“If they give us the country, these water troubles will disappear” said my enthusiastic young mentee. He spoke with the absolute confidence of someone who believes in the future unabashedly, the confidence of untried youth. I envy him that but I simply asked if he believed the Dar water shortage was something the government did on purpose to which he pretty much said “yes.”
I asked him if it was their fault that the rainfall this year had been reported as being low from the first quarter of the year, that farmers were suffering crop failures, and did he see any connection between all of these things? I hoped he might mention the water cycle in some way, perhaps. But no: it is the government’s fault.
I do not disagree with him, not entirely. It is the government’s fault but perhaps not quite in the ways he thinks. I am now clocking a couple of decades as a resident of this mildly chaotic and always poetic city, and I know that come the end of every year there will be a crisis.
Rhythm of the land
At first it was simply power, because we are dependent on hydro-power, and then it became water as well in the last few years. It is the rhythm of the land that sustains us, the sum total of what we do and how we manage our water systems and our environment. It is population growth that is unplanned for and infrastructure that simply never keeps up with demand.
It is climate change, manifesting.
What was most intriguing to me about this notion that the Tanzanian government can directly solve the recurrent and seasonal water crisis of the rapidly growing city of Dar es Salaam under the weight leadership is the actual belief in leadership. This goes against all evidence!
Time and time again I have heard people mutter that Mama Samia Suluhu should have handled it better and if only the former president John Magufuli were alive this wouldn’t have happened. And I marvel. Not only do we have the memory of goldfish, we apparently believe that our heads of state are also rainmakers and magicians who can unclog the machine of state to produce the desired outcomes for our developing nation.
Coming from an enthusiastic young man with great political interest and only burgeoning critical skills, I can stand such worship of “leadership.” He has lived through all of three presidents, one of whom I am sure he doesn’t really know anything about. But coming from people in my generation or older? That’s just frightening. It is an abdication of responsibility of the highest order, and a crime against ourselves and fellow citizens.
We, the same people who are polluting rivers and cutting trees to make charcoal and generally hoping that “someone” will take care of the outcomes for us then dare to turn around and say: “the government should.”
Fine, if the “government should” then why do you elect so many watermelons to Parliament? Knock on half the heads in our legislature and you will hear the hollow thunk of a ripe party cadre with nothing but liquid and dead seeds sloshing about in there. I am being generous by confining myself to categorising only half of them this way.
To people who say I am too critical of my government, let me tell you this much: I have had the dubious luck of meeting politicians from an impressive range of countries and they are horrifyingly similar. Long on short-term thinking, short on long-term vision.
Leadership has failed all around, for at least two centuries maybe more, since we decided to organise the world economy a certain way. Watching Dar change over three decades I have seen the disappearance of trees and open spaces, the tendency of new home owners to pave their compounds for fear of snakes.
I can’t even begin to deal with how stupid it is to fear snakes in the middle of Bongo, but here we are. I have seen buildings go up, and roads without drainage, and more and more crowding with almost no concession from the government on the importance of maintaining, upgrading and expanding utilities.
I have listened to people deride the concerns of those who care for the environment and sustainability. “We’ll deal with that later” we chime, “for now we want development!” Well, this is it.
This is the development we have opted for. This water shortage is because we elect watermelons who buy us khangas, and we are also guilty of short-term thinking.
“If they give us the country, all these water shortages will disappear!” Hehehe. Sure, kid. Who: Zitto Kabwe, Tundu Lissu, Ibrahim Lipumba, whoever gonna become rain witches when sworn in?
I’ll be long dead when the realisation kicks in for him, but in the meantime at least I can give my young mentee tips. He uses gas to cook rather than charcoal, perhaps saving a tree. It is a lesser evil, I’ll take it as a win. But I will keep undermining his belief in leadership until, in the spirit of neo-pan-Africanism, he realises everything comes down to us.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]