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Monday, June 9, 2008

Turning Tanzania into a Comic Strip

I though that I would no longer have to write about the fever that gripped official and pseudo official quarters of Tanzania lately - the 8th Leon H. Sullivan Summit recently concluded in Arusha but I feel an obligation to express my utter disgust at my Government’s sorry demonstration of its policy of economic diplomacy and economic policy of promoting foreign investments (which sadly tends to be about people coming into Tanzania and taking not about us going out of Tanzania and investing to repatriate the profits back home) on the one hand and foreign aid dependency on the other. Equally my relatives from the US have disappointed me.

Former Ambassador Andrew Young described what he and his entourage succeeded to do at a State Banquet hosted by the Tanzanian President was to turn the affair into an “Old Baptist Prayer Meeting”. Ambassador Young made this comment after the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete broke every ethical and traditional rule of protocol to allow a preacher, a comedian and a politician to respectively interrupt what was supposed to be his official address to delegates and hence to instead run a mnada (auction), to do an impromptu stand up comic performance which, I must add, was not funny and to justify why black Africans should allow black Americans (as we knew them growing up) to also come home and reclaim their ancestral share of African’s wealth.

As a matriot, a nationalist and a people’s activist I hereby register my sense of outrage and concern about President Kikwete’s action. As a citizen of this nation and an African I expect better. It is somehow ironical that following the eruption of various scandals involving dubious energy investment deals and official blunders in the extractive industries implicating his own administration and that which he served under, that the President who has been trying, albeit not too hard, to reassure us that ‘appropriate corrective measures’ will be taken to address that such madudu (mess) don’t happen again would invite guests, two of whom had already spoken before him, to partake in a Presidential address! Certainly this, to me, sounds more like a case of inviting guests into your bedroom instead of at the baraza (verandah) where we from the Coast are accustomed to receive our guests.

Significantly, it baffles me why these three individuals, two who are not strangers to national and international diplomacy, could just not politely decline the President’s blunderous offer because, being folks from the American South, they ought to know better! Perhaps they were overtaken by the generosity and warmth extended by the long lost relative. Or perhaps they were told not to offend local officials lest the whole entourage gets into trouble. Or perhaps they were overcome by compassion and felt they needed to do something about what Leon Sullivan’s daughter, Sister Hope Masters, described as appalling poverty. And it may very well have been a case of vanity.

So, what bugs my conscious? It is but proper to set the scene that led to the events that I described above and that I take particular issue with. The 2008 host of the Leon Sullivan Summit, President Kikwete, held a State Banquet/Gala in honour of Heads of States from other nations attending the Summit and ‘distinguished’ delegates as the announcer on TV informed us that you had to be ‘someone among people” to be invited. During her speech, Sister Hope Masters, the heir to her father’s legacy used the opportunity to bemoan the bumpy ride to an area in Manyara where they had gone earlier to visit a school. She also expressed shock at the educational facilities she encountered - poor or no buildings, no texts books, few teachers etc, a situation she found appallingly unacceptable. In response she challenged the audience to do something about ‘this face’ of the continent.

As protocol would have it other speakers, mainly associated with the Summit, were invited to speak. Ultimately, it was the turn of the host to render his speech but instead of giving a visionary and coherent address to the delegates before him, after a few incomprehensible words, he invited Chris Tucker the comedian and actor to join him at the podium to entertain the crowd with a joke?! Being a performer, Chris Tucker obliged putting up a sad show about how his African brothers expressed their love for him. I know for a fact if someone who was not black made similar nuances about Africans, or African Americans for the matter, it would have attracted uproar. But the Presidential stage had been turned into a comic strip and the rest of us had to smile politely; or recoil in horror at our President’s goof.

Upon Mr. Tucker’s exit the President, after mumbling a few words called on Rev. Jesse Jackson to join him at the Podium. Being a righteous man of God, Rev. Jackson could not let Sister Hope’s laments go unanswered. He quickly invoked people’s sense of compassion and righteousness by leading by example. He and his family pledged USD 1,000 towards the school Sister Hope talked about and proceeded to raise the stakes initially calling on specific people to counter his offer before attracting a long line of people of African descent from the Diaspora who had come home ‘to give’ to the continent. In the end about USD 45,000 were raised or pledged.

Remarking at the result of Rev. Jackson’s fundraising drive President Kikwete confessed being surprised at the quick results and thanked those who generously gave. But I wonder if what Rev. Jesse Jackson did and the President found so commendable is his idea of development funding or bona fide investments? Is this what he will parade to the rest of us as his success in attracting African American investors to Tanzania? Short of being ungrateful at the generous contributions of some of the delegates I wish to remind the President that his wife, Mama Salma (who was conspicuously absent at this state event) just a few months ago raised on the spot over Tsh 51 million (about USD 50,000) from ordinary Tanzanian women and children, not millionaires or billionaires, at the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) 20 years celebration.

Also, The President should confer with the Medical Women’s Association (MEWATA) with regards money they raise from ordinary people including children in their Breast Cancer Campaign. Annually the Telefood drive raises substantial contributions from local businesses and citizens. Why could the President not cite these examples to indicate that this is not a nation of beggars or people who are helpless? Instead he felt it more proper to extend the policy in the mining industry where companies are asked to make development awards to the local government amounting to USD 200, 000 annually and discretionary amounts to local communities while they repatriate hundreds of million if not billions in profits annually and this same government thanks them for giving its population morsels and leftovers. To add salt to injury President Kikwete also called on Ambassador Young, who, if we believe what the US President recently praised as emerging investigative journalism in the country, has been linked to the mining industry as an investor with George Bush Sr., to speak.

Sister Hope Masters, in her appeal, claimed to understand what her father’s mission was about after she visited the village in Manyara and the school. If what I heard from her speech sums up her assessment of what the issues are and what the response of the Summit was to the situation they witnessed was deemed appropriate then she has missed the whole point. I will thus oblige with some insights in the hope that a man of vision as was Rev. Leon Sullivan can be honoured in more fitting ways. Surely, the favoured approach adopted thus far, if done by Europeans or white American would be considered patronizing and if done by neo-liberals is simply called advancing the legacy of economic rape and plunder on the continent of Africa. Importantly, I would not like to see well intentioned African Americans make bad investments in addressing the challenges in the continent.

Foremost, I want Sister Hope to know that what she saw and described to the world is not news for those of us who spend our lives working with communities. Rather, it is the contradictory face of development brought about by ill-conceived development policies such as Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) and economic recovery measures and the poor implementation of development budgets and aid on the one hand; an the development industry on the other. Consider the case of Arusha, a popular tourist, development and missionary destination for decades. One should ask how after so many years of interventions there is not much to see in terms of tangible development such that someone who was raised poor like Ms. Masters should find what she saw disturbing.

Simply put, Africa’s problems are more structural and are compounded by bad governance which is not an exclusively African trait but it is exacerbated by the active collusion of our leaders with capitalist and military interests. The Maasai are one of the richest communities in Tanzania, in terms of livestock wealth, yet we assume that they are poor because they don’t live in modern housing and, purportedly, don’t value education. Instead of offering ready-made solutions why not assist Maasai communities to develop their markets for meat, hides, and culture so that they adapt to present market realities instead of being disempowered by the dominant rhetoric about poverty and development.

Moreover, if the Sullivan Summit wants to have an impact in Africa and not just facilitate economic prospecting then I urge organizers to begin reaching out to local communities in meaningful and empowering ways, not like tourists. This will entail leaving the ballroom to identify joint ventures for technical or financial support in local communities on an ongoing basis. Also it will entail having an impact in the whole country not just as an attractive tourist destination. For example, there are many parts of Tanzania, especially in the South and West that are equally spectacular but they remain neglected in official development programmes, as well as by civil society organizations. Rukwa, for instance, has the potential to be the bread basket of the region. Amidst the global food crisis why are friendly investors not heading that way to help local communities make the most of this opportunity?

The Sullivan Summit attracted thousands of delegates from Africa and its Diaspora. At the State Dinner alone over one thousand people were hosted by the State at a very expensive resort. Imagine if someone among the delegate would have offered to match the amount donating the funds to a promising community venture instead of sending it all in the loo hosting people who already are ‘privileged’. Or imagine if some of the funds were used to strengthen the educational system at the tertiary level so that the intellectual future of this country is properly nurtured as is vigorously pursued by institutions like the African American institutes in their bid to promote professional training opportunities for people of African descent.

Just as I will not leave it to my President to belittle my nation, I would not leave it to the organizers and leadership of the Sullivan Summit to disrespect Africa and her people by recycling and reinventing colonial agendas and relations. I would want to know what past Summits and initiatives have achieved not just in political terms but in real terms. Also, as a citizen of Africa, before taking my relatives in I would first want to ascertain what they have to offer lest they prove to be social and economic liabilities. Likewise, I would borrow a leaf from a chapter from the African American business experience in South Africa and Ghana to inform myself of my options instead of relying on empty self-serving rhetoric as the Truth itself. I want hope not disillusionment for people of African descent.

Author: Salma Maoulidi

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