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.

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