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Village Elections

This week people all over Tanzania are voting for village chairmen. In American terms, such a person would be the mayor of the town. The run up to the election here at Olbalbal village has seen huge very public expenditures by the two candidates for the office. One gave over $300 dollars to a woman newly widowed when a cape buffalo surprised her husband in heavy bush, goring and killing him. This contribution was announced loudly and everywhere as an example expressing the public spirit of the candidate for office. The other made a very substantial and very public contribution to a famine-feeding program. Each rented a land rover and traveled back and forth throughout the district making loudspeaker-assisted speeches about how Olbalbal will become a utopia if people vote for him. The election took place yesterday with huge number of people lining up here at Olbalbal village to cast their vote. The process has been very much like an American election.

It is interesting to note that the post of village chairman has no salary attached to the job. It is a post that a person undertakes out of an altruistic desire to serve his fellow citizens and make Olbalbal a better place to live. Not true. This is one of the most lucrative jobs imaginable. The opportunities to receive bribes for allocations of plots of land and other privileges are endless. A huge source of income for the village chairman comes from fines levied on people for any one of a hundred different reasons. For example, the drinking or selling of alcohol that is now forbidden here provides opportunities to fine people and the village chairman pockets most of these. It is no wonder that our mayoral candidates have spent hundreds of dollars winning the support of the people of Olbalbal. The meaning of the term “public service” seems to have pretty much the same connotations all over the world.

Some time ago, I talked of our church choir recording a CD to make money for improvements to our church building. Heavy rains last year have hastened the deterioration of the outside walls and a major plastering job is badly needed. Giving the fact that money could be made from sales of the music CD, the issues surrounding how the money will be spent and even which individuals will profit by the sudden major infusion of funds has divided the leadership of the church and choir. Now the bad feelings and rancor is growing and the meetings that have so far taken place, instead of bringing peace, seem to have deepened the conflicts. I have asked two respected elders of our area to meet with the people and see if they can resolve things.

OleNdoiki, is local Maasai leader, “leguanan”, and has the reputation of being an able peace make when serious disputes arise. OleNdoiki spent all of Sunday afternoon with about forty-five of our Christian community. Everyone came out of the meeting very tired but smiling. The conflicts seem to have been resolved.

 

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