18 May 2017

Tanzania: Wading Through the Streets of Dar, Dreaming of a Tanzanian Space Programme, Why Not?

Photo: Alidamji/Wikipedia
Dar es Salaam city skyline.
opinion

When excited nerds talk about how waterways engineering is one of the marks of high civilisation, they are not kidding. Dar es Salaam has been under a sheet of rain so thick and long most of its residents can't remember what it is like not to have wet shoes.

Not to brag or anything but it takes a certain kind of hearty semi-aquatic esprit to live here. It isn't comfortable, and honestly there is sometimes just a little too much robust wildlife around the suburbs to give one a proper modern feeling of disengagement from nature.

Which is fine, for the most part, except that it is also nice to not have to be quite so much at the mercy of the elements all the time. It has been raining for over two weeks and one thing has become undeniable: Our primate city has an abominable drainage system.

In the spirit of optimism, perhaps with a head of state who is called an engineer and a fan of building things, we could be in for an improvement. Let's ignore for the moment that his actual nickname is The Bulldozer.

It isn't just the roads. As much as I am beginning to get used to the surprisingly soulless and generic new skylines of the city as we "modernise" it, struck me that we're still making the same old mistakes from the 1980s and 1990s. The architecture is off, the materials can be pretty dubious, we don't seem to have bought into the concept of clean and plentiful public toilets, let alone ramps for easy access.

From the air, landing in daylight, the jigsaw puzzle of the city may be pleasingly organic but it is also a clear indication that planning - and following plans - is not a Tanzanian forte.

I like grand projects as much as the next person, I really do. Things like when we talk of going to the moon and someone says maybe one day Tanzania will also launch its own space programme, I get excited. But, you know, reality intrudes.

I have no plans to fly a Tanzanian-made helicopter nor am I keen on the new overpass roads being built in the city because someone who can't get a drainage system right will also not get a whole bunch of other things right. With the helicopter anyways, it will have to have more than a few gazillion air miles with no incident before I even look at the thing.

Perhaps in this day and age it is unfashionable to be so pedantic. I mean, everything's fluid right? Including facts, right, because of alternative news, whatever the heck that means. Well, nope.

Social constructs can be as fluid as they want to be, no issues. But the realm of science and the metric system needs to remain dependably objective. Objectivity and rationality are wonderful qualities in architects and engineers and all those making-things kinds of jobs.

I wish it was also a quality we could demand in electoral representative democracies but I know, I know, how crazy that would be. As it is, my government is working hard on professionalising the civil service.

I am not sure how we are doing on ghost workers but it has just got rid of thousands of underqualified and/or mendacious staff in an effort to purge the lassitude and inefficiency out of itself. If things go according to plan... hehe, Tanzanian plans... well, if things go according to plan then we should have a sleek and beautiful civil service that does what it says on their performance agreements.

If things go according to plan, maybe we will also get to retroactively clean up our cities, as it were.

Put in a drainage system that works during the rainy season, build roads that don't explode with potholes at the slightest hint of traffic, maybe even be so ambitious as to include pavements along the way.

Perhaps our civil engineers and planners will actually engineer and plan and most especially enforce standards. Especially now that, hehe, the government is apparently enforcing some standards on itself and its own staff.

I know President Magufuli has a lot of grand plans for whatever he thinks is possible for Tanzania, such as an industrial revolution, but I will judge his legacy by an even more ambitious metric: Did he finally get Dar not to flood during the rainy season?

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report.

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