Thursday, June 10, 2010
Dar es Salaam - The old Chinese curse – may you live in interesting times – seems to have taken up residence among us, and the past week has been disconcertingly eventful.
For starters, we are informed that several donors, on whom we have come to depend so heavily, are slashing significant chunks of money from their budget support because they are unhappy about something the government is or is not doing.
Of course, this has to be comprehended as part of the usual carrot-and-stick treatment all difficult horses must be subjected to, a temporary measure pending the government’s show of contrition and a resolve to mend its ways.
Then we watch, helpless, as the shilling tumbles against the dollar, depleting people’s savings in real terms and threatening to raise the cost of living across the board. The government states, clueless, that there is nothing to worry about as everything is under control (was it Idi Amin who once said, “The situation is under alarm and there is no cause for control”?)
Before one can cry “Masalakulangwa Ng’wanakilala,” we learn that the government has gone on a particularly lavish spending spree, borrowing money directly from a commercial bank at interest rates that commercial banks charge instead of letting the central bank float Treasury bills as of old.
All this is happening barely two weeks before the national budget is read out in parliament, which in normal circumstances should have Tanzanians in a collective funk.
But no, these are things that Tanzanians routinely take in their stride, as they sip their beer, chew their nyama-choma and gossip about who-dun-what-with-whom.
Somewhere in between, the office of the Registrar of Political Parties announces that it cannot travel upcountry to verify the list of members submitted to it by the famous new party, CCJ, the selfsame entity that the said registrar had, up front, declared to be a hoax and a fake. The reason given is “lack of funds.” Now the party offers to foot the registrar’s travel bills.
Then to cap it all, the country wakes up to news that President Jakaya Kikwete was forced to change cars two times on a single tour of the capital city because the vehicles he was travelling in broke down, not once but twice.
It turns out also that at the end of the tour, a wheel came off one of the cars. Needless to say, the whole saga was recorded by eyewitnesses who accompanied the president on this outing, and photographic evidence can be compelling.
Yet, a press statement from the president’s office has told us that the picture that seemed to indicate that a wheel had come off was in reality all about a flat tyre that was being fixed, and that the supposed breakdown of the car — which one? — had been occasioned by the driver forgetting to disengage the four-wheel drive once the motorcade had left the rough roads. Wow.
Give me a break. It’s easy to understand that what these donors are trying to do, which is to meddle shamelessly in our affairs to usurp our sovereignty by telling us what to do at every turn, just as it’s easy to accept that that meddling and the petulance, born of their failure to get what they want from us, is what has made them withdraw their budget support, forcing us to borrow directly from a commercial bank and, therefore, causing the shilling to weaken and costs to rise. A mouthful for the layman that is me.
There may, in fact, be no causal relationship, each one of these things happening independently of each other, only converging, casually, in time and place. But there is enough evidence to suggest that someone, somewhere, is not doing their job — that, indeed, the situation is under alarm, even regarding such basic things as the president’s safety.
There is every reason to demand higher degrees of accountability from our officials. And the donors are doing us a favour by telling us they are not going to baby-sit us forever.
Otherwise, which donor was supposed to check the president’s car and which to disengage the 4WD?
Jenerali Ulimwengu, chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper, is a political commentator and civil society activist based in Dar es Salaam.