Hongera Tanzania

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Nairobi to Lusaka, Part II

Dar es Salaam is a pleasant town in late June. I had only been there once before, back in 2011 when I stayed for a day and a half to catch the Tazara. I didn’t like it then because of the heat and humidity (humidity is up there with cats – I am allergic – on the list of things I cannot stand). But this time round it was nice, I managed to walk around town marveling at the pillars of concrete and glass that are rising up in every corner of the city. The construction boom puts even Nairobi to shame, enough to make me think that the suggestions that Tanzania may soon eclipse Kenya as the place where all the action is in East Africa are not that far fetched after all (see image and this piece).  Image

My only complaint was that a prime section of the beach front still remains under-utilized, although this might be because of the presidential palace nearby. I hear you can’t drive there at certain times of the day (Stop channeling Mugabe, Bwana Kikwete. Also, let Chadema be). Oh, and I did manage to drive on the Kibaki road. I thought it was a new road, but it is not. Sections of it are actually pretty bad. Apparently, the Tanzanian government is planning an upgrade soon. I also drove past Mwalimu Nyerere’s home. It made me respect the man even more.

I arrived in Dar late on Tuesday night after many hours of travel by bus. On Thursday morning I was scheduled to continue with the second leg of the journey to Lusaka. I was at the bus stop by 5:45 AM, still sleepy. I had stayed up late the previous night, watching the Confederation Cup matches of the day, reading and writing my Saturday column. I fell asleep as soon as I got to my seat.

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Dar’s public housing units. For a moment I thought that the choice of color was meant to discourage applicants. Until I saw the pink public housing headquarters. Some of the units are in really nice parts of town.

The bus left the station promptly at 6:15 AM. Tanzania is huge. From Dar es Salaam to the Tunduma border is about 931 kilometres. The drive to the Zambian border took a total of 16 hours.

As I said in the previous post on this trip, I regretted taking the bus. If you want to travel overland between Dar and Lusaka, take the train. It is a million times more pleasant. There is a restaurant and a bar (that serves Tusker) on the train. There are bathrooms. And you have a bed. Plus the train is just slow enough that you can read and truly appreciate the empty Tanzanian countryside.

But the trip wasn’t all gloomy. The scenery was still enjoyable. Sections of Tanzania are quite hilly, with amazing views of cliffs and rivers and rock formations. At some point past Iringa I saw what seemed to be the biggest tree plantation in the world. For miles and miles all I could see were rows and rows of trees. And when there were no trees there were rows and rows of sisal. Someone is making bank off the land in that part of the country.

Also, western Tanzania is a lesson on how hard it is to achieve economic development in the context of a sparsely populated country. Such situations make it impossible to reach everyone with the grid and water pipes. Either the government has to wait for demographics to work its magic (again, see figure above – and be sure to check out this story on the Africa-driven demographic future of the world) or provide smart incentives to accelerate the process of urbanization.

For those who went to high school in Kenya, journeying by land through Tanzania reminded me of Ken Walibora’s Siku Njema. I felt like I was retracing the steps of Kongowea Mswahili. Some day I would like to go back and spend some time in Morogoro and Iringa. By the way, Siku Njema is by far the best Swahili novel I have ever read (which reminds me that it has been eight years since I read a Swahili novel. Suggestions are welcome, preferably by Tanzanian authors). It is about time someone translated it into English for a wider audience.

We reached Tunduma some minutes past 10 PM. The border crossing to Nakonde on the Zambian side was closed. Some passengers on the bus left to rent out rooms for the night. I decided to tough it out on the bus with the crew and a few other guys. Desperate for something warm to eat, I had chicken soup and plain rice for dinner. The “restaurant” reminded me of the place in Tamale, Ghana where Vanessa and I got food poisoning two months earlier. But I was desperate. I quickly ate my hot soup and rice and hoped for the best.

ImageI crossed the border early in the morning on foot. The bus had to wait in line for inspection and to pay duty for its cargo (It is at this point that I learned that the bus was actually going all the way to Harare in Zimbabwe). I am usually very careful with money changers, but perhaps because of my tiredness and lack of sleep the chaps in Nakonde got me.

If you ever cross to Nakonde on foot wait until you are on the Zambian side to exchange cash at the several legit forex stores that line the streets.

The bus finally got past customs at noon (on Friday). In Nakonde we waited for another two hours for more passengers and cargo.

I took the time to get some food supplies. Lusaka was another 1019 kilometres away. 

By this time I was dying to have a hot shower and be able to sleep in a warm bed. It was cold. Like serious cold. And Lusaka was still another 14 hours away.

I slept lightly through most of the 14 odd hours. In between I chatted with two Kenyan guys that were apparently immigrating to South Africa, with little more than their two bags. They said that this was their second attempt. The previous time they found work in Lusaka and decided to stay for a bit before going back to Nairobi. They were part of the bulk of passengers from Nakonde who were going all the way to Harare. Apparently, this is the route of choice for those who immigrate from eastern and central Africa into South Africa in search of greener pastures.

Before it got dark we saw several overturned trucks on the road. I slept very lightly, always waking up in a panic every time the driver braked or swerved while overtaking a truck just in time to avoid oncoming traffic. My only source of comfort was the fact that the driver was a middle aged man, most likely with a family to take care of and therefore with a modicum of risk aversion.

I arrived in Lusaka at around 4 AM, more than three days and 2871 kilometres since leaving Nairobi.

I said goodbye to my two Kenyan countrymen and rushed out of the bus as soon as I could. On the way to my hotel I couldn’t stop thinking how much I would like to read an ethnography of the crew of the bus companies (and their passengers and cargo) that do the Dar to Harare route.

At Lusaka Hotel that morning I had the best shower I had had in a very long time. And slept well past check out time. I had two months of fieldwork and travel in Zambia to look forward to.

Tribe, Nation or Literacy?

Tanzania’s founding president Julius Nyerere famously described Kenya as a vulgar, capitalist “man eat man society” – to which Kenya’s then Attorney General Charles Njonjo retorted that, in contrast, Tanzania was a “man eat nothing society.” At the time Tanzania had embarked on a program of African Socialism – Ujamaa – backed by a language policy that put a lot of emphasis on Kiswahili as the national language. As Ted Miguel has argued inTribe or Nation?(pdf)this was a great strategy in nation building. But was it economically beneficial in the long run?

For now the answer is probably no.

The legacy of Tanzania’s language policy has been that English language instruction only begins to be done seriously in high school. Obviously, four years are simply not enough to master a language, let alone sit a major national examination in that language. The result has been an astonishingly high failure-rate in the national end of high school exams in Tanzania. Earlier this year 60% of high school (Form Four) students failed, prompting jokes like “I’m a rocket scientist in Tz” on this side of the border. In reality even fewer made the cutoff to get a place in institutions of higher learning. In addition, a recent survey done by Twaweza, an education Think Tank, found that 72% of sampled primary school kids and 66% of high school students could not do second grade maths. English reading and comprehension was equally bad.

It goes without mention that the state of Tanzania’s education system has serious implications for human resource development in the country. The impending commodities boom in many parts of the country will certainly not benefit locals if workers have to be imported. Tanzania cannot effectively transform itself into a 21st century economy without a drastic improvement in its education system. Oddly enough, despite its obvious shortage of human capital, Tanzania is the most restrictive state with regard to labor mobility in the East Africa Community (EAC). Dodoma is especially hostile to Kenyan workers that it sees as a threat to local workers (Kenyans and their alleged aggressiveness rudeness have jokes about Tanzanians’ work ethic….. I should add though that Tanzanians tend to be stereotyped unfairly, both at Mang’u and in New Haven I went to school with some very smart and hardworking Tanzanians).

In the final analysis, although Kenya’s post-independence education and language policy left us with a ‘tribe eat tribe’ legacy, it allowed the country’s education system to focus on English language instruction from early on, and a chance to develop a relatively more globally competitive human resource base. Nation building may have taken a hit in the process but I would argue that internal economic ties – the result of man eat man competition – have now made it such that the Kenyan nation-state will only get stronger. The challenge for Tanzania is to ensure that nation building does not limit the development of a globally competitive human resource capacity.

Since the announcement of the high school exam results earlier this year the country (Tanzania) has been debating possible avenues of reform. Better teacher training, more books and equipment and more teachers have been cited as possible remedies. Strategic review of the country’s language policy should also be put on the table.

In my opinion the EAC should adopt a language policy in which our history, social and religious studies and civics are taught in Swahili while everything else is taught in English. This would not be a selling out to a foreign language (with due respect to Ngugi) but an investment in global competitiveness. Many decades down the road, once we have universal literacy in both English and Kiswahili, we can have a full switch to universal Kiswahili language instruction in all subjects.

is it time we had fresh elections?

So the weekend retreat in Tsavo of the big-wigs in Kenya’s coalition government failed. Instead of addressing real issues (reforms, corruption and Kenya’s land problem), the discussions veered into side-shows – like the Premier’s salary and the opening remarks of the president and his prime minister.

I am beginning to think that the coalition government has outlived its purpose. I am beginning to be persuaded by those who have been calling for fresh elections – most notably the clergy. The coalition government, as currently constituted, is dysfunctional at best. The prime minister and the president (and their respective camps) seem to be pulling in opposite directions on just about every issue. May be it’s time we went to the polls and gave a mandate to a single party instead of having the collective tyranny of ODM and PNU. I think we have a better chance with just one of these parties in power. May be then the government can act more responsibly on reforms instead of having cabinet ministers constantly pointing fingers at each other and blaming the other party.

On a different note, I hear rumours that Martha Karua might quit the government if she is not given more space in the Justice ministry. I hope she gets what she wants, i.e. more space to implement her brand of reforms in the judiciary. Hate her or love her, I think Martha Karua is one of the few Kenyan leaders who speak their mind and who have the balls to implement what they believe in. I remember reading somewhere that the problem with African politics is the lack of ideology. Many leaders act like blind men in the dark, constantly wandering around without any direction.

African social organization and politics have mostly been driven by contingency rather than ideology. The only country that ever produced a true ideologue on the continent was Tanzania. And for all its faults, Ujamaa helped Tanzania a great deal. God knows where the country would be had it not been for the commodity crises of the seventies and mandated structural adjustment programs of the eighties (yeah Gordon Brown, down with the Washington Consensus). I think Martha Karua may be Kenya’s real ideologue, and for that she is increasingly becoming one of my favorite politicians, even though she and I may not see eye to eye on her actual policies.