Can we talk about our economy?

Nembo rasmi ya miaka 50 ya Uhuru wa Tanzania

Jubilee celebrations are garnering momentum. Fifty years of non-violent, autonomous self government and political freedom, indeed we must celebrate! While some African nations have experienced as many as four coups, civil wars and genocide, Tanzanians have pretty much maintained a harmonious national cohesion. Except for the thorny issue of the union puzzle, Tanzania has much to be proud of. Africa has a lot to emulate from this dear country of ours.

But while we are at it, prudence dictates that we take stock of what we have collectively done as a nation in these five decades. Surely a nation half a century old must ask itself the tough question, what has it done with its freedom? Are we freer from poverty than we were fifty years ago? Are our children more literate than they were in 1961? Is the life for a normal Tanzanian any easier fifty years after independence? In other words, at the centre of our national dialogue – if we have any- should be our nation’s economy.

Quite surprisingly, that is not the case. If you pick up a newspaper today, you notice that the majority of them are talking about is political parties and politicians. As a nation we seem to have developed an insatiable need to discuss individuals, not issues; parties and not policies. We seem to be curious about what this politician has done and how the other will react.

It is perhaps important to realise that it was not Tanganyika alone that did away with the shackles of colonial oppression during the late fifties and sixties. It was a wave, ‘a flowing tide of nationalism that swept everything on its way, everywhere’ to use said Kwame Nkrumah’s words. In fact, the wave was not only confined to Africa. Indeed East Asia experienced the same wave, Cambodia (1953), Singapore (1959), India (1947) to name just a few. This is where I want to draw a parallel, a comparison with countries that were more or less at the same position we were in the sixties.

Fast forward five decades, it would make one miserable to compare Tanzania with these “comrade countries”. While Tanzania is still one of the poorest nations on earth, Singapore is the world’s fourth leading financial centre, Cambodia is soaring economically, India is the world’s tenth largest economy and Seoul has moved to become the IT ‘hub’ of the world. Clearly there is something that these guys are doing that we are not..!

So what did the architects of this East Asian miracle do? The scope and space allotted here can not accommodate a thorough explanation, and frankly I do not know all that they did. But we do know that they focused on economics. They made choices that made economic sense, not ones that were politically palatable. But of more relevance here, they marshalled their countries’ energies, ideas and attention towards discussing and working on their economy. They were not interested in where the ideas came from, as long as they worked, they were taken on board.

“I do not care if it is a white cat or a black cat” said Deng Xiaoping in 1961 at the famous Guangzhou conference, “It is a good cat as long as it catches mice” That is pragmatism, it also explains how China pulled 300 million of its people from abject poverty into the middle class in just three decades to become the world’s second largest economy, and America’s biggest creditor…! (Goldman Sachs projects that China will overtake America to become the world’s biggest economy by 2017)

The blueprint for our economic development -the Vision 2025- ambitiously articulates that we as a country envisage reaching a ‘middle-income status’ by the year 2025 that is just 14 years. According to the IMF, Tanzania will need to produce a consistent 11% GDP growth during this period. That is a daunting task even under ideal circumstances – Only China has recorded such growths, and it was at 10%- but it is also not an impossible task. It calls for dedicated focus on improving our productivity, not politics. It calls for a shift in our mindsets, our approach. It means that the political legitimacy of both the government and opposition should, and must, emanate from how effectively they govern our economy, not how fast they sway public opinion.

Perhaps nothing epitomises our need to change our direction more than our current parliament. We tend to notice an acute polarisation of the house along the lines of partisan loyalties. We also notice indiscipline among the parliamentarians. Occasional theatrics are nice, they keep the house alive, but it is dangerous when they trivialise the fundamental issues that are of concern to the ordinary Tanzanians. It is annoying to see how much time is spent discussing procedural matters. Like I said, some fun is good, but it is important to not loose focus on those fundamental issues.

Our parliamentarians also need to come to grips with the facts that Tanzanians are not hurting because of our politics, it is all about our economy. Whether the man is in green or khaki pants, what he says is of more significance that where his political loyalties lie. Tanzanians, many of whom are politically indifferent, expect their representatives to be objective. They expect them to solve the economic problems.

But that should not end there; the whole national focus needs a change. Apparently, our attention span as a nation is incredibly short. Today it is EPA, the next day it is DOWANS. It was “kujivua gamba” a few days ago and all our eyes and ears are now on UDA…! It is time to focus singlehandedly on one fundamental issue, solve it once and for all and move to the next. If the so called “Jasmine Revolution” has taught us anything, it is that once a nation’s economy is broken, it is just a matter of time before its state machinery crumbles as well.

Those young protesters in the streets of Tunis that ignited the Arab Awakening were not looking for a new party or form of governance, they just wanted jobs..! We need to fix our economy before our version of the Arab awakening erupts, and we will do so by having some serious discussion not about individuals, but about our economy. And even when we must talk about politics, as we often must, let us then talk about our politics, not politicians. To borrow the words of Eleanor Rosevelt, ‘Small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, and great minds discuss ideas.’ Tanzania needs to start discussing ideas.


By Samwel Ndandala 

Mr. Ndandala is a tax consultant at PriceWaterhouseCooppers Tanzania. The views expressed are his own.

One Comment

  1. Malkia Siika says:

    Kudos sam, your article is as refreshing as it is truthful. East Africa needs to start discussing and implementing ideas.

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