REFLECTIONS ON EXPATRIATE ‘ISLANDS’

Tanzania’s political leadership believes that a system of private enterprise is incompatible with the country’s desire for genuine political independence and social equality. It wishes to avoid dependence on private foreign investors and multinational corporations, which would entail an increase in foreign political and economic influence. Although the total impact of post-Arusha nationalisation on the structure of commerce and industry is considerable, a large private sector remains in Tanzania. The very visible private or foreign financed enterprises which we saw in Tanzania during the Southampton University Study Tour of August, 1981, generated conflicting feelings within the tour group just as they must do within Tanzania itself. Were Peramiho Mission, Sao Hill Sawmill and the Brook Bond Tea Company to be viewed as laudable islands of excellence, or neo-colonial paternalistic enclaves?

Peramiho Mission was founded in 1898. Its present operations cover health education and industry in addition to religious work. The printing department is self-sufficient except in inks and certain other items, which are imported about every four months through Mtwara. The Government relies on it to print examination papers and official forms. The printing workers usually stay, while those in the garage and carpentry workshop tend to move away and establish their own businesses after training. The trade school also has tailoring and shoemaking sections. Despite the policy of africanisation at Peramiho, one felt that the German brothers saw it as their responsibility to maintain a presence. There were 25 European brothers with an average age of 60.

The mission hospital also had expatriate doctors and Tanzanian doctors generally speaking were reluctant to work there, partly because they preferred a normal urban community and partly because of a half-acknowledged feeling of distaste for the atmosphere of a mission and the relationships that prevailed there. Drugs for the hospital were obtained direct from 1urope and America, financed by charitable organisations. An African priest trained at Peramiho observed that although the mission had done good work it was too introverted. A Tanzanian official who had been born in the area pinpointed the ambivalent attitude towards Peramiho when he remarked that if the German priests left the ‘Peramiho system’ would change very quickly, as Tanzania would not be able to obtain the materials to maintain it. The Tanzanian Government had, indirectly, asked the Germans to leave, but they bad not yet done so.

Sao Hill Sawmill in Mufindi was the first example of moderately large scale industry which we visited during the tour. The sawmill was run by a company funded by the Norwegian Agency for International Development (NORAD) and production started in 1975. It is the biggest project of its kind in Tanzania. Originally there had been 11 expatriate workers, now there are 5, including, significantly, the project manager and a mechanic.

The area did not have a high population density. There were 360 workers, mostly living in local villages, but a growing number occupied houses built on the site. The sawmill helped local villages by buying food and providing employment. However, there were problems of marketing as opposed to producing ire timber and much was being stockpiled. Some of it was exported, but more could have been sold within the country if potential buyers could have provided their own transport to collect it. This marketing problem was threatening the firm’s profitability. The comments of the Norwegian project manager highlighted some of the difficulties of such a foreign-financed project. Originally, the Norwegians were to have been at the sawmill for five years, but this period was being extended. He felt that it would take 10 to 20 years for full africanisation. He was worried about the future of the project because of doubts about the maintenance of discipline and productivity, which Tanzanians fresh from training found hard to enforce. The economic organisation and structure of large-scale industry were still strange and new to his Tanzanian colleagues.

The Brook Bond Tea Company at Kilima, also in Mufindi District, had 9 expatriates, amongst them engineers, accountants, a doctor and two estate managers. Tanzania has not nationalised its tea estates, except those formerly owned by Lonrho, and the Brook Bond Company was accepted by the Tanzanian Government because it was earning foreign exchange, tea being one of the few export crops until recently growing in volume. The situation has now changed with tea being overproduced and costs, especially fuel, increasing, making tea production hardly profitable. However, the company still made money on its marketing side. Tea production is labour intensive, but seasonal and insecure. The development of villages over a wide area is inhibited by the removal of manpower during the growing season. The pace of africanisation of the management seemed slow. An African junior manager, who had moved to Brook Bond from a Government post because the salary was better commented on the difficulties involved in full africanisation. In his experience, expatriate managers had more success than Tanzanians in obtaining licences to import machinery and materials.

Such foreign companies can contribute to a form of economic growth, but whether it can become the basis for long term development is more debatable. Do such investments really lay the foundation for indigenous growth when the capital, technology and expertise must be matched ~ an equally expensive infrastructure of roads and vehicles? There may well be increasingly effective competition from peasant producers using family labour and the minimum of equipment. The debate helped to occupy the time on the long journeys over bumpy Tanzanian roads. We were divided over the theoretical advantages of foreign investment and management, but we were all intensely grateful for the warm welcome, the hospitality and the way in which busy and sometimes worried people were willing to show us round and answer our endless questions.

Silu F. Pascoe

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.