Sunday, July 29, 2012

Serving up the fix

Originally published on Vijana FM | 22nd July 2012

On a recent album release by Nas called Life is Good, Anthony Hamilton sings “The world is an addiction / serving up a fix”. The track goes on to discuss the dangers of selling out in pursuit of irrational dreams; indeed, “you gain your life just to lose your soul”.

Sometimes I wonder if Tanzania is losing her soul. Perhaps – as time passes – it is me growing more conscious, or media becoming more pervasive to drama. But it seems like this country is chasing grandeur that is alien to her history and at odds with what she needs today.

Her history and her needs; what do these mean? For the purpose of this post, I am pointing to Tanzania’s historical pursuit to be an independent nation-state, free of international dues and reliance on help. I am also referring to her current state of affairs, mainly consisting of an inefficient system of education coupled with an unbalanced system of trade.

There are a few examples which seem to show that Tanzania is not independent at all and is ignoring her own real needs. I will highlight five here.

1. Defense and policing
Under the pretense of training, the Tanzania People’s Defense Force (TPDF) is taking lessons from foreign interests. It is great to exchange strategy and know-how (TPDF has trained African National Congress and Congolese armies in the past), but knowledge should also be customized to local needs.  Yet, the TPDF hardly has its own website, and most of its news flows through AFRICOM and Wikipedia pages. Do we not have our own platforms from which the Tanzanian people can learn and engage with their own defense apparatus? As for civil policing, it is getting eery. A recent op-ed raised alarming questions about the fluctuating loyalty of our police forces. The op-ed was prompted by selective actions pursued by officers during the recent doctors strike, many actions of which people find difficult to trust.

2. Mining
The security and environmental policies around Geita and North Mara mines have mirrored the selective action by civil police forces. Directives appear to come from high-level authorities, far removed from the interests of ordinary citizens. There have been numerous stories about the irony of Geita’s awkwardly benevolent slogans and North Mara’s shooting of “trespassers”. Yet, to the rest of the world, what matters is the “efficient” allocation of resources such that share prices increase; and it appears Tanzania wants to satisfy this allocation. Uh, which Tanzania do we mean here? The ordinary citizens’ Tanzania, or the rest of the world’s Tanzania? Are these the same?

3. Agriculture
You might be thinking “Well, of course, a country belongs to its citizens!”. Sure, I would like to believe that. But even for Tanzania’s state of agriculture, it is not so easy to tell. In the 1970s, Tanzania provided land to refugees who escaped war and genocide in Burundi. A few years ago, this land was agreed to be used by a US-based company to advance Tanzania-based Kilimo Kwanza initiatives. The agreement was reached by multiple parties, and arrangements had been made to relocate the refugees who had settled in this land over the years. Whether this has been done in the interest of farmers, the refugees and/or Tanzania is still not clear, but this lack of clarity is glaring proof that the agreement was simply not reached in consultation with citizens. What is strange is that this year citizens of Iowa, a state in the US, meet their local authorities to discuss Tanzanian human rights (even though the reallocation of the refugees from Burundi had been planned sometime in 2011). What happened to us sitting down with our local authorities? What does this one case mean for Kilimo Kwanza as a whole?

4. Fishing, wildlife and tourism
The fix appears to be served beyond land, into the deep blue as well. Last year, Tanzania exported about $173 million worth of fish products. What was her revenue from these exports? About $3.7 million (less than 3%). A government website states that fisheries is a source of “employment, livelihood” to people and constitutes about 30% of protein intake in the population, but still we are trying to combat illegal leaks in the system (which begs the question, where is it all leaking to?). Meanwhile, back on firm land, some of Tanzania’s wildlife are being exported under the table, while she sets up large boundaries called “reserves” (some of the largest in the world) where animals are supposed to live freely so she can make a bit of change from tourism. It’s not like Tanzania does not make money from tourism – the numbers show potential – but who is benefiting?

5. Education
Mwalimu Nyerere once said “our education must counteract the temptation to intellectual-arrogance”. I interpret intellectual-arrogance to mean serving up the fix; being high on an illusion that is distant from reality. Previous reports about whether Tanzania is learning are sobering. But whether or not we choose to improve the state of education within this country, the knowledge the world has about her is distorted, and we seem to encourage it. Perhaps it is time Tanzania made room for more traditional ways of learning.

Whatever we decide to do, Nas sums it all up for everyone with a fix: “We all need faith cause the world keep changing / Let go of the illusion, start some restraining”. Tanzania was never founded on an illusion; rather she was borne from a liberating reality. But whether she sells this reality in pursuit of some quick relief at the expense of her own health or whether she stays grounded with her people is up to those who make the decisions for her.

This post was inspired by Solo Thang’s Miss Tanzania and Bahati’s UtandaRhymes series.

Selected links in this article:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Reaching out to remember

Sampling Nas feat. Mary J. Blige: Reach out....

[Verse 1 extracts]
When you’re too hood to be in them Hollywood circles
And you’re too rich to be in that hood that birthed you
And you become better than legends you thought were the greatest
And out grow women you love and thought you could stay with
Life become clearer when you wipe down your mirror
And leave notes around for yourself to remember...

...Nasty the nicest, I’m somewhat of a psychic
Just one minute after it’s heard
You all excited, you all repeat it
So call me a genius, if you didn’t
Now that I said it I force you to think it

[Chorus extract]
This kind of love is a once in a lifetime cruise
Reach out and touch the love that I have for you...
From Life is Good. Photo and lyrics credits go to KillerHiphop.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Information that is fed out needs feedback; that is, it needs to be fed right back with further information about whether the original stuff was relevant/useful/worthy. Otherwise there is no movement from the original source. And where there is no movement, how is change defined?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shortening experience

A friend of mine pointed out something tonight that has loosely been on my mind lately: We look at, hear and feel life through a lot of screens and even more interfaces today, and increasingly we seem to rely on these very screens and interfaces to give us the whole picture.

Doesn't this run the risk of shortening the experience of life itself? Is this even a risk at all? (Thanks, Ender.)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What's a hero without a villian?

Not so long ago, I listed several binary oppositions; the purpose was to remember them as having come up many times in my studies.

Here's one more: Heros and Villians. 

The other day at work (feels good to be back at home doing this thing called 'work') my coworkers were discussing the show Heros. It got me thinking about every hero I had come to admire in my life, from the fictional ones like Jerry, Liono and He-Man, to the real ones like Mother Theresa, Gandhi and Mandela. The list is pretty long, but what stood out is that these heros championed causes, fought obstacles and stood their ground... against other actors.

In the case of Jerry, his opponent was Tom. For Liono it was any ally of Mumra, while for He-Man it was any ally of Skeletor. In real life, Mother Theresa fought poverty; Gandhi and Mandela both made substantial moves against inequality and injustice.

Can there be hereos without villians? If so, what would justify their existence, knowledge, and identity?

Generalizing these questions to wider binary oppositions, can one exist (at least as an independent idea) without the other? If the answer is yes, then why do the opposites still exist as ideas? If the answer is no - that is, binary oppositions cannot exist without one another - then what implications does this have on everyday actions?