November 22, 2011

Seven things that are going wrong in Tanzania

Compared to its history and its future Tanzania is going through a critical phase. Not only because it clocks 50 years since independence. Events that take place now speak of a nation in transition. Citizens are shedding an old mantra of investing total trust on their leaders. In the past Tanzania chorused shamelessly, “long live wisdom of the chairman of the party’ Now, they are questioning the establishment. From this ‘renaissance’ stage I wish they build capacity to put in place reliable systems and have control over them.
Not that leaders are less important now. However, when system comes ahead of charismatic personality stability and continuity is more likely. Charismatic leaders are unlikely in the near future, therefore systems are more important.  But, are leaders and the incumbent equipped to put those systems in place.
This perspective, leads me to argue that miscalculations by current leaders may breed chaos: if leaders of political, social and economic systems will miss opportunities; communicators and executors of policy miscommunicates information and knowledge.I sense seven alerts that are not necessarily new to Tanzania. I will relate them with my doomsday prophecy.
1.   People voice out  to demand their rights, leaders giving hollow promises
Today, Tanzanians identify themselves lesser as people of particular historical ancestry and more as people of similar interests. They organize around a course as businessmen, teachers, farmers, hunters and gatherers, youths, disabled, university students, the list goes on. They demand their rights in those organizations. Recently, I heard over the news an organization that was unlikely ten years ago. A cashew nuts farmers’ forum in Mtwara. Their course—demanding government act to secure them reliable markets for their crop. A government directive has suspended several private companies that allegedly shortchanged farmers. Initially farmers applauded the decision, but nearly a year has passed by with no replacement of disqualified buyers!
Teachers union’s pressure to the government is not new. And now a loosely but very militant pressure group of wamachinga has made a reputation for itself—securing a five story business building in Dar es Salaam and having its way against the will of town councils in Mwanza and Mbeya.
2.   Poor communication of process toward new constitution in a networked, enlightened Tanzania
It is easy to steer people who are ignorant about their rights and fulfill one’s ends. It is not equally easy to exploit people who know everything that you know. Tanzanians today are better enlightened than their grandfathers 50 years ago. Why?
They have more than 20 newspapers available for them to choose which one to read, more than 20 TV stations to flip around and nearly 50 radio stations to tune to. On top of that 5% of the 38millions (who knows the exact statistics here?) have access to the internet’s wealth of information. From these multiple sources of information and platforms to interact, they compare and contrast their situation and that of counterpart on the globe. They choose in the world. On top of that they mimic.
Hearsay does not wait for legs to bring the mouth to the next pair of ears. Rumor and fact spreads thousands of kilometers by mere clicking of a few keys on mobile phones. And that costs increasingly lesser. As a result, many are restlessly seeking for more and new information. They quickly choose sides and equally fast switch positions. Through interactions they perfect their arguments and copy others. In turn they impart  them to their uninformed peers. Through this ecosystem of exchanging information citizens have built interest to the ongoing process to write a new constitution.
Unfortunately, the government never attempted hard enough to use the same ecosystem to reach out with proper message to communicate the methodology to re-write the constitution. Doubt now rules. And is communicated fast and without a strong counter argument to provide assurance. This phenomenon of miscommunication on the part of the government may be intentional or consequent to lack of valid arguments to counter substantive doubts raised and well communicated. A vacuum exists and that is not good.
3.   Un attended students’ boycotts
These may look simple juvenile actions by bored students, but they are not. Unlike machingas, farmers and teachers who have already got their niche in society, students are still dreaming to become somebody in the society. Boycotts and actions, prompted by inadequacies also lay a precedent for their future. One day they will graduate from college and become disgruntled citizens. If they grow up mistrusting leadership what will leadership do to gain the lost trust. For one thing disgruntled citizens make vibrant activists, which is good. 3000 activists graduating into the wide world annually is a good too, in my opinion. But, what about 3000 disgruntled citizens graduating every year to fight for jobs in world tinged with nepotism and corruption? Remember they have saved unresolved issues with the establishment since college days!
4.   Serving new wine in old utensils
In Tanzania, there are still laws and procedures that work against a liberal system that we are supposedly building. Some laws have changed. But law does rarely change organizational cultures and work ethics. Organizational culture and work ethics of critical departments like the police force and district security committee still embrace display socialist and one party state orientation. Most quarrels between police and organized citizens emanates from one part advocating their ideals about liberalism against organs of the state that require observance of restrictive rules. It is for good reasons public rallies should be carefully organized and security ascertained but the line between unlawful gatherings and a collection of like-minded citizens is difficult to define. Unless must be clarified bloody scenes in Arusha are likely be replicated in other cities. Only labels could be different. Opposition vs Police. Police vs machinga, evictee vs police and many more.  A common strand in these face offs is interest groups alleging that security organs favor interest groups that align themselves with the incumbent.
5.   Leaders, representatives, activists arrogantly ‘(un)knowing’ popular needs
I wish there was reliable polling institution in Tanzania which can tell us scientifically what and who is most popular in our society. If that was there, nobody would have dared go on stage and claimed to speak on behalf of us, when actually they present their own day dreams. Instead they would have read the poll statistics and supported their arguments with data. But we live in a country of 50 years and only five censuses.
We live in a historical phase in the world when media is not whole trustworthy. Building an opinion based on media feed alone may prove futile.  It is in Tanzania where someone may wake up in the morning and profess to speak on behalf of farmers. Another one comes and arrogantly says they talk on behalf of women and children. Few of them really know the concerns of the constituents they claim to present. Cast this scene in politics and a tumor gets cancerous. Government addresses needs of people because; supposedly it knows what their needs are. NGOs speak on behalf of children because it knows their plight. Member of Parliament speak for citizens because ‘that is what my voters need.’ Things border on comedy when two ‘representative’ present opposing views while both claim to speak on behalf of the same constituent. If we embraced research, worked hard on it, we would not have leaders, activists and parliamentarians exchanging blows over who speaks the real needs of the people. Instead they would debate solutions.
6.   Political rhetoric replacing professional perfection and discipline
What is not politics in Tanzania? Education? Health? Or Soccer? Which sector or industry in this country can claim noninterference from politically motivated decisions?   When will the politician stop standing over the shoulders of the technocrat? Yes, political willingness is important to inspire vibrancy towards concrete accomplishments, but where is the line.
Should doctors wait for politicians to tell them the right diagnosis? I laughed quietly when I heard a committee of parliamentarians tasking the minister of finance (their fellow MP) to explain the falling value of the shilling. What has he had to do with low productivity in the economy whose farmers cannot sell their own produce from one district to another without obtaining a permit from an absent district official. What will the Central Bank Governor do to uplift the shilling in the economy that closes down factories (for lack of reliable electricity), then has its trade minister announce an arbitrary (political) ceiling on the price of commodities. You will know your lunch is politicized when presidential and ministerial commissions are set up to deal with professional misconducts and disorders whose penalties are explicit in corporate and organizational policy books.

7.   Few things, including bribe, are predictable
Corruption is one of the sectors that is vibrant, predictable and oils glamorous lifestyles incompatible to official incomes of government employees and businesses while chocking out anyone who dares question the establishment. Sorry to say, but I believe that if education or, say electricity, was as predictable as corruption, this society would be wallowing in success and splendor. Chances of unofficial fringe income determine graduates’ choices of jobs and transfers for long term salaries workers. Punishment transfers to ‘dry spots or desks’ is an integral part of corporate politics. Bribe, which should have deservedly been a taboo, is actually a hinge of hope to lowly paid workers at some registry. Corruption, I repeat, is one of the most predictable industries, breeding relationships and giving employment to unscrupulous middlemen who traverse corporate and civil office corridors and push paperwork on fast track if one if ready to pay for ‘unofficial premier service’ to obtain a provision given by a department. The posters on the entrance to some of prominently corrupt offices announces: This is a corruption free zone. Talk of fatal sarcasm!
Bribe is payment that many Tanzanians feel obliged to give, even without being asked to. They will give it in kind, but often in cash, before or after a service is rendered. It is so ingrained that have-nots blame themselves for lacking the means and have-lots feel blessed to show their gratitude. Worse, people who are denied of their rights because they lack ‘bakshishi’ do not complain! I can only prophecy doom to my own people if this trend holds. Finally, here is the magic wand:

Prevention is better even when there is no cure
Even the deadliest cancer may offer its victim handful moments of relief and appreciate the difference between current pain and previous normal life before they succumb. At least, the doctor will say, “I am sorry we tried all that we could, but,...”.However, if you pushed them to tell you their optimism probably most would say, …if the patient was brought earlier, he/her life would have been saved.” Now that is hope.

None of the doomsday alerts I mentioned above have reached irreversible momentums. Bribe and corruption can be gradually tamed by the very people who give and receive. Unless our society defined corruption and worked to develop a culture that disqualifies, our society will exist as pure jungle where only fittest feeds on the defenseless.
We do not need expatriates to develop professional discipline and exclude politics from professionalism. If a ministerial director is sleeps on the job should they be disciplined through policy or politics—after six months of consultations?

The constitution and the 50 year independence backdrop provides just the right opportunity to create a platform for building a new work ethic from the top office to the lowest in all the three pillars of the state. The cancer patient is in hospital on time!
Unfortunately, the diagnosis has begun wrongly. Not too late though. But somebody got to their job right because there is not going to be many second chances. Unfortunately Much has been said about what has (or might) go wrong about the process. I see one common dominator—miscommunications.  People must say, the establishment must hear, the establishment must say and make sure citizens have heard. Otherwise, everything is going to be lost in translation.

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