I arrived in Kigoma several days ago. The driver was waiting for me at the airport as is customary. He tossed my bag into the Land Cruiser and we headed off towards town. As we approached the main street, he took a sudden right turn down a rough dirt road. I looked at him with a bit of surprise (similar to the one I gave the lady next to me on the plane who decided to use her complimentary toothpick to work out the dirt in her toenails; things like that generally don't get a rise out of me here but on this particular occasion I was in the process of eating my airplane breakfast of dry bread and marmalade – a tragic British colonial legacy).
I didn't know this driver well and he was putting my pathetic Swahili to the test. Either his English wasn't that great or he just felt that I could use a language lesson or both. So I began to inquire about his taking of a side road when the main street, though not great, is far from the spine-jarring experience I was currently getting. I eventually understood "road construction".
"Ahh," I said in brilliant Swahili to communicate that I finally understood (actually, it does sound different. It's more of an "eh heh").
He smiled and this time spoke in English. "Erections," he said. Knowing of course that people here have similar phonetic troubles with the English "r" and "l" as many other countries, I drew the conclusion that he was making between the road improvements and the upcoming elections later this year. At least I hoped so.
Though people seem to be making a big deal of the elections here this year, the ruling party is virtually guaranteed another five years in office. Though there are other parties, and even some dissent within the ruling party, it will likely not stand in the way of the current president's re-election.
Unlike in Argentina at the end of 2002. That year, due to some bizarre experiences, they apparently had three different presidents over a ten-day period. The running joke at the time was something to the effect of, "So what did you do over the holidays?" "I was president."
Though the outcome of the elections in this country could have some effect on our work here, it's nothing compared to the potential impact of elections across the border in Burundi in June. There the outcome is far from certain and the chance for instability greater. Most feel that though there may be some isolated trouble in the run up to the election, chances of large scale civil war that drove these people into refugee camps are small. All eyes (around here) will be watching.