This past weekend was very exciting for Tanzania. As a part of President Bush’s tour of Africa, he visited Dar es Salaam. It was the first visit by an American President, since Clinton’s visit in 1998.
With typical Tanzanian hospitality, Dar was ready for the occasion, and I couldn’t help smiling… Banners were strung up that featured the Stars and Stripes crossed with the Tanzanian flag, and welcomed “Your Excellency President Bush.” Billboards were scattered throughout the city featuring a panorama of Kilimanjaro, with an artist’s rendering of Bush’s head emerging from the snow at the top of the mountain. My personal favorite was a woman’s dress that I saw on the bus: it was emblazoned with headshots of President Jakaya Kikwete and Bush connected with a screen-print that read “Lasting Friendship.”
Being one of the few (read ‘only’) white males near where I live, I frequently have humorous encounters with locals. When I am walking on the street, locals often point at me and exclaim “Bush!” It is made funnier by the Tanzanian pronunciation of Bush, which is something more like “Booshee.” A couple of times, street vendors have pulled me aside and asked me in a hushed tone if I am with the FBI. On Saturday, I was walking with a friend, and we encountered a group of Tanzanian boys. After greeting them, one asked me, with wide-eyes, if I was “the one that they call Bush.”
Of course, the reaction to the visit was really quite mixed, although the government clearly wanted to things to go smoothly. Journalists (in the English press, I can’t read Swahili…yet) showed a healthy amount of criticism and journalistic freedom. The result was a productive dialogue on a number of issues related to the Bush presidency ranging from African development economics to the Iraq war. Notably, there was considerable skepticism regarding the motive of the grant that Tanzania received during the visit. However, President Kikwete certainly welcomed the $700 million grant, which was earmarked for infrastructure development and disease prevention. Fortunately for him, the grant tripled the amount that was stolen from the government’s coffers in the most recent scandal, which felled the Prime Minister and forced Kikwete to dissolve the cabinet when it was revealed two weeks ago.
In only a short time, I have been received an exciting introduction to African politics. It has allowed me to step back and experience politics from a new perspective. Tanzanians are quite interested in current events, and I have had ample opportunity to discuss issues and take in a diverse range of opinions – an invaluable learning experience./>