6 Sep 2011

Suits, diplomatic ignorance and HakiElimu: More US cables on Tanzania released by Wikileaks

After my post last week on Wikileaks release of US Embassy Cables, it seems that the rather chaotic internal politics of Wikileaks led to a release of the final batch of cables over the weekend. So a brief update is in order.

Around 230 more cables relating to Tanzania were released over the weekend, bringing the total to over 700. And just to make things complicated, the most recent batch are not separated from the previously released cables, so looking through the new ones requires that you also look through all the old ones.

But let's get to the point. And there are three more points of particular interest that I have found in the new releases, as follows.

First up, the one cable that has attracted the most headlines and an emphatic denial - the claim by a former US Ambassador to Tanzania than the Kempinsky Hotel chain paid for President Kikwete to travel to London and to buy five tailor-made Saville Row suits. For once the key line is reported as fact rather than as commentary: "I learned later in the evening from hotel publicity director, Lisa Pile, that the hotel owner (UAE citizen Ali Albwardy) had recently flown Kikwete to London for a subsidized shopping expedition. Among other things, on that trip Ali Albwardy bought Kikwete five Saville Row suits." This is firmly denied by State House.

Second, two cables reporting on a trip up-country by US Embassy officials are remarkable for the extent of diplomatic ignorance they reveal. In just a quick read, I found the following three facts reported, all of which will come as a surprise to anyone with much knowledge of Tanzania*:
  • There is no level of elected government in Tanzania between the parliament and village level
  • Two thirds of Tanzania's population live in Mwanza and neighbouring regions of the Lake Zone
  • Ruvuma is 20 hours by road from Dar es Salaam
And I'm sure a more thorough reading would uncover an awful lot more. 

Getting access to information can be quite a challenge in Tanzania, but none of this is complicated stuff. I'm sure plenty of Embassy staff (not least the Tanzanian staff) would know that all three of these "facts" were clearly wrong.

But more worrying from the same two cables is the impression given of an Embassy that has no knowledge, no connection at all to any part of Tanzania outside Dar, Dodoma and Zanzibar. Is that what the whole of the Dar-based diplomatic community is like? How can they engage effectively with Tanzanian politicians and officials if all they are familiar with is three highly un-typical parts of the country?

Third, the US Embassy's notes on the 2005-06 ban on HakiElimu make for interesting reading. There's nothing particularly new in there, but it's a interesting summary of what took place and how it was resolved, including particularly the influential role played by the media.

- - - - -
* In case you're not familiar with Tanzania, there are local councils (districts, towns, municipalities) between village and parliamentary level, which have significant responsibilities, Mwanza and the Lake Zone include around 25% of Tanzania's population, and Ruvuma is around 12 hours by road from Dar.