mandag den 17. maj 2010


I came to Tanzania in order to right a wrong, fill in a gap, or replace one of the missing pieces of the development puzzle, if you will. I came because I have an expertise they desperately lack here (and almost everywhere else in Africa), driven by a strong sense of the closest you get to something sacred in my atheist world: The right of every human being, anywhere, to be enabled to improve his or her own life, to learn, to grow mentally and emotionally.

South African writer Rian Malan, in his excellent book ”My Traitor's Heart”, points out again and again that the casualties on the privileged side of social unrest is always the ”good people”: Doctors, nurses or social workers who take on the challenge of working in deprived environments, volunteers working on development projects, teachers who give up their cosy suburban lifestyles to bring education into the deepest, darkest corners of the social divide, scientists conducting research into alleviating the effects of the income-gap...

While I am not trying to argue that Tanzania is as unstable as South Africa was in the later half of the 20th century, or that I have sacrificed all my middleclass conveniences to teach math in a destitute environment, I still feel that I fall into the light end of the same category as those whites who lost their lives or were disabled in black violence while trying to counter the effects of the same Apartheid regime that the blacks thought they were fighting by indiscriminately attacking all non-black people they could get to, which sadly enough especially were those siding with the blacks, as most other whites wouldn’t dream of entering a township.

Neither am I trying to argue that this antagonism is a race thing, or an African thing. It is an income-gap thing. It exists in any country where the gap between rich and poor is so large the sense of being one people, of the same society, is lost to the obvious inequalities. No matter which colours are present on either side of the income-gap.

Like all do-gooders, I had naively thought that my good intentions were enough to protect me, to bring me at par with the locals. I had not anticipated that my white skin, which in Tanzania is associated with being rich (however right or wrong that assumption might be), would automatically mark me out as being on the “other side”, or that the resentment directed towards “the other side” would be as deep.

In South Africa, I met with one “black racist” in the clubhouse at the employee’s compound, a guy who literally told me to “fuck off back to Europe because Africa doesn’t need white people like you” and tried to make me leave the bar because of my inappropriate skin colour. At the time, I was living in a rather protected environment at the CSIR in Pretoria. I guess this matter is most easily demonstrated by the fact that the person who came to my help was the bartender, a dignified and delightful black man known as Johannes to whites and Masemula to blacks (part of the Apartheid oppression was disallowing blacks to have their own names, they were forced to take “white” names in order to get the passbooks all blacks had to carry). Masemula saw me, the white, as “one of us”. I was naively expecting to be met with the same attitude here in Tanzania.

Of course, it is not true that every black Tanzanian perceives me a an untouchable on the other side of the social divide. But it is the automatic response until I have proven myself in the sense that I am locally employed and earn a Tanzanian salary (+ a 50 % ex-pat allowance), pay taxes to the Tanzanian government and use the dala-dala (public mini-busses known as matatu’s in Kenya or taxi’s in South Africa) for transport. However, this isn’t even enough. Some Tanzanians feel contempt at my willingness to live like one of them and openly ridicule my stupidity in accepting such a low-paying job, and most of the rest of them just cannot understand that I do not have any other course of income.

It is a subtly hostile environment. The latest incident to prove this is that my cleaning lady stole my digital camera. Or if she didn’t steal it, she let in some third party who did. She comes to clean while I’m at work, so I have no idea what she’s actually doing when she’s in the house. This kind of incidents don’t just happen to whites, of course. It happens to anybody who’s perceived to have an advantage. And it alienates anybody who’s perceived to have an advantage.

I gave the cleaning lady a chance to return my camera. She didn’t, so I’ll have to report her to the police on Monday. One of my Tanzanian friends questioned her about it. She went into a long, passionate monologue that went something like this: “Oh, you’re black like me. You can understand me. This Mzungu is so difficult. She gives me such a hard time. I know her very well. She has so many friends. She likes to play around with many men. She drinks a lot… I’m sure one of her many friends who are in the house at all times took the camera.” Most of this is prejudice. Very common prejudice against white women, unfortunately.

Only 2 other people, 2 of my closest friends, have been in the house since the last time I used the camera, and they haven’t been alone, I’ve been with them at all times. I haven’t drunk any alcohol in the house since some time last year. I haven’t drunk any alcohol outside of the house more than 4 – 5 times this year. Most of my friends here are men, that is true, but most of them don’t enter the house. A lot of Tanzanians genuinely believe that men and women can’t be friends, which is why they perceive a woman with many male friends to be a woman who sleeps with many men.

What makes the environment so hostile is that it is impossible for friendship or genuine trust to grow across the gap between you and your domestic workers and guards or most other people you deal with in your everyday life, no matter if the gap is subjective or real, no matter if you’re a naïve idealist who has given up 80 % of her salary, reliable electricity and water supply, high quality free health services and a functioning administrative sector to fulfil a wish to contribute to the development and common good of their country. Every time you get a chance to catch a glimpse into the mind of your cleaning lady or your guard, what you see is resentment, envy, prejudice and a perception of you as something that belongs to a different world and to which an altogether different set of rules applies.

People like guards and cleaning ladies do not understand that I make a salary which is 14 – 15 times larger than theirs because I have a Master’s Degree in math. They honestly believe that I make this “huge” salary because I’m white. While I do not think that their salaries are fair, or reflect the actual value of their work, I do not think that it’s unfair that a person with a long tertiary education makes more money than a person with no education at all, either. However, a guard makes a salary so low that if he has to take 3 dala-dala’s to get to work (you pay Tsh 250 or around $0.2 each time you enter a dala-dala), his transport expenses make it impossible for him to afford having the job.

It’s election year this year and people rally for a higher minimum wage. Kikwete, the president, flew into a fit of rage on national television and told the rallying people that they were liars, that the state budget would crumble and disintegrate if their “unreasonable” demands were met, and that he didn’t need their votes anyway. His calculations were soon found out to be around 600 % off the real expense of increasing the minimum wage, of course. But how does he know that he doesn’t need people to vote for him to get re-elected? Well, the head of the national voting committee (responsible for counting the votes) is appointed by the CCM, his party…

While I was living in South Africa, many of my white friends held that blacks were whiners and wanted everything handed to them without having to work for it. My white friends were more well off, it’s true, but they were working very hard for it. At the time, I felt that I was listening to some left-over Apartheid propaganda coming from otherwise quite reasonable people, but I’m not so sure any more.

I’m not saying that black Africans are intrinsically lazy or uncritically demanding to have everything handed to them without wanting to contribute, but they’re living in conditions in which it is very hard to grow a sense of self-efficacy because you simply do not have that much of a chance to effect a change for the better in your own life. Illiteracy rates are high as a consequence of being unable to pay school fees, uniforms and leave your children’s potential labour and income-generating abilities un-used so that they can stay in school. And I am saying that you need a sense of self-efficacy to even start trying to improve your chances.

Leadership deficiency runs rampant, meaning that most of the money that were supposed to improve education, basic health, infrastructure and provide agricultural extension programmes to increase yield and protect the environment by preventing soil depletion end up in somebody’s pockets instead instead of being invested in the common good. Elections are fraud and most people don’t bother voting. They do not feel that their votes count or that their voices are heard, so who bother spending time and money on voting?

In addition, the international development assistance has been handled in a spirit of knowing better, meaning that projects have been imposed on communities without much attention being paid to creating a sense of local ownership or to making the beneficiaries understand why indeed those white people come here giving us bednets (irrigation, health clinics, …). At the same time, it is only recently that self-sustainability has entered the requirements for project-design, thus meaning that money have kept being poured in without being put to use enabling people to help themselves or keep running the projects after donor phase-out. This has created a situation in which people both become dependent on foreign aid and do not develop a sense of the need of being able to sustain themselves. Kenyan Nobel peace prize winner Wangari Maathai calls this a culture of dependence.

I think these three factors (lack of opportunities, bad leadership, culture of dependence) play a large role in making black Africans come across as whiners who do not want to do anything for themselves.

I can vaguely, but not completely, understand why living under such conditions make people develop a sense of resentment and antagonism towards those who do better instead of letting other people’s hard work and consequent successes inspire them to try to improve their own lives. I can not understand why it makes people think that cheating you, stealing from you, lying to you and trying to break up your friendships with other Tanzanians by incriminating them (to prevent them from getting a share of your alleged riches) is OK. I just can't understand it.

But it does make it that much harder for me to keep seeing the people I came to support in the first place as worthy of anybody's help. And it makes it that much harder to keep trying to befriend them, see how they live, understand them and develop a sense of their problems, worries and wishes.

I guess this is a contributing factor to the failure of so much well-intended development assistance, too. You cannot deal with the people you're there to help, so you become isolated from them, do not understand them and cannot communicate with them well. It becomes a deeply problematic situation to be in for all volunteers, too. You're there to help people out of a genuine belief in human dignity and equality, but the people you're there to help see you as something almost un-human, treat you with more or less well hidden antagonism, and you can never belong between them and get a realistic feel for them.

Tanzanian Dilemmas

Tanzanian cinema is bad. Tanzanian movies have no discernible plot, no internal logic, no development of the characters. Tanzanian movies leaves you with the question: "Why did I have to spend 1.5 hours watchig that?" after seeing them. A friend of mine is a script writer and wants to make a good Tanzanian movie. We discussed what makes good movies good and agreed that most of them present a conflict or dilemma that the characters have to solve in the course of the movie. It made me think of the Tanzanian dilemmas that I know. All the following stories are true stories or in some cases a combination of more than one true story.

1) A journalist of a government-friendly newspaper discovers evidence of a huge corruption scandal involving the president and 5 of his ministers. He knows that his editors won’t be happy to publish such a story and that he might well lose his job if he goes to another newspaper with the evidence. He also knows that publishing such stories is a risk (refer e.g. to the editors of MwanaHalisi who have been attacked with acid and machetes and had their newspaper banned and offices trashed). He is responsible for 4 children, one of his own and 3 of his late sister’s. She and her husband died of AIDS. He knows from his work as a journalist that many other AIDS orphans aren’t as lucky as to have relatives who can take care of them as their own children,and that they are frequently subjected to sexual abuse, working under slave-like conditions and denied access to education. The money that was stolen by the president and his ministers were donated by a European government development assistance agency to go to the construction of 20 centres with orphanages, schools and health care for AIDS orphans across the country. His wife doesn’t want him to publish the story because she likes their convenient lifestyle and doesn’t want any problems. Can he ignore his conscience? Will he choose truth over calm and convenience?

2) (This is more of an inspirational story than one presenting a dilemma) A young doctor at Muhimbili Hospital decides that the salary, $200 a month, is too low to reflect the actual value of a fully educated doctor. He and his colleagues discuss how they can take action in order to get fairer salaries. It is a sensitive question, because a normal strike by health professionals can be fatal to many patients. In the end, they decide that young doctors, but not nurses or specialists, will go on strike if necessary. They approach all relevant government bodies with their request to discuss their salaries, but are ignored. They try a second time but are ignored. Then they announce the strike to take place the next day and suddenly they’re listened to. They decide to go on strike for one day anyway. The strike is successful and the salaries are raised, but the young doctor is banned from practising as a doctor in Tanzania for 2 years. He starts a business instead and an NGO with international support and international internees dealing with health issues such as domestic violence, HIV/AIDS outreach programmes and so on.

3) Two girls, Bahati and Neema, grow up in the same village and are like sisters. They both go to Mwanza to study. They both find boyfriends. Neema’s boyfriend is quick to tell her that he will take her to his family, he will go to her family to discuss the bride price. She believes him and moves in with him, but he keeps making excuses for not going. Bahati’s boyfriend is very difficult to her and demands that she always cancel all other plans to be with him whenever he wants to see her. She is afraid that he will leave her and does what he says. Eventually, he starts talking about getting married and introduces her to his siblings and start making plans for having her meet his parents. Meanwhile, Neema discovers that she has become pregnant. Her boyfriend is still full of excuses and doesn’t take her to meet his parents. When she gives birth, the baby is very sick and it is discovered that both she and the baby are HIV positive. When she tells her boyfriend, he leaves her with the newborn child. The baby is dying and her only trusted friend in Mwanza is Bahati. When it becomes clear that the baby will die within a few days or at most a week, Bahati’s boyfriend suddenly decides that they should go on a little holiday for 2 weeks. He hasn’t asked Bahati if she wants to go at this time. Bahati knows that Neema is so sad that she considers suicide when the baby has died. But she’s afraid that her boyfriend will leave her if she doesn’t do what he says. Can she let her friend down? Is it even right for her to marry a man who demands that she always give everything up for his sake?

4) A young man has introduced a girl to his mother, and tradition demands that he marry her after introducing her to his parents. It is not culturally acceptable or even heard of that he marries somebody other than the first and only girl he introduces to his parents. But he realises that he doesn’t love her, and he discovers that she’s seeing other guys and even telling her friends all about it, friends whom he’s been introduced to as her boyfriend and has known through the 2 years of the relationship. They’re fighting all the time. However, his parents still expect him to marry her. Now he has to choose between his own happiness and respecting the traditions.

5) A man who’s the oldest brother of his family has been in the UK to study. He’s stayed to work, he’s met an English woman and they’re living together with their small child. They’re not married because his girlfriend doesn’t believe in marriage. He has settled in so well in England that this hasn’t bothered him or struck him as wrong. But then his father dies and as the oldest son, he’s expected to go home and take care of his mother and younger siblings. But can he leave Europe? Can he leave his child and girlfriend? Or can they give up all the things they would have to give up in order to live in Tanzania?

6) A poor young woman is offered a “little house” by a rich married man (i.e. to have a house paid for, and food and clothes and so on, if she agrees to live there and have his children as some sort of more or less secret second wife without a marriage certificate). Should she choose the convenience over a chance for real love? Is she being abused because she’s poor and doesn’t have many other chances of getting that level of material convenience? Or is it possible for a relationship like that to be emotionally fulfilling?

7) A man dies from AIDS. Tradition demands that his widow be married to one of his male r
elatives. Everybody knows that he died from AIDS though nobody speaks of it openly, and everybody suspects that the widow is HIV positive too. She won’t be able to retain any property, custody of their children or any material security if she doesn’t marry into his family. How will they solve this?

8) a Christian woman is married to a Muslim man in a Muslim marriage. She finds out that her husband is cheating on her. As time goes by, she sees how he gets more and more involved with the other woman and in the end, she decides to put an end to it. She calls the other woman to warn her off, but the other woman tells her that she has agreed to become second wife. According to her husbands tradition, this is acceptable. According to her faith, it is not. Can she stay in her marriage? Can she heal the feelings of hurt and betrayal? Can she accept sharing a man with another woman openly?

9) A woman who has lost her relatives in an early age is married to a man whom she discovers to have made the housegirl pregnant. She decides to leave him, but she doesn’t get a divorce because she won’t be able to remarry before he dies anyway. She goes to Dar es Salaam, where she meets another man who’s married. They like each other and she becomes pregnant, but she dies in childbirth. This man’s wife doesn’t know anything about the affair or that her husband has fathered a child with another woman. He doesn’t know how she will take it. The late woman has no other relatives than her husband whom she left with the housegirl. Who will take the body? And who will take the baby?

Human Rights Abuses

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, armed soldiers threatening students protesting a 9 month delay in receiving their grants to pay tuition fees and exam fees until they disperse is perceived as being peaceful.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, banning independent newspapers for arbitrary periods of time if they dare to publish critical articles about the government is perceived as being peaceful.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, banning leaders of trade-union like actions (e.g. for fairer salaries) from performing their professions for any number of years is perceived as being peaceful.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, un-investigated disappearances or deaths of well-known good governance advocates is perceived as being peaceful.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, regular acid or machete attacks on editors of independent newspapers by un-known assailants following especially exposing editorials is perceived as being peaceful.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, voter fatigue causing around 80 % of the voters to refrain from voting is perceived as democratic.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, the government changing anti-corruption bills after they were passed in parliament and then signing them and making them public is perceived as being democratic.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, 60 % of the government budget disappearing into over-seas accounts of government ministers is perceived as being democratic.

mandag den 10. maj 2010


Deficiency is when a child develops too slowly because of innutritious food
because the leaders haven’t learnt and do not want to pay
the investment in the common good
that it is to feed your children the right things every day

Deficiency is when a child goes ignorant because of unobtainability of education
because the leaders haven’t learnt and do not want to pay
the investment in poverty alleviation
that it is to teach your children new things every day

Deficiency is when a child dies from curable diseases like TB and malaria
because the leaders haven’t learnt and do not want to pay
the investment in the future generations of this area
that it is to make healthcare available each and every day

Deficiency is when a young and enthusiastic worker loses all his fire
because the leaders haven’t learnt and do not want to pay
the investment in escaping the quagmire
it is to kill the desire in your people to move forward day by day

Deficiency is when a young and intelligent woman is constantly pushed aside
because the leaders haven’t learnt and do not want to pay
the investment in the national development and pride
it is to acknowledge the capacity of women and give them equal say

torsdag den 29. april 2010

You can’t help people who refuse to help themselves

I used to participate in the collective European guilt trip about Africa. I used to think that it is our (inherited) fault that things have gone completely to the dogs here. Because of colonialisation. Because of behaving like colonial powers always have: Making sure that you destroy and ridicule all indigenous culture, all indigenous legal and administrative systems, all indigenous beliefs and traditions, and making sure that you play people up against each other.

I’m not saying it doesn’t play a role. All peoples that have been colonialised have higher rates of suicide, sexually transferred diseases, alcohol consumption and drug abuse, schizophrenia and you name whichever other indicators of being thoroughly messed up as a people that you want.

However, not all of them have higher levels of corruption. Not all of them have higher levels of bureaucracy. Not all of them have complete chaos instead of public administration. Not all of them have seriously questionable democracies…

I met with a colleague who’s timesharing between the Dutch university where he’s doing a PhD and our little campus where he used to work before starting his PhD studies. He told me that he’s been trying to have knowledge sharing symposiums since he started on his research (which is something you have in EVERY other university), but the leaders here are just playing their favourite power ping-pong game with him: Each and every one of them sends him on to one of the others, allegedly because it isn’t the responsibility of any of them to approve such an initiative. Result: No knowledge sharing takes place, nobody knows if any active research is taking place on the campus, if there is, the results of it are not dispersed - and apparently, nobody cares.

When I and another colleague of mine applied to get financial help with participating in the eLearning Africa Conference (see, you can hardly get any more relevant to an open university than that), they started playing power ping-pong with us, too.

To move a bit away from the OUT and quote some statistics, we have that:

118 out of 1,000 live births die before the age of 5.

Life expectancy at birth is 55 years.

Tanzania is number 151 out of 182 countries in the human development index and number 93 out of 135 in the human poverty index.

The adult literacy rate is 72.3 %.

Tanzania has 45 multilateral and bilateral donors.

Official development assistance is approximately 2 billion US$ and 35 % of the government budget is directly dependent on foreign aid.

Around 60 % of the government budget goes into foreign accounts owned by Tanzanian politicians. This is regularly reported in newspapers which are only available in the big cities. The same politicians spend some of their secretly siphoned money on building community halls or printing T-shirts for their very rural constituencies and get re-elected again and again.

Out of a population of around 40 mio, only 4 mio are registered to vote and out of those, only 3 mio actually vote. Most of my Tanzanian friends don’t vote. They don’t believe in democracy, they say.

There are no trade unions to speak of.

There’s no civil society to speak of. People do not do voluntary work.

In everything professional you do, you have to safeguard against fraud, trickstery, delays, incompetence, people disappearing with equipment, people trying to get away with not delivering according to contracts, bills not being paid,…

This is all statistics.

Tanzanians are excessively selfish. There are a few good people around, but they’re drowned out by the vast majority who just don’t give a fuck about anybody else. And nobody wants to accept responsibility for their actions and for their areas of responsibility. You read correctly: People whose jobs land them with an area of responsibility don’t want to accept responsibility for their area of responsibility.

Leaders have been given too big privileges, and as always, that makes them seek to destroy the structures they lead instead of strengthening them. They sit on their fat arses and refuse to do anything other than participating in questionable transactions with their fat salaries.

Tanzanians have a peculiar tendency of being uncooperative. They don’t keep their appointments, they don’t do their work, they expect you to thank them for nothing and get mortally offended and decide to not help you at all (irregardless of present delays and other obstructions) if you don’t express absolute gratitude for the absolutely nothing they’ve done for you, they’re extremely envious and regard it as perfectly reasonable to try to ruin things for anybody they perceive to do better than themselves.

People say that if you speak out too loudly against the corruption and bureaucracy you simply disappear. This seems to be common knowledge. However, there’s no international reports about human rights abuses. Tanzania is one of the favourite African countries in the eyes of international donors.

Violence lurks right behind the surface. Around 3 out of 4 women are beaten by their husbands or boyfriends and they think that things such as burning a meal, leaving the house without permission or refusing to have sex justifies domestic violence.

I fell victim to a racist mob. A bajaji driver tried to make me pay 33 % more for the trip than agreed, and when I refused, he followed me and cheered on by a crowd laughing and shouting “piga
mzungu (beat the whitey)”, he hit me.

The doctor who was supposed to fill in the police report expected me to have sex with him and was mortally offended when my reaction to his statement (it was too matter-of-fact to be called a suggestion) that we would spend a lot of time together today and then go to his office in the government hospital together in the morning to fill it in was to protest that I’d never agreed to sleep with him.

One of the police officers at the Urafiki Police Station is related to the bajaji driver and they gave me a contact who doesn’t speak English.

Now, my friends advised me to forget all about it. They said the police was just going to waste my time and my transport and telephone money and keep trying to avoid running the case because of the family ties to the criminal.

They said that such beatings are normal, especially when the victim is a foreigner.

They said that though Tanzania is considered a very stable country, they’re all expecting political or tribal violence to break out at some stage.

Whenever you mention the democratic deficiency, the corruption, the bureaucracy, the reaction is: What can you do? Just accept it, live your life around it and don’t make it ruin your day. Budget time and money for making people do their jobs. Never mind…

Another Swedish friend of mine who was doing an internship here and promised a job if she wants to return after finishing her thesis decided against it, because, as she says: Tanzania doesn’t provide a conductive environment. They try to frustrate all efforts to take things forward. Why would I want to work in an environment like that?

So to return to the central question: Is it possible to help such people? Any help given could only be successful in spite of the leaders, in spite of the apathy, in spite of the egoism…

I’m sure Europe played its part in creating an environment of defeatism, bureaucracy, corruption and indifference, but it’s up to the Africans to deal with it now, to take their future into their own hands. And it needs to be dealt with if they’re going to change anything.

onsdag den 28. april 2010

Gender Bender

I have a good friend, let’s call her Bahati. Bahati is a strong woman, she lost her parents at the age of 19 or 20 and as the oldest sibling, she had to leave school to take care of her younger brothers and sisters. When they were well under way, she returned to secondary school, finished with flying colours and proceeded to university, where she’s in her third year now. She’s vivacious, generous and extrovert and she gets along with people easily. She’s also really pretty, by the way.

Bahati has been in a relationship with a guy, let’s call him Emmanuel, for 9 years, and finally they’re talking about getting married. Emmanuel is a colleague of mine, which is how I got to know Bahati in the first place.

What puzzles me to no end is that when it comes to Emmanuel, who’s nothing out of the ordinary, this extraordinary strong and independent woman turns into a doormat. Whenever he calls, she cancels everything and follows his command. She even cancelled coming to see me while I had malaria because he asked her out for dinner. I was really sick, and the strain of malaria they have here is lethal. If it hadn’t been for other people who were more concerned about me, I wouldn’t have gotten anything to eat that day. What kills you is anaemia. You lose your appetite and you need to eat to recover. I was completely incapable of going anywhere on my own and she knew it, but still decided that the call of her boyfriend was more important than the recovery of one of her friends.

Finally, I asked her about it. Her explanation was: “He’s my man. You know him, he’s very difficult, but I really love him and I don’t want to lose him.” I was wondering what kind of love would force an otherwise independent and self-sufficient woman to be so submissive?

I tried to explain this to some male friends one drunken night, but the only response I got were 2 completely blank stares and one comment along the lines of “She’s really committed to her man, and so what?”, until I explained that that kind of behaviour wouldn’t be acceptable in a Danish woman. She wouldn’t be respected by her friends or by her boyfriend if she let him walk all over her like that. Then they offered that she might be afraid of losing him. And again, I was astounded. If I had a man who demanded that kind of submissiveness, I wouldn’t be afraid of losing him. I’d walk away myself.

They proceeded to say that it is really hard for a woman to get married in Tanzania these days. So if she has a man who’s willing to marry her, she’d try anything to keep him close to her. If she insists on keeping her appointments with her friends, he might just tell her that then she can marry her friends instead of him.

I wondered why being married is so important that a woman would be willing to sacrifice her friends, her freedom, her independence to get that piece of paper in her folder and that piece of metal on her finger? Of course, in Tanzanian culture, a woman is a girl and a man is a boy until they have children, no matter if they have to live in a crowded 2 room uswahilini “apartment” without water or sanitation owned by one set of grandparents because both newlyweds are unemployed. In my culture, you’re a child until you can provide for yourself. Children or none.

My male companions of that konyagi-soaked night got more and more drunk and implored me to not be bitter about Tanzanian men. “A lot of us lie, it’s true,” they confided. “But did you consider that maybe when they meet you, they find something in you that they’ve been looking for all their lives, and if they tell you the truth (usually that they’re already married), you’d turn them down and then they’d not get what they need?” They were on the verge of being to drunk to discuss with, but I still ventured: “What about what I need? I need a man who’s honest with me!”

This is a discussion that repeats itself endlessly in Africa. It isn’t always about lying about your marital status. Sometimes it is other things that people lie about. The general African sentiment seems to be that lying is ok if telling the truth means that you won’t get what you want. I had a friend who crashed my hired car in Cape Town. He’d told me he had a driver’s license so I let him drive because the left hand side driving can be quite tiring for me. After crashing my car he admitted that in fact the license he had was a learner’s. An expired one. I asked him why on earth he’d said he had a driver’s license and he replied that I wouldn’t have let him drive if he’d told me the truth. I retorted that if he’d told me the truth I’d have known that he doesn’t know how to drive and then the car wouldn’t be bent around a lamp post right now…

Back to the discussion about lying about being married if you want to get into the pants of some woman. The sentiment of “getting into someone’s pants” is unpalatable to most Africans, they call it love. And no matter how hard you try, you cannot convince them that love isn’t deceiving a woman into having sex with you by telling her that you’ll marry her, you want to take care of her, that you love her, when in fact you’re already married and have no plans of leaving your wife. They don’t even seem to understand the sentiment that if the deceived woman in question actually wanted a serious relationship, you’re just wasting her time by pretending that you’re going to give her what she wants when you know that it’s never going to happen.

And it seems to be completely out of their mental vocabulary to consider that it is wrong to deny her the choice about becoming involved with a man who can never be her spouse.

In all fairness it must be said that African women are the same. Their ends are usually not to have sex, but to get prestigeous things or a comfordable lifestyle. Countless are the African women who have engaged in relationships with sugardaddies. Countless are the African women who have lied about already having children to get a man. Countless are the African women who have approached a male Swedish friend of mine to try to start a relationship, not because they wanted him or liked him or found him attractive (though he's quite goodlooking in his own way), but simply because they thought that a white guy would provide tthem with a shortcut to the sweet life. The notion of a true, romantic love is something you can only afford when abject poverty isn't a constant threat in your life, I guess.

Africans live very much in the present. From moment to moment. If you can successfully push something away right now, so that it won’t affect you for the next few hours or days, then they consider the problem solved. When it crops up again, you just push it away again. Eventually, it will probably become somebody else’s problem. Even if this is akin to being irresponsible or having no sense of perspective, I don’t really think you understand it right if you understand it that way. It’s simply a more stationary, less linear, less process-oriented understanding of life. However, it also means that things that need to change stay the same. This lack of movement, of mobility, of belief in your role as an agent of change is one of the reason’s why Africa stays so under-developed, in my humble opinion. A civil society that doesn’t believe in itself can’t step up and stand up for its rights.

My increasingly drunk drinking companions (I tried to stick to the one-glass-of-water-for-each-2-glasses-of-alcohol rule and managed to stay relatively sober, at least in comparison) went on to declare that an African man must show that he has “a chest and not breasts”, which is to say that he will always protect a woman. So when he lies about his marital status, his HIV status, his state of unemployment or whatever state he’s in that he lies about, it is to protect you. Not to get what he wants, not to escape the consequences of his earlier choices, not to deny you the choice about how much you’re willing to risk in terms of your health or your emotions, but to protect you.

Sure, if he doesn’t tell you he’s married, he protects you from the offence of being offered a dick with no legal rights attached (which is offensive to an African woman, even if it is quite ok for a European one as long as she’s offered the choice). If he doesn’t tell you he’s HIV positive, he protects you from the fear of contracting HIV from him or from having to argue about safe sex when he tries to coerce you into not using condoms. If he doesn’t tell you that he’s unemployed, he protects you from the heartbreak of loving a man who can’t provide for you. And so on. And so forth.

To me, it’s all open shows of blaring disrespect. But those friends, who are otherwise kind and generous and quite reasonable guys, really do believe that they’re being protective when they lie. And they really do believe that otherwise pretty, intelligent, strong and independent Bahati isn’t being trampled underfoot, but is just showing commitment, when she cancels on a seriously sick friend with half an hours notice because her boyfriend snaps his fingers at her.

I don’t know how to bridge that gap.

mandag den 22. marts 2010

Bad Governance Blues

If you read contemporary African writers like Kenyan Nobel Peace Price laureate Wangari Maathai, they all point to the leadership crisis of Africa. The leadership crisis is crystallised into things like democratic deficiency, corruption, lacking progress (or underdevelopment, if you will) and a feeling of being unable to change things for the better.

In too many African countries, the money on the state budget doesn't end up being reinvested in the country's economy in the form of improving infrastructure, health systems, educational systems, providing agricultural expertise to avoid soil depletion or building new industries. Instead, it ends up in the politicians' and other decision-makers' pockets. Tanzania is the only country I have the official figure from, and here it's 60 % of the state budget that ends up being spent on corruption and disappears into over-seas bank accounts. Tanzania is the favourite countries for many bilateral development assistance efforts as it is one of the most stable countries of the region, having had no civil wars or internal conflicts for decades.

How is this possible? In part because there's no demand for accountancy and transparency from the population, and no official government budgets are available. In Tanzania, with almost 50 million people, only 4 million register to vote, and out of these, only 3 million go to the ballots on election day. The same politicians who you read about in the newspapers' articles on corruption scandals get re-elected again and again, because they invest a little of the money that ends up in their pockets in having T-shirts printed for the poor villagers of their constituencies.

But this isn't only at the highest level. It happens at all levels of decision-making. My job as assistant lecturer at the Open University of Tanzania (OUT) has become a study in bad leadership. And when I complain about it to my Tanzanian friends, most of them meet it with the same attitude as the democratic deficiency at national level: They just tell me to forget about it, not to let it ruin my life, and not to try to do anything about it. In this particular case, they're right. I can't do anything about it. I have the wrong age, the wrong nationality and the wrong gender to be listened to.

Wangari Maathai points to the "geriachy" that is predominant in Africa as one of the symptoms of the African leadership crisis. Only old people have a say as a general rule. In Tanzania, only old men have a say. Young people like me, with educations, with new ideas, with experiences from foreign exposure, are simply not listened to. Apparently, in most of the pre-colonial African cultures, being educated to rule over others was a life-long process and ended up in a limited-time service period, but this has degenerated into the present-day geriachy, old people desperately clinging to power for the sake of power itself, for the privileges and the access to corruption money, and preventing young people access to the decision-making spheres. In order to preserve their place on the peaks of power, they have to undermine the very democracy that would bring their reigns to an end.

This is very much the case of the OUT, too. It is controlled by fat old men who have no idea what they're doing, but who never the less expect you to defer to them unconditionally because they have a title and you don't. Being from a background in which you respect abilities and competence rather than titles, this only engenders a deep sense of contempt in me. I can't help wondering whose ugly daughter they've married or which pockets they've lined with thick wads of money to get where they are. Most of them literally don't know the first thing about what they're doing, and the whole university is in shambles because of this.

A few examples: The administrative personnel have taken up a personal vendetta against the academic personnel, doing all they can to disturb us (the university grape wine has it that it is because we make more money and they're envious and try to mess us up, another very common Tanzanian phenomenon). It is a problem for all of us that we have to go and "check up" on the administrative personnel every few days when they're supposed to do things such as processing our salaries. The OUT hasn't entered the digital age yet, so your personal file is actually a paper folder, and I have experienced that the second-in-command of the accounting department had hid it in the piles on his table, looking me straight in the eyes and claiming that it had gone missing and they were still trying to locate it. I happened to know that it was put in his table about 40 hours earlier, but I never the less had to phone the man who put it there and have him come and find it. If black people had been able to blush, that accounting personnel would have gone scarlet at being caught. He never apologised, mind you.

The leadership doesn't do anything to rectify this situation. And people just accept it.

There used to be a big problem of teachers selling the exam results to the students before exams. This was apparently so much of a public scandal that the leadership felt obliged to do something about it, so they initiated an "exam syndicate". As a lecturer, you're supposed to submit 2 versions of each exam, and nobody is supposed to know which one of them the students will sit until the envelope is opened on the exam day.

They have some database in which they keep all exams. The plan is that in the end (whenever that is), the students will just get a randomly selected exam instead of the one that their teacher has prepared. The database must have been build by someone who has no knowledge of exams, syllabus, teaching or studying, as this approach doesn't allow for the fact that different teachers weigh the various subjects differently, use different symbols and may not go through the whole syllabus every time. Also, it makes it impossible to ever revise the syllabuses without rendering the database useless. Well, it already is useless. This past exam period only, it happened in at least 4 cases that the students of my faculty got a wrong test including problems that hadn't been taught in class. Normally, they're just failed when this happens. However, I complained and demanded that the test be annulled and they sit a new one. To my best knowledge, I was the only teacher whose students got an unfair test who did anything about it.

And the leadership doesn't do anything to rectify this situation. And people just accept it.

The people who create the timetables have no idea how to do it. As the OUT is an open university, we only see our students for 5 weeks (of 6 teaching days each) a year, distributed over 4 face-to-face sessions, the first lasting 2 weeks, the rest one week each. However, there was no time allocated for registration this year, so 3 days of the first face-to-face session were cancelled to allow registration, which never the less hasn't been finished yet, almost 6 months later. The students have finally got their books sometime after the second face-to-face session, but their user accounts at the university's website haven't been created yet, so they still can't access the online contents of their courses. I put the material for my 2 courses on my personal website.

During the second face-to-face session, a whole day was lost because the person who had the key to the door had decided to go drinking the night before and had switched off his phone, leaving me and a colleague and 40 students locked out at 8 o'clock Saturday morning. We waited for almost 4 hours, calling all and sundry who might be able to help, but we never managed to get in, so the students lost a whole day of teaching because there was no backup plan. Now we're approaching the last face-to-face session, and the timetable is useless because the weekdays and dates don't match. There's a week til it starts date-wise (10 days til it starts weekday-wise), and it hasn't been solved yet. I fear that the students will lose 2 more teaching days on this, making it a full week out of 5 that they have lost to incompetence.

The leadership doesn't do anything to rectify this, either. And people just accept it.

Just as the Tanzanian government doesn't do anything to rectify that 60 % of the state budget disappears into private bank accounts in foreign countries instead of improving lives of Tanzanians. Just as the government doesn't do anything to rectify that only a fraction of the eligible people vote. Just as the government doesn't do anything to rectify that almost 2/3 of the population live on less than 2 dollars a day. Just as the government doesn't do anything about the constant water- and power cuts, which are reputedly happening because people working at the plants are bribed to cut it so that the population will put pressure on the government to have private companies take over...

And people just accept this, too.

Nobody does anything about it. They just follow the advice of my Tanzanian friends: Just work on stopping it from preventing you from living your own life and doing what you want to do. It's a very unsolidary attitude in a formerly socialist country. But I guess part of the reason is that so many people are desperately poor and just don't have the surplus to see beyond the fulfilment of their own most basic needs. The more time I spend in Africa, the more I come to realise that solidarity and compassion for others is a luxury that you can easier afford when you're not fighting for your own survival on a daily basis.

My microcosmos at the OUT reflects the macrocosmos of Tanzanian leadership crisis. And I can't do anything about either. Deflecting responsibility when problems are pointed out at leadership level is a widespread practise, making it impossible for anybody to get to know that they aren't working optimally and improve their performances. The system is so hierarchical and so segregated that me pointing the problem out to the person who's at fault would just be ignored, but it will also just get ignored if I point it out to his superiors, whom he would have listened to if they had been willing to instruct him to do better.