Monthly Archive for May, 2008

Africa Unjustly Trapped: Why?

Recently I’ve heard from some interesting figures which resonated with me as I sit in a disturbed corner of Africa. I have read the first book and I am keen to get my hands on the second after hearing its thesis. Their theoretical grounding is good and they offer suggestions to solve significant cultural issues but they are, as far as I can tell, still small voices. I’m going to try and sum their theses up grossly in order to put their arguments out and perhaps pique your interest.

I’ve mentioned before on the blog how it makes little sense to me how a country with such rich prospects as Tanzania can be so poor. Another wonder of mine is why do the AIDS prevention techniques presented to me by the US government feel hollow. For me, these books ring as partial answers.

I hope to have more later about each, for now, bullets:

Invisible Cure by Helen Epstein: Why has Africa been trapped with HIV and AIDS? (Amazon)

VIA New York Review of Books review

  1. Africans are no more promiscuous than most other people, as measured by numbers of sexual partners in a lifetime, casual sexual encounters, and visits to prostitutes.
  2. Common transactional relationships (significantly: more than one at the same time) arise from the gulf between an rich and impoverished men and women and the vacuum left by the breakdown of traditional familial, land & tribal ties.
  3. Multiple partners have somewhat more traditional precedent in Africa than in most any part of the world. Both male & female partners are fairly free in this regard (unlike in strict Muslim cultures)
  4. HIV is most contagious in the first few months of the disease. Concurrent partners have contact in that period essentially “networking” the disease, spreading it far beyond the promiscuous members of society.
  5. The bulk of high profile eradication campaigns have ignored this, instead favoring pet ideological goals.
    1. Conservative and religious groups prefer to condemn sex before marriage rather than emphasize faithfulness.
    2. Liberal and Population Control groups have encouraged fairly impractical condom use, especialy for “risky” individuals.
    3. Talking about partner reduction is hard for outsiders. When key reports in 1990 showed this was likely to be successful, the reports were set aside by the UN in favor of easier condom programs.
  6. Uganda was the only success story with a focus on “Zero Grazing” partner reduction, existing community ties, and making the disease the enemy instead of the people with it.
  7. Even today, Uganda is losing its grip on the fundamental solution, preferring to pander to Abstinence-linked funds from Washington and is losing its edge in prevention.


Bottom Billion by Paul Collier: “Why are nations trapped in poverty?” (Amazon)

VIA My Heart’s in Accra review and EconTalks podcast

  1. Internal Conflicts: highly persistent and high risk of going back into them once you come out of them. They are extremely common! Africa in the 1970s large scale violence was low. 1990s so much. Less recently but still an ugly reality
  2. Having a lot of natural resources: should be an opportunity but it too often used to corrode and corrupt the politics (Int’l Aid contributes too). Even if it doesn’t make violence it makes political leaders dysfunctional. Instead they have a contest with each other to control the public purse. Tragedy of the commons “Resource which no one regards as their own”. Causes “Dutch Disease” where in the 1960s, newly discovered vast Natural gas resources deemphasized stable manufacturing markets that help average citizens raise their standard of living.
    1. I suspect this one is the most relevant in TZ. In the past two months the sapphire market has exploded in my town. Agricultural land here is particularly lush compared to other East African countries like Kenya.
  3. Landlocked without natural resources. Options for development are limited to services. (W/ resources Botswana). Around the world, this is 1/3 of the population. Only in Africa these actually became countries, most other places they became parts of more prosperous countries.
  4. Start with poor economic policies, bad governance. Need to fix but pace of reform was much faster if country was big and if population was educated. Reform requires a critical mass of educated people! Educated mass often departs (though it *does* send back money!! How does this count, as aid?)
    1. The great leader Nyerere managed to keep civil war and tribalism at bay here but also conceded defeat in securing anything resembling fiscal prosperity in TZ, as he resigned.

Quick: Someone set up a Print-On-Demand service in TZ, duplication rights, and give me some paper so I can disseminate. Getting tired of dealing with customs.

Daily Life

So this is the post where I talk about what I do every day.

Nyumbani Kwangu 

Nyumbani Kwangu (My House)

Swahili/Equator-based time after “KSW”

6:30am/KSW-12:30 If I am lucky (and on an even day) my water flows significantly from my pipes for an hour. I collect it into one of five 20liter buckets or my plant watering 60li bucket. If weekend perhaps take shower using shower head. No tap water?: bucket bath! Bucket bath water is soft (We say “Maji Baridi”), the tap water is very hard and soap barely lathers (“Maji Chumvi”) making it a bit undesirable. Maybe I will just wait to go to a safi hotel to have a real shower.

7:15am/KSW-1:15 If I’m doing good, I report to work, I start the servers (we don’t have the UPS shutdown scripts tweaked to shut down Solaris yet, just Linux). I head over to my shared office (3 other people, nice little community corridor), turn on my laptop, synergy and my thin client terminal.

7:25am It is somewhere between 11pm EST and 9pm PST for friends stateside. Occasionally converse.

Hours Pass Typical hacking time ensues, fixing bugs, exploring documentation, surfing around new tech developments, etc.

OR three times a week, prepare to teach computer basics for 2 hours: Clipboard use, Word processing, banally simple stuff for computer gurus but somehow tolerable because Solaris is crazy. It often takes creative troubleshooting to make it work like it should.

7:40am/KSW-1:40 Students actually begin to arrive for my ICDL basics class. I show future-teachers around the office suite of software and help them get used to computers.

10:00am If hungry can go buy some pastries (Mandazi is a bit like a doughnut, Vitumbua is like a fried rice cake, Scones, Samosa, Chapati are available too from private business mamas at one of the college halls) I usually lose track of time and miss this tasty but very heavy opportunity, then if I’m lucky I can just pick some fruit at ICT.

10:30am/KSW-4:30 Kikao or staff meeting time, also tea time. Half an hour to two and a half hours of Swahili jibber jabber, it might…might be tolerable once I have a better grasp but currently I’m almost asleep 2/3 of the time. It probably does help my applied Swahili but it is dull. If I happen to be the tutor on duty for the week (happens twice a semester) then I have to chair the meeting, somehow, in Swahili. Also Juo Kali or “fierce sun” begins, no one wants to be outside until after 2:30pm if they can help it. Not humid heat but some days are more hot and annoying than others.

11:30am I often head down to the college Bustani (or garden) with another tutor to look around and check what tasks need to be done. There is water to the garden year round from a well. Irrigation often needs to be rerouted, Chinese spinach needs to be harvested, rows planted, things like that. I think the principal (big cheese) offered me an irrigated row during the dry season for my help which I’m really looking forward to when my crops at home dry up.

12:30pm/KSW-6:30 More misc. hacking around time or time to make preparations for my lessons.

1:30pm-2:30pm Lunch, go home, if I’m early talk to my Mzee (Literally “elder” but that is the name that my amazing elder househelper goes by). He puts some water on the charcoal jiko (stove) for me to boil by the time I get home. Also my chakula (food) is ready. He has been cooking for Indian and Peace Corps volunteers for something like 25 years and he is fantastic with spices. He goes over and above the expert cook frying up some Tanzanian inspired spiced dishes. Mmm.

My Charcoal Jiko (Stove)

2:30pm, 3:00pm, or 4:00pm I return to the office depending on how much work there has been to take care of in the garden. Normally tutors work from 7 to 3:30 and Peace Corps volunteers work only 30hrs/wk so I have some flexibility here to take a long lunch. ICT tutors often go straight from 7am to 6:45pm every weekday with only an hour break for lunch and more on weekends to run the internet café. Remember equator: dark at 6:30pm all year. Crazy busy. Internet is very slow as our pseudo-internet café is opening for students and the public. Still, people are starting to wake up on the east coast, occasionally communicate. On my way past the bustani I mention to the students the tasks I noticed earlier. Also occasionally I get a chance to teach computer theory to a group of advanced students working on Cisco certification.

6:00pm Internet is starting to become useful as the internet café is dying down. Skype is an option if anyone is online.

6:45-7:10pm/KSW-12:30-1:30 Head to the Nyumba (house). It is dark because we are close to the equator and the even 12 hour day is always in force. If the power hasn’t gone out I reheat my leftover food my Mzee prepped from lunch for dinner. If power has been cut I read books PCVs have imported over the years or listen to music until I feel like sleeping.


The gate to my ICT compound.


Grab bag events at school:

Shamba Day - Students don’t have class, instead they work in the college fields.

Student Government Inauguration, elections, caucusing – No class. It turns out these are a big event here.

2.5hr Staff meetings run right through classes.

No electricity: work in my garden all day.

I take Mephaquine, my malaria prophylaxis and am compelled to stay up all night writing my blog.

Student teaching – All students leave for a month to practice.

Beginning of term – All classes suddenly get rescheduled with new tutors but not in any patterned fashion.

Teacher on Duty (Mwalimu ya zamu) – At the beginning of the week twice a term I will be randomly and suddenly selected to be one of two teachers to deal with the 700 student’s issues and taste the student’s food in the cafeteria. Many students come and request to go to the hospital to skirt shamba duty if these events coincide.

Islamic Holidays – I didn’t know them and still don’t have a strong handle. They have an extra measure of randomness as some of them depend on what day the moon decides to appear in Mecca.

Power company shows up and says the school has 10 minutes to shut down computers. The ministry of education hadn’t paid the electricity bill for the Teaching colleges. Meh.

Nat’l contract for internet is allowed to lapse. Internet at college is broken for three weeks.


If you are a volunteer who has just been invited to come to Tanzania you might be interested to see Jacob’s packing list.



Page optimized by WP Minify WordPress Plugin