Nobody likes standing in those long lines for the opportunity to deal with an angry civil servant. We could be hoeing the ancestral fields or coding the latest app, anything but standing in a line waiting to tell someone who has lost the will to live our personal details. There are people who can avoid this kind of thing because their experience of opportunity cost tends to be rendered in terms of per diems, allowances and appointments. Meanwhile, for the rest of the populace, the opportunity to stand in a long line all day is supposed to be incentive enough.
So, biometric voter registration exercise is going ahead as unplanned. Think of all the things that could have been done that cost as much as taking pictures of retinas in the hopes of documenting individuals in a deeply informally structured society. But apparently this is really, really important. Because: alien threat!
As was gently explained to the populace, this expensive proposition is meant to, among other things, protect our delicate democracy from the ravages of immigrants who love nothing better than to vote while-not-being-Tanzanian. They walk amongst us! How do you know that your Turkish air-conditioning vendor, your Chinese peanut-hawker or your time-shared Malawian gardener isn’t going to collectively wrestle your democratic security right from under you?
This masterful piece of redirection obscures the fact that the biggest threat to Tanzanian citizenship always has been, and remains, its own government. By creating an insecurity of tenure in individuals living in Tanzania, our government offers xenophobia as a natural repository for the rage this can engender. And all of it begins and ends with plebs standing in lines. Of course we are going to stand in line if not doing so carries the risk of being disenfranchised.
Every time an election rolls around, there must be drama about who gets to vote and who doesn’t. Technology is used to justify the overhaul of some important documentation required by law: Vehicle licences, new licence plate system, voter registration, voter re-registration, voter re-re-registration, national identification, mandatory colonoscopy without anaesthetic at a government health centre of your choosing, et cetera.
It reminds me of the 1960s to 1990s, which I only experienced through the anecdotes from Generation Independence about their experience of democracy. Whereas before folks would line up for food and commodities and the right to vote on a ballot that only had one candidate, these days it is rights and suffrage and more. By way of an expensive piece of plastic.
To be fair, there are reasons to keep the voter registration rolling throughout the years before an election. At our rate of reproduction, it doesn’t make sense to do otherwise. But lining up? That’s just so... this is what happens when the median age of the government is 50 and above.
Ugh, and we were almost doing well here. Abolishing the president-for-life problem has created space for this our third, maybe fourth attempt at addressing a constitution for the people.
And yes, substituting a ruling party’s continuity for an individual’s delusions of political immortality opens up the debate about what political evolution actually entails. But still. It isn’t the big pieces of paper that count so much as the little steps made every decade towards a more participatory and empowered experience of citizenship.
In all this time, couldn’t we have embraced more dependable systems that can survive a 10, even 20-year cycle? If we must do technology, it would have been excellent to skip ahead of the world curve and exploit the one thing that East Africa does rather well — mobile phones.
I am sure there is a 12-year-old Kenyan girl out there who can develop an app that would make this happen. Until we can issue her a work visa, the only thing left to do is line up and hope that miraculously we’ll make it to our self-imposed deadlines.