongoland. Secondly, it gives the opportunity to learn a few things. Bubbling affords the opportunities for others to learn about you. I wasn’t willing to be the focus.

If you are looking for drama in a Scandinavian bus, sorry. My experience has been that most people who board the bus are somewhat dignified. So the ride was really uneventful, or rather boring. Everyone was busy reading their newspapers. I pulled up my MP3 player and was uploading my spiritual songs to my spirit.

I don’t recall saying much to the passenger next to me, until we passed Morogoro.

Scandinavian bus has their own station in Morogoro (another thing I liked), and we had an opportunity to stop there for lunch. I guess the lunch we had at Morogoro did the trick, because the passenger next to me and I started conversing.

I learned the gentleman was actually Kibaha Secondary School’s headmaster. Knowing the dude was in the education sector, I just wanted to know what the former minister of education - Mr. Joseph Mungai – was thinking when revamping Tanzania’s Secondary School educational syllabus. Given the intense criticism that was aimed at Mr. Mungai, I thought this gentleman would echo my preconceived notions. He did not.

What I learned is that Mr. Mungai was right. Mr. Mwalimu next to me educated me to the fact that the Tanzanian education system, especially at the primary and secondary level, is overloaded. Kids learn stuff that has no practical meaning. The objective was to trim the load, so that kids could focus on three main areas – reading, writing, math and other subjects such as civics.

You know what? That made sense to me. That is because I could personally relate. I learned accounting in the ordinary and advanced secondary levels in Tanzania. When I joined college in the US, I started to study the same subjects with kids who have never touched those subjects in middle or high school. At the end of four years, we were on the same level!

That is the argument that Mr. Mungai tried to make. I just wonder why he failed to articulate the objective. I also think such a change should be phased in. The backlash, I guess, was due to the fact Mr. Mungai introduced the change abruptly and suffered from the "forcefulness" culture of Mr. Mkapa's government.

I thought Mr. Mwalimu next to me was pretty good. So I teased him again with another concept – the Majimbo concept. Man, the dude again impressed me.

This is what I learned. According to Mr. Mwalimu, the introduction of the Provincial government in Tanzania, with probably elected governors (to replace Regional Commissioners) is useless. The current system in Tanzania is adequate. Each district has its own council of elected leaders – Madiwani under the leadership of a Mayor or a person charged with a similar role. Madiwanis are charged with the responsibility of not only planning, but also of evaluation and supervision of development programs.

The problem, Mr. Mwalimu told me, is that most madiwanis have no idea of their powers to bring about development in their local areas. According to Mr. Mwalimu, bringing up the Majimbo system would just be elevating the same crappy leadership to a larger scale.

I thought thatt was a pretty good argument.

I learned that Regional Commissioners and District Commissioners have no role whatsoever in local development planning any more. From a Tanzanian political system, RCs and DCs are there simply there to represent the President’s hand (dola), nothing more, nothing less.

Mr. Mwalimu disembarked from the bus at Kibaha. Nonetheless, I was surely glad I got the reason for Moshi and Arusha being sparkling clean, while other cities are swimming in dirt. It boils down to having a quality Halmashauri, comprised of good councilmen and women and a pretty good mayor.

Can we find the same quality in Iramba? I doubt it.

You know what? I am not even going to talk about Dar again, because I think I pretty much covered my experience there in the earlier posts – traffic jams, heat, poor customer service, etc.

I took care of some personal issues in Dar and my days in Tanzania came to an end. I finally caught my plane back to the US, wondering whether I should go back to live in Tanzania or stick it out in the US till I retire. Like many in the Diaspora, I wonder if I will ever settle that decision anytime soon….

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bongo Series: The Cap City Stint

Let me try going back to this writing thing and see if it will work. As of now, I walk around sometimes feeling like my eyes are full of sand. That’s what lack of sleep will do to you. I know someone in Bongo will be asking, “Yaani mwanaume mzima unalea mtoto”? Yap, I do, because the cost of hiring a “yaya” in the United States is almost equivalent to my own pay.

If you have to know, malezi has been the main thing keeping me from yapping on this space.

Before I got interrupted by good news of another bundle of joy, I was headed towards Dodoma, right? And I was looking forward to it.

Dodoma, as I alluded to earlier, also holds a special place in my heart. That is because that’s where I practically grew up. Shirati is my “genesis” if you will, but Dodoma carries the next many chapters in my life.

How did I end up in Dodoma from Shirati? See, when my father died in 1974, my elder sister took over the caretaking of the family. She was in her early twenties, but she sacrificed to live with my older brother and me. She was then teaching at Chamwino Primary School when she took the uphill task.

I was then very little, but I witnessed UNICO, a construction company work on Arusha Road/Area C roads. Trust me, it has been nearly 30 years and those roads are rock solid. It is laughable that newly constructed roads are disintegrating. In case you wanted to know, I graduated from Kiwanja cha Ndege Primary School and later Dodoma Secondary School, before hitting Shycom in Shinyanga for high school.

Dodoma is where I formed my lifelong friendships. I don’t know about you, but friends I formed during my formative years have been my forever friendships.

Before you hit Kizota from Singida, the road magically become paved again. I wonder what the Singida folks did to Kajima, the Japanese company working on the road. I was surprised to see how Dodoma has expanded from the years I left town.

The town was as chilly as ever. As June was a dry season, the dusty winds blew the same way. I stayed with my sister who still lives in Dodoma. She no longer teaches, but she is still very much involved in education as an inspector.

I noticed that Dodoma has positively changed in some aspects. The Kuu Street, which is the main street, has been beautified with street lights. In addition, the street also boasts of a Nyerere Memorial Park. The park was absolutely awesome, particularly if you have time to relax after work or over the weekend.

I was anxious to see how my alma mater, Dodoma Secondary School looked like. Just like what I saw in Shinyanga, my old beloved old school is also suffering from a culture of destruction. See when I was attending Dom Sec, the school compound was fenced and everything kept beautiful. The story is quite different as the fence is gone and folks coming from the nearby Makole section of the town crosses right in the middle of the school.
The most amazing thing is this: Pascal Degera, who used to be my headmaster, is an MP for Kondoa South and he spends most of his time at the Bunge building in town. I wonder why he is not stopping by now and then to scold the current headmaster for letting the school disintegrate.
What I was truly hungry for was Mnadani. To my disappointment, I was informed that the weekend barbeque festivities have died. The mnada was moved from Mnadani to Kizota and the craze just died. For anyone who has ever been to Mnadani, you can definitely agree with me that the place offered the best barbeque in the whole wide world.

I tried to compensate my cravings with some organic barbeque chicken right in town center, but it wasn’t the same.

My few days in town came to an end and I had to leave town. Dar was calling me one more time before I caught my flight back “home”.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another Bundle...Of Joy

So it was...on Friday, September 19, 2008 at 11:18 am, weighing 7 pounds and 2 ounces, Mr. Hans Otelo entered our world!

[I just didn't add, standing in the blue corner, from Shirati by the way of Columbus, with the record of 12-0, all by KOs, the reigning champ....]

The man was welcome at St. Ann's hospital, Columbus, Ohio.

I know the cycle starts all over again - diapers, sleepless nights (very possible) and all the routines that goes with an addition of a new member to the family, but it is all worth it.
Besides, my heart is so grateful to the only awesome God that I serve for blessing. So I give Him the glory, honor and praise.
To friends who called, flocked the hospital room, and just stood in the gap with prayers, thank you.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bongo Series: Next Stop…Cap City

The walk-up call at the hotel actually worked. I was able to get to the bus stand on time. Apparently, all buses are required to adhere to some standard and fixed schedules. That being the case, the bus I took to Dodoma left the bus station at 6pm on the dot. I was impressed.

At the bus stand, I had to buy two huge “Rambo” bags (anyone relating?) for covering my luggage. I was forewarned that it gets dusty on the stretch between Singida and Dodoma. As I didn’t want my bag to look like they had been dug from the ground, I complied.

The road from Mwanza to Dar-es-Salaam, being paved and all; is such a huge relief. I was trying to imagine the old days when a train ride from Dar-es-Salaam to Mwanza used to take more than 36 hours. The central road link, I must admit, has made travel easier between the Lake zone and the Coastal zone.

It roughly took the bus two hours from Mwanza to Shinyanga. It used to take more than six hours to make the same trip. The bus made stop at the Shinyanga and I was excited to see the town again. The last time I was in that town was 1993, when I officially graduated from Shinyanga Commercial Institute (Shycom).

It was kind of sad to see that the town has not changed much after 15 years. My own alma mater (Shycom) only showed signs of regression as opposed to progression. The Shinyanga railway station looked beaten up and ready to die. I guess I will never understand some things relating to the Tanzanian way of life. I mean, wouldn’t you expect things to improve over time?

Did I mention the fact that even some parts of the road are starting to disintegrate and it seems like nobody cares?

Oh well.

I have been through Manyoni, but never Singida “mjini”. That is because the train ride never really gave anyone an opportunity to go through Singida mjini. I just wanted to experience that. So when the bus actually made the rounds around Singida, my neck was sticking out, just to let my eyes wonder.

Oh, let me talk about the road a little bit. As I was talking about the regressive culture in Tanzania, one thing came to mind. You know how the metal (tin) road signs are typically vandalized? I guess the folks who constructed the Mwanza – Dodoma road had a better idea to beat the cultural tendencies. They actually made the road signs in concrete. The outcome has been nothing more than positive. It seem vandals are not bothering to steal useless pieces of rock mixed solidified in cement (because once you destroy the road signs, that’s what it turns into – useless pieces of cemented rock).

I thought that was work of a genius.

Generally, there was nothing exciting. It was the same old same, unless you want me to talk about how the vegetation changes from Tabora to Singida and Dodoma. Well, let me talk about that then, because probably no one will. As you leave Tabora to the more central part – that is Singida and Dodoma – trees get shorter and thornier. Even more, wind gusts increase and it get chillier.

The only “exciting” thing, probably, was that we got a flat tire and that has to be fixed. No long from the area where we got the flat tire, the dusty road began. I must admit, I thanked those kids in Mwanza who sold me a Rambo bag. Otherwise, my bags would have looked like there were dug from the ground. No kidding.

I was just glad to finally be in Dodoma, for this place also holds a special place in my heart.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Bongo Series: Mwanza...Here I Come

My “short” stay in Shirati came to an end I had to head out. My itinerary indicated that I was supposed to pass through Dodoma, and going through the central line made more sense. I was really looking forward to Mwanza.

The road to Mwanza took me to Tarime again. I found a bus that promised to leave on time only to end up staying at the Tarime bus stand for over an hour. I regret being naïve, but next time I visit Tanzania, watanikoma.

The ride to Mwanza literally took me through a memory lane. In the old days, the Kirumi Bridge was not there. Crossing the Mara River required the use of a pontoon. As a kid, it was such a scary thing to be on that “boat” with all those people, cars, buses and things. Obviously, when the pontoon was broken down, folks crossed over to Musoma through Kinesi by boat.

As usual, the bus had the three most important persons – the driver, the conductor and the “tandboi”. I wonder why this combination is still intact.

Sadly, I had forgotten all the little towns along the way, save Bunda. Maybe I easily recalled Bunda because in the old days, the bus from Tarime/Mwanza would stop there for a tea break. Man, I would like to go on record saying this – Bunda has the best tea in the whole of Mara! (This is especially for my wife – honey, I am not hungry; so hunger is not impairing my judgment)

For folks who have never been on the Tarime/Musoma to Mwanza road, just a few miles from Bunda, you could actually see zebras, antelopes and other wild animals grazing. Unfortunately, I was seating on the “wrong” side of the bus and couldn’t take any pictures. I tried passing on my camera to one gentleman with a better view, but he only ended up getting good shots of meaningless trees and grass. He got a few zebras, but the pictures are so fuzzy. I was grateful for his attempt though.

My level of trust for this bus service dipped so low when we had a breakdown. Yeah, I know that stuff happens, but I was ticked off already by the fact that the bus didn’t take off at Tarime on time. Surprisingly, it appears I was the only one minding. The rest of the passengers were just taking it easy. I guess the American life has conditioned me to expect the best service all the time. Through these experiences I saw my expectations crumbling down.

Such is life.

I know Iringa is mountainous and all, but the Mwanza atmosphere is the best. The bus made a final stop at Nyakato. Obviously, that did not go well with folks who wanted their final stop to be downtown Mwanza. The bus conductor and the driver made their appeal about the traffic police being hard on them blah blah blah... I couldn’t argue with them, since I didn’t have any clue of the rules in Mwanza. I had intended to go all the way to downtown, but I resorted to calling my host to pick me up.

My host was my cousin. I stopped by his house, luckily, in Nyakato. I had called him earlier to buy me a bus ticket for Dodoma. I was informed that buses from Mwanza to Dodoma/Morogoro/Dar starts off the journey at Nyegezi. Nyegezi, obviously, is miles away from Nyakato. If I had to be at the bus stand at 5:30 am from Nyakato, I had to stay awake all night. The resolution was for me to spend a night in Nyegezi.

After pleasantries with my cousin’s wife and kids, I headed off to Nyegezi.

I was able to secure lodging at a very “fancy” hotel – Millennium something. The hotel was nice. I Tanzanian lingo, each room was “self-contained”. The only thing was, there was no running water, so I had to call for a bucket of water. Did I mention having a flat screen TV in the room? Obviously, no HBO, but plenty of satellite channels to surf. I wasn’t in a mood for TV, so I chose instead to enjoy my $30 bed.

By Tanzanian standards, $30 a night was plenty of money. Nonetheless, given the security at the hotel, wake-up call availability and the closeness to the bus stand, I was not ready to whine.

I was just sad I didn’t get to see much of Mwanza as I had wanted to.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bongo Series: The Shirati Experience

Though Shirati is my home, I have only lived there for less than 25% of my entire life. Regardless, I find comfort in knowing that the very reason I got out is searching for life. Amazingly, I still have this deep sense of belongingness. How else could I consider the place where my late father rests?

That is where I have the fondest childhood memories. This is where the kids in the neighborhood (almost all related somehow) would gather to play games on a bright moonlit night. That is where I got whacking by any adult for breaking societal “rules”. This is where I still have the best memories of my old Sunday school choir singing. This is the place I whooped the entire Sunday school class in memorizing Psalms 23, winning a box of crayons.

Since I partly attended primary school in Shirati, this is where my mom used to wait for me on a school closing day (typically late May and November) to find out what position I held in class (not bragging, but I used to kick some major butts, which means thee number one position was almost guaranteed). This is where as I poor kid I used to go to the local market (Sayote) to help my mom sell whatever – onions, dried sardines, fruits, etc – to make ends meet.

This is where my heart still beats when I approach the town. In a nutshell, I have strong social and emotional ties to Shirati. That is where I still draw some of my life aspirations.

So what does a man do when he lays his eyes on his mom after a long time? Of course he can’t just help but to embrace her, hug her and let the tears of joy run down his cheek. How couldn’t I? This is the lady who has sacrificed everything for me. This is the lady who, when there was nothing else she could do, just turned to prayers. This is the lady who put structure, discipline, love, wisdom and character into my heart and mind.

Well, let me get you off my emotional side.

The best part of my experience in Shirati was meeting on of my brothers. I had not met the guy for roughly 14 years. We just happened to have different schedules and life situations for that entire time. In celebration, something had to go down. One my cousins sold me a goat for some serious barbeque. If felt like there was nothing better than sitting under a well shaded guava tree enjoying organic barbeque roast.

Or by the way, I was told that I had just missed the mangoes’ season. See, we have about four mangoes trees at our compound. Boy, when you hit the right season, you could actually sit under the tree and enjoy your day, if you know what I mean. Papayas don’t go out of season, but I guess they are the fruits folks like me take for granted. So I really didn’t get excited about papayas.

I am trying to ignore the countless chickens that were gone just to entertain me. This is one of the things about my culture: when guest arrives, especially if the guest is somehow regarded as special, they have to get a special treatment. That treatment includes chasing a “jogoo” around just for the guest. It is almost uncouth to reject the meal, regardless of the similar stops you had previously made. What can I say; it was definitely nice to be treated as a king.

Adding to my fun’s list, I went to the open market. The town holds an open market every Monday at Obwere. In the old days, great soccer games would be scheduled on that day. Unfortunately, Obwere lost its allure and great soccer games are played at Sota, a lakeshore town. I was told Sota has improved economically and teams get more gate collection playing there. In the old days, you would see folks biking home with full-length sugarcanes. I think the story goes that to impress a girl in those days all you had to do was to buy her very long uncut sugarcane. Maybe folks got sophisticated that the hook is now prepaid cell phone vouchers.

I was just glad the open market tradition has not died away.

Along with the good times, it was also easy to be heartbroken. That is because there were numerous monetary issues presented for my resolution. The saddest part is that I couldn’t solve everything. I am not rich by any means, but I can lead a decent life. When I saw folks you I attended school with struggling to put decent clothes on their children’s backs, I had to be very humbled. I know I had to study and work hard for what I have, but seriously, who wakes up in the morning resolving to be poor?

Before I left I had an opportunity to visit a piece of land that my father acquired over 50 years ago. As my dad passed on when I was only three years old, I never knew him. Standing on the very property that he acquired long before I was born helped me see what kind of a man he was. And that is more of a visionary. Hopefully, someday my boys would look back and think of me in those terms.

Regardless, Shirati is where my heart is.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bongo Series: Cell Phone Effect...(2)

As I had mentioned in one of my previous posts, cell phones have transformed the way people communicated and conduct a myriad of affairs in Tanzania. In addition to ability of folks to arrange with cab drivers on pickup and drop-off times, there are plenty of many other ways.

I landed in Tarime from Nairobi around 6/7am in the morning. Surprisingly, some traders in the local market near the bus stand had already opened up their stalls. As I wanted to take with me some items that I presumed my mom wanted, I simply called Shirati and my sister gave me the shopping list!

As insignificant as that could sound to some, that is a major shift from the old ways. Seriously, I could have gone all the way to Shirati unaware of what my family needed. I found myself appreciating the availability of cell phones in Tanzania. And I am sure the experience is the same for most developing countries.

I later learned that even traders in the outlying areas like Shirati who typically buy wholesale items from Mwanza do not make a trip unless they have called and verified the availability of goods. In some cases, traders don’t even travel. They simply call in, place their order, and arrange for bus services to deliver. Talking about efficiency? I believe that is it.

Despite all the good cell phones have brought along, my mother thinks cell phones are evil. She claims cell phones have increased marital affairs. I kind of smiled at that and negated my mother’s premise.

I can understand where my mom is coming from. But her argument is similar to the argument that folks tend to make about money. For instance, some would argue that money turns folks into liquor heads. Well, my argument is that money elevates your true nature. If one has a charitable spirit, the more money they get, the more they give. Likewise, if a drunkard has no money, they won’t drink. The more money they get, the more money there is for drinking.

I could be flawed somewhere in there, but that’s what I see.

With regards to cell phones, I believe they don’t turn anyone into a player. I heard of underground stories about cheating husbands and wives in Shirati before cell phones hit the airwaves. In a nutshell, a sneak is a sneak, cell phone or no cell phone.

If there is any negative I see in cell phones, is that they have caused in a shift in priorities. I mean, you I saw see folks with a $300 handset, while struggling to buy vouchers. I guess some people find status symbols in strange places.

Did I mention the fact that Celtel, Tigo, Vodacom and Zantel are killing Tanzanians? Try “talking” on a $10 voucher and see….
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Credit credit: Food For Thought

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bongo Series: The Nairobi Connection

After my short stay in Arusha, I had to fulfill my schedule. Shirati was calling. When in Arusha or Moshi, the easiest way to reach Tarime/Musoma/Mwanza, believe it or not, is through Nairobi. Though passing through Kenya is a long distance, the paved road allows for a quicker trip. I had to follow the crowd.

Being unaware of which buses actually provide a better service, I had to allow my hosts to do the searching. I don’t recall the name of the bus, but I was promised this is one of the best buses on my intended safari. Man, I learned very quickly that quality of service is all subjective.

For one, I had no guaranteed seat. According to the ticket office clerk, the Arusha office could only figure out seat availability once the bus landed in Arusha from Dar. When the bus finally arrived in Arusha, I was given the very last seat at back end of the bus!

Why do I talk about my sitting allocation? The ride from Arusha to Namanga was the bumpiest ever! The bus was “sophisticated” with seatbelts and all (I guess the bus owners knew what passengers typically go through and providing seatbelts would ease the pain a bit), but I had to hang on to bars on the seat in front of me, otherwise I would have even crashed my unmentionables.

So I had just to figure out what my hosts meant by this bus being “great”. It meant it got to Mwanza faster, but not necessarily safely. Since a portion of the Arusha-Namanga road was dusty, I wish I had a mirror to see how much dust my eyelashes had collected by the time we got to Namanga.

Crossing the boarder was uneventful. I just felt that the immigration folks at Namanga were bored going through the same routine, probably night after night. They spend very little time looking at passports, even temporary travel documents. I couldn’t figure out why the Namanga area had so many Somalis.

I have to admit, the culture in Kenya is way different from that of Tanzania. I think Tanzanians exude this aura of gentleness, while Kenyans a bit rough on the edges. On our way to Nairobi after crossing the boarder, we got stopped by the Kenyans police at one checkpoint. One of the passengers had to go, so they went behind the bus to ease the pressure. Well, a female Kenyan police saw him and grabbed him for “polluting the environment”. I thought that was crazy, given that there are no rest areas, both on the Tanzanian and Kenyan side!

We had to spend additional ten minutes or so for the passenger to be rescued. Given the culture in Tanzania and Kenya, I am sure some currencies exchanged hands for the release of this poor passenger.

We got to Nairobi close to midnight. I was hungry and I wasn’t sure if the bus would stop anywhere for a late dinner, given a sense of urgency the driver and other bus operators were exhibiting all the time. Luckily, they stopped at a restaurant where the owner spoke very good Swahili and accepted both the Tanzania and Kenyan shillings.

Trust me, everything could be an experience. The restaurant was a “self-serve” type of joint. You pick what you want and you head to the counter to pay. No one was waiting tables. I picked what I wanted and headed to the cashier and I was surprised at the way the guy behind was shoving and pushing me, competing with to get the cashier’s attention. I had to ask why he wasn’t giving me my personal space, and he just gave me a puzzled look asking me in return, “we vipi, nimekubana wapi”?

It just hit me that I was looking at life through different lenses. Personal space? I felt embarrassed for demanding a personal space in a situation where it was OK to breathe on someone else’s neck.

We got back to the bus and headed towards Sirari. Upon reaching Nairobi, I was fortunate enough to secure a better seat. I don’t recall much on the way to Sirari as I was dosing off. I only woke up when the bus conductor made the “passport” announcement. I obliged, getting off the bus to face a chilly weather in Sirari.

At around five o’clock in the morning there were actually ladies selling porridge and tea at the boarder. I guess they have been there long enough to know that there are customers who would buy porridge that early in the morning. Honestly, I didn’t care for no porridge, I was just anxious to get to Tarime so that I could find my way to Shirati. Furthermore, I was just glad to cross over to the Tanzanian side, it just felt comforting to know I was in a place where I belonged.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bongo Series: The Arusha Experience

After my short stay in Moshi, I headed to Arusha. I had never spent a night in Arusha so the idea was so exciting for me. We had private ride to Arusha, so we didn’t have the whole “kuchimba dawa” experience.

Before we left for Arusha, my cousin, who provided the ride for me, had to do some banking in Moshi. Trust me; banking in Tanzania could be a whole day affair. I know folks in Tanzania can’t do anything about it; I could not help but wonder how banking is insufficient and a bottleneck in doing business. Long lines weren’t only at the counter, but even at the ATM!

I know this is just shooting some breeze, but why in the world isn’t any bank; especially locally owned banks, try to differentiate themselves from the competition by opening more branches based on the population served? Unless the banks make more money through what seems to me as inefficiencies.

On the way, we stopped to do some “grocery shopping”. I know I sound like a mzungu, but man, you have no idea the last time I saw ladies selling green peppers, avocado, onions, etc on the roadside in buckets. So cut me some slack, would you? I just wished I was living on those grocery prices here in Columbus. Man, the savings alone would have been enough to make a mini millionaire. Imagine a bucketful of fresh, cheap organic avocados!

My apologies if I made you hungry.

I had to give it up to Arusha municipality. The city is not as clean as Moshi, but at the same token way cleaner than Dar-es-Salaam. I couldn’t help but notice that the city had plenty of street lights. Well, wenyeji informed me that the lights were not installed simply because the city was so much in love with the taxpayers; the street lights were installed to impress the Sullivan Summit attendees.

Pheew!

To me this street light story made me think of what I have been saying all along on this blog. It is very hard to make progress unless Tanzanians make a paradigm shift. While it is a good thing that the street lights remain behind for the benefit of Arusha residents, I believe it is wrong mentality to erect street lights simply because wageni are coming!

Seriously, when was the last time you heard the city of New York or Washington DC is erecting street lights to impress Jakaya Kikwete? These cities do what they do for the benefit of their residents, nothing more.

Will we ever come to the point of doing wonderful things with ourselves in mind? Don’t we deserve the best of things?

Despite all that, I just enjoyed watching my Maasai brothers stroll down the streets in their traditional attire. Sullivan Summit or not, the Maasais rock!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Bongo Series: Gold In Dust

The bus ride to Moshi was uneventful. I must admit this, and this is not to pull for my “mashemeji”, Moshi is probably the cleanest city in the entire Tanzania. I am sure the municipality has found a way to defy what is typical of Tanzania – ineptitude and lack of accountability. I was impressed.

I was accommodated at my brother-in-law’s lodge. The co-owner of the lodge is my brother-in-law’s girlfriend, who is originally from Finland. Why do I bring the lodge story up? I will tell you in a minute.

The next very morning I headed to visit my father-in-law. A cousin of mine, who is working in Arusha, was kind enough to drive that morning and accompany me.

And back to the lodge thing.

I truly believe that having an international exposure is adequate to open one’s eyes. I found it interesting that this Finnish girl, who is a co-owner of the lodge, found a viable business idea only after visiting Tanzania as a student. For ethical reasons I can’t go into details about this couple’s business model, but in a nutshell, the lodge provides accommodation for tourists, volunteers, and students in a bed and breakfast type of a venture.

How do you they stand their ground? By providing a little better service in a smaller scale compared to what typical hotels or hostels in the Moshi provide. Obviously, they provide other services in extension to what they have.

I learned all this while having casual conversations with this mzungu girl. And given her “success” in Tanzania despite her citizenship, I had to ask about potential moneymaking opportunities in Tanzania.

This is what I gathered from the mzungu: The fact of the matter is that the majority of local folks in Moshi, where she drew her reference, are poor economically. As such, what really drives the Moshi’s (and Arusha for that matter) economy and brings easy liquidity is tourism.

Despite the fact that most Tanzanians in Moshi depend to mzungu’s money, tourists and even “expatriates” find the quality of service offered by most Tanzanian businesses to be poor. For instance, she frequents certain shops, despite higher prices compared to competitors, simply because she would get what she wants on a timely basis.

She advised that the best way to succeed in the Moshi/Arusha area is to take advantage of poor services offered by other business ventures. Not only that, position your antenna towards the mzungus, who happened to have a stronger purchasing power.

Was this mzungu extreme with her expectations? I don’t think so. I had an opportunity to converse with an indigenous Tanzania tour operator who also complained about the poor quality of service in Tanzania.

I hope someone will pay attention to this information. If not, I might jump on it myself. I never thought poor service in Tanzania could actually provide golden opportunities, but I guess “tembea uone” saying has a true practical meaning.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bongo Series: Going To Moshi

Given all I had to accomplish in Bongoland, I kept a very tight schedule. Believe it on or not, once I landed in Dar from Iringa, I had to head out to Moshi the next day. Ouch! Nonetheless, someone had to do it.

Given my tight schedule, I had to make sure I had my ticket the day before my travel. Unfortunately, in reaching Ubungo main bus terminal, all the ticket windows were closed. I learned that the terminal leadership instituted strict rules regarding the operation hours of ticket vendors and other activity in the terminal.

Despite the terminal being closed, there were plenty of hustlers trying to dupe me into committing to this and that bus service. I really never studied how the entire bus operation goes in Tanzania, but I got a sense that there are plenty of players in the game looking for a piece of the action. So it is not a surprise to find unofficial salespersons that live on commission.

The worst part is how they would push by providing aggressive suggestions on the quality of the bus service, including departure time and arrival times. None of which were true. I just decided to settle for coming early the next day, when true ticket salespersons were available.

I don’t even recall the name of the bus, but it must have been Kilimanjaro something. For the fare, speed and the “free” sodas and cookies, I couldn’t have enjoyed the ride to Moshi even more.

Just on a personal note, I was going to Moshi to visit my father-in-law. I could have gone to visit him anyways, but this visit was a bit emotional for me, as my mother-in-law had passed on early in March.

Was there anything interesting on the way? Let me see…there was this cashew nuts vendor who boarded the bus in Chalinze. Well, I thought the guy was going all the way to Moshi, only to disembark at one small village along the road. I couldn’t help but wonder, how was the guy going to get back to Chalinze (if that is his base), board another bus?

Again, I have never been into roasted cashew nut vending business. Man, there are so many things in life to learn.

The kicker for me on this trip? Kuchimba dawa. There are some traveling “traditions” that you would think are long gone. Boy, was I wrong! Just as we were somewhere in Tanga region, someone got “squeezed” (what is the proper English translation for “kubanwa”?). As usual, the driver pulled over by the road side and made the usual “kuchimba dawa” announcement.

Well, folks obliged.

Quite naturally, I took advantage, along other passengers, to relieve myself. Of course I wondered why this tradition has not died, but as I watered my plants, I also pondered over the idea of whether this was pollution, fertilization or straight up indecent exposure….

I guess I will never know, as I can’t go back and identified my “dawa” which I “chimbered”. And on the indecent exposure part, I think I can rule that out. Man, the whole bus was doing it. Can’t the fact that “everybody” was doing it be an excuse in the court of law?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bongo Series: The Cell Phone Effect

Life in Tanzania is full of inconveniences. Inconveniences, in this context, are purely from a western perspective. Let me give you an example. For the many years I have been in the United States, I have not warmed water on a stove; pour it on a bucket to take a shower. Well, while that could be a hustle if you are not used to it, it is all fine. Nobody has died in Tanzania for taking a bath from a bucket.

Despite getting used to the reality as it is, I am convinced that Tanzanians like little conveniences that technology could bring. One of them is cell phones.

Remember the story of a tractor driver who pulled up his tractor in the middle of the road? Well, the dude could have violated many traffic rules, but one thing is for sure. He was able to get whatever information he wanted instantly. I don’t know where the guy was going, but try to imagine this: what is the guy was going to pick up a load, only to find out that the owner had left two hours ago? Can you see the amount of gasoline the tractor’s owner could have burned for nothing?

So while in Iringa, this is what I encountered. We had hired a taxi to drop my host and I home. As I was leaving for Dar the next day, my host informed the taxi driver that we would like to enjoy his services the next day. What ensued were the negotiation of the taxi fare and an exchange of phone numbers. The cab was to come pick me up the next day. Deal closed.

As I watched my host interact with the taxi driver, I knew cell phones have transformed the way people live in Tanzania forever. What if the taxi driver didn’t have a cell phone? Were we supposed to walk all the way to the city center and bring back a cab to carry my luggage early in the morning?

In some ways, I am glad TTCL was horrible in offering landline services. Otherwise, Vodacom, Celtel and the entire gang wouldn’t have much to sell. Viva...err…whoever invented cell phones and brought them to Tanzania!

Photo credit: Food For Thought

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Paul Kagame: Relevant Than Mandela?

My promise to bring you my experience in Bongo still stands, but I thought of sharing my reflections on Paul Kagame. I will tell you why in a minute.

My job requires traveling. As such, I get a privilege of reading news for “free”. I still don’t know why most hotels in the US have chosen US Today as their favorite newspaper, but I do enjoy a “free” reading anyways. So I just happened to pick my copy of the paper today and guess what was the main headline? “American finding purpose in hopes for Africa’s future”.

You can also find the electronic version right here.

The story has so many angles, but what caught my attention a quote from Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Drive Life book and a pastor of the Saddleback Church, based in California. This is what he said about Paul Kagame: “He is going to be more important to Africa than (Nelson) Mandela…He's the George Washington of Africa. I don't state that lightly."

That is a statement that the entire African continent shouldn’t take lightly either.

In his own words, quoted from the US Today newspaper, Paul Kagame has described himself as a purpose driven man. But is he?

I have relatives who do business in Tanzania. In my recent visit to Tanzania, I had a chance to chat with them. Their extensive travel experience has afforded them an opportunity to visit Rwanda. In a nutshell, they were amazed at how Rwanda has progressed in a short-time, despite all the negative experiences that the country encountered in early 1990s.

I was unaware of this, but the current trend for the haves in Tanzania is to shop in South Africa. Well, my relatives told me at the speed at which Rwanda is transforming their country, Tanzania international shoppers will change direction heading west of the boarder. They were certain of that. And that could be what Rick Warren has seen.

I didn’t interview Rick Warren to understand why he views Paul Kagame as potentially more relevant to the African continent in comparison to Nelson Mandela. Nevertheless, I’m convinced I have enough understanding of the role Mandela played to get Pastor Warren’s viewpoint.

In so many ways, Nelson Mandela’s fight wasn’t a fight about internal forces (though he had to overcome internal struggles). His victory was over external, visible forces. His victory was over the apartheid system that was imposed on the black South Africans. He provided a model for resiliency. He provided a model for the power of having a vision and a dream. Mandela provided inspiration and the possibilities of victory even in the most difficult situations. He inspired folks beyond South Africa.

Nevertheless, Mandela’s victory over apartheid did not stop the emergence of dictatorial tendencies from Robert Mugabe, just in the neighborhood of Mandela. Mandela’s victory over apartheid did not provide answers to electoral problems in Kenya or atrocities in Sudan. In a nutshell, Mandela’s victory over apartheid did not do much to challenge or change Africa’s self-destruction.

Briefly stated, Mandela’s victory over apartheid just didn’t bring with it a new model for economic and social progress in Africa.

It is due to the failure of Nelson Mandela’s story to propel the creation of a new Africa that Paul Kagame could become a champion of a new Africa. I have always been of an opinion that in order for Africa to change, there must be a sense of personal responsibility and a paradigm change. I have always brought forth arguments on this space that white folks are not intellectually superior to any folks of the Negroid origin. It is just the western world has embraced certain development principles, both on a personal and national level.

Given lack of evidence that Rwanda has received more donors’ funds than other African countries, Paul Kagame must be doing something different.

I’m certain he has realized that certain principles, particularly development principles, are beyond culture, religion, history, time and space. I am sure he has realized that talking about potential is one thing, but realizing that potential is another. I am sure Paul Kagame has realized that the color of one’s skin, while has historically been relevant to certain experiences, does not stop one from building a brand new future.

Surely, Mandela has his place in the African history, but it would be nice to have a new direction for Africa. I just can’t wait for the day Paul Kagame will prove Rick Warren’s prophecy to be true. I can’t wait for the day that Paul Kagame will write a new chapter in the history of the African continent.

And why not? The guy has already built a country from ashes, while Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe.
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Bongo Series: The Iringa Experience

One of the things that I found out about going home for vacation is that time is never enough. You always get a feeling that scheduling is difficult, especially when you have so much to do. Just for the records, I am not from Iringa, but my vacation involved visiting Iringa for some personal business.

The best part about this trip was that it was my first to Iringa. Given my relatively extensive travel, I didn’t have any jitters we typically get when travelling to a whole new place, instead I was excited. I wanted to see the town that Mjengwa calls his work station. I wanted to see all those high mountains folks talk about. I wanted to experience the chilly temperatures that some complain about…

The trip to Iringa was uneventful. I boarded Scandinavian bus. When I asked around for the best bus service, I was given a host of possibilities. For some reasons, some were knocking Scandinavian as outdated. If you ask me, I would still recommend Scandinavian. Despite their fleet being “old”, their drivers are actually very careful and cautious on the road. The driver of our bus to Iringa did not overtake any vehicle in front unless he had a clear view.

That gave me comfort and a reason to relax.

The care exercised by Scandinavian bus drivers, as I found out, is what irks some passengers. I mean, can you believe that some passengers actually incite drivers to speed up? Well, maybe I am old fashioned, but I’d rather get wherever I am going safely than never at all. The rate of road fatalities in Tanzania probably proves my philosophical stand a wise one.

True to the “complaints”, Iringa happened to be chilly. Just to my personal delight, the mountain scenes are just beautiful. Folks, let the truth be told, Tanzania is just beautiful. Can I brag a little?

I have no idea where Iringa stands in terms of local economic performance. Regardless, I just felt the region has plenty of potential, if the region can fully capitalize on the natural resources endowed to her. I know that sounds like a political cliché, but I am just giving my take.

For all y’all who have never been to Iringa, Iringa is a mini-Mwanza sans the lake. I liked that about the town. The town has also the Dodoma feel, especially the occasional winds that sweep the dust off the ground to pedestrians’ faces. Other than that, it is just another third-world town, with the majority of the roads still lacking the durable tarmac coating.

I had an opportunity to visit Tumaini University. Given the size of most universities in America, the campus is relatively small. Nonetheless, I was impressed with the general environment of the campus. I have one question though. Why is it that Tanzanians like to create “panya roads” on grass grounds? I mean, here you have a beautiful campus, but with plenty of “panya roads”!

I can’t comprehend it. Personally, it just irks me.

One phenomenon that I observed is that many Tumaini students do not live on campus. Some rent houses close to campus. That to me was an investment opportunity. Given my experience in an American university, I understand how apartment developers make a killing. That is due to a steady demand of customers, with only limited supply. While Tumaini University offers dormitories, these dormitories are expensive and offer little in value compared to what students can get elsewhere. So how does a developer make a killing? Offer amenities that both TU dormitories and local houses cannot.
Well, there you go. I have given you useful information.

Just one thing before I let you go. Early in the day, my host and I were walking to the town center from the dwelling quarters. It just happened that there was a tractor coming our way, pulling a cart. The driver’s cell rang. The guy calmly stopped the tractor, switched the tractor’s engine off and started conversing with the other party.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the guy stopping, switching off the tractor’s engine, and conversing with his caller, except for one minor detail. He stopped right in the middle of the road!
I am too westernized? I wondered and still wondering.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bongo Series: The Reality

It is very easy for folks to regard you as a pretender when you first land in Dar. There are funny little things that you could do. Excluding this latest trip back home, I had gone to Tanzania in December of 2004 and my brother had come to pick me up from the airport. Knowing that I could not drive in Dar, I had slowly headed towards the “passengers” side. I didn’t realize what was happening, until I saw my brother’s wicked smile!

Please raise your mouse if you can relate. Sometimes, your brain just goes on auto drive. So this time around, I headed towards the true passengers’ side. I had learned my lesson in 2004!

On our way home, my brother-in-law, who came to pick me up from the airport slid a question to me: What tells that one has finally landed in Dar?

I had decided to enjoy my trip this time around. I learned that opening a critical eye all the time could spoil even moments that should be savored. But here I was, being asked to compare and contrast between my daily experiences in Columbus to that in Dar-es-Salaam. To keep the conversation going, I had to give my response.

Apart from the heat wave, Dar provided me with a sense of chaos. I don’t remember the last time I heard random honking in Columbus. Probably, I never will. Not only that, but there are subtle cultural differences that speaks a loud welcoming language. One of them is the recognition of personal space. While it is a “crime” to crowd another individual in Columbus, it isn’t so in Dar-es-Salaam. It is OK to breathe on the other person’s neck while standing in line for the immigration check-out. Did I also mention those askaris walking aimlessly at the airport with sticks or clubs?

Another cultural difference is a sense of casualness from “professionals”. I was amazed at how the immigration officers acted as if the passengers, and even they, had all day. I can never imagine any office in the States (even government offices in the States which are notorious for laxity) that could to the extent you see in Bongoland.

I don’t know what my brother-in-law thought of my comments, but I had to be honest. But again, this is a guy who got his first degree in Australia and his graduate degree in Sweden. I guess he had forgotten the difference between those countries and Bongoland after assimilation!

For me, there were mixed feelings once I stepped into the Dar open air. There was a sense of freedom and belongingness. On the other hand, there was a feeling of strangeness. I felt belonging because I was among people who truly know me. There was sense of pride, as I just landed in the very country that gave birth to me. On the other hand, anxiety crept in. I knew I was getting out of my daily routine I was used to in Columbus. I mean, as strange as it could sound, it is an adjustment going to the bathroom squatting as opposed to sitting and reading a magazine. It is an adjustment showering using a bucket as opposed to a shower!

On the way, we stopped at a “super market”. I know some people hate free-market economy in Tanzania (I couldn’t blame them, as bad implementation of a good idea typically results in a resented outcome). Nevertheless, the existence of a “super market” in Mtoni Kijichi, as opposed to “affluent” places like Oyster Bay speaks volume of the positives that free-market economy has come with. Obviously, I am ignoring the fact that the majority of the goods in this wonderful store are not made in Tanzania (we could talk about this some other time).
Of the things that I didn’t like about Dar-es-Salaam, traffic jams tops the list. For those in the Diaspora, try to imagine going less than 10 miles in 2 hours. I am not kidding, less than 10 miles in 2 hours. Yep.

This is not to make a comparison between my experience in the West to that in Dar (though I have no point of reference other than the West, really), but it is more for my fellow Tanzanians. I was sitting in this super slow traffic, I couldn’t help but wonder: What about a business person in Mbagala who relies on commuting to and from downtown? How many trips can they make in a day? The saddest part is that even employed folks get up at 5:00am just to make it work at 7:30am or 8:00am!

The worst part is that having your car or boarding a daladala does not make any difference. It is not a surprise, then, that many people opt for walking. I was amazed at a long line of pedestrians climbing the Mtoni Mtongani “hill”. I later learned that pedestrians actually beat cars in short distances.

As I sit in the ride home and mesmerizing at my first few hours in Dar, I just couldn’t help but let my mind do the wondering: Was I ready to enjoy the City where pedestrians go faster than cars?

Despite of all things I still had to discover, I knew one thing for sure: I was so craving for organic chicken or beef barbecue. Nyama choma anyone? Ain’t anything better than a really good nyama choma and a cold Coke (Sorry Jeff Msangi, I don’t drink that hard stuff).

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bongo Series: On My Way Home

Going back home is always nerve wrecking. It could be because it breaks ones daily routine. For me, I was probably anxious because of all the things I had to do and places to go. But above all, I think the main reason for my anxiety was that I was equally excited.

The flight to Tanzania, from New York to Dubai was uneventful. Obviously, just boarding the plane - particularly the Emirates flight that I took, brings the reality of stepping into a different place. That is due to the fact that the majority of the passengers weren’t Caucasian, but mainly of Asian descent.

It was refreshing to see a few (I mean a few) of my fellow Bongolanders and Kenyans on the same flight. Nonetheless, I was turned off by the fact that some of them were acting as if they are 110% African-Americans. That really gets to me. It amazes me how a fellow Tanzania can meet you in the USA and look at you as if you aren’t here.

I mean, aren’t we have access to the same JC Penney, Macy’s, Marshalls and Wal-Mart? So why would one think that wearing buggy jeans and Nike sneakers make them any better or special? Could it be that the reason I don’t dress hip-hop is because of a personal choice and not otherwise?

In a nutshell, I saw a couple of those Tanzanian “kids” in the plane.

So let’s get to Dubai…

Nothing special happened there, except for plenty of airport workers who actually speak fluent Swahili.

Landing in Dar….

Nothing brings the reality of being home like landing at JNIA. For one, the whole idea of an international airport disappears. Though JNIA is all we have, it certainly feels like landing at an air field, especially if you have been through some true international airports.

It is not like this was my first trip home, but as I was checking out through immigration; I couldn’t help but notice a heavy stench coming from the toilets nearby. I know the answer already, but let me just ask this rhetoric question, why would one place stinking toilets close the immigration checkpoint?

After grabbing my bags, I headed to the customs area. I was actually impressed that no one asked me for a bribe! Honestly, one the things I expected were for someone to actually give me stupid runarounds for my few things. I was prepared to be patient though.

As I was about to hit the heat wave outside to meet my relatives after smoothly going through customs, a TRA guy stopped me. Amazingly, the guy asked for my passport. I had already gone through immigration and customs, so I was eagerly waiting to hear the reason for a tax guy to ask for my passport. Guess what the guy asked me? He wanted to know where my old passport was (as I used the new Tanzanian passports) and where I renewed my passport. I almost laughed.

Instead of being dramatic (as my relatives where eagerly looking and waiting for me), I calmly told the guy that I renewed my passport at the Tanzanian embassy in Washington, DC. As to where my old passport was, I kindly told him that it was somewhere in my luggage. But then I smoothly asked the guy to read my current passport carefully, I specifically drew his attention to the part where it reads that my passport was still valid for the next eight years!

If I were the old, unwise me, I could have slapped the guy. For one, I had already gone through immigration and customs, which means as a tax guy he had nothing to ask. Secondly, I had no time for senseless questions.

I didn’t ask the guy what he wanted, but I presumed he was looking for a loophole to pierce a hole in my wallet. I stepped out on the warm Dar-es-Salaam air to kiss and hug my loved ones; I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these senseless incidences my fellow Tanzanians go through on a daily basis.

And can you believe that the driver actually drove on the “wrong” side of the road going home?