John Updike had a nice turn of phrase. The one above came to mind this week as Dar es Salaam has the dubious privilege of hosting the World Economic Forum on Africa. There are plenty of reasons for any activist to get excited at the event. The roll call of attending Heads of State is a 1970s redux list of powerful grasping men: brutal Meles; Bongo fils; ageing Mugabe; under fire Kagame.
They are accompanied by a range of investors, like session chair Joergen Ole Haslestad – CEO of YARA. The Norwegian fertiliser giant has been granted some of Tanzania’s most valuable real estate for fertiliser storage and distribution. Feared to be monopolistic by competitors and backed by both the Norwegian and Tanzanian governments, it seems to be a pretty typical Kilimo Kwanza investment: big money, favourable terms, unclear procedures. Kilimo Kwanza, or Agriculture First, is of course the slogan of Tanzania’s latest development strategy.
The issues the continent is facing are daunting. And yes, ‘ordinary’ Africans are left out of that and left out of WEF. We can’t rely on those I listed above to represent.
So there was plenty to protest about, you’d think. So, feeling righteous, I rocked up for the second day of the parallel African People’s Forum. It wasn’t the hive of radical action I had hoped for, if not expected. Plastic seats arranged in neat rows, flip chart stands ready, a registration stand….. and this:
No march. No demonstration. No trouble. Barefoot, not naked. Just some presentations and a free lunch. I raised this with some people involved and there is deeply felt concern over what actions the authorities might take. That is recognised. But if the issues are big enough surely there would be some people (young, no children and fleet of foot would suit) who’d be prepared to sit down in the road and take one for the team? And if such people aren’t to be found, what does that tell us of the organisers’ constituency? Or does it speak to us of political freedoms in Tanzania?
Ironically, it was visiting ‘activists’, from the AIDS and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa who, it appears, spent a night in police cells – for the crime of trying to hand over some demands to Yvonne Chaka Chaka, of all people. Elsie Eyakuze kept on top that issue yesterday.
There’s a lot of pent up resentment in Dar towards the WEF (including my favourite gooner, Issa). The African People’s Forum didn’t channel it.
And I’m staying at home tomorrow.
UPDATE: See the Mail and Guardian for a report on the deportation of the South African activists. It quotes deportee Paula Akugizibwe:
We didn’t go there to cause trouble but to carry a message about the importance of health funding. It is unfortunate that the message got lost in the politics of freedom of expression in Tanzania.
h/t to twitter’s @onafrica
When I mentioned last night’s arrests to people at the African People’s Forum this morning, they were unaware of what had happened.