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Tanzania: To quit or not to quit?

Pernille is a well-known blogger from Denmark. She entered the African blogosphere scene when she started working in Uganda and blogging at “I've Left Copenhagen for Uganda”. She now lives in Tanzania and blogs under a new name, Louder than Swahili. Last week she decided to put her blog on stand-by following comments she received via email, SMS, and phone calls, which made her uncomfortable. The issue that has generated such comments is the image of Tanzania she is displaying on her blog:

The reason is that over the weekend I have been receiving comments, e-mails, text messages and a phone call telling me various things, which I am far from comfortable with. Someone even made a Facebook group with the aim of boycotting my blog.
Basic message is that I am not giving the right impression of Tanzania. That the image I display of Tanzania to the world is damaging Tanzania's image. To me there simply is no right impression, but apparently there is, and I am not meeting these standards. I am highly aware that Africa is not just Africa, that Tanzania differs from other African countries and vice versa. I also know that the image of Tanzania in for instance European media often does not correspond with the one of the Tanzanians. But again 35 million Tanzanians do not make one idea, but many. I am an ex-pat, I blog from my perspective.
I find different viewpoints expressed on different blogs inspiring, which is why I read different blogs. I have only ever intended to reflect my impressions, which I have emphasised over and over. I have also emphasised that my views are mine and do not necessarily correspond with the NGO I work for.

One of her readers posted a message on the popular Tanzanian photo blog, Issa Michuzi, about the page he has set up on Facebook asking people to join in. This person wants her to apologise and promises to expand his campaign:

If you haven't heard yet, Pernille from Denmark and living in Tanzania, an Information Officer at MS Tanzania, posted on her blog, http://pernille.typepad.com/ comments that compared a Tanzanian female traffic officer's legs to ‘tree trunks’.

The purpose of this group is to condemn those unacceptable comments, and demand a formal apology.

SPREAD THE WORD!!

Currently, the group has 62 members. These are some of discussions going on the group's page:

All we Members in this Group are Boycotting the Public Statement of the Girl Pernille.
I wonder how people like KIFIMBO CHEZA join this gruop to try brainwash us on our stands.
I advice you KC, better you open your own Group PROTECT PERNILLE then “get Off” you ideas there, so that they can vary… So plze live us and our Administrator Andrew Shayo Mushi to continue with what we think is right for us.
Message – Report

Alex Kenkuto (Tanzania) wrote
at 5:11pm yesterday

How long these people been in Africa being so-called Foreign Aid Worker, which most of them are SPY. Guys you see them in high life; they are there enjoy life and use Africa like guinea pig, I would love to debate Pernille

ZeBahati Frederick (Toronto, ON) wrote
at 3:00pm on March 8th, 2008
So we are a bit touchy that some creature with a superiority complex dares to compare one of our own's legs to tree trunks..May be we should always laugh about it and be the mature ones, maybe we should forgive her for being human with all human faults..maybe we should just turn the other cheek because the bible says that..afterall, we are more mature than to get offended by such a minor issue..you know what? with a name like SHAYO-MUSHI I will be surprised if he was not offended..matter of fact he like myself should be PISSED beyond reason..For years Africans and if I may say; Tanzanians have been too passive in the way they react to obscene comments/acts and a shit load of other “minor” be-littling things; Slavery, colonization, neo-colonization, economic thuggery and a so on.

After her announcement, her readers had this to say:

This is part of a bigger dynamic wish i hope you will understand. It's okay for you to give up or be quiet. It won't effect you, if things get crazy in tanzania, then you can always pack up and leave, like your doing with the blog. others do not have that fortune.

Posted by: blackstone | March 16, 2008 at 05:42 PM

I didnt see any offense on that statement, may be just because it was written by white, but we should ask our selves how many statement like that appear in our Blogs?

Posted by: Pope | March 14, 2008 at 12:13 PM

Oh, Pernille. I'm so sorry. Please let us know if/when you decide to start blogging again. In the meantime, you will be sorely missed.

Posted by: Rebekah | March 12, 2008 at 10:40 PM

The beauty of blogs by white girls in Africa is that they remind all those bleeding white liberals back home what they are missing.

Are you blogging for Tanzanians or are you blogging for the kids back at home that need to be convinced they can make a difference in Africa?

The Tanzanians want you to stop but the kids back home are spellbound. Who are you gonna chose?

If you asked me, I would say the silly Africans can go fly a kite. After all if they knew the least bit about what is good for them then you wouldn't even need to be hear writing about their issues.

Blog on

Posted by: POTASH | March 12, 2008 at 08:51 PM

I'm very sorry to see you go! I understand why you're going but I'm hoping you wont stay away for too long. All the best. Bye Danish Pernille!

-DeTamble

Posted by: DeTamble | March 12, 2008 at 02:41 PM

Bummer. I'm sorry you're getting flak.

I wish people would realise, it's like television. If you don't like it, you can change the channel.

And I will miss your blog while it's down.

Posted by: Anne-Marie Weeden | March 12, 2008 at 04:15 AM

Pernille,

Putting your blog on stand by as you say it is giving victory to haters of free speech and rights to opinion.

An Information Officer working in Tanzania is not necessarily a Public Relations or Marketing executive for Tanzania.

Don't give up, so your right of opinion a big favour by blogging soonest!

Yours up in arms,

From Uganda, and in Southern Sudan,

Your Peace, Salam Taki

Glenna discussed Pernille's decision on her blog, Uganda Scarlettlion:

This post is not my announcement about switching to moderated comments, as I have long threatened to do when there's too much name-calling using this web page as its forum.

It's about Pernille, who used to live and blog in Uganda, and now does so in Tanzania. Louder than Swahili is her great blog documenting her daily life, work, and impressions of Tanzania. I've enjoyed reading about her life there as much as I did when she was in Arua.

Every blogger gets their fair share of flack, but the higher your blog visibility, the more flack you take. And Pernille has a lot of readers. And apparently, not all of them are happy.
There are a lot of people who take issue with how expats represent Africa, regardless of any disclaimers each blogger may have about a blog representing only his or her views. In general, I think, there are a lot of people who are (rightly) angry about the havoc wrought by the West in Africa, and they tend to take out that disenfranchisement in the form of anonymous comments on blogs. (A statement for which I plan to take plenty of flack.)

Expats in Africa are one of the nearest and most tangible embodiment of that divide. I think it's easy for people here to be mad at bloggers, like me or Pernille, when that's not really the problem. Anger directed at my meager blog, or even Pernille's more robust one, are just the surface manifestations of problems no blog can ever solve.

But it's hard to remember that, when the angry comments are directed at you personally, rather than at a historical legacy or a global divide for which none of us is individually responsible, yet all are complicit.

Pernille, I will eagerly await your return to blogging.

This week, Pernille changed her decision and resumed blogging:

I'm still relatively speechless in terms of formulating an exact written explanation to what happened this week; The Facebook Group and the manic text messages from the US telling me to ‘apologise in a certain way, or…'; the ways I have been quoted on a wide range of Swahili blogs, including photos from my blog being copied and then pasted into other contexts on other blogs. I have definitely realised that here is an outstanding lack of decency in the way people debate on blogs – or for that matter use Facebook. Not to forget the way people just steal text and photos from another without quoting correctly.

It has never been my intention to offend any Tanzanian in particular. And interpretating my blog as an overall offence towards Tanzania is below my understanding. I quite like the place, but there simply is a limit to how many positive adjectives I intend to use, because things are usually more complex than that. Someone wrote that it is okay to be critical as long as you are patriotic. I personally don't believe in patriotism, not even regarding my home country.

And I can honestly say that whatever I've blogged about during my time in Africa, the times where I have felt an actual strong and deliberate intention to insult anyone, it has been targeted towards the xenophobic Danish People's Party and the Danish right-winged government for their treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants, their admiration for President Bush, for entering the war in Iraq, for not allowing Christiania, and for its massive lack of understanding of what it takes to make decent information about development work in Africa.

As one of my readers commented: Flick the channel – there is a million other blogs out there, why don't you read another one, if you don't like this one?! I won't give this more airtime on my blog. I have got work to do, and real life is taking place out there, not in the blogosphere.

I'm back.

7 comments

  • […] Bonyeza hapausome kisa chenyewe.   […]

  • I definitely think that the comments probably stung because of her race and we should investigate why exactly these statements from a white woman were so offensive. A lot of African bloggers can get away with saying a lot worse.

  • kifimbocheza

    OK, third and last attempt at posting a comment.

    There are some errors and omissions in this report.

    You tell us that she suspended her blog because of the image she gave of Tanzania. Wasn’t it because of one phrase in her blog? Why aren’t you more specific?

    You tell us that the facebook group wanted her to apologise. Why don’t you tell us that what they said was ‘apologise or leave’? They even made a little banner with that superimposed on the top banner of her blog. This is very different from how you represent it.

    You tell us that a reader posted something on michuzi’s blog. You know that michuzi’s blog is managed by michuzi. Michuzi puts entries up, not readers. A reader requested that his facebook group be announced there and Michuzi himself decided to post it.

    In your selection of messages from the facebook group, you make a glaring omission. You give us most of zebahati’s message, but not the last five words. These are, as you probably know, “pernille get the f*ck out”. They change the tone of his message somewhat, don’t they?

    You don’t tell us of the comments on the michuzi blog, and others. The last time I looked (a few days ago) most of them were in favour of Pernille. Though others were hateful.

  • kifimbocheza

    I forgot to say, that yes, I am the Kifimbo Cheza or KC on the facebook group

  • As they say in my country: this is a storm in a glass of water…

    Pernille writes very well, has one of the greatest blogs I know, and frequently visit. She is considerate, yet straightforward and frank.

    Since when a crime?

  • Has anyone of you ever thought that some of the most trafficked blogs and websites were the ones that created controversy.

    I’m thinking that the girl Pernille knows (and knew beforehand) exactly how much controversy she was going to cause hence attracting more audience to her blog and hence the analytical traffic. I would not be surprised if all the traffic to her blog is not generating revenue. And all of you haters are contributing to that traffic. She’s smart.

    Bytheway, why is it that everyone gets offended by such remarks? There is more than enough really bad bullsh*t being published all over the internet world. Moreover, did anyone of you participate in any of the anti war demonstrations that went on the world over when Bush was attacking Iraq? I bet you none. These are some of the real issues that need prompt and active participation. But i saw nary a blog write about that. The girl does express her personal opinion of which we are all full of. To be honest, if we were to be so emotionally mature, none of us would have called to threaten or insult her the way it has been written we did. And more ……. perhaps then, we would have more rights to criticize her on her comments.

    Live and let live…
    Peace

    Madafu – Ni mtanzania mzawa wa mkoa wa Kilimanjaro, nimekulia Dar es Salaam na kutembelea nchi nyingi za magharibi na kuona mengi yakiwepo ubaguzi wa rangi. I then decided to quit Europe and now i’m in Tanzania living it large.

    It’s all in the head.

  • Scott Lee

    Grow up you guys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Havn’t you got better things to worry about than traffic officers, legs and tree trunks?

    No one worries about walking down the street with shouts of ‘Masungu’ screaming around the ears!!!!

    What’s wrong with trees anyway, leave the girl alone and throw your toys out of your cot over more serious issues like the corruption in Tanzania which makes the traffic officers stand by the side of the road with their begging bowls!!

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