July 10, 2012
While good news about Africa is good news in and of itself, focus on one side of what is happening makes us miss what development is all about. It is not an undivided good. It produces both positive and negative outcomes and it has its winners as well as losers.
Managing development is all about steering clear of breakdowns while pushing forward. Doing so, however, is not easy, especially in the context of rapid economic growth and global competition.
Tanzania is one country where this challenge is increasingly being felt. Since long ago we know it as a friendly place where citizens and political leaders take pride in its longstanding peace and stability. Much of what Tanzania has been all about, however, is now at stake. It is changing at an unprecedented pace.
There has been good news from Africa lately but it has been rather one-dimensional about its high levels of economic growth, an envy of most other countries of the world. Similarly good news about poverty reduction or human rights protection has been absent.
While good news about Africa is good news in and of itself – its image has suffered too long from predominantly negative reporting – focus on one side of what is happening makes us miss what development is all about.
It is not an undivided good. It produces both positive and negative outcomes and it has its winners as well as losers. Managing development is all about steering clear of breakdowns while pushing forward. Doing so, however, is not easy, especially in the context of rapid economic growth and global competition.
Tanzania is one country where this challenge is increasingly being felt. Since long ago we know it as a friendly place where citizens and political leaders take pride in its longstanding peace and stability. The legacy of its socialist experiment in the 1970s is long gone, but the other pillar of Nyerere´s policy – the promotion of Swahili to unify the nation – is still very much honored.
Much of what Tanzania has been all about, however, is now at stake. It is changing at an unprecedented pace. On surface Dar es Salaam looks more like Shanghai. There are currently more than 100 high-rise buildings under construction around the city. Almost all builders are Chinese or Indian. European companies like Skanska are no more to be seen. Although youth unemployment is still an issue, the boom has created much needed job opportunities.
The food basket regions in the northern and southern parts of the country are doing quite well but the rural exodus continues, leaving small-scale agriculture increasingly in the hands of women and the elderly. With a stronger push for commercial agriculture and mining concessions in the rural areas, disputes over land ownership have become common, in some instances leading to violence.
Old-hands in Tanzania complain about the increasingly aggressive tone that characterizes the political discourse and practice. Islamic militants in Zanzibar burn churches as part of objections to the union with the mainland; parliamentary debates have a sudden firebrand quality; and it seems government is ready to get rid of its most stubborn opponents by whatever means.
Although the latter may not be new, the blatant attempt in late June to kill the leader of the medical doctors on strike caused a particularly strong public aversion.
Tanzania can no longer rest on its past glory. It has to deal with the challenges that a more diverse and stratified society brings. The record so far has not been very convincing. It looks as if Tanzania wants to have the cake and it eat it too.
The Union, i.e. the relation between the islands of Zanzibar and the mainland, is increasingly in question. Although they are economically principal beneficiaries of the arrangement, ordinary Zanzibaris show more openly than ever that they want to opt out. Yet, the official position is that the Union is here to stay. When a constitutional review commission was launched in April, President Kikwete said that all issues except the Union were open for debate.
This attempt to stifle discussion of the issue only had the opposite effect. It mobilized the islanders against the relation. This is one example where the old habit within the ruling CCM party of trying to bury issues by not allowing public debate has prevailed over a politically more transparent approach.
The now controversial land issue is another example. The persistence of a dual land tenure system, one customary, the other modern, with none clearly ruling out the other, leaves a lot of uncertainty for those who wish to invest in commercial and modern agriculture. Officially, the President is the trustee of all land in Tanzania and with more foreign investors being interested government has begun to sign leasehold arrangements without consulting local stakeholders.
The latter insist that according to customary law, the land is theirs and the result is litigation and often political victory for a populist opposition. Again, government is too afraid of tackling the land issue in an open and constructive manner. It adopts a rather fatalist position hoping that things will sort themselves out without a clear government stand. However, government plays with fire.
Yet another case would be the implementation of the East African Common Market Treaty which was signed by all five member states (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda) in 2010.
Tanzania is not the only country dragging its feet on this issue. With the exception of Rwanda all member states have been slow in putting the treaty into practice. Tanzania, though, has been especially reluctant manifesting its “little brother” complex in particular vis-à-vis Kenya.
As the EAC opens up both within and to the rest of the world, Tanzania is its most provincial member. Swahili may have helped unify Tanzania but in the current global context, the lack of proficiency in English among Tanzanians, even those well educated, translates into a disadvantage. To “defend” itself, Tanzania has retained regulations within its own boundaries that hinder and delay cross-country trade – all at the expense of the longer term interests of the Community and Tanzanians themselves.
The political opposition tries to portray itself as more resolute than the government and its public support seems to have grown. Yet it is not clear that an opposition as currently led by the big tribes in northern Tanzania and dominated by Christian groups will be better placed to deal with the growing challenges.
Despite all its shortcomings, the ruling CCM party has upheld unity, peace and stability, qualities that still matter to most Tanzanians not the least when they compare themselves with people in other African countries. Caught between the old and the new, Tanzanians, if asked, would very likely fall back on the devil they know best: CCM.