Terrified civil servants create traffic chaos, but beware, Njoo Kesho takes no prisoners

Saturday February 20 2016

There is an institution in grave danger of disappearing under this administration. While it certainly will not be missed, it is too early to tell what will emerge in its place. I am talking about the Njoo Kesho phenomenon that has characterised our dealings with public institutions for many, many years.

Under Njoo Kesho, the average civilian was trained to accept without complaint the searing inefficiency of government offices. We knew that any request for service should be offered with great humility and a willingness to spend what feels like half a lifetime in airless waiting rooms.

We also knew that the first rule of engagement was never to interrupt the reception staff during their “tea break,” which would be lavishly consumed over the course of several hours until they were ready to, perhaps, assist you in your queries.

We knew that the boss was never in. Ever. We knew that this meant having to fork out extra for “free” services. This covered everything from having to pay for application forms to having to pay a fixer to help obtain the important documents of everyday living and commerce.

We knew that there was no guarantee. It was a system perfectly designed to keep the masses aware that the business of government is done as a favour to them.

I think there was a well-meaning attempt back in the Nineties or maybe the Oughties to address this issue by having government offices post signs to inform the “client” — i.e. the hapless civilian — of their “rights” when receiving services. It had all the expected impact: none.


And then Hapa Kazi Tu came along. Suddenly Njoo Kesho has become a liability in the workplace for government officials. Almost immediately after President John Magufuli terrified the Ministry of Finance slackers by bounding over on foot for an unannounced early-morning inspection, traffic in Dar es Salaam got remarkably worse.

All because people in the public sector, still the largest employer in the game, realised they had to physically show up for work. On time. It’s a congestion nightmare.

Why lie? From the civilian perspective, watching the Fifth Administration take a steel-haired brush to the government and try to scrub the inertia out of it is delightful.

Every day or two a top-ranking official gets sacked from a parastatal or a ministry. Nowadays it is dangerous to be that receptionist at a government desk making their leisurely way through a stack of chapatis, samosas and a plate of fruit while weary plebeians look on. You never know when The Executive Branch will show up. And The Plebeians may just claim their rights.

The changes that this new determination has wrought in the areas of health provision and education are looking good. Thanks to a bit of culling and snipping here and there, children could yet have access to a broader and perhaps even better education. Student loans go where they are supposed to go.

There are finally medicines in the pharmacies of government clinics and hospitals, sold at the subsidised price they are meant to be sold at. You can pay a traffic fine through e-money, no more need to watch Afande Njaa try to suggest a side conversation about how to dodge it with a little help from herself.

Njoo Kesho? I think not. These days there are apparently enforceable rights. Or, are there?

The chaos in the Njoo Kesho inefficiency model gave rise to efficient exploitation. It was unfair, nepotistic, anti-modern but organic. It was also systematic, oddly democratic in its own way (may the best thief win) and stable, as systems go. And this is what makes it serious competition for whatever is trying to emerge now.

New administrations are like new lovers, nothing but headlong passion. But after several weeks of enjoying the initial energies of a new administration in place, civilians must ask: What’s the actual plan? Things are starting to look a little arbitrary, here.

To truly combat an entrenched way of life, one needs something a little meatier. You know, a direction. An executive summary. A plan. A statement of intent. Because Hapa Kazi Tu is a slogan. It’s not a system. I think a lot of us would like for the ideal of Kazi Tu to triumph. But it’s been three months now and perhaps it’s time to ask, again: What’s the plan? Because Njoo Kesho doesn’t take prisoners.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, E-mail: [email protected]