Guinea-Bissau leader will have been impressed, but we ought to do better

The Guardian
Published at 10:43 AM Jun 25 2024
President Umaro Sissoco Embaló of Guinea Bissau (L) greeting President Samia Suluhu Hassan (R))
Photo: State House
President Umaro Sissoco Embaló of Guinea Bissau (L) greeting President Samia Suluhu Hassan (R))

SAYING how the public saw the purpose and input of the just-ended three-day official visit by President Umaro Sissoco Embaló of Guinea Bissau to Tanzania can be neither easy nor simple.

The last stages of his tour saw the West African leader visit the jeans factory operated by Tanzania Tooku Garments, an Asian firm that is part of Roo Hsing Co., Ltd., itself a Taiwan-based firm exporting garments to the United States.

This visit was for all intents and purposes not an accident but targeted to explore the potential of export processing zone (EPZ) schemes in Tanzania.

As the visiting leader inspected the activities of the Asian firm and was briefed on its sales business, he expressed satisfaction with its level of efficiency.

While the remark appears to have been induced by the working of the firm and the US export outlet available to African countries generally, even if foreign firms are the ones exporting, the clincher was visible.

The remark was also a subtle expression of confidence in the EPZ arrangement making its US business efficient and, similarly, taking up the idea that it could also be done back home.

That is in large measure what foreign tours are meant to yield, an on-the-spot verification of experts’ ideas from someone who is already dep in business and the environment in which it is being done.

Tanzania Tooko Garments’ success story is also shared by the host country, and this merited a visit by a national leader who may have wished to check specific aspects of an EPZ arrangement before moving or endorsing legislation to that effect.

President Embaló’s Tanzania visit was helpful, as he admitted in his remarks that Tanzania Tooku Garments’ efficiency gave the message that Africa has what it needed to achieve its goals through EPZ and SEZ (Special Economic Zone) programmes.

There was a lot of preoccupation with what the EPZ as a whole had achieved, meanwhile as it is worth asking whether there are local firms which have taken up examples like Tooku Garments to manufacture all manner of products under the US AGOA arrangement.

No one can say there aren’t any, but the more publicised examples have been drawn from horticulture rather than garments.

Additionally, there are lessons of hindsight where investors could have been given portions of the vast Friendship Textile Mill to create synergies for different sorts of manufacturing, garments included; but we never arrived there.

Interestingly, the focus of the media – and that reflects sentiments of the wider public – was on how EPZ business had attracted 5.2trn/- (US$2bn) capital during the past ten years.

The business has registered an accumulated 6.5trn/- (US$2.5bn) in export earnings, with the work being housed mainly at the Benjamin William Mkapa Special Economic Zone in Dar es Salaam. That was the big news, but it likely didn’t square up with what the Guinea-Bissau leader sought to find out.

The Guinea Bissau leader will surely have been impressed by the Tanzanian government’s efforts to create an extensively enabling investment environment.

The headway we have made in EPZ schemes is respected in the results – in that, in the main, we no longer walk as others run.

Yet, the amounts we export for instance to the US shows that we are still walking even if sections of our export business might be starting to run. In sum, though, we still need to do much better on a number of scores.