THE BBC AND TANZANIA

Tanzania figured prominently recently in two significant and totally contrasting broadcasts.

The first was a four-part weekly series of talks on BBC Radio 4 under the title ‘AFRICA: DEADLINE FOR THE DARK CONTINENT’ by the well-known presenter Michael Buerk in which one whole programme was devoted to Tanzan1a. Such was the interest in the series that the BBC received over 1,000 letters about it from listeners.

The second was a television programme broadcast on Channel 1 at the peak hour of 9.30 pm on April 17th 1992 which must have had an audience of millions. This was called ‘THE COMIC RELIEF SNAPPILY TITLED AND UTTERLY SPONDITIOU5 STAB OF EXPLAINING WHY SO MANY PEOPLE IN AFRICA ARE S0 DAMN POOR’. It turned out to be powerful advocacy of continued foreign aid and it was filmed in Tanzania. Christine Lawrence has reviewed it as follows for the Bulletin:

This BBC programme is a novel way of raising funds for needy causes. People who contribute wear absurd red plastic noses. The presenters of the programme play on our sense of the ridiculous and attempt to let nothing be boring. Their success last year raised £20 million, every penny of which has gone to deserving causes in the UK and in Africa.

The recent programme was a look ‘Behind the Nose’ and included a documentary on poverty in Tanzania. We followed Tony Robinson as he travelled from the slopes of Mt. Meru, through Arusha to the Maasai highlands, Ngorongoro, and then to a hot, dry village miles from anywhere”. In Meru there was the coffee market problem; in Arusha dreadful shanty town poverty; in Maasai-land permanently sick children and a school without books or pens; Arusha hospital lacking drugs and equipment; in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Maasai, suffering from hunger and their cattle dying but forbidden to grow crops on their traditional land; and, in the hot dry Village, a young man explained in beautiful English that all they could do was to sit and wait for the rain.

In between these scenes from Tanzania, we were returned to the UK first to witness farcical interviews by Peter Sissons (Newscaster) of a so-called British Government Minister (Kenneth Winelake), then to hear comments from a comfortably well-off family lounging in their sitting room guzzling chocolates. It certainly made one think. And ask why? Statistics of disasters in the Third World compared with those in the West had the same effect. How much is the West responsible for? Imposed terms of trade; misplaced loans and interminable interest payments; Western politics and the arms trade and big business all come into it and the’ trickle-down’ effect is felt by the poor who are not helped by corrupt and bad government.

In Tanzania, will multi-party elections give the poor more of a voice? Will they result in more justice for the oppressed? And how much more can we in the West do to influence our governments? Will the coming UN Earth Summmit help at all? I fear it 1s very much an up-hill struggle but I think that Comic Relief’s documentary must have had a more positive impact on viewers than the usual straightforward programme and so there should be more reaction.

The radio broadcast perhaps redressed the balance, as many felt that the TV programme had been biased in not paying enough attention to faults on the Tanzanian side. Both programmes had a point to make, however, and both tended to exaggerate in order to do so.

Michael Buerk’s contribution was much more serious, more specifically critical and more sophisticated. It was designed to ‘see how the First World’s solutions for the Third World’s problems are working out’.
The third paragraph of the transcript set the tone: Inside my African taxi the music’s jaunty, reassuring; outside it’s different. This is Dar es Salaam, the ramshackle capital of a bankrupt country, where Tanzania’s dream of African Socialism turned into a nightmare of economic collapse. In colonial times this city, with its wide harbour and palm-fringed beaches was one of the most beautiful in Africa, Now, my taxi picks its way through the potholes, down unlit streets, past dirty and decaying buildings; I sometimes think the most obvious difference between the First World and the Third is fresh paint. I remember, when I used to travel this region in the eighties, Tanzania, though not quite the poorest, was the most depressing place on the continent. No colour, no life, nothing in the shops, an epidemic of apathy. Two decades of defining profit as economic sabotage had destroyed all incentive. The slogan was self-reliance; the reality, the highest per capita dependence on foreign aid in the world.

Next we turned to the IMF and the World Bank. Tanzania had had to start running its economy on lines prescribed by these organisations. A quiet, undemonstrative Englishman was ‘now one of the most powerful men in Tanzania’ – Ian Porter, World Bank Representative. Not so, said Tanzanian Finance Minister Stephen Kibona – “There is no question about it – their (the Bank’s) approach is quite acceptable. We are not “going along” with the World Bank. Much of what we are doing is our own thinking. We want to liberalise the economy. We want to create new initiative. We want people to have ownership ……”

There followed a discussion with coffee farmers in which the pros and cons of foreign intervention were well explored. Populist Home Affairs Minister Augustine Mrema (‘a disconcerting figure, in his black suit and flat dog-toothed hat’) expressed his views as forthrightly as ever – “We are trying to implement the policies of the IMF and the World Bank ….. but the prices (of coffee) are determined by you. So things will never change. So long as you’re benefitting from our economy, so long as you’re getting what you want from us, we’ll remain your labourers really forever”.

Michael Buerk’s conclusions? “After six years of determined Western intervention the formal economy is only a little less hopeless than it was …. Down on Kongwa Street the black market is booming. It’s a neat irony that the World Bank’s most obvious success has been to promote an underground economy which can’t be recorded in its statistics. Tanzania is a good place to go, to realise how resilient Africans are, how what we see as the continent’s slow march to doom isn’t the whole picture, and how the West has never been able to remodel Africa into its own image – DRB.

1 Comment »

  1. Tanzanian Affairs » 36 YEARS OF TANZANIAN AFFAIRS – PART 1 said,

    September 3, 2011 at 10:50 am

    […] single party CCM system, Nyerere supported the change as did most other leaders. An article on “The BBC and Tanzania” contrasts a talk on Radio 4 “Africa: Deadline for the Dark Continent” by Michael Buerk, and […]

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