June 19, 2012

For the past few weeks, this blog has been less prolific than normal. This is partly to do with the fact that during that time I have been producing and hosting a news review show called @Mgahawa that airs every Sunday at 1.30pm on the regional channel East Africa Television. Here is a sneak peak of one of our episodes:

In due course, I’ll get back to posting here more regularly but until then please tune in to @Mgahawa and let us know what you think.

For more highlights from previous episodes, please go here: http://www.youtube.com/user/snapfilmskenya

April 15, 2012
NEWS ANALYSIS: The President, Mining and The Rise of Populism


By Omar Mohammed

In late February, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania gave a speech to mining sector stakeholders that caused a mighty uproar in the press. Speaking at Dar es Salaam’s Kilimanjaro Hyatt Hotel to launch the Presidential Award on the Extractive Industry Corporate Social Responsibility and Empowerment (CSRE) programme, the president was quoted as saying, ‘it’s disappointing to see some mining investors want to benefit alone… leaving the government and surrounding communities with nothing.’

According to published reports, President Kikwete told industry attendees that the lack of apparent benefits to local communities is a problem that, ‘triggers endless conflicts…between investors and residents living around the mining areas.’

‘If companies pay taxes that are due to the state… they will have good relations with the government,’ he added. In a tone that was described by one newspaper as ‘serious,’ he called for the creation of better linkages between the industry and other economic activities in the country. He said he was baffled by reports that mining companies choose to import goods from abroad that can be easily found in the country. “People… ask, “what do we get in return? Our gold is taken, companies have tax holidays and exemptions, [yet] they don’t even buy our goods or support us economically,”’ he said.

The speech and its perceived critical tone, especially, was unexpected. Reading the coverage, one would have been forgiven for mistaking the president’s comments for the kind of rhetoric usually associated with activists campaigning against perceived misdeeds by the mining sector. Mr. Kikwete was not only co-opting their message but in many ways he sounded like he was channeling their anger.

Meanwhile, the way the story unfolded in the media showed how narratives about the sector evolve and enter the public discourse. It began with the president giving what the media interpreted as a critical speech about the industry, which was then echoed by an incendiary press who amplified it to their readers who will, with complaints to public officials, in turn reinforce the anti-mining sector arguments. The storyline seemed to subscribe to the now familiar trope of “foreign investors unbridled in their plundering of our resources while local communities benefit little from what is rightfully theirs.” That’s the narrative that dominated Tanzania’s newspapers and airwaves.

However, in the media coverage that followed, conspicuous in their absence were voices from the mining sector explaining or offering an alternative perspective. But a couple of weeks after the President’s speech, the industry body, the Tanzania Chamber of Minerals and Energy, granted me an e-mail interview, presenting a different narrative to the one carried in the press earlier in the month. 

Mining and its contributions to the economy

The chamber strongly disputed what they termed as an ‘outdated characterisation’ of the industry, arguing that mining is ‘driving socio-economic development both in Tanzania and across the African continent.’ While they disagreed with the media’s spin, saying that reading the speech in its entirety would show how supportive of the sector President Kikwete is, they were also quick to emphasize what they believe are significant contributions mining brings to Tanzania’s economy. 

On the issue of taxes, for instance, TCME points out that their members paid over US$150 million (Tsh 250 billion) in taxes in 2010 alone. Furthermore, they argue, ‘total taxation from the life cycle of the five main producing companies in Tanzania are estimated to reach almost US$3.5 billion in total.’ 

As to the question of whether there exists linkages between the sector and the country’s overall economy, TCME calls attention to the activities of one of its biggest member, African Barrick Gold (ABG). The chamber says ABG currently employs 9,200 people whose wages amount to US$148 million, a chunk of which, they argue, drives spending in the local economy. 

In 2009, for example, the chamber argues, ‘through employment, taxes, royalties, and local procurement, roughly 70% of African Barrick Gold’s revenue was retained in the Tanzanian economy.’ They also point to ABG’s community development spending, which, they say, through its ‘Maendeleo Fund’ ‘provides US$10 million annually…to support communities [surrounding] the mining areas.’ In addition to this, TCME claims that ABG, ‘spent more than a half a billion dollars purchasing goods and services in 2010 of which 59% were made in Tanzania.’ All this, they say, demonstrates just how ingrained in the economy modern mining firms are.

If these figures are indeed true, why is it then that the mining sector is a target of so much suspicion and vitriol? 

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April 7, 2012
Which April, Kanumba?


By Erick Kabendera

The news of Steve Kanumba’s sudden death seemed like a fictitious scene from a horror movie; you see a character dying but your instincts remind you that it’s just a movie and that the actor is still alive in actual life.

Unfortunately, the case of Kanumba is different; he is dead. And such a bitter truth may take a long time for the family and fans of the actor to come to terms with the fact that the young man who worked so hard to achieve success in his acting career had his life cut short before his full potential could be realized.

I rarely interact with local actors. But last month I found myself in the company of Mr. Kanumba, arguably this country’s most charming actor. As the news of his untimely death reached me today, it made me remember a scene which led to that first encounter with him a few weeks.

His childhood friend, Bongo Flava artist Haji Nurah told him a journalist wanted to see him, and he agreed, and chose our meeting to take place at Sinza Vatican one chilly Friday evening.

Upon arriving there, we drove through a small path and finally parked in front of a moderately luxurious house where three cars, a Lexus and two others, were parked.

“They are all Kanumba’s,” Nurah slowly whispered.

We were invited into the living room, which was neatly decorated with silver ornaments and white painted walls and well placed curtains with a comfortable sofa set. The elegant space gave an impression one sees reflected in the perfectionism that characterised his movies, his fans tell me.

After waiting for ten minutes, a young man emerged from a room in shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. His face bared a sad smile and he seemed slightly unsettled.

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October 20, 2011
My Life As an Up-Country Blogger

By Ben Taylor

I came across a story recently of two young British missionaries working in Kenya in the 1920s who went to visit some friends in a remote rural mission. A month before their trip, they sent a telegram to their friends in the mission station, explaining when they were coming. They got no reply, but set off anyway. 

As they passed through the final town before the mission station, the manager of the local post office came running to them, handed them an envelope and asked if it could be delivered to the mission. They agreed, of course, and carried on with their journey. Only when they reached the mission did they discover that the envelop contained the very telegram that they had sent a whole month earlier. 

Times and technologies change, but a twenty-first century version of this same problem remains. A Dar-based colleague sent me an important email last week with a large file attached. Too large, it turned out, to be downloaded in Njombe, despite several hours of trying spread over two days. Too large to be downloaded in Iringa, too, where I had a brief overnight stop on my way to Dar. It was only when I reached Dar, and met up with the very person who had sent this email, that I was able to get a reliable enough connection to download this attachment. He might as well have delivered it by hand. 

Njombe is around ten hours’ drive from Dar es Salaam. The fibre-optics haven’t yet reached us and the mobile networks are stuck obstinately on 2G. If I want to check what’s happening and what people are saying online (the sustenance of any blogger), the morning and the evening are the only times each day when the internet connection is reliably quick enough to do so. So I try to get in early and I usually leave late. It’s not a recipe for a happy family life (though the 5-minute commute helps).

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September 27, 2011
The Sinking of MV Spice Islander and The Crisis in Tanzanian Journalism

In the early hours of September 11th, as night turned into early morning, a ferryboat traveling to Pemba capsized and sank off the coast of Unguja killing over 200 people in the process. The boat in question, the MV Spice Islander, began its journey in Dar es Salaam where according to Reuters,

[I]t was loaded with passengers, motor vehicles, bags of food and cement and other building materials…When it reached Zanzibar, also known as Unguja, it took on more passengers and cargo for the trip to the archipelago’s smaller island of Pemba.”

By the time the Spice Islander departed Unguja port at 10pm, it was reportedly carrying 1200 passengers, almost twice it’s official capacity of 600.

Kassim Abdalah, one of 619 rescued survivors, in his harrowing account of what happened, would later tell The Guardian that he started noticing something was wrong immediately after they left the port:

'[M]ost of us…were not comfortable with the condition of the ship…the vessel was tilting, something that worried many passengers, including me.'

But their journey continued regardless. As they started to pass the infamously treacherous waters of Nungwi Bay, things began to go horribly wrong:

“It seemed as if the ship was sinking…fear and tension gripped most passengers on board…[t]he situation worsened…after one of the ship’s engines stalled.”

The captain urged calm, assuring his passengers that he can get them to Pemba safely. Soon after, however, the second engine shut down. Water started pouring into the boat, causing panic:

“The ship had started to sink, slowly. Every passenger prayed to God for some miracle…to save our lives. There was nothing we could do except to pray,” Mr. Abdalah said. “It reached a point when almost half of the ship was covered with water…it is at this point when many children and infants died, as adults, like me, struggled to save our lives.”

Less than an hour later, the MV Spice Islander was completely underwater. It is the worst maritime tragedy to have ever hit Zanzibar.

‘Instead of mourning with the rest of Tanzania, they are playing silly music’

A lot has been said and written about the alleged negligence and regulatory and moral laxity that lead to the sinking of MV Spice Islander. But what also became clear during the hours immediately after the news broke was the media’s outright failure and/or inability, may be even unwillingness, to report on the story. In the first twelve hours of the tragedy, the press were nowhere to be seen or heard. Here is one blogger’s experience reflecting the frustration many felt at the time:

“Like many people in Tanzania, I spent much of Saturday flicking between TV channels desperate for breaking news on the tragic events taking place in Zanzibar. I struggled. All I could find was imported soap operas, music videos, discussions on sporting issues, and eventually, live broadcasts of Miss Tanzania…There is almost nothing on any Tanzanian TV channel about the tragedy.”

Radio did not fare any better. For most of Saturday, almost all national radio stations proceeded with regularly scheduled programming. It was an eerie feeling. On the one hand one was aware that something awful was happening. Yet, for the majority of the broadcast media, theirs was a posture of business as usual.

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July 22, 2011

What do these apparently disconnected stories tell us about the possible future of Tanzania?

From Greece

Faced with a €340 billion ($A460 billion) debt projected to hit 160 per cent of GDP by 2012, Greece is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy…For many - including Papandreou’s MPs - the prospect of more austerity is the tipping point. Tax increases announced last week, in addition to the sale of state assets and closure of public utilities, have sparked outrage at a time when seven out of 10 pensioners are forced to live on €700 a month. Civil servants, the bulk of the Greek labour force, have had a 20 per cent pay cut.

With unemployment at 16 per cent - 42 per cent of whom are aged between 20 and 35 - the measures have sent thousands of Greeks converging on city squares.

In Tanzania, The Business Times sends this pointed reminder: 

[The country’] recurrent expenditures, the money you need to spend just to keep things going, exceed what the IMF calls reliable sources of funding, i.e. domestic revenue collection and budget support, by around 20%. So Tanzania has ended up in a situation where it is effectively borrowing to cover its recurrent expenditures. It also means that funds for investments are limited, and it is not clear how much the state can actually invest.

If spending and revenue collection remain unchanged, the IMF projects that Tanzania’s deficit would expand by another three to four percentage points by the middle of the decade, and in order to finance it, Tanzania’s public debt would rise to 66% of GDP in 2014/2015, with considerably higher debt servicing costs as donor aid will remain stable or possibly fall. Tanzania would eventually have to rely on fully commercial funding, which is a lot more expensive.

Meanwhile, this is what happened in Mwanza

Last weekend witnessed one of the most serious riots in recent times, in the city of Mwanza, involving street traders. Millions worthy of property was destroyed. The incident was to some extent depicted as being politically motivated. On the other hand it attained racial tones, with most of the property that was destroyed belonging to the Indian community. 

Elsewhere, speaking with the BBC, President Jakaya Kikwete is asked about the ongoing power crisis in his country:

BBC: Suala la Umeme Mheshimiwa Rais Kikwete ungependa kulizungumzia nini?
President Kikwete: Tatizo la umeme kimsingi ni suala la ukame tu. Kwa sababu mabwawa yetu ya kuzalisha umeme yanayotoa umeme karibu MW600 sasa hivi yanatoa umeme kidogo sana. Maji pungufu ndio maana kuna tatizo hilo.
[BBC: President Kikwete, can you comment on the issue of power (in your country?) 
President Kikwete: The problem of power is basically just a matter of drought. Because our dams that produce close to 600MW of electricity now offer very little. The fact that there is little water in the dams is why we have this problem.]

In neighboring Malawi, it has come to this

At least 18 people have been killed, officials say, in two days of public unrest in Malawi, an unlikely stage for one of the biggest anti-government protests in sub-Saharan Africa this year.

The protests, sparked by worsening fuel shortages, rising prices and high unemployment in the southern African country, have seen calls for president Bingu wa Mutharika to step down.

Malawi’s health ministry spokesman Henry Chimbali confirmed 10 deaths in the northern cities of Karonga and Mzuzu, where protesters ransacked the offices of Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive party (DPP) on Wednesday.

So, where are WE going? 

July 15, 2011
'Rostam Quits'

“After consulting with my family, friends and my business partners, I arrived at the decision to step down, with the intention of maintaining my respect and integrity among party members and other wananchi as well as my leaders who I believe after my resignation will get an opportunity to focus on other challenges facing the party.”

So announced the honorable Member of Parliament from Igunga Mr. Rostam Aziz on the 13th of July, 2011 his decision to quit what he called ‘gutter politics’ to a group of elders and party officials at his constituency. 

The news sparked a media frenzy and the story quickly spread in the electronic and social media. At about 3.30pm, the first official confirmation of the news came through. The CCM MP for Bumbuli and the Party’s Secretary for Politics and International Affairs January Makamba tweeted:

In the twittersphere the response ranged from surprise at the abruptness of Mr. Aziz’s departure, cautious optimism that this may be a chance for the ruling party to start afresh, suspicious of CCM at their supposed attempts at deluding the electorate, to anger that this was a political tactic aimed at distracting the country away from government incompetence. 

Meanwhile, on Clouds FM, the presenters of the drive-time show Jahazi lamented the fact that, seemingly, once again, Tanzanian politics was embroiled in personality politics as opposed to the serious engagement with issues.

Back in Igunga, The Citizen reports:

Some [constituents] carried posters declaring: “No development in Igunga without Rostam. Several of the constituents collapsed as the long-time MP announced that he was quitting from the position and that of a member of CCM’s national executive committee.

Mr Aziz arrived in Igunga at around 1pm and proceeded to CCM offices where he found members of the party’s youth wing holding a meeting.He told them that he was scheduled to speak to the constituency’s elders.

As he was meeting the CCM youth, some of his supporters carried posters reading: “Igunga without Rostam, no development”; “If they expel you from CCM we are all going to quit from the party” and “We love you, our MP, and we have confidence in you.”

So, who is Rostam Aziz and why is he such a polarizing figure? 

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June 28, 2011
My Life As a Journalist

By Erick Kabendera


Towards the latter part of 2007, news stories started circulating about horrific killings of Albinos that were taking place mostly in the Northern part of Tanzania. In Arusha, a teacher was arrested for killing his own child, who was Albino. Elsewhere, a body was found exhumed with its body parts hacked off. These apparent ritual killings were reportedly inspired by a belief propagated by some witch doctors in the region that drinking portions concocted out of Albino body parts could make people rich. 

My Editor decided to send me to a town in the Northwest where the killings were higher than anywhere else in the country to investigate. Now, being a Tanzanian journalist, accredited to work in the country, I do not need permission from government officials to report stories. But as soon as my presence in the town was known, local officials started doing everything they can to restrict me from reporting on the story.

An apparently irritated civil servant barked at me when an albino association leader took me to the Regional Commissioner’s Office for an introduction. It turns out that the RC office had ordered local leaders not to speak to journalists writing about the killings unless they had clearance letters from them.

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June 22, 2011
Zitto Kabwe’s Budget

This is the most important budget season in half a decade.

For the Kikwete administration, despite winning re-election with 61% of the vote, the campaign was, nevertheless, a bruising experience. Post-election, Mr. Kikwete, in the words of one commentator, has looked tired and unfocused. The budget debate offered an opportunity for him to pivot away from his political problems and re-frame the national agenda on his terms and give his Presidency a much needed sense of direction. 

Meanwhile, Chadema had a different challenge. Now officially the country’s main opposition party, following some strong electoral gains in last year’s general election, this was their first big chance to build on that success. With the country paying attention, it was an opportunity to present an alternative, substantive vision that can in turn help position them, in the eyes of the nation, as a government-in-waiting. So, when the Shadow Minister for Finance and Economic Affairs Mr Zitto Kabwe, stood up last Wednesday in Bunge, with his Ipad in hand, to deliver his much anticipated opposition budget speech, a lot was riding on his words. 

Now, I am going to spend less time analysing the actual contents of the two budgets than looking at how the press covered this event. But if you are looking for a sober and nuanced analysis of the government’s proposals, Nizar Visram’s piece in the  Daily News is a must read. And as for Mr. Kabwe’s response you can read his full speech here.

Take a look at this word cloud made up of 12 newspaper headlines the day after Mr. Kabwe delivered the opposition’s alternative budget:

As you can see, the words that pop out above all others are ‘Serikali’, ‘Upinzani’ and ‘Opposition’ with ‘Bajeti’ sandwhiched in between. What does this tell us about the way newspapers cover politics? It would seem that in the prism of the press, political narratives are viewed only in manichean terms. You have ‘Serikali’ on the one hand and ‘Upinzani’ on the other fighting on the ‘Bajeti’ and the coverage rarely transcends this narrative of confrontation.

In this context, Mr. Kabwe’s speech becomes virtuous only insofar as it is framed in opposition to government proposals.  Hence, very few column inches are dedicated towards understanding the implications of Chadema’s budget on the future of the economy, the quality of education or improved healthcare coverage. The press focuses more on political point-scoring than on substance. In the end, general readers, who are unlikely to be knowledgeable about the issues involved, are left more uninformed than educated by the coverage. In journalism, there is no greater sin than that. 

(Photo: Chadema MP and the Shadow Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Mr. Zitto Kabwe gesticulates as he emphasises a point during his budget speech in Bunge on Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Via  In2EastAfrica)