Chasing government deadlines? Be patient; flow like water

Saturday January 25 2020

At least 656,091 mobile phone users in Tanzania were locked after they had failed to register their SIM cards biometrically by the January 20,2020 deadline. FILE PHOTO | NMG


Interestingly enough, people have been posting that video of martial artist and actor Bruce Lee online, the one where he advises the listener to “flow like water” in his hype-but-calm way.

It is very relevant to Tanzania’s current telecoms situation. It also provides a great strategy for dealing with bureaucracy of any kind, especially so in our great land. Flow like the water around the boulders in your way, seep quietly and thunder when you must. Be one with the flow, you will get where you go.

It was amusing but not at all unexpected to watch the ‘great silencing come’ and go, not so quietly. Oh, the infographics on how much this would cost the telecoms companies in lost revenue! government taxes! the predictions! heh. This is Bongo, bwana. We always trickle along.

First it is important to know that we do not like being administered by our government, especially when it comes to formal pieces of paper.

This is not just commonsensical resistance to creeping autocracy, it is based on hard experience. Getting documents from the government has historically been a frustrating, often humiliating process. So when the government not only demanded that all adults get their identification cards within a year, but also that said identification numbers would be necessary for biometric registration of Sim cards, well, it was just a matter of sitting back and watching what was sure to come.

Nobody likes paperwork but it has been a few years and I am working to becoming ‘proficient’ at it. I am writing this as one of the many unregistered, but my mobile line still works today and so life goes on. Why did I wait so long, you ask? Well, I didn’t.


Ridden with Dengue, I dutifully showed up to get my National Identification Authority (NIDA) registration in May last year. I could barely stand but I did it. More than ten visits to my local government and NIDA’s municipal offices, and my mobile service providers later I have a number, no ID card and no Sim card registrations.

I upheld my side of the bargain, and dutifully tested my government’s ability to serve us citizens within their own time frame. I stress: their own time frame. And so it came to be, as I knew it would, that we are stuck-ish.

It is good that we are getting ID cards, yes of course we suspect this will be used to weed us out for the general elections but that’s another tale for another day. For now we just need them to get back on air and online.

The ‘system’ has been down for several days, to the point where the telecoms regulator has actually asked us to be patient while we wait. Or better, have our services suspended because they are a little bit busy.

All I can say, fellow East Africans, let us be realistic about our governments and our ambitions for the East African Community dream.

Let me go back to floating and flowing to the next deadline, as chill as a Kung Fu master at Tanzanian bureaucracy with the patience of water.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]