Fixin’ to be a long gone daddy

Just a quick update from an Internet cafe in Kisutu, Dar es Salaam. I’ve been off the net this week and spending my time getting lost on public transit and trying to meet interesting people, while taking breaks to pay too much for impulsive purchases in he street, like a Lucky Dube double disc of dubious origin (most of the writing is in Chinese on the cover) and a pair of leather sandals. (Every country has some product you can’t leave without acquiring, the sandals have got to be that for here.) Those modest plans have been going pretty successfully. Continue reading

The Suds of Kilimanjaro

My latest on

Tha Drinkin' Club

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — A night out in this Indian Ocean port city requires a few essentials. A deep-fried dinner of crispy french fries and dripping grilled meat. A club full of sweating bodies. Some thudding Bongo Flava, Tanzania’s version of hip-hop.

And beer. Lots and lots of beer.

Beer is a big deal in Tanzania. And it’s not only a social lubricant, but also a source of national pride and a pillar of the economy. In fact, this summer, the suds have been at the center of a high-profile legal row — dubbed the Beer Wars in local media — about ownership of the two biggest local firms. At least one company executive has been quoted saying the dispute is of national importance. Continue reading…

Note: see correction from below.

Multimedia: Eid al-Fitr in Zanzibar

U.K. and Kheiry

These young Zanzibari men go by the names of U.K. (left) and Kheiry. They’re dressed up for Eid al-Fitr festivities last week. Read, watch and listen to my multimedia report on

ZANZIBAR, Tanzania — The morning of Eid al-Fitr broke in the narrow streets of Stone Town, Zanzibar, with a few minutes of intense tropical downpour. It was a fitting start to a day that celebrates the closing of the holy month of Ramadan — a day when everything should be clean and refreshed.

Stone Town, or “Mji Mkongwe,” as it is known locally in Swahili, is the oldest section of the main city on the island of Zanzibar, Tanzania. It has lain at the crossroads of vast Indian Ocean trading networks since ancient times. Today, it is a hub of Swahili culture, which thrives on the eastern coast of Africa, stretching from Somalia to Mozambique. With influences from mainland Africa, Arabia, Persia and India, the enclave’s people, architecture and customs capture the eclecticism of Islamic life. Continue reading…

Bridging the book divide in southwest Tanzania

My audio slideshow and article on a book donation in southwest Tanzania is up on GlobalPost. Click through to check it out — I think the slideshow is the best part.

DAR ES SALAAM and TUKUYU, Tanzania — In the United States, students may complain about the cost of textbooks, but at least they can buy them. In many poor parts of the world, books are simply unavailable — at any price.

For 48 schools in rural southwest Tanzania, that will no longer be a problem. On Aug. 21, teachers and school children here celebrated the arrival of more than 4,000 boxes of books and supplies, donated by American schools, teachers and libraries. As a result these Tanzanian schools will have small libraries for the first time.

The Tanzanian schools are benefitting from a simple plan. Used books that were going to be thrown away in the U.S. are instead sent to Africa. It was organized by the U.S. Africa Children’s Fellowship (USACF), which has completed nine similar donations to Zimbabwe since 2003. Continue reading …

Beaming students

Tanzania’s huge foreign aid flow

During my daily perusing of the Save Darfur Accountability Project (a funny, irreverent and important blog that I urge you to add to your RSS feeds), I saw this graphic of the top world aid donors and recipients. SDAP’s post is intended to show that, contrary to Save Darfur’s arguments that the United States is neglecting Sudan, Washington actually gives more aid to Sudan than any country besides Iraq and Afghanistan. Here’s the image, originally from

Point well taken. But what also caught my eye is that peaceful and stable Tanzania receives, according to this graphic, more development aid than any at-peace country in the world.

Without discounting the basic lacks that lie behind the build up in aid, I have to wonder what that does to an economy and to a society. (Why do I keep having images of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “First of the Month” video, about minute 2:30, flash through my head?) I also have to wonder how much of that money goes to buy these NGO-logo-emblazoned Landcruisers tooling around Dar es Salaam and depositing people at fancy hotels for overpriced drinks.

Anyone know where I can get copies of Dead Aid and The White Man’s Burden in TZ?

State Department travel warnings on Zanzibar



A U.S. State Department warning about travel to Zanzibar and Pemba arrived in my inbox a couple of days ago.

I’ve always thought that the travel warnings issued by the U.S. State Department were a bit like the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign on which we Eighties Babies were raised. Neither warning systems seem to distinguish between grave and moderate dangers, which tend to make them useless as sources of information. Continue reading

Swahili swerves into the internet age


Swahili newspapers for sale on the University of Dar es Salaam campus.

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Swahili, the language that blossomed hundreds of years ago on the trade winds of the Indian Ocean, splashed into the internet age this June with the launching of the Swahili version of Facebook.

It was only the latest boost for one of the world’s most broadly spoken indigenous African languages. Swahili’s caretakers — academics, writers, researchers and politicians — have long dedicated themselves to keeping the language relevant in times of quickly changing technology.

Nowhere is better suited to lead Swahili into the electronic era than Tanzania, the most thoroughly Swahili-speaking country in the world. A steady stream of foreigners comes to Tanzania to study the language, called Kiswahili by its native speakers. In 2004, researchers at the University of Dar es Salaam helped launch Jambo OpenOffice, an open-source Swahili office suite for the Linux operating system. Swahili literature and newspapers in Tanzania are thriving. Continue reading…