Tanzania: success story in development?

I approached the task of updating our Tanzania Guide full of optimism. This is the sort of thing that I have read in recent months:

Sound economic policies (place) Tanzania among the leading successful reformers in Africa (IMF Managing Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the country a model for overcoming some of Africa’s thorniest challenges (UN press conference last month)

Tanzania has experienced sustained economic growth since 2000 at an average annual rate of 6 percent (World Bank Country Director)

President Kikwete is now a strong supporter of maternal health issues (UK Director of White Ribbon Alliance)

Tanzania receives buckets of aid, most of its debts have been written off, the rulebook of economic moderation is respected and politics is stable. Surely this is a country that can turn the tide of poverty in Africa.

Aid agencies are swarming all over the place. One advantage is that data collection is relatively accurate and progress reports get written. Two major reports were published during 2008, the Tanzania Poverty and Human Development Report and the Tanzania Household Budget Survey. The quotes begin to sound rather different:

there are now 12.9 million Tanzanians below the basic needs poverty line compared with 11.4 million in 2000/01

a majority of Tanzanians ….believed that civil servants rather than the public were the main beneficiaries of development aid

rural coverage (of the electricity grid) was only 2.5 per cent in 2007

There has been a decline in the use of improved sources (of drinking water) in all areas

(there is) no indication of any improvement in maternal mortality (which is nearly 50 times higher than in the UK and, by the way, President Kikwete has 8 children)

Of course there have been significant improvements in some areas, notably primary school enrolment, treatment for people living with AIDS and the use of phones. But this is not a picture of a country about to crack the Millennium Development Goals.

There’s a lot that needs to be said here about the presumption that conventional economic growth delivers poverty reduction. But maybe it’s wiser to let these quotes speak for themselves, except to mention that….

….the data in these surveys was collected before the 2008 surge in food and fuel prices which hit the poorest households hardest.

And we still have little idea how the 2009 rotten bank crisis is going to affect the poorest countries….

….let alone the impact of climate change.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK