A quick disclaimer: Dar es Salaam is not Tanzania. It is just the primate city containing roughly 10 per cent of the national population, generates who knows what share of our economy and is our commercial capital.
Now, having said this...well. It really is the primate city. Here is a simple test to prove it: Does anybody care if our seat of government Dodoma experiences a cut in electricity? No.
Nobody cares, because it is Dodoma. But the other day Dar es Salaam went dark because of a cooling of a machine type issue at a major plant and by the next morning whoever was in charge of the cooling of the machine thingy was publicly fired.
It sounds like a draconian move because it is a draconian move. People cannot be switched on 24/7/365 even if they’re managing a country let alone some part of a power station. Sometimes they go home to sleep and then disaster strikes.
It can happen to anyone: It’s not like the guy committed a heinous crime such as publicly beating the living daylights out of schoolchildren for having cellphones at school. Machines sometimes like to take an unscheduled break, some more than others.
But nobody messes with Dar. Dar es Salaam can be...temperamental. Traffic and electricity will get us riled. We live in a very hot, challenging city and don’t ask for very much except the chance to sleep with a fan on at night, some light to keep the popobawa (evil spirit) at bay and iron our clothes in the morning.
If anything gets in the way of these simple needs, like an electricity outage, well then, Lord help Tanesco.
I am a veteran of the helpline after a few particularly bad years of power rationing had me losing it over the phone to a very understanding utility manager in my district.
I am sorry to say that it worked and I discovered something very un-Tanzanian: The power of complaining about bad service.
I wasn’t raised that way at all, whatever electricity we got in the 1980s we were grateful for it, not entitled. I don’t know what changed, but I can tell you that this is a phenomenon that is quite common in my generation and the one coming up.
To stop our constant whiny unwanted calls, our power utility discontinued their customer service line in my district at least three years ago. Then they made the mistake of embracing social media to better communicate with us, perhaps forgetting that communication is a two-way road.
All it takes is three seconds of inconvenience for a malcontent to find them online and give them a piece of their mind. I have noticed they seem a bit reticent on their social media outlets these days. Heh.
Rains are passing through the city at the moment and we all know that our utility is physically incapable of coping, but as I sort-of commiserated with the guy who lost his job over our fairly crap system something occurred to me: We simply haven’t had that many power cuts in the past few years.
Is there something to this draconian responsiveness to the needs of the masses after all? This merits a further exploration on the merits of autocracy...next week, if the power stays on.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report. E-mail: [email protected]