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Deep Into The Heart of Darkness

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Intense things take hold of you in Africa.

Thus another Conradian journey into the Heart of Darkness commences.

Drink driving by an American who knows it would not happen back in civilization. An old white couple who have become Lifers. The kind of prisoners who have no chance of release. They are trapped, ‘That’s what happens when you stay too long. You become ‘unhinged, paranoid or just plain weird’.

Why are the inhabitants of the darkness like this? Pat Robertson said the Haitians were hit by the earthquake because of a pact they had made with the devil. This blogger, a certain Ms.  Lindsay Morgan who is a ‘communications consultant,’ quoting a New York Times columnist no less, puts out another theory. Culture. Not a lack of culture, but CULTURE.

‘Progress resistant cultural influences,’ the columnist calls it. And what are these? They sound vaguely familiar. We know we have them. We are African and Tanzanian. We recognize these things when we come across them. But what does our voyager think? Because it is the Culture that drives expats like her to become unhinged, paranoid and just plain weird in this here Heart of Darkness.

But what is ‘The Culture’? How does it manifest itself?

The lazy ignorant teller at the post office.

Bureaucrats and civil servants who don’t do their jobs at the Ministry.

Drivers who can’t keep time.

And then the zinger – ‘Corruption is part of the Culture’. Ouch.

But here’s the thing.

Are developing countries responsible for their own development? Well, not really. Not when its being paid for by someone else, like her governments. They don’t act responsible because they don’t feel responsible.


Because they are not blowing their own money.


Because they don’t need to when almost half of the budget is funded by her people! And however much of it disappears and goes unaccounted for, they keep bringing it. And now your partners in development are hooked. And everyone knows, you shouldn’t leave an addict alone in the pharmacy.

But there is no need to be too hard on oneself. Ms. Morgan blames herself for feeling arrogant and careless in those moments when her thoughts turn dark, she feels confounded by the darkness and begins to entertain ideas and theories that make you feel like a ….you know.

Which she most definitely is not! But these things just float into her headspace from time to time. And she wonders why these people are like this. And seeing as she can’t put it down to their…you know, then perhaps it’s their Culture?

But she is wrong. Because in truth she has a limited understanding of what the Culture is. She can’t be blamed for that. It’s not in any books she may have read, artworks she may have seen, theatre productions and films she may have watched. But it is there.

What she has experienced is not ‘Tanzanian Culture’. Tanzanian Culture has nothing to do with the intransigence, corruption, torpor, stupidity, laziness, arrogance and mediocrity. What she has experienced is commonly known in Kiswahili as Uzembe, Ujinga and Un’yoko.

She imagines that only her and her people are aware of the encroaching darkness that threatens to engulf this country, this continent that seems reluctant to better itself. But she is not alone. All those other faces standing in the queue behind her at the post office, the bored idle faces of the people sitting in the reception area at the Ministry, the thousands of commuters who stand waiting for the unscheduled, over crowded, dangerous dala dala to arrive at the stop next to her taxi rank, all those people are as pissed off and confounded as she is at what they are witnessing. The encroaching darkness.

And if she asked them,  they would tell her. They wouldn’t bite. They would nod in agreement with everything she thinks and says about her experiences of Tanzania.

Except the bit about Culture. Which sounds a little….you know.

(H/T Swahili Street)


Quote For The Day

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“Local journalists did not do their research, if you want to talk to the President, have a grasp of the issues and that’s what foreign correspondents did. If you don’t do your homework I shut you out, I made a policy not to talk to ignorant and lazy media. That’s why I am happy the Aga Khan is setting up a campus that will insist on research,” – former President Benjamin Mkapa speaking at the Pan African Media Workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Written by serengetiadvisersblog

March 24, 2010 at 17:40

Old Media Vs New Media, Part 2.

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One thing that you’ll notice while reading this blog is a diversity of views that co-exist under the rubric of Serengeti Advisers. Here you won’t find a homogeneous worldview. Ours is a sensibility defined by a Negative Capability, that is we are able to entertain a multiplicity of views and opinions, even when they are in contradictions with each other. And on the issue of Old Media versus New Media, there has been a lot of heated discussions out here about the role and limitations of both platforms in our Tanzanian context. You’ve read the arguments for Old Media. What follows is a case for New Media:

  • Blogging is more democratic- Journalists now have the alternative of working without having to endure the bureaucracy, whims and sometime incompetence of editors. Here is one example to demonstrate this point. Last year one of the biggest media stories in Dar es Salaam was the resignation of Sakina Datoo from her role as the Editorial Director of The Guardian Newspapers Ltd. However, the story went largely unreported by the mainstream press. But this news did not escape the attention of bloggers. And it is the freedom afforded by the internet that allowed that story to reach readers.
  • ‘Blogs are not held to the same standards of integrity as traditional print media’- Actually, the opposite may be true. In the blogosphere, readers and other bloggers act as fact-checkers and watchdogs. And their reactions to sloppy journalism can be immediate and eviscerating. While newspapers have to wait for letters to the editors to arrive or print a correction the next day (something that rarely happens in Tanzania, if at all), a blogger has to contend with the swift response of his commenters and if a post is half-baked, his/her readers will let him know. So too will other bloggers. Therefore, what determines quality in this situation is not a number of hits, but rather the authority that comes from being respected by your readers and other bloggers who link to your site. 
  • ‘Very few Tanzanians have internet access so it’s pointless to focus our journalism there’- Research suggests that as of June of last year, 520,000 people in this country were at some level connected to the internet. And this number is growing everyday. If a blogger can manage to attract just 10% of that number to regularly read his/her blog then that would mean a daily circulation figure of 52,000, a number that dwarfes any newspapers’ out there. So the potential is simply immense.
  • ‘Most Tanzanians are too poor to afford computers’- This argument is rather ridicilous. It’s like saying Tanzanians shouldn’t read books because they are expensive. No, people can go to libraries to get the books they can’t afford to buy. Similarly, those who are unable to own computers can visit internet cafés and enjoy the benefits of this wonderful new world of online journalism.
  • ‘Printed material has some longevity’- Really? What about all those trees that had to die so that a newspaper could be published? But anyway, today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s ‘makaratasi ya vitumbua.’ Meanwhile, a blog post once published into the ether is eternally available online for any Google search to discover. Furthermore, something written in Tanzania can be read everywhere, from the urban streets of New York to the rural villages of China, by a simple click of a button. How many Tanzanian newspapers can boast such a claim?

These are just some of the arguments in favor of online journalism and blogging in particular. For more on the subject do read this brilliant essay by the British-American blogger Andrew Sullivan where most of the above points are deputised from. Also this piece by the writer Matthew Klam profiling the pioneers of political blogging in the US is worth a read. This debate is always going to continue here. We would love to hear your thoughts on it too. What do you think?

Written by serengetiadvisersblog

March 3, 2010 at 13:27

Keeping It Real

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John Githongo, the former Kenyan Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics, ‘burst[s] the myth of Kenyan exceptionalism’ in today’s East African. To wit:

What we had in truth was a rapacious state dominated by a small elite that was prone to mobilise ethnically; had no real concept of national interest nor was even bothered to develop a coherent foreign policy.

It used violence, the threat of violence and economic exclusion, at will against individuals and entire sections of the population considered “hostile.”

This has been the reality covered tightly under a lid that hissed steam with every detention order, every assassination, every demonstration, every exile.

The whole piece is a fascinating read. Money quote:

The bigger transition underway in Kenya today is from the first generation of thieves to the second.

And so the next convulsion, if it comes, will take new forms. It won’t only be political and ethnic, but will also assume class and racial overtones.

Ethnicity, race and class are now inextricably intertwined in a toxic cauldron of divisiveness, sitting on the fire of youth empowerment lit by politicians who then took a break to build Spanish villas and buy SUVs.

Written by serengetiadvisersblog

February 15, 2010 at 15:20

SAL Abroad: Lagos, February 2010

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Upon arrival in Lagos yesterday morning, one couldn’t help but gravitate towards a nearby newsstand. There have been a lot of talk out here recently about a new newspaper, the brainchild of Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Dele Olojede, and a quick glance at the publications on offer, one can see why. It is hard to miss. Called NEXT, the paper bursts out among the rather tired and drab-looking masses of Nigeria’s papers like a fresh, clean-cut, colorful Benneton sweater.

The absence of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua from the country for the past 77 days dominates the news. One story talks about his Principal (private) Secretary, David Edvebie, being denied access to see him.

Mr Edvebie’s trip was reportedly aborted by the First Lady Turai Yar’Adua, who also turned down a proposal from Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, to visit the President. Mrs Yar’Adua has lately grown grouchy and anxious, according to knowledgeable presidency sources.

Another story reported the interest generated at the Lagos port on arrival of an ambulance the size of a large bus (‘Strange ambulance mystifies port workers in Lagos’), as many were ‘convinced it was brought for the ailing president.’

With the President out of the country, a constitutional crisis seems to be brewing. There is a tug of war between those who want to maintain control through to the end of Yar’Adua’s mandate next year, and those who want him to immediately hand over power to the Vice President, Mr Goodluck Jonathan. The manouvering is intense: ‘Pro-Jonathan lawmakers plot fresh strategy’ and ‘Governors address Jonathan as Acting President.’

Next’s editorial yesterday honed in on some important home truths. Entitled ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ it laments the apparent paralysis of Nigeria’s ruling class to provide assurance and clarity during the President’s absence, and accuses them of MAFA:

Our country is adrift. Our President has disappeared, terminally ill in a secret location in a foreign country. Our government is paralysed, hijacked by a cabal of predatory officials who claim to be acting on instructions of a brain-damaged President. Our citizens are trapped in a country with a reputation so soiled they are shamed every day…Passivity and constant accommodation are the Achilles’ heel of our educated and cultured class who are geniuses at analyzing our many troubles and utterly hopeless when it comes to taking any action that requires having skin in the game. Such people exhibit the classic attributes of the MAFA – mistaking articulation for action.

 It hits close to home, does it not?

Written by serengetiadvisersblog

February 8, 2010 at 15:01