OnSafari: Dar Hell

OnSafari: Dar Hell

DartrafficBPOn a two-day hiatus from my Miller Family Safari, I find myself in a Poe or King hell: Dar-es-Salaam.

The family’s foreign exchange student joined them for the first ten days. The two of us peeled off the group yesterday so that I could shepherd him onto his international flight home to Paris.

Unable to catch up with the family in Zanzibar for two days, I’m staying in Dar es Salaam. The Ramada Resort on Mbezi Beach had a good deal, and I also booked their “40-minute” transfer from the airport. It took two hours.

This was 7 p.m. on a Thursday night. My savvy cabbie avoided the main roads as much as he could. We wound our way through a maize of small streets that anywhere else in the world would resemble a walking mall, but with nano-millimeters to spare we passed giant petrol trucks and mammoth buses, but at least we were moving.

It was dark. No street lights, so the only illumination was the ubiquitous “open” and “welcome” neon signs of the myriad of shops lined up one after the other. Bridal shops, grocery stores, children’s toys to many pharmacies were doing a robust business, many with lines of people waiting to get in. People crossing the street, 3-wheel tuk-tuks and an unending barrage of motorcycles somehow effortlessly wove in an out of our two moving lines of mammoth traffic.

But this clever navigation had its limits. Three or four times we had to get back on a disastrous main road: Four, five or six lines of vehicles moved often quickly then stopped … once for 25 minutes. White uniformed policeman at several intersections wielding large red or green neon batons waved tides of vehicles forward and back in a futile attempt to unclog the mess.

Two minutes less than two hours I arrived at my destination, 11.2 miles from the airport. Taxi fee: $70 with tip.

Of course I was frustrated and exhausted, but I couldn’t help thinking of the people who live here, of the enormous resources spent just coming and going. Easily 1 out of 4 large trucks were petrol tankers. Sometimes my cabbie decided to turn off his car engine, but usually not. He explained that was hard on the engine and used even more gas.

What percentage of the gas was used to stand still? But that pales in comparison with the time all these people have lost of their productive lives.

Speaking with staff at the hotel I learned that most of them live in reasonable proximity to the hotel, but that was less true of management and specialty services. One woman said she spent five hours daily getting to work and back! Another has been given a room in the hotel, and “commutes” home (15 miles away) on his days off!

Most African metropolises are a mess. Urban immigration for the last two decades has stunned social anthropologists by its magnitude and speed, and Tanzania is right there at the top of the charts.

Of the estimated Tanzanian population of 55 million, nearly ten percent reside in Dar es Salaam. Add surrounding communities in the area where I stayed Thursday night and it’s likely around 8 or 9 million.

I’ve written about Nairobi’s congestion often in the last several years, and the new highway system that came on line last year did seem to help … a little. But even in Nairobi’s worst times, it did not take two hours to go twelve miles.

This was a real education for this old safari guide. All the pontificating about how to help the developing world, how to share the world’s resources, seems meaningless after this experience. Until the chaotic congestion of African cities is resolved, how can anything else begin to be done?

Where’s the Beef?

Where’s the Beef?

IsthereacarThe Tanzanian government and safari companies appear to have embarked on suicide missions as they react to Brexit. Consumers beware : African companies raising prices in today’s climate are probably already deeply in debt.

The bottom is falling out of the Tanzanian safari market because the largest single component is the UK traveler. UK travelers are reacting to Brexit like Americans did to 9-11.

According to the British financial website, This is Money, more than 1 in 3 Brits now plans to cut back on planned holidays.

Brits book travel not quite as far in the future as Americans. Americans tend to do so about a year in advance. With Brits it’s about six months. This means that the very important end-of-year holiday season could be a disaster for Tanzania.

This follows several bad years because of ebola, terrorism, the persistent European recession and in the case of South Africa, the plummeting Rand.

One of the most horrible practices of any small business is to live on cash flow, and that’s legend among travel companies in particular. Now in Tanzania, those who have done so may be on the way out.

If you’re a consumer considering traveling to sub-Saharan Africa and Tanzania in particular, I really suggest you beware.

Hardly two days after Brexit, the panic began when the government of Tanzania decided to slap an 18% tax on many tourist products that had not previously carried it, such as transport and guided sightseeing. In Tanzania’s fairy world land, certain government officials claimed they were even slapping the V.A.T. tax on themselves, onto existing taxes!

However the math might eventually be done, government fees are rising and in some cases substantially. The cost for a vehicle headed into Ngorongoro Crater, for example, jumps 25% Friday.

V.A.T. is the value-added-tax of 18% theoretically applied across the board to anything sold in Tanzania. For many years, though, many tourist services have been exempt, an incentive of the sort many governments in the U.S. afford businesses for locating in their town.

Tanzania’s President, John Magufuli, has been crusading ever since being elected last year in a dark-horse contest, slipping incognito into ministries and firing sluggards on the spot. He reduced income taxes earlier this year for the “common man.”

He’s now trying to right the budget, which since time immemorial hasn’t really been one, rather just a siphon of foreign aid. It’s unclear that the huge V.A.T. announcement on tourism was entirely the result of Brexit, but clearly the rush to impose it – even unprecedented in Tanzania – suggests so.

Laudable as Magufuli’s efforts might be, it will have definite negative effects on Tanzanian tourism.

Healthy companies, I think, saw this coming. Particularly the old strongholds, the midmarket chain lodges like Sopa and Serena, have held prices steady or decreased them, trimmed staff without a noticeable trim in service, and moved towards dynamic website pricing.

Unhealthy companies, particularly some of the upmarket ones like Asilia, are doing just the reverse. In fact, they are using the current situation to raise prices higher than to just cover tax increases.

The upmarket could be the most effected under the current situation. Upmarket trends have been moderating or declining recently, stressing the health of those companies.

Three of Asilia’s main competitors in Tanzania, Nomads, Sanctuary Retreats and &Beyond, have either announced no increases or agreed to guarantee current rates on existing reservations for which deposits have been paid. Wannabe upmarketer, Elewana, has even announced new specials that essentially lowers its prices.

This will not be a fun year for a safari company working in Tanzania. But tricking the consumer goes too far. Consumers should exercise exceptional due diligence before planning to sip a gin and tonic on the veld at sunset.

Not So Hidden Wealth

Not So Hidden Wealth

TanzanianGoldAt least 54 billion cubic feet of helium has been found in Tanzania. Add the country’s enormous gold reserves, large uranium deposits, massive coal, nickle and platinum reserves, Tanzania is now one of the richest countries in the world!

Or not.

Helium’s not as sexy as gold or uranium, but may actually be worth more. Engineers worldwide are celebrating the discovery as relieving the critical shortage of the gas which has stressed markets and high-tech companies for more than a decade. Helium is so important that the U.S. stockpiles it just like oil.

For nearly 25 years Tanzania’s natural resource deposits have just grown in leaps and bounds: More of the Great Rift Valley lies in Tanzania than any other country, and this is the reason it’s so resource rich. Yet the country remains poorer than 150 of the 185 countries ranked by the IMF in 2015.

The World Bank has lamented this situation for years: “Tanzania sits on about 15 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, equivalent to approximately US$150 billion … or 6 times Tanzania’s current GDP,” the bank advised in 2012.

Four years since that announcement, no natural gas has been extracted. Do you know how popular natural gas is at the moment?

For more than two generations, Tanzania has been unable to benefit from its enormous natural wealth. I’ve often written about it.

There are several reasons. Corruption underlies all of them.

Mutinational mining companies like Rio Tinto — which has tried multiple times to work in Tanzania and recently announced plans to develop its coal after abandoning both gold and uranium contracts here — are no sweethearts to work with. Tinto’s North Mara gold fields were often criticized by human rights organizations for miner abuse, even of using children. That led to a number of worker revolts. Tanzanian mines are often closed.

Point here is that government regulationa exist against all such workplace practices, but officials choose not to enforce them. Why? I’ll let you guess.

While the government developed the cities and airports near the mines years ago, it has allowed maintenance to horribly lapse. Mines need electricity. Tanzania has almost as many blackouts as electricity. Mines need roads. Tanzania never builds roads; it lets foreign donors do that.

Current Tanzanian government contracts with the multinational mining companies concede some of the lowest royalties in the world. And worse, government budgets show less than half what the mining companies claim to pay. Where’s the difference?

In the end the Chinese have cornered the Tanzanian mining market. Chinese dominate the gold and uranium mines, and I expect they will dominate the helium ones as well. That has been disastrous for the Tanzanian environment as Chinese mining practices are governed from afar by a home authority that looks sideways on its own expressed environmental concerns.

Tanzania’s problem is manifold, but in the end it all comes down to corruption. Often that corruption is started by the multinational. Understandably if yet distasteful, it’s hard for a lowly official who has not been paid by his government for three months to refuse a bribe.

That’s the core problem, really. It isn’t that people are evil. It’s that corruption is now systemic. The regulator’s income is paid by the company he regulates.

The current president, John Magufuli, is on a crusade to right the ship and end corruption. Just like every other president for the last 40 years.

Young Discontent

Young Discontent

africandiscontentYou know, it’s not just US. Enormous discontent is sweeping across the most important countries in Africa with a heavy involvement by the youth.

Such generalizations are dangerous, so I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ll stop making conclusions: you make them. Let’s just survey today’s news.

Yesterday was budget day in South Africa. In Parliamentary fashion, the president is supposed to submit the annual budget, say a few words and then Parliament retires for a day before beginning a classic debate. That’s not what happened.

South Africa is a mess. The session was six hours of mayhem :screaming, fisticuffing, security officials pulling out MPs while those just pulled out snuck back in. The budget was never discussed.

The South African’s polity’s mess has a lot to do with one old peculiar man, Jacob Zuma, and one old revolutionary movement, the ANC, but many insist that it was the university students in the country who brought it to a head.

Last year’s country-wide student protests regarding fees and instructional language have moved into virtually all universities, even technical colleges.

Last year Nigeria elected a controversial old politician/general to clean up one of the most profoundly screwed up societies on the continent. I was skeptical but for the first few months things seemed to be going well.

They aren’t now. Leaks that the new president has sanctioned arresting the old president, a very public and questionable trial of a former Senate president, rising unemployment because of falling oil prices … and police and the military now battling not only Boko Haram, but students.

Tanzania’s good-guy president is suddenly behest by a host of unexpected protests, including support of indicted government officials, growing Islamic fundamentalism, and more which all probably began with the government’s stupid move to close all universities and colleges before last years presidential election.

In an attempt to avoid the turmoil of its neighbors, the president of Kenya announced yesterday he would remain neutral in the growing student protests in his country.

But what really caught my interest is the protests of youth in countries that … well, don’t allow protests.

A week of horrific student protests in Khartoum, the capital of one of the most dictatorial, autocratic countries in the world, ended today with tear gas and police shutting down the country’s main university.

And in neighboring Ethiopia, which tries hard to rival Sudan for in violating human rights, IT savvy government officials have so far failed at shutting down this internet music protest by youth of Oromo: click here.

My apologies if by the time you read this the Ethiopian government once again succeeds.

My take? The world is unsettled and it is largely the impatience of youth anxious for justice.

A Stable, Stagnant World

A Stable, Stagnant World

for a stable worldTrickle-Down economics slams Africa and its leaders line up like misbehaving school kids to take the paddle.

President John Magufuli of Tanzania just reduced taxes. There’s no worse move at a time when Tanzania needs stimulus not austerity. All the creativity and imagination Africa has shown in the last several decades has been smothered by western starlight.

The “spring meetings” of the IMF and World Bank confirming that African growth is tanking so scared African leaders that they’re now doing exactly the wrong thing: playing capitalism at its worse.

The global economic system is stacked against the poor. It’s why China ultimately embraced it but also why China, India and Brazil will always play second, third and fourth fiddle to the puppeteers in the west.

The reason Magufuli’s move is so illuminating is that it exactly reflects what China did multiple decades ago: give in.

Tanzania’s economy never performed in any outstanding way, especially relative to its neighbors like Kenya and Ethiopia. Corruption is the main reason, but as I’ve often proved, corruption is western Trickle-Down. To bribe a Tanzanian official to build a ridiculous anti-missile defense system there has to be a briber. The briber is always from the west.

So it doesn’t matter that Tanzania is sitting on the world’s second largest streak of gold, or that it has some of the finest uranium deposits on earth. It doesn’t matter, because the capital that it takes to exploit this rests solely in the west.

And the dosey-doe game Tanzanian officials play with their bribing counterparts stalls development.

Modern Tanzania was born of Cold War China. Listen, that didn’t work, either, but the initial goals of humanism above capitalism still strike me as profoundly correct.

The first president, Julius Nyerere, was such a wonderful person. He began swimming in Chinese capital that allowed him to revolutionize education in at-the-time terribly illiterate Tanzania. He still wears proudly his nickname, Mwalimu, “teacher.”

But humanism grew doctrinaire, too, in China then Tanzania. Mwalimu tried to collectivize villages almost at the same time that they were failing in China. So the experiment didn’t work. The Cold War ended. China changed faces and Tanzania went flat out broke.

Well, like any good ole radical, Tanzania now seems to have flipped completely.

Humanism was and in most cases still is African’s main mission, and I remain hopeful that Africa can demonstrate this lesson to we egocentric capitalistic westerners.

Tanzania like Ethiopia and Nigeria should slap the western banker in the face. A one or two penny drop in payroll taxes is nada.

The government’s own mouthpiece, the Daily News, pointed out that “its effect on disposable income is insignificant.”

But its effect on education, tourism, mining and road building will be profound. So Tanzania will remain beholden to the west yet again, for aid and miserly capital. It will be incapable of generating its own wealth.

Wake up Tanzania.

#5 – Trumps Influence

#5 – Trumps Influence

trumpmagufuliLast week the new Tanzanian president, already nicknamed “Bulldozer,” announced he was deporting all illegal workers. It was a direct hit on neighbor Kenya, because much of Tanzania’s professional class comes from Kenya.

The #5 story in Africa for 2015 was the Tanzanian election, and it tells a horrible tale of democracy and may be foretelling the future for the U.S. and worldwide.

Magufuli’s deportation order followed all sorts of other blustering initiatives, including ranting in front of a group of high-profile African businessmen that they would be jailed if they don’t pay their taxes and executive actions slashing the national budget.

Magufuli is an object lesson in democracy. Everything he is doing at the moment is wildly popular in Tanzania: damned if it isn’t legal, or ethical or even moral. It’s … popular.

Consequences? Who knows, it’s popular! The polls say so!

We’re getting a good dose of that lesson right now during our own presidential campaign. Democracy is showing its true colors.

Tanzania’s election last fall was peaceful and certified by all sorts of outside observers as free and fair. But the choice available to the people at the time, Magufuli vs. Lowassa, was not a choice that a lot of the electorate wanted. So goes democracy.

And guess what?! It wasn’t a choice that the power elites wanted or expected!

Sound familiar? Edward Lowassa (Jeb Bush) was the establishment favorite. Instead, Magufuli (Cruz? Trump? Milton Don’tknowyet) became the nominee. Foreshadowing what might happen this summer in the U.S., Lowassa (Jeb Bush) then mounted his own rebel campaign.

Magufuli’s decisive victory stunned everyone, I think even his supporters. But then, there was no jubilation, just depression and tension.

Did the people get what they wanted? If they did, did they know what they wanted? Did they want what they knew they wanted?

End of First Book.

The Beginning of the Second Book opens with Magufuli firing up the team.

Hiding behind trucks in shady parts of Dar to unmask criminals, telling tax evaders he’s going to put them all in jail, far exceeding his executive authority with actions slashing the budget.

Now, deporting “illegals.”

Think he might suggest building a wall?

I don’t think the Second Book is going to end well, but we’ll see. But the first book is done. It shows that the democratic process is not a democratic process. What influences elections in Tanzania might be different than what influences elections in the U.S., but the result is the same.

Influence trumps rational choice.

Stay tuned. Or maybe if you’re an American, take heed. Either way. Keep the message to a sound-bite length.

(For my summary of all the top 10 stories in Africa in 2015, click here.)

Life Goes On

Life Goes On

cleaningupfromtheelectionTanzania’s president-elect John Magufuli is the best outcome from an election that was free-and-fair enough. The disgruntled country seems to agree.

The exception is Zanzibar, where tensions are rising. Travelers should avoid Zanzibar now. The rest of the country went back to work, today. There were few celebrations even in the strongholds of the ruling party. Winners seem to know how seriously disappointed the opposition is.

Losers seem to be accepting the outcome.

Zanzibar is different and always has been. The “marriage” of the independent countries of Zanzibar and Tanganyika in 1964 has never been fully accomplished. The island has a very autonomous government, but in the last several cycles the mainland’s ruling CCM party has held power even there.

This year the island opposition claimed the election count was fraudulent, violence erupted and was quickly contained by what seemed to have been a premeditated arrangement between mainland authorities and those supporting the CCM candidates.

Shortly thereafter the Election Commission annulled the election. Today the island is very tense. Almost exclusively Muslim, Friday is normally a rest day. The island, though, is so heavily invested in tourism a normal Friday would have had far more activity than reported today in Stone Town, the island’s only city.

International observers give the election a passing grade without too much enthusiasm because of the Zanzibar annulment. Foreign observers generally concluded several days ago that that was a mistake.

It was an election of surprising switches and previously unimagined allegiances. Tanzania’s Shakespearean politics twisted onto itself creating a contest between two men who had been close friends and colleagues for years, loyal leaders of the CCM with ideologies and policies that were essentially identical.

Since neither had any substantive difference with the other, both let the electorate fashion their difference: the supporters of each claimed only their standard bearer would reduce the enormous corruption of the country which denies so many millions the basic services they need.

Magufuli was a dark horse from the ruling party. His opponent, Edward Lowassa, was expected to be the ruling party’s candidate virtually until Magufuli was chosen instead.

Lowassa comes from the better developed and more rebellious north, so the north was ecstatic when he defected from the ruling party to join Chadema, the main opposition based in the north. Then within days of realigning his allegiances he brought four other opposition parties into a giant opposition to become the first real challenge to CCM’s near 60 years of ruling Tanzania.

Just the simple idea that the ruling party might be undone sent young and educated Tanzanians into the stratospheres of extreme hope. There was no debate over the complicated new constitution, no question about taxes or budget or even schools – which is normally a very important issue, no scrutiny of the fact that Lowassa and Magufuli dropped from the same tree.

No one charged Lowassa with sour grapes for having been dumped by his life-long party. His own scandalous past in that party, his confession to playing a major role in a hundred-million dollar aid scam that resulted in his being fired as prime minister, was hardly mentioned.

Instead, the entire point of the election devolved into nothing more than the possibility that the ruling elite might be defeated, albeit by … one of its own.

Well, it wasn’t. And despite unusually numerous election irregularities, all the outside observers are coming to the conclusion that after serious qualifications to the notion of “free and fair,” the election really does represent the will of the people.

John Magufuli is a good guy. I would have voted for him over Lowassa, simply because to this moment Magufuli remains uncorrupt if complicit with the corruption that suffuses his colleagues. Lowassa is a confessed crook.

Magufuli has worked his way up the ladder of political succession step-by-step over many years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry. He’s known for his corruption-busting antics, including hiding in situations to bust unsuspecting corrupt policemen that wander near him unawares.

He comes into office with all the credentials that hopeful Tanzanians actually say they want. But then again so have past presidents like the current one, Jakaya Kikwete. A few years into the role and the glitter is shed, and a poor elected official suddenly has Swiss bank accounts and shares in world hotel chains.

All Tanzania can hope is that this pattern of good guys turning bad might be less easy to do in today’s growing internet world, especially with Tanzania’s youth so currently fired up.

So skeptical but satisfied. Like the country, resigned to what hope remains.

Winter Winner

Winter Winner

magufuliwinsTanzania’s ruling party’s candidate has won the presidential election, the opposition has rejected the results, and the election in Zanzibar has been annulled.

The Election Commission declared John Magufuli the next president with 67% of the popular vote just as the business day in Tanzania ended.

The country is tenser than ever. The slow live announcement of constituency results was viewed suspiciously by the European Union whose election observers issued a preliminary negative report on the validity of the election.

America expressed “alarm” with the Zanzibar annulment.

Normally a mouthpiece for all East African leaders in power, the EAC (East African Community) commission watching the election said it was “concerned” with the large number of disputes so far filed.

Earlier, the main opposition party UKAWA announced it was rejecting whatever outcome would be announced. German radio opined, “Transparency is crucial. Tanzania, which has been a force for stability and peace for decades, cannot be allowed to descend into chaos.”

Were this Kenya or South Africa, the situation would represent serious potential violence. I don’t think it does in Tanzania.

The opposition was hastily put together, an unlikely amalgam of disparate parties. It is itself fractured, and I just don’t think its leaders are capable of organizing any real protest.

A rerunning of the election in Zanzibar cannot change the presidential outcome. Even if every Zanzibari vote was for the opposition it would move the percentages less than 2%. (Zanzibar’s population is 1.3 million of the country’s 53.6 million.)

Nevertheless, the decision to annul the Zanzibari election squarely places it in the center of any violent reaction that may now develop in the country. The fact that nearly an entire day has now passed since the election was officially annulled there, and that violent reaction and police response has been less than expected…

… suggests to me that the party in power will prevail, that some violence will occur for a rather strung out period, but that within a month Tanzanians will have settled into a terrible disquiet of acceptance.

I have many Tanzanian friends on Facebook. Before the election Facebook and other social media were exploding with election bombast. Today it’s eerily quiet.

Night is descending on a freakishly bleak Tanzania. More tomorrow.

A Little Bit Too High

A Little Bit Too High

porterstrikeAt least 20,000 people try to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro every year, but those planning to do so next month have an even greater risk of not making it.

The Tanzania Tour Guides Association (TTGA) and the Kilimanjaro Guides Association (KGA) are threatening a three-week strike over pay.

Now this isn’t the first time porters and guides on Kilimanjaro have threatened a strike. It’s actually the third time since 2011, each time running up to a start date before the government finally mediated.

Each of those times meetings were convened and agreements made that were never kept.

“They are furious over the apparent failure by the government to implement the terms the two parties had agreed” in August, which was to be implemented in 60 days, according to a reporter for the Arusha Times.

The dispute this year came to a head on October 7 when guide and porter representatives went to attend a meeting arranged during the August negotiations to evaluate implementation of the agreement. No one from the government showed up, ironically because the government later claimed it didn’t have the funds to convene the event.

A porter on Kilimanjaro usually gets paid between $15-20/day. The better climbing companies then recommend to the clients that a tip equal to an average of $5-8/day be given at the end of the climb, resulting in actual wages of $20-28/day.

But there are many companies which delay paying the porters. At last check 290 companies were registered with the Tanzanian tourism authorities to operate climbs on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Porters normally carry up to forty pounds, although some have been recorded carrying sixty. As a daily wage the level is actually above average for most Tanzanian tourism workers, but the amount of work they get fluctuates greatly, is very seasonal and never guaranteed.

Because there are few qualifications required to become a porter, the industry is never without applicants. New applicants are generally paid less than veterans, and this results in a constant race to the bottom. Many porters will spend the first several years working less than 30 days annually.

The fact that there are many more applicants than there are jobs, it makes the idea of a strike somewhat illusory, and this may be part of the reason a strike has never actually been staged despite repeated confrontations with the government.

On the other hand, the last-minute government mediation and various agreements made – even if not implemented – suggests the government takes the threats seriously.

While I have seen reports that there are upwards of 60,000 climbers annually government numbers suggest about a third of that. More than 80% of climbers travel the relatively inexpensive “Coca-Cola” route known as Marangu, a 3-days up and 2-days down, 4-night excursion that retails for around $1000.

Twenty percent travel more scenic and less challenging routes that take 2-4 days longer and are generally outfitted by more reputable companies. These week-long climbs can cost as much as $5000 but absolutely attract the more seasoned porters and guides.

Regardless of the route or style chosen, the government mandates that each climber have at least one porter. The more expensive, more scenic and longer climbs often field a staff of up to 25 for as few as 4-6 clients.

Climbing Kili is a bucket list item that attracts a huge range of people, mainly because it really isn’t a climb. No implements are required and it’s a well traveled path that’s followed, regardless of which of the six routes are taken.

The challenge is altitude, with 12,000′ being the make or break point. The summit is 19,347′. About half of Kili’s climbers are unable to make the top because of the effect of altitude.

If the porters strike, and if scabs aren’t allowed (which is normal government labor policy) then the climbs will stop. But frankly it’s hard to imagine.

Despite the government’s posturing that suggests a serious concern with the threat, it’s hard to see it happening this time. I think everyone might just be aiming a little bit too high.

Queen to Pawn! Check!

Queen to Pawn! Check!

queenofivoryThe high profile arrest of a Chinese woman for ivory trading in Tanzania means a lot more than just the arrest of a Chinese woman for ivory trading in Tanzania.

Her arrest is proof that the ruling party in power in Tanzania fears losing the national elections in two weeks. Probably even worse is the naivete of conservation organization’s glee at her capture:

Yesterday conservation groups went ape over the arrest of Yang Feng Glan, the 67-year old vice president of the Tanzania China-Africa business council, a resident of Tanzania since the mid 1970s.

The Elephant Action League calls her the ‘Queen of Ivory:’

“She has been trafficking ivory since at least 2006, working with the most high-ranking poachers in the country and in the region.”

Glan is not new to Tanzanians and clearly her crimes have been known for some time. Remarkable, isn’t it, that the police superintendent announced yesterday that she’s confessed to everything.

This means that she won’t be presenting a defense. There will not be lawyers to assist her in allocating the blame. She won’t be “naming names.”

It was all her fault, all 30,000 elephants or so, all hundreds of thousands of tons of ivory, all immigration and customs passes … she did it all herself, and she’s confessed.

No need to question any officials now who might have approved such important matters as unmarked cargo bins, or police who never checked those giant warehouses down by the dock, or those wildlife officials who left butchered elephants lying in the veld to be investigated not by forensic detectives but striped hyaenas. They’re all off the hook, now. Fang confessed and so the issue of elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade…

… won’t disrupt the upcoming October 25 national elections.

And I’ll bet my bottom dollar that Mrs. Fang won’t be sentenced for her confessed crimes before the elections are over, and that the complexity of the deals over her “confession” will haunt politicians on all sides for years to come.

These idiot politicians are making deals with the devil, and I can’t wait to see how it pans out. For the time being, of course, all they can see are the ballot boxes on October 25.

That’s what I think is the key to all of this. The party in power is in trouble for the first time since independence. One of the greatest bastions of support for the opposition is in the country’s north where elephant populations are safe and well protected, where tourism is so important.

Last month a hastily arranged seminar by local conservationists and journalists followed the ruling party’s promise to double tourism revenue if elected.

It received wide publicity and finally elevated conservation and the elephant problem into the national consciousness.

“I need conservation and the future of tourism to be part of election issues,” said the Director of the Serengeti Preservation Foundation (SPF), Meyasi Mollel.

“Conservation is a key issue in Tanzania, because the country’s economy is entirely based on natural resources. So for political parties to ignore conservation is a grave mistake,” Adam Ihucha, a brave journalist for the East African, said while keynoting the conference.

Note that the ruling party recently banned then unbanned his publication.

So in the last month as the election heats up, so finally did the conservation crisis in the country. That crisis is nearly entirely composed of the decimation of elephants in the center of the country, which is a stronghold of the ruling party.

If the ruling party loses the center of the country, it loses the election.

So the Queen of Ivory is nicely behind bars, has confessed, and guess what, won’t have to say a single other thing.

At least not until October 26.

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

LowassaandPMMany believe Tanzania’s elections in three weeks will be violent. I’m not so sure.

The contest between the presidential candidate of the party that has ruled Tanzania since inception, John Magufuli, and the first viable challenger ever, Edward Lowassa, is in many ways a setup for violence.

Lowassa is a former prime minister in the ruling party and until July one of its elites. Many expected he would be anointed the new presidential candidate, including himself. When Magufuli was chosen instead, Lowassa united four opposition parties that had been at each others’ throats for decades and became the single candidate of the opposition.

Lowassa is not a nice guy. Whether or not he really was responsible for one of the most scandalous incidents in his country, he was fully aware of it.

Yet he has the support of many in Tanzania who are fed up with the one-party state and – at least in situ – he represents the first real break with that ideology.

The only reason I concede violence is plausible is because of the recent emergence of militias to “protect” the different party candidates.

“Tanzania has been one of Africa’s most peaceful countries …and has been regarded … as one of the continent’s strongest democracies. A close and hotly contested election might challenge both of those assumptions,” writes former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, Johnnie Carson.

The respected and somewhat leftist U.S. media magazine, The Hill, carried an op-ed recently from the chairman of the ruling Tanzanian party that upped the tone for the election, claiming “If [opposition candidate] Lowassa … wins, then the country stands to become a new front for terrorists.”

Many of us felt The Hill was irresponsible publishing the piece, because the assertion is so ridiculous it exceeds even those of Donald Trump.

Nathalie Arnold Koenings, an African anthropologist writing in African Arguments, dismissed the article as a purely an incendiary swipe at the opposition, countering:

“As to the possibility of violence erupting in the upcoming elections, if there is extremism to fear in Tanzania it may be that of a ruling party bent on suppressing the political will of its citizens.”

Carson elaborates: “Questions have also been raised about… replac[ing] the very experienced Director of Elections with a novice election chief, who might be more easily manipulated.”

Hilary Matfess of the National Defense University listed a series of recent government actions suggesting a premeditated stricture of the political life in the country, including clamps on freedom of the press and use of the internet, to give the ruling party an unfair advantage.

It’s the militias which are troubling. Zanzibar has often erupted in violence after national elections, in part because of the gunshot marriage between it and the then country of Tanganyika that formed the current Tanzania, and for more contemporary reasons that pit its near universally Muslim population against mainland Tanzania’s Christians.

But never before have opposition parties or candidates on the mainland organized their own protective militias.

It reeks of Kenya’s 2007 violence following its closely contested election.

Nevertheless, I still see a peaceful outcome for several reasons:

First, I don’t think the opposition will win. Much of the current party‘s power is certain to be eroded as many opposition members are elected to Parliament, as I’m certain they will be. But the main party is so entrenched in most of mainland Tanzania, it’s hard to see the only national candidate, the President, coming from other than the ruling party.

Second, I think a lot of Tanzanians – like me – are disappointed that for the first chance ever to oust the main party, the leader assuming the charge was until July a part of the main party! And probably as corrupt as all the others he now contests.

So what would really change?

So ennui and apathy may result in a low turnout, favoring the party in power.

But stay tuned. I’ll stay on top of it.

Frontrunning Change

Frontrunning Change

frontrunningchange“Real Change” possible in Tanzania’s October elections makes me wonder if there’s not a democratic wave of discontent sweeping over the whole darn world.

Violence can be a certain byproduct. In the U.S. it’s increasing gun violence, school shootings, highway sniping. In Egypt … and maybe Tanzania … it’s election turmoil.

Venezuela, Britain’s Labor Party (tomorrow), Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Turkey, even the Ukraine … the list goes on for some length: these are all places like the U.S. and Tanzania where very radical political change is possible this year.

Not necessarily likely, but possible in a way no one would have predicted a year ago. I for one think this round will be flat, but I think it heralds truly radical change the next time around: There are Elizabeth Warrens standing by in every corner of the world.

Tanzania is an excellent example of this “New Era” of change.

The country’s election is scheduled for October 24. Like most sane countries in the world, the campaign really only began this month. The candidates were picked in July, and they were about as surprising as Donald Trump running as a Republican and Bernie Sanders as a Democrat.

Tanzania’s political history for the last quarter to half century is very similar to the history of countries like the U.S. I hear laughter in the halls of academia, but hear me out.

I know Tanzania was a strictly socialist, even one-party system for the last era, hardly a political map of the U.S. But in the end these two radically different political systems really made very little difference to the millions of people they governed.

Since the end of the Cold War, there has been very little social or political change … worldwide. In fact in the U.S. we see racism and civil rights slipping backwards. The “voice” of the majority has grown increasingly weak.

The status quo held fast throughout this entire period: People in power – sometimes 30 or 40 years ago – stayed in power, or their children or the spouses took their places.

Almost all these leaders matriculated through the business world. There were few educators, scientists, laborers or even lawyers who ever held the reigns of power.

Capitalism was the bulwark of all policy. So it really didn’t matter if you were a one-party if autocratic politic like Tanzania, or a strict communist state like China, or a presumed open democracy like the U.S.: what mattered was profits and (financial) growth.

The Great Recession tolled the end to this mentality. It’s no wonder again that the U.S. was in the vanguard of change. But Barack Obama’s legacy turned out not to be ‘Real Change,’ as much as his supporters shouted it during his election.

The Democratic Party – which could have brought about Real Change – didn’t. Tanzania is going through that pivotal moment right now.

The ruling party, the CCM, has failed to meet the youthful aspirations of its electorate, and in an absolutely amazing coalition of ridiculously diverse opposition groups, UKAWA has mounted a real challenge for the first time in the country’s history.

But as with Obama’s election in the States, or Mursi’s in Egypt, or Erdoğan’s defeat in Turkey, I don’t think it will happen this time around.

For one thing, the UKAWA candidate leading the charge had expected to be the candidate of the ruling party he’s now contesting!

Think Donald Trump.

What we have is a moment in human political history where the pot is just starting to bubble.

Tanzanians, in fact, are asking their compatriots to heed the American rule that “one’s hand is expected to be extended to the winner in a congratulatory handshake after the polls results have been announced.”

The fear as in so many fragile societies is that defeat of ‘Real Change’ returns a status quo that is simply too unbearable. The bubbles in the pot boil and violence occurs all at once.

I’m less certain about Tanzania and the rest of the world than in the U.S., but I think this round of elections worldwide are bubbles in the pot, not the boiling over that brings real change.

But beware: A watched pot never boils. One ignored, explodes.

Which to Visit? Kenya or Tanzania?

Which to Visit? Kenya or Tanzania?

KenyaOrTanzaniaMy five months in Africa ended this week. If you’re trying to decide between visiting Tanzania or Kenya, I’ve got the answer.

My answer, if you’ve got the cash and time, is both. But if you’re watching your vacation dollars and have limited time, the answer is Kenya.

Here’s why.

First of all why does it take more time and money to visit both countries? The two countries share almost a 500 mile-long border with quite a few border posts, and much of the border actually goes right through abundant game controlled areas.

This isn’t just an issue of the additional costs of visas or shots.

The answer is because the two countries have intentionally made it difficult for tourists to visit them both on the same trip. Both countries believe if they force you into an all-or-nothing situation, they’ll be better off.

Since 1979 the border posts that fall in game controlled areas have been closed to tourist traffic. So, for example, the most important one, the border between Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti, isn’t just closed, it’s now grown over with jungle.

The Sand River bridge which used to deliver tourists between the two countries is ready to collapse. I wouldn’t use if I could. (Click here for my blog that explains why this happened in 1979 and has never changed since.)

So to travel from one game park in one country to another game park in the other country, you have to go back to a border post which allows tourist crossings, and this usually means traveling backwards a lot.

The cost, for example, to travel from a camp on the southern bank of the Sand River in Tanzania, to one you can see across that same river in Kenya, is about $600 per person and at least 8 hours if you fly the whole way.

It will take at least the entire day, and that often doesn’t make sense, because if you try to do it in a day, you’ll have to leave at the break of dawn and won’t arrive in the other country until late in the afternoon/early evening, yet you’ll be paying full game viewing fees (twice!) for each country on a day that you won’t have any time to do game viewing!

So die-hards wanting to see both countries recognize that it’s better to do something else in between, breaking up the long circuitous journey, if that’s nothing more than just seeing a city like Nairobi. And that’s where the concept of needing more time starts.

And then you get into the problem of having to whittle away principal attractions in each of the countries to make enough time to see them both, or if accepting only the very prime attractions in each country, you’re looking at a safari of more than two weeks.

Add to this that “open-jawing” your international air fare (flying into one country but returning from another) is considerably more expensive than simply roundtripping one.

As a general rule, you’ll need 20-25% more time and money for the same amount of sightseeing and game viewing if you visit both countries instead of only one.

Both Kenya and Tanzania have a superb list of incredible attractions, game viewing and otherwise. If they opened their borders a tourist could approach them both as a single country, East Africa.

But they haven’t, and they won’t in my opinion. So I’m beginning to think that most travelers conscious of their travel budget and holiday time ought to choose one or the other and might do so realizing they’ll return another year to see the other one!

The same strategy that most Americans apply now to Europe’s many diverse nations ought to be applied to East Africa.

So if you’re contemplating a “first time safari” for next year – which country should it be?

Kenya.

Here’s why.

1. Kenya is growing more stable than Tanzania.
Safety, and even more importantly, the perception of safety is probably the single-most important factor when people choose an exotic destination to visit.

Last month, President Obama visited Kenya. Last month, the British government removed its travel warnings from Kenya’s most vulnerable area to Islamic terrorists, the beautiful Indian ocean coast.

2. Travel is cheaper and easier to Kenya than Tanzania.
Nairobi’s new airport is astoundingly modern and efficient. You’ll think you’re in Europe. Tanzania’s two airports, Kilimanjaro and Dar-es-Salaam, are losing not only service from Europe and beyond, but they’re losing electricity!

In my many visits in the last five months to Kilimanjaro airport, there were no less than a dozen power outages as I waited for my clients to arrive!

There is much more service to choose from flying into Kenya than Tanzania, and it looks now like Delta will be flying directly to Nairobi starting early next year.

3. Tanzania’s October election could be troublesome.
On the negative side and as I’ve written several times in the last few weeks, Tanzanian politics are heating up. It could be very good for the country, and there are many reasons to think that Tanzania will not go through the troublesome period of political change that Kenya did about ten years ago.

But there are also many reasons to think otherwise. A very contentious national election is scheduled for October 24, and I worry that the main candidates in both factions are talking less about the issues than “keeping the election peaceful.”

Even China — normally an aggressive side liner that never interferes with foreign elections – cautioned Tanzanians Wednesday about violence in the October elections.

4. Kenya is more aggressively conservationist than Tanzania.
Then there are gnawing conservation issues becoming toxic in Tanzania, beginning with the lax enforcement of ivory poaching, the relocation of Maasai just outside the northeastern Serengeti to increase a private Arab hunting reserve, and totally rebuffing conservationists’ attempts to slow down the planned dam and mine in The Selous.

None of these is serious enough for you to cancel a Tanzanian safari, but Kenya in contrast has high positive points on all of these named measures, and so if having to choose one over the other, I think it’s now a slam dunk.

Remember who’s writing this. The Serengeti remains my favorite place in the world, and that’s in Tanzania. My great migration experience these last 8 months in both countries convinces me it’s best in Tanzania.

But the time … money … and safety perception components of creating a great safari are now all tilting towards Kenya.

Vigilance in Tanzania

Vigilance in Tanzania

GoodNewsBNLowassaVigilance in Tanzania, folks. A surprising political situation has developed which might bring enormous benefit to the country or … might cast it into turmoil.

For 50 years the Tanzanian government has been ruled by a single party, the CCM [Chama Cha Mapinduzi]. Although certified by western powers as democratic, it never really has been.

In the early days there was no pretense. For the first 20 years, Tanzania proudly declared itself a socialist nearly communist country. At the end of the Cold War it changed its tune and western powers like the U.S. warmed to their new found reticence.

Be that as it may, it’s always been a core group of central leaders who have chosen the president. In the last 15 years the process has opened up enough to allow for truly opposition members of parliament, but none of them attained any real power in governance.

That may be changing with the announcement a week ago Tuesday that a controversial and very famous politician, former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, had defected from the CCM to lead the opposition.

That wouldn’t have meant much a year ago, because there are so many fractured opposition parties. One of the strategies of a strong single party state flirting with democracy is to foment so much opposition that alliances between often small regions become impossible.

For example in Tanzania, the ZUF, or principal party of Zanzibar, has never allied itself with any other political group. Considering itself extremely unique, aggressively Muslim and very committed to succession, no other mainland political organization would join forces with it.

That’s changed with Lowassa’s defection, and many in Tanzania see it as a miracle. The heavily Catholic Chadma party, CCM’s principal nemesis, has forged a country-wide alliance with virtually all the opposition parties, including the ZUF.

Lowassa seems to have brought them altogether, agreed that he is the one man in the country that for the first time ever in Tanzania’s history could destroy the single party state.

So what’s wrong with this?

Edward Lowassa until yesterday had retreated from politics after being charged as the kingpin in a terrible 2007/2008 scandal when he was prime minister. More than $120 million dollars was paid to a Richmond Electricity Company in Texas to deliver electrical generators that would massively increase the country’s power.

The company, according to Transparency International, appears to be a shell corporation and no generators were ever delivered. The scandal nearly brought down the then new Kikwete government, which ultimately said Lowassa was principally to blame.

Lowassa until now has only softly denied the charges while disappearing out of public life. Tuesday he claimed he tried multiple times as prime minister to vacate the contract, but that “higher authorities” disallowed him from doing so.

He then claimed he was made the fall guy when the details of the contract leaked.

Anything else? If this scandal can be swept under the rug, what’s concerning about Lowassa forging a real opposition that can actually challenge the one party state?

Technically, nothing. But ghosts of Kenya Past haunt the process.

More or less the same thing happened in 2006 when Kenyan opposition leader, Raila Odinga brought together all of the opposition against the ruling party which had controlled Kenya since its Independence.

He won. At least that’s my take on the situation, but the election judges all from the main KANU party ruled otherwise. The result was incredible civil disturbance which resulted in more than 1300 deaths and 120,000 displaced persons.

It took five years to fix, and fix it well the Kenyans have. The change which seems now to be settling on Kenya strikes me as well and good and extremely promising. But it came about, literally, through revolution not the ballot box.

The Kenyan ballot box instigated the revolution that followed. The parallels with Tanzania are exceptional.

The Tanzanian election is the end of October. Stay tuned.

OnSafari: Kenya vs. Tanzania

OnSafari: Kenya vs. Tanzania

TitleWildeTents.699.aug15The border between Kenya and Tanzania has been closed in the Mara since 1979, but that didn’t stop us!

Historically, the great wildebeest migration has been in the Mara regions of the Ngorongoro/Serengeti/Mara ecosystem from July – September. This is when – historically – the rains have ended in the south while continuing here in the north.

The Mara is Kenya’s best wilderness year-round. After a complex dispute between the two countries in 1979, the all important Mara/Serengeti road and border posts were shut down, and they’ve never been opened since.

This was our final day in the Mara region of the northern Serengeti, still Tanzania but the Serengeti right to the Kenyan border.

We saw lots of wildebeest, not a lot of zebra, a dramatic river crossing and this morning, two male cheetah just waking up to hunt.

Mara River Bridge
Mara River Bridge

Historically we’d be lucky to see as much as we did these last three days. But the weather’s changing and more of the entire ecosystem is wet for longer than in days past. So I was anxious to know what was happening just across the way in Kenya.

The Mara River is pretty mean, wide and raging where we were staying, and it’s an effective obstacle to going north to Kenya.

There is one cement bridge built years ago when the rivers were all smaller and shallower. It’s usually covered with water, and I expected it would be again today because it rained last night.

Three weeks ago when I was here with another safari there was about three inches of water over the bridge. It’s a false idea that it would be safe for a 1 ton Landcruiser. In fact someone tried (not us). They were fortunate not to be levitated by the water, which is common, but …

… a dead wildebeest was raging down the river, slammed into the vehicle and sent it into the Mara River. The guests were rescued but the vehicle and their belongings were lost.

Today there were about 4 inches above the water, and I was surprised, so immediately off we went towards Kenya!

As soon as we crossed that little bit north the terrain changed considerably and looked exactly like the Maasai Mara I know so well.

There were far fewer trees and bushes, the grass was shorter, and so the vistas were grander. There were lots more visible animals: gazelle, topi, warthog, giraffe – even impala, and of course wildebeest.
LemalaCamp.699.Aug15
Not a lot. Not as many as I expected. But the terrain reminded me that the beautiful savannah before us is a product of elephants felling forests, a primary among several ecological dynamics. The extraordinary corporate poaching of elephant in the Serengeti in the 1970s and 1980s as opposed to the much better patrolled Kenyan Mara had the unexpected effect of prolonging the northern Serengeti forests.

That’s changing, of course. We are seeing more and more elephant in the northern circuit in Tanzania and lots of felled trees!

Anthony Ertle & James Graham
Anthony Ertle & James Graham

We continued towards Kenya and off to my right I saw a fallen tree in the distance. Underneath resting in its scattered shade were two male cheetah.

Undoubtedly brothers kicked out of their family at the same time, one was clearly agitated, looking all around him and feigning yawns. In the distance was the small group of Thomson’s gazelle that I knew he was contemplating.

His brother was snoozing, but as soon as he stood up, his brother woke up and looked around, amazed to see us.

Nevertheless, cheetah are remarkably docile and friendly animals. They’re no more scared of us than they knew we’re unafraid of them.

We left the brothers to continue to the Kenyan border.

The border is marked by a stone pyramid. Several tracks lead to it from the Tanzanian side, and one from the Kenyan side, down from the Mara Serena hotel.

Anthony and James cartwheeled over the border, in complete defiance of visa regulations! Then, we took a group photo on the Kenyan side of the marker!

Then, fortunately, two Kenyan safari vehicles came up and we chatted with the drivers for some time. Such scant information hardly a good report makes, but they claimed there weren’t any large numbers of wildebeest in the Mara … “yet,” they said.

But we’ve been seeing them come across the Mara to the Tanzanian side for several days, now. Still, the amount of wilde we’ve seen – while impressive and much greater than historically would be the case – it was still hardly a big fraction of the two million animals that make up the great migration.

The lack of the Serengeti herds into the Mara was confirmed today by an email sent around by one of the most respectable properties in the Mara, Governor’s Camp. The email said they were “still awaiting” the Serengeti herds.

(Unfortunately, I don’t think waiting will help. The rains are returning early, and those wildebeest on the Tanzanian side are beginning to move south already.

As I sit writing this back in our Lemala Camp, the blarting of thousands of wildebeest which have just crossed south over the Mara River prompted me to take the title picture above. It seems like all wilde are now moving south, away from Kenya.)

So taking our pack lunch we returned over the cement bridge and traveled along the southern and eastern banks of the Mara seeing once again the great carnage of multiple crossings.

We also saw hippo and giraffe, and a cute scene where a just young adult male elephant charged a line of wildebeest.

He’s just had enough of them, I guess!

In Kenya without a visa! Peg Walsh, Ann Ertle, James & Julie Graham, Rosalini Fini, Mary Disse; Anthony, Jane & Michael Ertle.
In Kenya without a visa! Peg Walsh, Ann Ertle, James & Julie Graham, Rosalini Fini, Mary Disse; Anthony, Jane & Michael Ertle.