Sunday, October 23, 2011

On Internet prices in Tanzania

A friend on Facebook just shared this article on Tanzanian internet prices and I wanted to re-share it here (Thanks, Pernille!). The pre-text is the SEACOM project which has linked the Eastern Coast of Africa to a global fibre optic network.

According to the article, the first problem is that "ISPs operating outside of Dar es Salaam still have a transmission problem", while some ISPs and mobile servicer operators in Dar-es-Salaam have been able to drop prices for their customers and increase speeds.

The second problem is that one of the oldest main telephone service operators, TTCL, has top rights over the fibe optic backbone: "The government has given one company [TTCL] a monopoly power, which that company is using to monopolize the bandwidth transmission market, keeping Tanzanian citizens from enjoying the African bandwidth bonanza."

Read the full article here on ICT Works.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Revamping development

There has been a lot of theory since the 1940s about development. Considering the theory, and the emergence of media and communication technologies, I think teachers - especially those teaching early childhood - are in positions of incredible change-making power.

More on this later.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Falsehood or consciousness?

According to the theory of false consciousness, deception is at work in almost every aspect of our daily lives.

My question is what came first: The falsehood, or the consciousness to recognize falsehood?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sun and water

Dar-es-Salaam and Stone Town, Summer 2011.

Friday, October 14, 2011

GDP doesn't indicate measure happiness

The New York Times

Redefining the Meaning of No. 1
Published: October 8, 2011

David J. Rothkopf is the author of the forthcoming “Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government — and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead.”

HERE in America, we seem to be more interested in finishing first than we are in figuring out what race we ought to be in.

The refrain is insistent, from President Obama on down. He, like others in both parties, urges us on — to build or educate or invest or cut the deficit — so that “America can be No. 1 again.”

We want to be No. 1 — but why, and at what?

The size of our economy is one measure of success, but it’s not the only measure.

Isn’t the important question not how we remain No. 1 but rather, what we want to be best at — and even, whether we want to lead at all?

But we are Americans and we seem to think the rest of the world looks best when framed in our rear-view mirror.

We outstrip the world by many measures but lag, sometimes shockingly, in many others. The metrics by which we choose to measure our success determine our priorities. Yet, some of the metrics we rate as most important, like G.D.P., stock indices or trade data, are so deeply flawed as to be irrelevant or worse, dangerous distractions. And at the same time, countries that could hardly hope to outperform the world in any category are far ahead of us when it comes to things that matter more to people. Choosing metrics to measure our society is not a value-free process. As a country we have consistently relied on indicators that keep us focused on the interests of business, financial institutions or the defense industry whereas equity, quality of life and even social mobility metrics are played down.

Calculating national income is a relatively new concept. Previously, countries measured their economic well-being by tallying land holdings or counting railroad boxcars. But in the midst of the Great Depression, Congress, showing a great deal more intellectual curiosity than it does today, commissioned a group of economists led by a future Nobel Prize winner named Simon Kuznets to better measure economic activity.

Although Kuznets and his team fulfilled their mission, they released their results with considerable unease. Not only were they aware that the statistic they devised ignored many types of economic activity — from the work of housewives to illegal enterprises — they also knew their number did not assess the social benefits of what they were tracking.

Kuznets warned of this: “The welfare of a nation can, therefore, scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income” like the one they created. That hasn’t stopped us from making this misleading number perhaps the most influential statistic in the world.

Americans use G.D.P. in discussions about how well we are doing. It’s at the heart of discussions of whether we are in a recession or not, ahead or falling behind.

Yet, when China “passes” us, it will remain for the most part a very poor country racked with social problems. And as we have seen, though the past decade was marked mostly by United States “growth,” recent Census data shows that since 1999, median American incomes have fallen more than 7 percent while the top 1 percent showed gains. Almost one in four American children live in poverty. We have a high level of unemployment compared to many of our peers.

THE G.D.P. number is not the only culprit, of course. Listening to the news, you might be forgiven if you thought that stock market performance was linked to reality. But markets are oceans of teeming emotions that make the average hormone-infused high school look calmly rational, and much of the “data” that moves markets is just bunk. Trade deficit numbers may be scary but they are also frighteningly flawed, doing a terrible job of accounting for trade in services, trade via the Internet, and inter-company trade, to pick just three among many problem areas.

Worse than the shortcomings of these statistics are the consequences of our over-dependence on them as measures of the success of our society. A country, for example, that overemphasizes G.D.P. growth and market performance is likely to focus policies on the big drivers of those — corporations and financial institutions — even when, as during the recent past, there has been little correlation between the performance of big businesses or elites and that of most people.

Furthermore, of course, the purpose of a society is not merely the creation of wealth, especially if most of it goes to the few. Even John Locke, who famously enumerated our fundamental rights as being to life, liberty and property, qualified this by asserting that people should appropriate only what they could use, leaving “enough and as good” for others. Thomas Jefferson later consciously replaced the right to property with a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And happiness has become the watchword for those seeking different measures that might better guide governments.

According to the economist Carol Graham, the author of a recent book called “The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being,” “happiness is, in the end, a much more complicated concept than income. Yet it is also a laudable and much more ambitious policy objective.” While she notes distinctions between approaches to happiness — with some societies more focused on goals like contentment and others on the creation of equal opportunities — she joins a growing chorus of leading thinkers who suggest the time has come to rethink how we measure our performance and how we set our goals.
Related in Opinion

David Leonhardt: The Depression, if Only Things Were That Good (October 9, 2011)

Susan Gregory Thomas: Back to the Land, Reluctantly (October 9, 2011)

This diverse group has included thinkers and public figures like President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who established a commission in 2008 to address the issue that was co-led by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz; the Columbia economist Jeffrey D. Sachs; the British prime minister, David Cameron; and the trail-blazing people of Bhutan, who since 1972 have set a goal of raising their gross national happiness.

Dr. Graham admits that it’s a challenge to set criteria for measuring happiness. However, in a conversation, she told me she did not see it as an insurmountable one: “It doesn’t have to be perfect; after all, it took us decades to agree upon what to include in G.D.P. and it is still far from a perfect metric.”

But for Americans, beyond choosing the right goals, there remains the issue of being No. 1. Many of us have lived our lives in a country that has thought itself the world’s most powerful and successful. But with the United States economy in a frustrating stall as China rises, it seems that period is coming to an end. We are suffering a national identity crisis, and politicians are competing with one another to win favor by assuring a return to old familiar ways.

This approach, too, is problematic. We, as a developed nation, are unlikely to grow at the rapid pace of emerging powers (the United States is currently ranked 127th in real G.D.P. growth rate). Europe and Japan, too, are grappling with the realities of being maturing societies.

But maturing societies can offer many benefits to their citizens that are unavailable to most in the rapidly growing world — the products of rich educational and cultural resources, capable institutions, stability and prosperity.

AS a consequence, countries that at different times in history were among the world’s great powers, such as Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Britain and Germany, have gradually shifted their sights, either in the wake of defeat or after protracted periods of grappling with decline, from winning the great power sweepstakes to topping lists of nations offering the best quality of life.

When Newsweek ranked the “world’s best countries” based on measures of health, education and politics, the United States ranked 11th. In the 2011 Quality of Life Index by Nation Ranking, the United States was 31st. Similarly, in recent rankings of the world’s most livable cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit has the top American entry at No. 29, Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey has the first United States entry at No. 31 and Monocle magazine showed only 3 United States cities in the top 25.

On each of these lists, the top performers were heavily concentrated in Northern Europe, Australia and Canada with strong showings in East Asian countries from Japan to Singapore. It is no accident that there is a heavy overlap between the top performing countries and those that also outperform the United States in terms of educational performance — acknowledging, of course, the mistake it would be to overemphasize any one factor in contributing to something as complex as overall quality of life. Nearly all the world’s quality-of-life leaders are also countries that spend more on infrastructure than the United States does. In addition, almost all are more environmentally conscious and offer more comprehensive social safety nets and national health care to their citizens.

That virtually all of the top performers place a much greater emphasis on government’s role in ensuring social well-being is also undeniable. But the politics of such distinctions aside, the focus of those governments on social outcomes — on policies that enhance contentment and security as well as enriching both human capabilities and opportunities — may be seen as yet another sign of maturity.

It is also worth noting that providing the basics to ensure a high quality of life is not a formula for excess or the kind of economic calamities befalling parts of Europe today. For example, many of the countries that top quality-of-life lists, like Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway, all rank high in lists of fiscally responsible nations — well ahead of the United States, which ranks 28th on the Sovereign Fiscal Responsibility Index.

What these societies have in common is that rather than striving to be the biggest they instead aspire to be constantly better. Which, in the end, offers an important antidote to both the rhetoric of decline and mindless boosterism: the recognition that whether we are falling behind or achieving new heights is greatly determined both by what goals we set and how we measure our performance.

(Thanks Rakesh!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On Liberia's presidency

I found this article on the WSJ yesterday. The reason I found it interesting was because it juxtaposed the incumbent president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who is Africa's first female president and former World Bank economist, with George Weah, a former national football star still very popular among the youth.

Roosevelt Tule, a political science professor from Liberia's capital mentioned:"The Nobel Peace Prize is not quite known in Liberia, except among academia... What Liberians expect is basically food on the table."

In the last election, Weah was scrutinized because of his lack of higher education. Since then, Weah went back to school and returns as a candidate for Vice President.

Do our systems of "open governance" account for open opportunity? Or do they claim to mimick systems of open opportunity but only provide opportunity to those with the loudest voice?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Five questions with Amil Shivji

Posted on Vijana FM | 30th September 2011

Amil Shivji is currently a 21-year-old Filmmaking student at York University in Canada. As a native of Tanzania, Amil has plans to work with film in East Africa, particularly with films that contain conscious messages. We caught up with him to ask him about his ideas and recommendations...

1. Compared to newspapers and radio, what is about films that interests you?
Motion. The movement of images invokes a billion different emotions and allows varied perceptions. And at the same time a frame carries the power of a newspaper and the sound of a radio station. Juxtaposition of shots or certain image sequences tell an entire story and the best part is that it’s very personal. When I watch a film, I feel like I am having a conversation with the filmmaker. The shots are fragments of his/her visualization of the story and I am offered an insight into the filmmaker’s imagination. As opposed to newspaper and radio where I would be reading words or hearing sounds, film is less straightforward. But don’t get me wrong, I still think other mediums have very important roles to play in the media industry. Since primary school, writing was always something I enjoyed doing, from poetry to short stories. I interned at a local newspaper during Secondary school and really enjoyed the journalistic experience, however I always wished my readers could SEE what I was writing because the images played out so beautifully in my mind and I felt I was not doing justice to them but trying to write them out. Images let you do that! Films offer people the chance to relate to the stories displayed on the screen and for the first time ‘watch’ their lives. As Lenin said ‘of all the arts, cinema is the most important’ because it allows you to overtly see and question the mechanics of society that are displayed on screen.

2. When we talked informally back in Dar-es-Salaam last summer, you were interested in continuing your work in film in Tanzania in the long-term. What kind of films are you interested in making in Tanzania?
Good films! My interest in filmmaking was the lovechild of media and activism. In our country (and continent) it is impossible to continue with your daily activities and not witness the extreme social and economic divisions unless you consciously choose to. Film gives the pathway for change. The same role that other media forms play in disseminating information/news, film does it except with so much more attention, thus allowing infinite possibilities in story telling. The stories I would like to tell are about the flaws and inequalities in our society and the necessity for change. A lot of people have told me I should be making documentaries, which I have done in the past and will definitely take up in the future, but I believe fictional films can play the same if not an even a more powerful role. Encapsulating the audience in 90 minutes of what they see everyday but do not stop to think why it is so. Fictional films allow us to see where 74 year old Mzee Mgeni goes after he has finished selling karanga on the side of the street, allows us to hear the conversations on all three buses he takes to get home and most importantly it allows us to get an insight into Mzee Mgeni’s world and why he has to struggle harder than the hundreds of customers who come and buy karanga from him every night.

3. Considering that it has become really easy to publish videos on the Internet, do you think this will help or hinder professional film makers such as yourself?
Help of course. Distribution is the biggest factor when it comes to filmmaking in Africa. There are extremely few distributors in the entire continent. That’s why many good African films end up playing at Cannes Film Festival or Sundance Film Festival while no one in Africa will actually see them. Now local filmmakers can upload their work online via YouTube or Vimeo and it can be easily accessed by many people. I do put my work up online and love the feedback I get from fellow Africans that would not have been possible if I just sent it to some festival in the West. African films have to be watched by Africans themselves, putting up films online won’t solve the problem but will definitely allow more people in the continent to access them.

4. Are there any particular films you would recommend?

There are lots of films I would recommend. An amazing African film that everyone must see is ‘Bamako’, recently we had a screening at UDSM and there was not one seat left empty! It’s a wonderful Malian film that puts the WB and IMF on trial in the backyard of a local resident’s home in Bamako. Generally I love films from the 60s especially Cuban films and the films that came out of Italian neorealist movement in the 40s. These films addressed the social reality post WWII and the disintegration of society due to war and greed. The list could go on, the important factor is films that address social reality, make a comment on it and call for change!

5. In comparison to our neighbors whose citizens have begun projects like Kuweni Serious, what would you suggest to other young aspiring film makers in Tanzania?
Be honest to our culture and life. We have to tell our own stories and not try and adapt Hollywood/Bollywood stories in Kiswahili. The strongest part of a film is its story and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a 25,000 dollar camera and a 100-man crew. It’s about what you want to say in your film. I have seen great films shot on cell phones. For our purposes, the revolutionary message that the film carries is the most important aspect, through this we can develop cinematic technique based on the film concept. For example, Ousmane Sembene the father of African filmmaking, would break all the technical film ‘rules’ in his films that addressed neo-colonialism and imperialist influence on Africa. He did this to challenge the idea of western filmmaking as ‘good filmmaking’. His films such as Black girl (1966) or Xala (1975), are highly acclaimed all over the world.

Though we will probably be seeing him soon, Vijana FM thanks Amil for his time and responses! His current projects can be found on his YouTube channel. You can contact Amil on amil_shivji (at) hotmail (dot) com.