The average Tanzanian is going to the polls this month not knowing the outcome ahead of time.
Statistically, about 90% of the population are living below the poverty line (less than $1.25 (PPP) a day). Indeed, the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) human development index (HDI) listings, which arranges countries according to their overall level of human development, demonstrates that Tanzania is one of the poorest and least developed in the world. The HDI, a composite index (one that assesses more than one variable) that measures life expectancy at birth, adult literacy rate, school enrollment ratio, and GDP per capita, is indicative of a country’s general social and economic well-being.
But despite all these startling facts, 2010 election campaigns have not been fought that much on economic issues.
I am convinced that the economy is just not what previous Tanzanian politics was about. Economic issues that have been put on the backburner for so many years now are sorely in need of some attention.
There is also a cautious pessimism that, if President Kikwete is re-elected for a final term as expected, he will do nothing and addressing key issues will be faced with the same old story of shabby execution of plans which are doomed to failure, corruption, unaccountability and lack of courage to make unpopular decisions to save the nation from its crippled economy.
But will President Kikwete make a surprise and finally turn his attention from unpopular issues to the economy and aim to leave a lasting impression of good?
Tanzania has additionally failed to service in full many of its external debts, and has chosen to keep borrowing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the so called development partners while corruption, less control on government spending, poor fiscal policy and weak currency still remain critical issues yet to be addressed.
Hopefully the hefty overdraft on Tanzania’s current account will give the next president plenty to concentrate on. But how about the deteriorating value of Tshs? Allowing Tshs to weaken has been particularly unpopular among Tanzanians, since price rises are inevitable for a country that is heavily dependent on imports.
People’s hopes of growth rely entirely on a significant management of our resources. Just to remind you, Tanzania has vast amounts of natural resources including gold, diamonds, coal, iron ore, uranium, nickel, chrome, tin, platinum, coltan, niobium and other minerals. It is the third-largest producer of gold in Africa after South Africa and Ghana. Tanzania is also known for the Tanzanite gemstones. The country has dozens of beautiful national parks like the world famous Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. With all these natural resources and a large tourism sector, the country could be reaping millions of dollars each year had it been that these resources were managed properly and effectively.
So far, wealth distribution is also an immediate problem with Tanzanian poor population. The poor feel they have been suffering for no real gain from what their land has to offer. And that is the problem at the heart of Tanzania’s economy: poverty is still rife.
Since economic development is not an explicit part of these election campaigns, the more effective distribution of wealth is the one thing that almost everyone is hoping to see.
To bring about a more just and fair society, the plight of the poor must be addressed. For freedom will forever remain elusive as long as the people continue to witness the rich getting richer while their situation is rapidly deteriorating.