One of the statements that we often hear in discussions about the country’s development potential is: “Tanzania has too many resources to be poor”.
For despite its rich resource base, it is ranked as a least developed country, dependent on aid for most of its development programmes.
It is against this background that the statement, while true evokes different emotions, such as shame, disappointment and anger, among many a Tanzanian, who feels that the situation can and should be changed.
It is what has indeed prodded Tanzanian engineers recently to ask: “So what is the problem?” And their answer? “…natural resources cannot be useful to people without [people] working on them. In other words, we need people to not only locate and extract, but also change natural resources into products and/or food and services for the people.”
It is here that the engineers see the development of human expertise and skill as crucial in attaining the above goal of “turning our natural resources into usable products and services.”
They argue that the engineer is central to the success in transforming the natural resources into products and services, pointing out: “…the creation, operation and maintenance of the hardware necessary for exploration and mining operations, production of machinery and equipment, construction of buildings, roads, railways, water collection and distribution systems, running of hospital services, provision of entertainment services and many others is a monopoly of engineers.”
And herein lies the paradox. The country now boasts of about 10,000 local engineers. Assessed against the increasing pace of investments in almost every field and economic activity, we would have expected these few professionals to be overloaded with work. Yet the case is the opposite. The engineers say the number of their colleagues without any kind of employment is increasing, discouraging young entrants into the field.
Worse still, these professionals complain that they are left out in discussions around the country’s key economic and social plans and problems.
While the engineers are not blaming the government or anybody for this state of affairs, where their work is not seen as a critical component of the country’s development or their voice heard as loudly as it should, their observation is a wake-up call for society to look more critically at these local resources and exploit them fully for the benefit of the country.
There might be some debatable reasons why more of these professionals are failing to get jobs and indeed Engineer Dr Malima Bundara the President of the Institution of Engineers Tanzania, says that is why they are embarking on a programme to address any deficiencies that may be holding them down.
They are thinking of introducing an engineering think tank to provide advice and guidance in matters related to the field in the country. They building up a databank of local specialist engineers to offer professional services and mentor young engineers.
They are out to promote institutional collaboration with private and public firms, create an annual week where they work among the people and create a SACCOS to help colleagues looking for funds to undertake self employment.
We see a lot of sense in what the engineers are embarking on and encourage them on, knowing how crucial their contribution will be in the efforts to realise the country’s 2025 vision.