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.
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.
If anything, we should demand Mr. Kikwete and Dr. Kamala's blood.
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.
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.
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…
Photo Credit: Michuzi