Greetings for the coming week, which finds me busily preparing to leave for ‘wazungu land’ in the following one, and taking some local news cuttings to show the fortunate citizens of the United Kingdom what real hardship is!
I’m referring of course to soaring food prices and inflation in Tanzania. Westerners complain when price increases are in pennies, whereas here, people remain indifferent when costs double or even triple.
But with this particular ingredient of the political pot on low simmer for so long, public discontent could well come to the boil, if the ‘cooks’ don’t deliver an acceptable recipe for change.
This is an urgent priority for most of the ‘wananchi’, but not for some bureaucrats and politicians, who’ve mainly concentrated on factional issues between them. Yet are they really unaware, of the possible consequences? Or as one newspaper simply put it, “the Arab spring uprising was sparked by one major factor…..the soaring cost of living”.
Tanzanians do the biblical equivalent of the loaves and the fishes every day, (with five loaves of bread and two fishes, Jesus fed five thousand) but I’ve never understood how the poorest of them manage to stay alive. Even my well off foreign visitors gasp when they see the cost of commodities here, especially food items.
To me, it’s a mini miracle, if male or female, you earn the peanut sum of perhaps TZS l90,000 a month, (and less, as many do) have children to care for and send to school, and you’re all breathing….. clothed and fed…amazing!.
A recent Guardian editorial stated: “The cabinet, National Assembly and policymakers should put food prices at the top of the agenda in next month’s budget….the common man has for too long borne the brunt of soaring inflation, and the government should either tame it, or cushion the people against its ravages.”
……….correct, and the cabinet ‘cooks’ and others in that Bunge session have to start doing some dynamic thinking to keep faith with the people, and to earn their privileged places there.
As a frustrated cartoonist, (I can’t draw), I admire the excellent ones we have in Tanzania, and if the Guardian’s clever David Chikoko was with me now, with a flick of his pen, he’d bring to bring to life the images in my head.
Given the subject matter, let’s have the entire cabinet in big hats and chefs’ costumes over large ‘ufisadi’ bellies, cooking up a huge stew in a gigantic pot. Looking on beseechingly with arms outstretched are the 80% majority of the malnourished masses, i.e. the rural peasants, plus their urban counterparts. A few symbolic background images, like sleeping MPs, the Bank of Tanzania twin towers…..and a scattering of land cruisers etc., would add meaning….you get the idea?!
…Anyway, I won’t be here to see the ‘cabinet cook up’ of solutions for the cost of living crisis, if they have any, but feasting in London, on all the items I can’t afford to eat when in Bongoland!
This year’s priority at the G8 summit that JK attended was food security for developing nations, backed by a 3 billion dollar stake of private sector funding.
But interviewed by the BBC World Service last week, new Agriculture minister Christopher Chiza didn’t sound very assertive.
Citing Tanzania as a showcase for strategic collaboration, with the need to change from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture, as the way ahead.…..he then asked how the G8 countries could help promote agriculture here, and give technical and budgetary support……the begging bowl again!
Just as I was about thinking this as his statement ended…..the newscaster said an email to the BBC was questioning…. “why do we need to look to the western world for help in farming?”
Why indeed, especially as much of it has been wrong, counter-productive to development, or the result of self-interest from the ‘promoters’?
Hopefully, minister Chiza portrayed the country in a positive way also. Otherwise, his debut on the global platform served only to infer that … “we don’t know anything…….so please help us and give us the money”..., which would be one more blow to the self-reliance mantra!
Given the level of indebtedness in Tanzania, the self-reliance espousal seems a relic of past times, as did the official line on agriculture, long proclaimed as being “the backbone of the economy”, when many, the government most of all, cared not a damn about it. Not surprisingly, now that the donors are interested, and ready to fund anything that involves a hoe and a peasant, or should that be a tractor and a corporation…everybody cares!
This is where the minister has to tread carefully. Recently, Repoa (a donor darling!) held a seminar, where industrial farming was mooted as the answer for the sector here … neatly in line with the World Bank’s unflagging support for large scale industrial farming in Africa and elsewhere.
Coinciding with this, the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, released their report, saying exactly the opposite!
They cited palm oil wastelands being created all over the developing world, through industrialised farming, because the western one needs such products. This has paved the way for agribusiness corporations, which take everything from the land, and give nothing back except vast profits for themselves and their shareholders.
Widely hailed as a salvation for the third world, jatropha biofuels have in many cases been disastrous instead, lesding to escalating food prices and local farmers being denied access to their original livelihood.
Mindful of this, let’s hope minister Chiza will square his shoulders on behalf of the nation and resist some of the initiatives coming his way….wrongly labelled progress!
Official policies here are often masterpieces of misguided prioritisation, and so seems the requirement for cars to have a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher. Do all workplaces, private or government, have these items? ... Do cars in countries with the safest road standards require them?
It’s tempting to assume that someone, somewhere in government is either an agent for the goods - or producing them. But where will it end? … Perhaps by the time I return to Tanzania, a little dust pan and brush might be obligatory, to keep all the nation’s cars clean….even if their brakes fail!... Anyway, Guardian reader gurus don’t forget me, cheers