Some years seem to pack in more events than others, and 2011 was one of them. As it is, Dar es Salaam is suffering from heavy unseasonal rains which have managed to wash out many parts of the city — roads and houses gone in a matter of a day or two.
Although traditionally the floods in Dar have affected those living in unplanned settlements in river valleys and other low places, this time around the flooding has affected every kind of resident and worker in the city. As we all share in the trials and tribulations of a poorly managed metropolis with an overwhelmed drainage system, the hope is that we’ll come out of this with a view to improve matters and see signs of life from the municipalities.
As it is, this has been a year of hard learning on the emergency front. Just in September thousands of Tanzanians lost their lives when the criminally over-laden MV Spice Islander capsized on its way from Unguja (Zanzibar) to Pemba after the Maulid holiday. Although in the end the numbers have been contentious as to how many people died, what did emerge is that we’ve been playing fast and loose with our safety regulations when it comes to transport. In the event, we’re not particularly good with disasters involving the sea — in spite of a seafaring coastal culture — but the public outcry has served to nudge public safety authorities out of their complacency. What remains to be seen is whether private transport providers are likely to change the way they do business.
And it was business as usual for the armed forces during the celebration of Tanganyika aka Tanzania Mainland’s 50th Independence anniversary. The national celebrations have been getting more and more elaborate with the heavy-handed help of our Chinese friends-slash-business-partners, but this year what was most notable was watching the army bring out its toys. The day’s agenda had clearly gone haywire by the time we were watching the paramilitary's attack dogs being put through their paces, a most unsubtle demonstration of what could happen to disobedient little civilians. Sadly, the biggest shadow overhanging this display was the 'Gongo la Mboto' bombings in February of this year when the self-same military managed to ruin lives and demolish homes through negligence. Hard to be impressed by goose-stepping troops when the day-to-day reality is decidedly shabby.
2011 was also the year in which the world’s human population hit seven billion, and Tanzania embraced The Youth Question as a major political angle. February’s Arab Spring inspired the whole world to take notice of what young people can do when they put their minds to it.
Tanzania is a decidedly young nation and our solution has been to try and motivate more youth to enter politics. Unfortunately, the people who excel at this are politicians, specifically opposition politicians. This is problematic. I don’t think that parties that lack the discipline to keep themselves together should serve as examples to young Tanzanians who are interested in political change. The good news is that we might just be savvy enough to avoid their more obvious bids to exploit youth. After all, we voted in a “youth-friendly” administration six years ago and I think we all learned something from that gamble.
This was also the year that saw a number of luminaries pass away. In our pursuit of this elusive thing called development, too often environmental concerns get brushed aside as peripheral concerns and there aren’t enough well-respected champions on the continent to disabuse us of this notion. Wangari Maathai, the late Kenyan environmentalist, will be sorely missed in that respect. And so will Steve Jobs. It is a rare innovator who can affect the lives and thinking of people who don’t even consume his products directly, and yet Steve managed that.
For many who grew up under the nerdy tyranny of Microsoft and it’s misanthropic approach to technology, Steve Jobs was a miracle man. He believed that computing should work for ordinary people, not just geeks. He made it easier to use, much more durable, portable, beautiful and fun. The post-Jobsian world is indeed a better place.
Looking forward to 2012 there are a couple of very big stories on the horizon, all of them having to do with democracy at work. Will the Kenyan-American President of the United States be re-elected by a landslide? More importantly, hopes are high across the region for Kenyans as they head into an election year, that there will be no blood at least. And finally, to bring things home, the National Executive Committee of Chama Cha Mapinduzi is also due for a refresher in 2012. The next President of the United Republic of Tanzania might just begin to emerge from the scuffle and it is time to lay odds and take bets for the 2015 presidential smackdown.
Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, http://mikochenireport.blogspot.com. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org