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.

Accommodation Frustration

I am employed with the Open University of Tanzania (the OUT), in Dar es Salaam, at the moment. Before I left Denmark, I was promised assistance with finding a place to live in Dar, both in terms of transport and in terms of negotiating the accommodation market of Dar, which is worse than a jungle. I guess the worst obstacle is that you have to pay the rent for a whole year when you move in, and if you don't have the monthly rent times 12 it's just too bad, you won't get a place to live then.

You do not have anything as nice as estate agents with offices where you can go, or regulations, or any guarantees about anything. Well, you do, but then you'd need to be looking for something which by far exceeds what you can afford as Tanzanian academic university staff. As a lowly academic, you'll have to deal with "middlemen", who literally are to be found hanging out on the street corners, as they take care of the kind of houses that you can afford.

You'll regularly experience people who claim to own houses, only to find out that the person you transferred all your money to after signing the contract isn't the owner of the house you paid for and has mysteriously disappeared with your money. The middlemen will regularly lie about the rent as they're supposed to get one month's rent as payment for their troubles. Both owners and middlemen will regularly lie about commodities such as water and electricity, claiming that the house is connected to the water pipes or that the wiring is working when it isn't. Another story is the fact that house owners have no respect for appointments and will keep you waiting for half hours, not show up at all or tell you that they've changed the time or date when you call to say that you've arrived at the place.

As a white woman, there are other concerns that I have to consider on top of the above mentioned. Tanzanians have some pretty misguided preconceived notions about white people, especially that we are so rich that money means nothing to us. I have heard the middlemen say "Mzungu... bla bla... mwanamke... bla bla... analipa (white person... bla bla... woman... bla bla... she's paying)" every time they call around to locate available houses, causing the prices to rise by as much as 100 % just by mentioning my skin colour. They also expect me to be less streetwise, making it even more likely that they'd try some funny fraudulent business.

While Tanzania is a pretty safe country in comparison with many other African countries, there's still pick-pocketing, break-ins, robberies and rape. I am a very obvious target for any kind of enrichment crime as I get noticed everywhere I go and people automatically think that I am rich and walking around with expensive things such as laptops (true, though it's from 2006), state-of-the-art cellphones (false. I had one when I came, but it was stolen, and now I have the cheapest model Tanzania has to offer), digital cameras (false. I have one, but I don't carry it around unless I need it) and thick wads of money (false. I only carry large amounts of money around when it can't be avoided because I have to pay something big or just came from the bank - you don't get to pay with credit cards in too many places here). I have already experienced how my presence in a house without adequate security during the night caused some people to try to break in for hours. Luckily, they didn't succeed.

Now, all of the above are well known facts about Tanzania, which I have experienced or been told by my Tanzanian friends over and over and over again. Before I left Denmark, I was promised assistance with finding a place to live in Dar, both in terms of transport and in terms of negotiating the accommodation market of Dar, which in the light of the above is sorely needed, not to mention that it is the international standard that your employer finds or at least assists you finding a place to live when you're an expat who's hired for your particular skills. I was promised this assistance in writing by the person who employed me. However, after having been here for 6 months, I am still living in the university's rest house, and until recently, the only "assistance" with finding a place to live I received from my employer was at first an oral one month notice in November and then an official letter from the management department in February giving me a 3 months' notice to vacate the rest house.

I dealt with the first oral notice by going to my direct boss to tell him that I had been told to leave the rest house, but had been given no assistance with finding a place to live, and as I had nowhere to go if they put me out on the street and the prospects of me finding a place to live unassisted were very bleak, I thought it better that I go back to Denmark with the end of the month. My direct boss was absent, so I talked with his temporary replacement instead. He assured me that I could not be kicked out as long as I had nowhere to go and that I shouldn't get stressed out about it, basically telling me to ignore the notice. Unfortunately, the replacement did not communicate this to the management people.

In the meantime, I learned that it would be illegal for my employers to kick me out on the street as long as I have nowhere to go, as they're obliged by law to know my address because I'm a foreign national.

In January, I was called to a meeting with a guy who was supposed to help me find a place to live. I was very surprised to learn that the lowest-level coordinator who initiated this new contact expected me to hold up the expenses for house searching (5,000 Tsh or approximately 3 euros on first contact plus one month's rent when a house was found). As this would be my employers responsibility according to international standards, I thought that he just didn't want to take the trouble to require the money (which would be the most likely explanation, given the general Tanzanian aversion against familiarising yourself with the modes of conduct or more generally against doing any kind of work) and informed them that I was not prepared to pay this money as it was my employer's responsibility according to all international standards. I honestly expected that as soon as the top leadership heard about this, they'd call this lowest-level coordinator to order. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Instead of coughing up with the 5,000 Tsh, they served me with the formal 3 months' notice. And still, there was no mentioning of extending me the help they had promised before I came here. A week was left of March, and as the person who sublets my flat in Copenhagen has a 3 months' notice, I needed to find out if I should resign or if they'd live up to their responsibility and help me find a place to live within that week. I wrote an email to the relevant people, refuting the claims in the eviction notice (which were that I expected to have the university pay my rent instead of addressing the fact that no assistance had been extended to me) and informing them that I needed to get the matter settled within the week.

I talked to some of my colleagues, who advised me to go directly to the Vice Chancellor, as he is the only one with any kind of executive power. However, when I went there, I was stopped by a secretary who informed me that the VC would refuse to speak to me unless I was referred by my direct boss. I tried to argue my case, and she said that if it was that urgent, she'd advice me to go to my direct boss straight from her office. In the end, I went to him.

My direct boss was around this time, and I learned that he didn't even know that I hadn't found a house yet. He assured me that the letter was to be regarded as an incentive to speed up the process of finding a place to live rather than an actual eviction notice, but I'd had enough by now. When I returned to Denmark from South Africa in December of 2007, I'd lived under the constant threat of becoming homeless for a few months, and it is the most stressful experience I can imagine. I came to Tanzania because I can teach a subject that is sorely needed, accepting that I'd be paid about 20 % of what I'd earn doing the same job in Denmark, and I am not prepared to be treated like an animal in return for my almost-volunteering of academic skills.

He referred me to the VC as I requested, and the secretary informed me to go there at 8 am the next day. In the meantime, several responses to my email had been written. I was naively still expecting that the top leaders would be on my side, but I was to learn how very wrong that assumption was as I read the responses. The response from the resource manager claimed that I had been giving assistance (he was referring to the opening of my Tanzanian bank account and some directly wrong claims that I had been shown some houses), and from the VC that I was expecting the university to pay my rent, which was a privilege that not even people who much more senior than me were given. I was shocked and very angry that they had accepted this completely wrong and one-sided account of things without even trying to find out what the truth of the matter is, and decided on the spot that if they didn't assign someone to assist me, I'd resign and go back home.

Tanzanians lie a lot. They'll tell you so themselves if you make friends with some of them. They lie about anything from their mode of transport to their marital status if they think they'll get more out of lying than telling the truth. And they especially lie about the progress of any job commissioned to them to make themselves look better. As the VC has lived in this country for the more than 50 years since he was born, I was shocked that he didn't take this habitual lying into consideration instead of blindly accepting his staff's unfavourable account of me. However, I was to learn that he isn't the only top leader who supports all lies that make himself look better.

As soon as I came in the door, the VC started criticising the way I had approached them by writing an email. He didn't even give me a chance to state my business. I had come to ask for assistance so that I didn't have to leave the country, but instead I had to endure a long lecture about the procedures of the OUT. He was particularly pissed off by the fact that I dared impose a deadline on my superiors and was completely indifferent to the fact that I did it to avoid becoming homeless. He kept going on about all the things that I as an employee couldn't do to my employer, his fat cheeks quivering with self-important indignation. In the end, I had to ask him if he meant that they weren't prepared to assist me, because in that case I'd just resign immediately. He stopped his lecture to tell me that I didn't have to do that, and then continued to inform me that I had to go write an official letter requesting to see the resource manager and that he refused to consider the matter further.

Instead of writing an official letter requesting to see the resource manager (which could delay the process by several weeks as administrative staff have a strong tendency of displacing your papers), I just went straight up the one flight of stairs to the office of the resource manager. His secretary asked me what it was about, and I informed her that it was about whether or not I was staying in Tanzania. She let me in immediately. My Tanzanian friends were shocked to hear about the order to write a formal letter and told me that they had never heard of such a thing as having to write formal requests to see your superiors. This only confirmed my suspicion that it was only in order to save face in his own eyes my ordering me to do something completely irrational just to prove that he had the power over me that the VC had ordered me to write a formal request.

The resource manager was even older and had an even more self-important attitude than the VC, and it became obvious very fast that his main interest was to place all the blame for the fact that I had not been given any assistance on me, the foreigner. He gave me a very long lecture on how no Tanzanians would ever treat anybody the way they were treating me (apparently not noticing the irony of it), and emphasised several times that I should stop painting such a bleak picture. I got a feeling that he was mainly concerned about whether or not I'd give them bad publicity by telling anyone from the outside about how they were treating me. In the end, he informed me that I was to come back at 14h the same day, and in the meantime he would ask all the involved parties about their account of the matter.

At 14h20, I was let in to have another lecture. The resource manager even had the audacity to start lecturing me about how my behaviour was wrong according to my own culture, as he had apparently, at some stage in prehistoric times, spend a few months in Denmark, a fact which made him more knowledgeable about my own culture than my self in his own estimate. Needless to say that he had actually managed to get everything about my culture wrong.

In the beginning, I participated in the discussion, objecting when his claims got too outrageous and generally trying to steer the discussion in the direction of providing me with an answer as to whether or not I had to resign from my job and leave the country, but it soon became clear that I wouldn't be getting out of there as long as I was voicing my opinion. He wasn't negotiating, he was dictating. So I clamped my ears shut, looked out the window and waited for him to finish his monologue. Eventually, he did, and I asked if we were going to solve the problem or not. He told me that they had assigned the same guy to help as had been assigned in January, and that the VC had decreed that I mustn't be given any further monetary assistance. I couldn't get any answer as to what was going to happen if we didn't manage to find a house within the 3 months they had set as the time limit, other than a very offended face at the expression "kick me out in the street" and another lecture on how Tanzanians doesn't behave like that. One might hope that it means that they're actually not going to kick me out in the street, but I wouldn't bet on it.

I was so outraged by that treatment that I considered resigning anyway, in protest of their unacceptable behaviour. I complained to a lot of my Tanzanian friends, who all told me some version of "Some of us Tanzanians can be very stupid, just ignore them and play the game the way they do, and try to look for a house yourself as they'll probably not help you anyway". So, back to square one: Mzungu prices, fraud, not knowing what tings are worth or which areas are really safe...

I had originally agreed with the guy who was assigned to help me that he should pretend he was looking for a house for himself and only take me there if the house was up to standard and within the limits that my rent allowance imposed. This agreement was to avoid being presented with mzungu prices and wasting my time looking at houses that were unsuitable (if you have a Bachelor's degree or higher, you're entitled to a rent allowance from your employer to help you pay the 12 months' rent that you're required to pay. Interestingly enough the resource manager tried to convince me that "entitled to" means that your employer can choose, but isn't obliged, to give you the rent allowance as part of his schpiel to convince me that it wasn't true that they hadn't done anything to help me).

It took the guy 3 weeks to get anything going, but it soon became clear that he wasn't doing it the way we had agreed. We only picked up the middleman after all piling into the car, and then we spent 1.5 hours going around looking for places that the middleman thought might be vacant. Eventually he managed to locate a colleague who managed to locate a vacant house, but the asking price was 1000 dollars a month, exactly twice as much as I am able to pay. When we reminded him of this, he started arguing that the price was reasonable because of all that was included in it, evidently being completely incapable of comprehending that it was poverty and not greed that put the 500 dollar limit on the rent I was able to pay. We ended up with 2 - 3 middlemen who all showed us houses of 800 - 1000 dollars a month, and after 3 hours we returned without having made any progress.

The assisting guy wrote a "report" in which he stated that we had been looking at some houses, but hadn't been able to find any that were within "my limits". The resource manager replied to congratulate him on the good work. I found it in its place to add that the reason why we hadn't found any houses that were within the limit that they had imposed on me was the this guy hadn't performed the job he was supposed to. The resource manager answered that I must remember that finding a house was a team effort and not the responsibility of a single person. I am not sure if he actually wants me to find a place to live.

This is where this saga stands right now. I still face all the problems of the Dar house market that my employer should have helped me navigating. I have 2 months left of the notice now, and I still don't know if I'll have to leave the country because of homelessness after that period is up. What I do know is that if my professional honour didn't dictate that I see the academic year through, and my residence permit isn't conditional on my employment with the OUT, I would have resigned in protest at the way they're handling this.