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Ready, Fire, Aim! - By Philip Odera

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Ready, Fire, Aim! - By Philip Odera


There was all this stuff flying around about Brexit. I knew that the Brits were in trouble the moment they started talking about pulling Barclays out of Africa, but wanting to increase their investment on the continent to counter Chinese influence.

Once you have a misalignment between the commercial and political interests of the country, you know you’re headed for trouble.


And to compound it all, as far as the Brexit referendum was concerned, there were people who were genuinely pissed off at the outcome; which frankly came as a surprise to me. Ati they didn’t like the final verdict of the voters and this was more so for the people who were London based.


For some reason they appeared to have confused their collective views in London to be those of the entire country.


Any way that was for them to sort out. All I knew was that Museveni, Mugabe and Kagame were probably laughing their heads off. I am almost certain that someone from the Foreign Office in Harare picked up the phone to remind the Brits to “give democracy a chance.”


As for me, I was more interested in East Africa at that moment. Whilst the Brits were throwing tantrums and their toys out of the cot, our “undemocratic” countries seemed to be moving ahead with no illusion of promising the populace what they would not be able to deliver (untampered and untainted votes).


Anyway, let me stay away from the politics of it all, because that’s not what I really wanted to share with you today. What I thought was worth discussing was a conversation I had with a Tanzanian friend of mine. We bumped into each other at Nairobi airport. I was headed to Johannesburg to experience Jacob Zuma’s bungling of the economy, whilst my friend was headed to Switzerland for some conference or other (come to think of it he never did say what it was.)


Being that way inclined, I asked my friend, “Ndugu, how are things at home in Tanzania? How is Magufuli doing? How’s the economy doing?”

My friend paused slightly and then looked around to see if there was anyone in earshot.  At this point I wasn’t sure whether this was a good or bad sign.


“Actually the economy is doing well,” my friend said. “We have a GDP that is growing at anywhere between 6-7% and certainly when you compare this with the rest of Africa (approx. 4%) and the rest of the so-called developed world (Europe/US et al), we’re doing just fine,” he stated.


“There has historically been some serious and systemic evasion of taxes and in many cases with the collusion of tax officials, but this is getting serious scrutiny under Bulldozer,” he added.

 “Who?” I asked.


“Bulldozer,” he exclaimed. “That’s what we call Magufuli. You know the same way as you Kenyans have Tinga (Raila Odinga). Well we have Bulldozer,” he stated.


“We have even utilized some of the previously misallocated funds to refurbish our infrastructure and now even the Dar Rapid Transport system has finally gotten off the ground and is operational,” he mentioned with pride written all over his face.


“Wow. Looks like you needed the Bulldozer all along and now that he is here you guys will really take off,” I responded.


“Well, I can only hope so,” he said hesitatingly. “You see there are plus sides and negatives sides of having a Bulldozer in your compound,” he elaborated.


“Oh, tell me more,” I said, wondering whether he was going to reveal that the Bulldozer was no different from many across the African continent. 

I think my friend could sense the emergence of a slight glee in my tone. You know the tone of voice that doesn’t explicitly state it, but means: “I told you your guy wasn’t for real.”


“I know what you’re thinking and where your mind is going, so stop right there,” he said. “The Bulldozer has not been caught with his hand in the till, stolen anybody’s land, or allocated himself any large tracts of land,” he clarified. “That’s not what I’m worried about,” he said.


“So what are you worried about?” I queried, looking up at the clock trying to figure out how much I could extract from my friend before the mad dash to my boarding gate.  


“You see the problem is this. Our man Bulldozer made many promises when he was on the campaign trail and it’s good that he is trying to live up to them, but the manner in which some are executed is causing many of us business people serious anxiety. Let me give you some examples,” he said.


“Several government officials have been fired for dishonesty, or in some cases outright incompetence. This is welcome, but the problem is it’s executed on the spot, which means that a vacuum is created on the spot. Now one vacuum we can deal with, but several at the same time in crucial areas create paralysis,” he said.


“For example the sacking of port officials and the introduction of additional taxes has had the dual effect of not only slowing things down, but a re-routing of vital cargo volume from Dares salaam to Mombasa, much to the benefit of you Kenyans,” he added.


“Now, what makes things really tough is when you sack people on the spot, guess what happens? This becomes the operating culture. Everybody else believes that this is how they should handle matters. It quickly becomes a culture of ‘sack before you’re sacked.’  Senior civil servants begin to dismiss junior civil servants without resorting to due process and therefore the very inactivity you are trying to prevent becomes certain,” he told me.

“It’s like someone picking up a gun to shoot and the sequence is ‘ready, fire, aim’ rather than the other way around.”


“My concern is that we are going to scare away investors with that kind of approach. Its already bad enough that we have a growing reputation of hostility towards certain visitors, we don’t need to add to this,” he said as he picked up his travel bag to head out of the lounge.


“I’ve got to dash as well, “I told him. “Great to see you Ndugu. Travel well and let’s keep in touch. I’d love to know how things pan out in Tanzania under the new Bulldozer regime,” as I headed to my boarding gate to catch my flight to Johannesburg.


I made it on time through my boarding gate and picked up a conversation with some students who had been to Nairobi for vacation and were now headed back to school in Johannesburg.


We chatted for some time before I took my seat on the plane and it was only then that I realized we had been on the plane quite a while and that the crew seemed not to be in a hurry to take off.


“Why aren’t we taking off,” I asked one of the crew. “It’s been quite a while since we boarded,” I enquired. “Sorry sir, but we’re just waiting for three more connecting passengers and then we will be on our way,” she responded.


“And where are they connecting from I asked,” slightly irritated by now. “Tanzania Sir,” she responded.


“I wonder who has been sacked,” I muttered to myself. “I’m sorry, but what did you say?” she asked me. “Nothing,” I said. “Just talking to myself…….”

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