There’re days when we become VIPs in our humble abodes

Thursday July 23 2020

Ubungo in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Getting your road fixed during an election year is a big deal in Dar. FILE PHOTO | NMG


I write this missive from my confinement that is now into its second week. One morning we woke up to open our front doors only to find the street had been dug up. Literally.

There was a two-foot drop between the thin strip of driveway separating our plot from the road, and a canyon had replaced our perfectly serviceable dirt road. Neighbours blinked at each other across this canyon, and to the sides to the few visible fellow residents, and asked each other: Did you know about this?

Some knew and had moved their cars earlier to park at a more accessible location. Others did not and were now stuck with their cars in the driveway.

Circumstances have put paid to my unfettered woman-of-the-people lifestyle and I am currently enduring the excessive comforts of a bourgeois enclave. Exactly the kind of place, in fact, that never ever gets its road fixed.

Getting your road fixed during an election year is a big deal in Dar es Salaam. It means that as voters you have earned the respect of the local government.

I am delighted. Not to get boastful but in my renting years while grappling with mildly predatory landlords and slightly dubious accommodations I was careful to live where the local government was close to the people because it had little choice on the matter. We knew where the local government offices were, where to take complaints when someone snaked their hand into your window and stole your charging phone, how to find the local primary school teachers etc.


My last abode was practically paradise: An up-and-coming very mixed neighbourhood with active grassroots political competition, vibrant bars where they always turned the TV to the news on full blast at 7pm, and you could have a hit of palm wine with the local councillors while sitting on a log at the shop around the corner from the joint where folks would openly indulge in herbal remedy at the end of a long day.

There, voting mattered. It was where I proudly lined up for the first time knowing exactly why I was selecting my chosen candidates on the ballot and which ones could be safely ignored. Yes, drama ensued in 2015 — political parties set up their watchmen and women overnight at the polling station during the count so an attempt to redirect the constituency win was foiled. Exhilarating stuff.

Now I am stuck at this embarrassingly upscale place at the incompetence phase of our new bribery road and I am happy. The truth has something to do with nearby office complexes that draw visits from the higher-ups and therefore require a passable road, but I will pretend to relive my edgy youth spent in neighbourhoods where they had to grade the roads or else someone was going to get a proper yelling at during the public meetings. I choose to believe that perhaps this year the most insignificant demographic of all- the middle class- matters to someone. We all need to feel some love.