A white American in Tanzania

I'll never forget the first time I touched down at Julius Neyrere International Airport. I looked out the window and said, "Holy fuck, the pilot made a mistake and we just landed in the Mog, as in Mogidishu, fucking Somalia" My thoughts as we drove into the city center acted to confirm the initial impression. As any out-of-place mazungu, I kept having visions of beat-up Toyota Land Cruiser pick-up trucks coming around each dirt covered, trash littered corner with a M-60 mounted on top ready to take me out, or take me hostage. 
Of course that's not how it really was, or is in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, but an active imagination and too many war books permitted me to entertain the possibilities. The people are outwardly friendly enough, overly so, but 5 years in-country lets you know that's just a veneer. Scratch under the surface and you'll understand they really hate you, and you come to really hate them.

Look at the multiple murders of white farmers in SA, or even Kenya. Look at the savagery and butchery. These aren't simple murders to acquire the property or belongings of someone.  This is a prolonged savage attack on children, the wife, and finally the man. This is rape and dismemberment.  There is a psychological aspect to the attack.  There is a deep-seeded anger being expressed. When I say they hate you, it is a psychological expression.  A jealousy, a hatred of what whites represent.  An abject failure of themselves, a feeling of inferiority that is expressed in the savagery of their attacks. They know full well that they are better off under white rule, and it drives them to madness when given an unbridled chance to express it physically. So when I say they hate you, it is in this context. I've heard many elderly Tanzanians surmise that they would be better off under white rule.

This story starts out in late 2010, and ends with my last visit recently, February, 2018. Tanzania is horribly corrupt from top to bottom and everywhere in between. It permeates all aspects of society and every level. Nothing escapes the stink. I loved it! Total cowboy country. The golden rule was better to ask for forgiveness than permission.  Everything and everyone was negotiable. That's not just an expression, it's a reality that westerners struggle to grasp the depth and breadth of. It took me a couple years to appreciate the depth and breadth of it, all encompassing. I came to Tanzania with an open mind and open wallet, I lost both somewhere along the way.  Initially I wanted to be involved in the agricultural industry, but diverted into the mining industry, gold to be exact.   

In Tanzania there are no patriots, no humanitarians, no environmentalists, and certainly no principles, just a point of negotiation to come to terms on. How much is a life worth? You might be surprised to learn it's not much more than a few cows, it's negotiable. What do you do when your baby has a defect at birth and you live in the village? You put it in the corner and wait for the poor soul to die. Tough place. What do you do when you run someone over with your car? You haul ass, flee the scene! You go to the nearest Police Station and report what happened. By no means do you stay on scene, white, or black, you run. If you stay, you could be beaten to death by a mob. All the clothing that's donated from aid organizations abroad is co-opt ed at the port and sold in markets around the country. My mosquito net is clearly marked, Not for Sale, but there it is in the market, for sale. The Egyptian Coptic Church had a medical clinic in Musoma which was giving away HIV medicine. Their Doctor's visas were revoked for the crime of cutting into the profits of state-run clinics illegally selling HIV medicine. 

Most of my time in-country was spent under Kikwete's presidency.  The country continued as it had done for many years before. Primarily business is done in cash, taxes are written down to a nominal number, maybe $1000 if you're running a business turning over $1 million/year. The rest is paid direct to the local tax representative and the amount will vary depending on your negotiating skills.  As a rough rule, 10% of what they're asking is a good place to settle up. They clean your books and you receive a certified, stamped copy of the year’s tax returns. If reps from the government come to visit your place of business, be sure to put out a nice spread and have plenty of beers. From that point on, it will make things much easier. It's like this, you show up as an outsider and impose your righteous views on how to do things the "right" way. Their impression of that is, "Who do you think you are? You're not going to come into my country and make the rules." Best to just go along with everyone else and do things as everyone else is doing. No benefit in being a square peg in a round hole. In my industry the effective tax rate was over 62% Most businesses are simply not viable under the oppressive weight of taxation. But that is the African way, there is no recognition that the rates are onerous. The system requires corruption simply to exist. If they drop rates to a flat 10%, revenues would explode. Who wants to deal with these people stuffing their pockets at the tax agency?  Easier to just pay the 10% and move on. 

That concept is the antithesis of African thought patterns. There is a great myth perpetuated by white people. The myth is that we are all the same. Well, reality has a way of imposing itself on feelgood intentions.  We are not all the same and when elitist whites finally recognize this, progress can be made. When you tell a black man/women that you understand we are different, watch their face. You will see a sense of relief wash over them, an appreciation that you're at least aware of these significant differences.  At this point, we can reach a true understanding of each other, rather than forcing our beliefs down their throats.
In this hectic environment,  there was a system, even if you found it reprehensible,  it was systemic, and you could navigate and make a way. I remember back in 2015, or so, the ruling party shot down opposition protesters in the streets of Arusha. What surprised me was the reaction from the Kikwete administration. It was, in a nut shell, tough shit, deal with it. No firing of the Chief of Police, no investigation. I said at the time, these events won't be forgotten.

 I left Tanzania right at the election of Magufuli. I knew many people were nervous, particularly the business community.  As this is relatively normal in African politics, it was perhaps a bit more because he was an unknown. If you follow Tz politics, it has been one misstep followed by another. He's a bungling idiot. I heard he was writing a new book, "How to destroy a country in 10 easy steps."


I don't put this down to good natured stupidity. This guy is evil. I say that because of what he has done with the expat teachers in Tanzania. I know of several friends who are teachers who have been kicked out already.  They simply are refusing to renew any expat work visas for teachers. This will destroy the ability of any expat working in country to bring their family, this also will prevent quality education opportunities for local people who can afford the international schools. This is outrageous for such a poorly educated country. But that's just how they like it, keep them uneducated, wouldn't want anyone asking questions would they? Previous administrations purposely kept the public education system down for exactly this reason, but at least there was a recognition of need for some of the populace to receive a proper education. For goodness sake, where will they send their own children?

This guy's play book is straight out the communist manifesto. On February 27th two Mp's from the Mbeya region were sentenced to 5 months in prison for speaking against the dear leader. Opposition leaders are being snatched off the street and later found dead. Who's doing this, dear leader?  Mild mannered people who have spent their lives in Tanzania are whispering.  Why whisper? Who's listening?  A real fear has begun to grip the country.  


Journalist are being detained, business leaders are being imprisoned, MP's imprisoned, and the government has declared it doesn't have to honor its agreements. The government has unilaterally removed itself from International Arbitration and determined disputes will be settled in Tanzanian kangaroo courts. Recently the British and American embassies have asked for an explanation for this activity.  The government's response was the laughable, essentially a non-response. Tanzania is being dismantled in front of our eyes and devolving into a police state. The opposition party is seething, uneducated masses are laughing.  What they fail to grasp is that once the low hanging fruit has been picked, what little they have will come next.
My last visit onto Tanzania, was truly my last until this tyrant goes. I never felt afraid in Tanzania, but now is a time for caution. A friend, British, recently spent 7 days in a Tanzanian jail. He committed no crime. Local officials are emboldened by the hatred this president is spreading, things are going to get far worse before they get better. 

You've been warned.

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