IMPRESSIONS OF TANZANIA

Notes from a visit in October/November 1980 by Geoffrey Rockliffe-King, Development Economist.

I visited Tanzania for six weeks in October and November 1980 as part of a team engaged in a study for a U.N. agency. Prior to the field work I benefited from a desk study which revealed some of the most pressing issues for Tanzania. The field trip did much to dispel the gloomy prognosis of the desk study, although it is hard to see a possible way out of the investment/ foreign exchange trap. Morale was surprisingly high amongst lower rank civil servants. Their response to the rapid erosion of the buying power of their salaries has been to engage in home-based enterprises such as egg production. The rules preventing second jobs for civil servants have been circumvented by businesses operated through wives, a practice of many senior officials and politicians with large scale undertakings. The interest in the election in October, in which two ministers lost their seats, seemed to indicate some confidence in the government despite the economic setbacks. All over the country, people expressed hopes that life would return to ‘normal’, given a couple of decent harvests, now the involvements in Uganda and Zimbabwe were working themselves out.

Import difficulties and self-defeating Government measures to fix prices have combined to promote a thriving black market. One trivial example is film, virtually unobtainable outside Dar; there the asking price was TSh 210 in October. Prices have been bid up for many non-luxury items, and distribution complicated by patterns of influence: you need a friend at the factory. This unfortunate development disadvantages those many people without influence and deprives the Government of tax. At the margins of the cash economy, we came across several instances of a return to barter. Inflation has certainly set back the gradual process of drawing cattle-holding peoples into the money system. Overstocking in the north is already having dire effects on the grazing lands, but there will be no enthusiasm for reducing numbers without trustworthy alternative stores of value.

In the remote areas, there were signs that programmes to promote development were losing ground. The veterinary services, for example, were effectively immobilised by shortages of fuel and spares, were unable to pursue vaccination campaigns without vaccines, had run out of most medicines and lacked the essential chemicals to conduct post-mortems. It will not take long to lose the network of skilled veterinarians, which has been established at a great cost, if the vital inputs are missing. Similar problems were apparent with supplies such as fertilisers and insecticide; the absolute scarcity is compounded with daunting transport difficulties.

I found ‘Ujamaa’, the drive for socialism, to be very low key in the approach of officials to the worsening economic problems. Indeed, many had to be reminded of the political context and most held quite pragmatic views on the subject. It seems that it was felt necessary to attract support for the movement by the provision of social services, and that somewhere along the line the notion of central government provision took over from the idea of self-help. Whatever the cause, the policy appears to be stranded and, without considerable resources, looks set to dwindle away. The political slant which I had anticipated turned out to be altogether different: people were very aware of external changes, as those events influenced Tanzania. I was surprised on several occasions by questions from junior civil servants in district towns on foreign policy issues, such as the workings of Lome II and the likely African initiatives of the new US President.

Aesthetically, Tanzania exceeded all expectations, both in variety and appeal. In particular, I enjoyed the section of main road which follows the Great Ruaha for a distance between Iringa and Mikumi, an endless hill in spectacular scenery, although I may have been influenced by the smooth road after so much gravel! Our safari took us by Ngorogoro, a place which deserves the tour-operator’s superlatives if not his customers. We also passed through Serengeti and Mikumi National Parks. In the former, the game was so plentiful it appeared to be tethered. These Parks provide a welcome change of pace on the mission, and, a real bonus, a glimpse of four cheetah together, at dusk in the crater. It remains a mystery that Zanzibar can be so totally different from the Mainland when the 737 is airborne for only nine minutes from Dar; but the country is full of such contrasts and must surely build on its tourist potentials.

As always, the mission enjoyed some lighter moments. One was our arrival at the Dodoma Hotel to claim our confirmed reservations, only to be told that all but six of the rooms had been demolished, “as part of the new capital expansion plan”. It came as no surprise to find that the six rooms were occupied by the master-planners themselves. The most memorable statement of the trip came from a Catholic Missionary, who told us that, for him, the border was not closed! In contrast, the most sobering moment was finding a long diversion indicated, on the approach to Singida, by a barrier with the terse notice; Closed, Cholera. The prolonged drought had given rise to acute water shortages in the middle of the country, with consequent public health hazards.

One does not sum up Tanzania after one short visit. My initial reactions have been very positive, especially with regard to the feeling of freedom in the country. I hope I am able to go back and learn more, as the country certainly justified all the attention it was given in college.

J. Rockliffe – King.

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