The Great Question in Dar es Salaam

It’s the Great Question in business, and the Great Question in public offices. 

Image: Flickr.

The Great Question in Dar es Salaam is always: incompetence or conspiracy?

The question was first introduced to me by a tired-looking campaign adviser before the October 25th general elections. “Incompetence or conspiracy?” said he, shaking his head sadly. Incompetence or conspiracy? You never, never know.

When the fundi fixing your car door, whom you argued over prices with, has the misfortune to smash your back window in the process: incompetence or conspiracy?

When you are trying to get something done in an office and you yell and get angry and the lady at the desk tells you sit down and two hours later she is still talking to her friend in the other room about hair weaves: incompetence or conspiracy? It’s the Great Question in business, and the Great Question in public offices. When you show up with your correct forms and permits and sweaty wad of money and they say:

– Ah you know…my boss, Mr. Accountability, he is very busy. Very busy. Ok let me call him. Ok he´s coming now. No, that one. He has gone, the other one is coming. M-m, the managing director supervisor is busy, but the supervising managing general assistant director he is coming. You are going? But you can come back later? Or you can text him? Here´s his number. Here´s his other number. Here´s his other other number. But I don´t think he has airtime.

That’s just the way it is. Yet when bigger things are going on, like the most highly-competitive elections the country has ever held in the most heated and muddled political climate, with the new constitution and the future of the country at stake, systemic failure is not so funny anymore.

I was lucky enough to be in Dar es Salaam during the elections. I met with many people who had not been able to cast their vote on election day because of mistakes and paperwork run-arounds. At one point I was shown a list of close to five-hundred people at a single polling station who had not been able to vote. They had been told all manner of things: “There was a problem with the ‘machines.’ It was their own faults, they hadn’t followed procedures correctly. Overseeing officials were on their way, just wait. Call this number, if no one picks up, try again later.”

Most agree that generally the elections were well-organized. However there are still gaps in the system too wide to be ignored. And at the back of everyone´s mind there is always the Great Question: incompetence or conspiracy?

So many more great things could have been achieved in this country, but every step of development is being tripped up by first having to wade through the circus of bureaucracy. On top of that every new player is automatically signed up to take part in the great power game. It is a soft and clever way to confuse, distract, isolate and frustrate.

That is, if you are the type to believe in conspiracy. It might just be incompetence.

Further Reading

What’s happening in South Africa?

After unrest in July and municipal elections in November, it’s clear South Africa is in the midst of a serious social, economic and political crisis. What are the roots of it? Listen to this episode of AIAC Talk to find out.