THE TANZANIAN ENGINEER

‘The people of Tanzania are simultaneously inhabiting the age of the hand hoe, the bush telegraph, of women being used as beasts of burden and of the combine harvester, the computer and the Concorde.’ So said Mwalimu Nyerere in another of those wide-ranging homilies addressed to Tanzania’s professional cadres (in Bulletin No.20 we covered his address to agriculturalists), homilies for which he is well known. The occasion was a seminar on rehabilitation and maintenance arranged by the Institution of Engineers in Arusha in February, 1985. He went on:

‘This cannot continue indefinitely. We cannot choose the old era, with the dirty water, the disease and the suffering which it involved. But we are day-dreamers, not leaders- and certainly not engineers- if we imagine that Tanzanian agriculture and Tanzanian industry can become a transplanted Japan or America or Russia within a few years.
Our task is to move from where we are, using our own energy and our own resources. We have begun to effect changes; our villages and towns are different places now from what they were twenty years ago. Sometimes we have made very expensive mistakes by trying to make too big a technical jump in one direction or other; in some areas we have been so cautious that movement became imperceptible. Our task now is to recover the ground we have lost by our mistakes and by the effects of external events over which we have no control, and to move forward steadily at as fast a pace as is within our own capacity.’

He touched on many other aspects of the work of Tanzanian engineers: ‘Our national poverty sad our economic backwardness is to a large extent a reflexion of the widespread technical ignorance in our society. This in turn has led to an ignorance of the social and economic implications of technology. Even the technological advances which we do make therefore fail to advance our economy to the extent that they could do and are very costly.
The use of modern technology demands a degree of industrial, managerial and commercial discipline and planning which does not yet exist in our society. As a result, expensive capital investments are misused and damaged, or stand idle for long period. There have been cases of productive equipment, which cost hundreds of thousands of US dollars to buy, being irreparably damaged became they were not regularly greased; in other instances such machines have stood idle for months because a defective valve costing 30 dollars was not immediately replaced. The engineer can argue that it is not his job to order, pay for and transport the missing valve from its place of manufacture; but without the valve his expertise is useless. He can argue that it is not his job to do, or even to supervise, regular greasing; but if this is not done all his knowledge about how to repair a machine is wasted. In Tanzania an engineer either takes responsibility to ensure that such things are done, or he is of little practical use to us.’

On assessing costs:
‘Costs must be taken into account at every stage in a new project… And in this respect the engineers have a unique responsibility. Political leaders and economists very rarely have the technical capability to reject a proposal on the grounds that the building could be safely erected or the goods produced at half the cost.

But the costs which are submitted for consideration and which will be the basis for most decision-making must be the real costs – the costs over the life of the machine or project, including an adequate maintenance and running allowance, And I suggest that whether these costs are for labour or for machinery- most of which is imported – should be emphasised: whether the money we spend is going to be having its multiplier effect in Tanzania, or in the country which makes the machines, should be a relevant factor in our decision-making, quite apart from the fact that we do have more labour than savings or borrowing capacity.

Cost assessments must also distinguish between local costs and foreign exchange costs- both at the time of construction and in operation. In the past we have not done this to a sufficient extent. Consequently we have created a very import-dependent industrial structure and are in danger of doing the same in agriculture. That so many of our factories now operate at 30% capacity is not unconnected with this fact. The engineers must insist that their views are listened to. And they must fight, in themselves as well as in the inclinations of politicians, the temptations of being associated with something which is big and impressive to look at or talk about. Prestige projects, as they are called, are fine if and when they do the job needed: they are a major shame and disaster if ten years later you are still paying out large sums of money for something which has failed to deliver the goods or the service required.

On building materials Tanzanian engineers must be innovators and problemsolvers:

‘the solvers of Tanzanian problems, not those of a developed or rich society. They face, for example, the challenge of re-examining our whole approach to building methods, regardless of whether these relate to houses and offices, or sewerage systems, or communications links.

I am no engineer, but I have seen factories and workshops in China which do not have grand buildings, yet still produce the goods needed. I have heard that in West Africa and the Middle East certain buildings made of mud have been standing and in use for hundreds of years. So I ask, why do all our factory and office buildings have to be so expensive?

On traditional practices:
‘Traditional practices- in Tanzania and elsewhere- are therefore not irrelevant to modern engineers. Local people did devise methods of solving their problems and meeting their needs with the resources around them; are we quite sure that none of these can be used now after improvement by the application of engineering knowledge?
Traditional blacksmiths used to provide- and indeed are now providing, or at least repairing- ploughshares, hoes and axes; they are indeed real technicians and engineers in embryo. Some of our peoples used dyes made from plants or earth; can nothing be done to make these suitable for our textile factories?’

On being educators:
‘1 believe that Tanzanian engineers have to be educators if they are to fulfil their responsibilities to this country. Take part in our national life- as engineers. You must publicise your knowledge and spread your understanding of the social and economic implications of modern technology. Your journal- ‘The Tanzanian Engineer’ – is one medium through which you fulfil the vital function of educating yourselves and spreading knowledge among professionals… I hope you will be able to expand this journal and make it reach the technicians as well as the professional engineers.

But that is not enough. Engineers should be writing for our newspapers… They should be talking on the radio about some of the many engineering related matters, which are more important to our peasants and workers than these realise. And do not wait for editors to ask for articles : offer them! Your articles will need to be written in non-technical language which our people can understand. But the engineering profession can only gain if your efforts contribute to a greater technological understanding in our society.

1 Comment »

  1. Tanzanian Affairs » TA ISSUE 21 said,

    February 7, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    […] – the debate continues The Tanzanian Experiment African Violet threatened with Extinction The Tanzanian Engineer What happened in Zanzibar in 1984 as well as book reviews and […]

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