Never paid a bribe? What are you, a teetotaller?By ELSIE EYAKUZE | Monday, November 21 2011 at 11:56
It has become a citizenship requirement in Tanzania to be angry with the government. In fact, the primary way of demonstrating patriotism this year is through dissatisfaction.
I don’t know if we need to show our passports at border points anymore; Immigration could save us all a bit of trouble by simply asking people to name their least favourite politician and vent about what it is that they have done wrong.
Certainly this would work for columnists and other professionals who thrive on public discontent.
The free media’s main job is to watch out for all the strange and unwanted things that governments get up to so that citizens can remain informed.
It has to be said that they have been doing a better and better job with every passing year.
The fierce competition between newspapers means that every day we are treated to a scandal, the bigger the better, even if this sometimes means stretching very thin evidence to cover rather large implications.
'If only the government would.....'
As much fun as it is to live in a culture of complaint, there does come a point at which we have to start thinking about the solution side of things. And this is where things get very sticky.
I think that maybe something has gone a little bit awry with our concept of civic engagement.
Tanzanians are in danger of becoming a nation of people who expect things to happen without giving thought to how these things are going to happen. Ask a Tanzanian what they want to see done and they are likely to start the sentence with “If only the government would...”
Which is particularly hilarious because public servants get caught saying it all the time.
The really tricky thing about democracies is that citizens are always involved in some way in creating whatever mess happens to be irritating us all.
In monarchies and dictatorships, there is a lot of room for complaint; after all, the victimisation tends to be quite direct and brutal with no recourse to systems based on human rights.
But in Tanzania in the 21st century, we don’t really have to worry about problems like monarchs or dictators with that crazed gleam in their eyes or a combination of the two.
This isn’t Swaziland.
In truth, there probably hasn’t been a time in our history when citizens have had more power to influence the government and grow the country in whichever manner they see fit.
The question is whether we are ready to embrace the agency that this demands. As a group, the ruling class are only a reflection of the society that gives rise to them.
Take the corruption issue, for example. The reason we have been circling the drain on the corruption issue is that as a society we happen to endorse it.
In Dar es Salaam, choosing not to pay bribes to lubricate the gears of life is as radical a lifestyle choice as being a vegan non-drinker.
Most of us can’t quite muster the moral strength for this and have paid a little something to somebody somewhere to get the land, the car, the licence, the tender, the client, the mailing list, the deal, the interview, the job, you name it.
What’s even worse is that far too many of us have also encouraged our politicians to steal bigger and better so that they can redistribute their wealth to us. We solicit them for church fundraisers and school fees for the orphans, for connections and wedding contributions, for hela ya soda and a sackful of rice, all the while pretending not to know where the money is coming from.
It takes a certain kind of gumption, a flair, a touch of the sublime and the ridiculous all at once for a society to operate with such dedicated hypocrisy. It also takes some cunning, and we don’t call Dar Bongo for nothing.
To take some inspiration from the US, the brilliance of the Obama presidential campaign was his ability to convince Americans that they had the opportunity — with him — to reclaim agency in their governance. Obama convinced his fellow citizens that they could do it with intelligence and principle... and personal agency.
Tanzania too is a democracy, and as democracies go it’s not irretrievably damaged. However, it may be that as citizens we haven’t quite signed on to our own demands for good governance.
Our leaders are only as good as we demand they be.
Frankly, they are only as good or as bad as we are ourselves.
And isn’t that a bother?
Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, http://mikochenireport.blogspot.com. E-mail: email@example.com
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