Thanks for the good times, the bad times – and the media freedom (while it lasted…)

This column is dedicated to the young man on social media who posted a picture of his voter’s card, cut into pieces out of frustration after his candidate did not win the presidential election.

This is what I had to offer on the way to the 2010 election, in the grip of a feverish optimism. It was the week of May 10-16, 2010 when “Will the Real Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete Please Stand Up?” was published, when The EastAfrican was still distributed in Tanzania in print form. Jay Kay won that election by 60 per cent, a significant drop from the 80 per cent that got him elected in the first place:

Jakaya Kikwete, popularly known as Jay Kay, is a media-age president. The camera loves him, and he loves it right back. An incomparable jet setter and baby-dandler, he squeezes his statecraft in-between bouts of PR-friendly activities.

…In comparison to his predecessor, Jay Kay is coming across as somewhat flaky on the Big Policy Initiative front. Of late, some among the chattering classes are even singing Mkapa’s praises. ‘At least he had a spine,’ they warble.

… Indeed, Jay Kay has helped to reintroduce us to the idea of electoral politics as a blood sport. Members of Parliament will not be thanking him for this.

… Tanzanian incumbents always get re-elected, so let’s not waste time with election talk. Here’s what you can take to the bank for the next five years: Jay Kay is going to keep serving his country to the best of his ability as he perceives it. More importantly, here’s what Tanzanians want for the next five years: Unleash your powers, Mr President, for the good of the country. We’ve read your CV. We like you. We believed the campaign promises and we’re still suckers for that toothy white smile. It is way past time to fulfil your potential.

I will leave the dry and numerical analyses about Jay Kay’s performance to those who can stand doing that kind of thing, comforted by the knowledge that an individual’s public legacy — like a fine single malt — takes its sweet time maturing into something coherent and complex. It only seems fit to end five years of a one-sided public “dialogue” with Jakaya Kikwete on a more intimate note.

The political is personal, and every individual has that one president. It is a factor of age and circumstance, I imagine, political activation… any number of other factors.

In 2010, I had a lot of expectations and twice as much naiveté to bolster them. Did Jay Kay fulfil his potential? Forgive me for being philosophical about it, but does anyone? In many ways, he has been a horrible disappointment. In other ways, he was the best: Tanzania wouldn’t have leapt this fast forward if it hadn’t been for him.

Jay Kay, a media-age president, did an excellent job of teaching me things that I never imagined existed as a first time voter and young columnist. Resignation and cynicism, amusement and frustration, an irritatingly lingering fondness, contradiction… and apparently a sense of nationalism that is happily capable of rejecting the paternalistic urge for a Dear Leader in favour of a much cooler and slightly more patient personal investment in the Republic. He gave me all the impetus and more in the world to get that biometric voters’ card and turn up for 2015.

Dear young man who cut up his card: Welcome to the club. Life is real but believe me, a lot can happen in five years, including political maturity. It won’t be like this next time.

I’m sorry it’s going to suck, but your job, nay duty, is to get another voter’s card and try not to be one of the very many (expletive deleted) who leave the work of civic participation to an overworked minority.

To Jay Kay: Thank you. The arts and entertainment, the media freedom — while it lasted. The joie-de-vivre. The fricking disappointment. The things we can’t talk about, ever. Good luck with the pineapples and high-five: Taifa Stars are so much better now and people jog in public. Life, eh? See you around.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, E-mail: