Typing by candlelight is a novelty this evening, but if the power cuts or electricity rationing – not sure yet which one this is – become as frequent as they apparently were before I arrived, it’ll get a bit tedious. There are often brief blackouts during the day, but at the office we have a generator that kicks in with a groan to keep our PCs and air conditioning running. At home, with no generator, I’m anxiously willing my one candle to burn slowly: at least give me another few hours?
What’s irritating on a personal level (not being able to wash my hair, turn on the fan, boil water, etc.) translates on a national scale into one of the major obstacles – along with inflation and fuel and food prices – to economic growth. Deals are being signed – 17 oil and gas exploration companies are on the ground in Tanzania, the highest since exploration began some years ago; there are also some early plans for renewable energy production. But in the meantime, businesses can’t predict their costs, and they suffer. Meanwhile, over two-thirds of the population depend on agriculture, and their livelihoods are at the whim of unpredictable rains. The weather makes forward planning – whether you’re a farmer or a finance minister – a stab in the dark.
I get the impression though, that the Africans are pretty good at planning not to plan. In general, there’s a sense that things might happen when people tell you they will, or they might not. At a meeting at the education ministry the other day, we started a whole hour late: people simply drifted in long after the scheduled start time. In Zanzibar, we’d booked hotel rooms in advance, and they were already taken when we arrived. This evening, I went to a dance class I’d confirmed with the teacher last week, and he didn’t turn up. It’s a bit infectious too: today I accompanied someone from the embassy to visit a project not far from Dar. The traffic leaving the city was awful, and there’d been torrential rains last night. We were about an hour late. But I wasn’t even getting edgy: they’ll wait for us, I figured. And they did. Traffic, fuel, weather… there are so many variables in this African life that plans can only ever be loose. Pole pole, as they say here: slow slow, chill out.