Wednesday, 13 July 2011

No Explosive Change, Please, This is Tanzania, Bwana

Nairobi — After Tanesco subjected large swathes of Dar es Salaam to power cuts lasting anywhere from 48 to 72 hours a couple of weeks ago, rumours emerged of a protest march. Because there wasn't any real organisation behind the march, the day it was planned for came and went. Things fizzled out quietly.

These days, the most intense dialogue about the power crisis is found on Twitter feeds where people can get quite creative about insulting Tanesco and the government for ruining their day. In other words, business as usual in Dar-es-Salaam.

Every so often I stumble onto a massive debate about governance and whether Tanzania can consider itself a true democracy, or even a multiparty democracy for that matter. Sceptics tend to say that Tanzania doesn't qualify as a multiparty democracy, or even as a democracy for that matter, because we are still being ruled by the same party that came into power after independence. I hear time and time again that in order for Tanzania to really become democratic we have to witness a change in the political party in power.


More and more lately, the idea seems to be that this change should come about explosively. On the one side are the opposition parties that are pushing harder and harder for a chance to govern. On the other side are the masses of us who are frustrated and can't imagine change coming from within the system we are saddled with, so we call for radical change.

In these circumstances, arguing against the idea of explosive change seems like a fool's errand at best. At worst, you come across as an apologist for the state and for the party in power. But this is Tanzania, bwana. We march to the beat of a drummer only we seem to hear. For the past five or so years, the calls for "change" have been accelerating as we are continually impressed with how dismal our situation is by the opposition parties and other concerned friends of development. To be sure, they are right -- there are real and terrible consequences to our surprisingly ineffectual government. The difficult admission is that we have chosen this system mostly because it "works" for us.

It seems we are ambivalent patriots. In the build-up to the last election, I was surprised by how much voter apathy emerged in general, but particularly in the Blackberry class. Being Tanzanian, we are experts and very eloquent about what is wrong with the country, not to mention all of the things that we would do exactly right if we were actually in charge. However, actually voting is still seen as a futile exercise and a waste of time. Instead the ideal solution centres around putting an opposition party in power, or finding a benevolent despot who will guide us with a firm and steady hand into the bright and shining future.

This is a measure of how good we have it -- we think that we can afford our complacency. Tanzanians know that we don't have to take to the streets in order to effect change. We can and regularly do talk ourselves into it, however incremental it is.Multiparty politics have done us a world of good in the past decade: The political competition in Bunge is starting to weed out the weak, Zanzibar is coming along quietly as an experiment in power-sharing. We need not fear that Jay Kay will do anything ridiculous to try to stay in power indefinitely, like pretending not to know how old he really is. We can afford to anticipate a change in administration, and we can afford to let complaint be our main method of political action. But we shouldn't end there.

Since we are so full of latent opportunities and we can afford to do things the easy way, why don't we? It doesn't take that much effort to go from disparaging Tanesco on social media, to checking up on your MP's performance. We can afford to ignore those political parties that are trying to play a game of brinkmanship with the government since all they will do is drag us backwards into low-grade civil strife. We can afford to skip merrily past the potential benevolent despots who are waving at us from the sidelines, hoping we'll succumb to their reasoned arguments and their charm.

We can even get away with ignoring those who want a party change in the next three years because let's just admit it: This isn't a simple matter of picking between republicans and democrats the way that more mature democracies tweak policies around the edges while leaving their systems stable. If we're not even capable of getting ourselves organised around a national interest -- like unacceptable power rationing policies -- then perhaps we should simply embrace what we can do well. Such as talk and think and vote our way, mostly through parliament, into a better government. We're all informed dissenters, we can get somewhere on the strength of that.


East African

1 comment:

Kibogoji said...

No corners bra!!! I like it. Its tough to say "what Tanzania is or not" definitely.

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