In some cultures, the number 13 is considered unlucky. I think it is the luckiest of all numbers. Of course, this conviction is not without bias: I was born on the 13th day of November so naturally I have an affinity to it. Nevertheless, I hope 2013 ushers in the luckiest periods in Tanzania’s history. One thing is certain: it is going to be an exciting year. Tanzania finds itself in a period of exciting economic growth. Its people are undergoing a national discourse on revising its constitution. Here is a look at what we have to look forward to this year.
Last year, in November, the World Bank‘s Jacques Morisset released a report on Tanzania’s economic performance full with predictions and prescriptions for the future (you can read the full report here and watch a wonderful interview of Jacques Morisset by a friend of Vijana FM, Kathleen Bomani here.). The report continues to laud Tanzania’s economic growth. The Union continues to grow faster than the typical sub Saharan African country. The economy is expected to grow between 6.5% and 7% during the next two years – a rate that is consistent with the rule of 70 that predicts a doubling of the economy in roughly another ten years.
Further, in the last decade, the economic situation of the typical Tanzanians has improved. Since 2002, Tanzanians have seen their incomes almost double. This is all great news, but there are now 10, 485, 399 more mouths to feed since 2002, according to the recent National Census data from the National Bureau of Statistics (The Tanzanian population grew from 34,443,603 in 2002 to 44,929,002 by the close of 2012, according to the data). Now, I do not subscribe to the Malthusian argument that this is necessarily a catastrophic result, however, Morisset‘s report tells us that there is growing inequality in who gets to enjoy this economic growth. All Tanzanians need to benefit from this economic growth, and improving rural livelihoods is the first and last frontier that the nation needs to begin tackling this year. Our fiscal policy should not be the only major aspect of our growth.
Although the World Bank report finds that growth will continue to be driven by fiscal policy, there needs to be a shift towards promoting private sector-led growth. The rules of the game need to change, however, in order for businesses to grow fast. In its Doing Business in 2013, the World Bank ranks Tanzania 134th (out of 185 economies). This is one rank down from our 2012 ranking. Another report on bribes among the five East African Community of countries—– Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda—– finds that one is more likely to encounter bribes in almost all sectors surveyed, in Tanzania, than in any of the other countries. So much for our moral high ground when arguing with your Kenyan buddies over a few Tuskers as to which country is more corrupt. Let us do better in 2013, lest we never catch up and overtake Kenya by 2022, like Rwanda is predicted to do.
As a tax payer, I am encouraged by the news that fiscal policy drives economic growth, however, corruption and fiscal mismanagement are certainly stifling growth as well. The pace of our growth in spite of this is testament to the resilience of the Tanzanian mwananchi. I have no qualms with paying more taxes, so long as tax revenues are used as efficiently as possible in trying to better the typical Tanzanian. In a recent employment move, yours truly has seen his gross salary rise by about 47%, but given the progressive nature our tax code, my net salary has only gone up by only 35%. This translate to a marginal tax rate of about 82%, which in layman’s terms implies that the United Republic of Tanzania through its tax collector, TRA, are extracting 82 shillings for every extra 100 shillings I will make in my new position. Now although I am not socialist like Ernesto “Che” Guevara, I do support taxes that help others less fortunate than myself live more fulfilling lives. The caveat is that of course, my confidence in our government’s (any government’s, to be fair) ability to efficiently do this is quite low. This is why I am pushing for greater private investment and enterprise. And no, I am not convinced that a government run by the opposition, say CHADEMA, will do any better with my extra 82 shillings. The ruling party and the main opposition party are simply zebras with spots and leopards with stripes, respectively. And government almost always spits on Marshall.
On constitutional matters, I look forward to being a part of the national discourse. There is a need to strengthen our democracy. Draconian measures that were in place during pre-Independence times that give the President unrivaled power should be struck down. There needs to be equal power shared between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial arms of government. In this mood, the President should not be allowed to appoint members of his (or her, if we are lucky in 2015) cabinet from members of parliament. The current arrangement is costly: paying the same individually twice is not a luxury our developing economy can entertain. Moreover, as the old Swahili proverb goes shika viwili, kimoja kitakuponyoka that instructs us to focus on one thing, instead of two things. We cannot expect a Member of Parliament to both focus her work on her constituents while at the same time conduct her cabinet position with efficiency.
The Union’s arrangement should be revamped. At the moment, the arrangement is an incomplete commitment at unification at best, and schizophrenic at worst. The Union needs three governments: one for mainland, the other for the Isles, and finally a Union government that supersedes the others on all critical matters, such as national security. This quasi-Federal system will at the very least put the Isles on the same footing as the mainland, and separate the Union government from the mainland, as is currently the case.
Other mainland issues would also be more easily solved. Perhaps if Mtwara was its own State, it would not need to cry foul over gas being piped to Dar es Salaam. It would simply charge each of the other States for the use of its gas, including the Union government. Geita, among other resource-rich States would all benefit from this arrangement, and resource-hungry Dar es Salaam would have to pay the price for its insatiable resource-hunger.
Our legislative arrangement would have to change to accommodate this reconfiguration of our Union, of course. A bicameral parliament would go a long way. We could model it after the United States Congress, where the lower House would be assigned based on population proportions, while the upper House gives equal representation. In such a system, the mainland and Isles would each have their own Houses, while electing separate representatives to the Union Houses. The lower Union House would apportion representation based on population. Here, mainland would overwhelmingly outnumber the Isles. However, in the upper Union House, there would be a one-to-one representation of mainland and Isles. No legislation would pass without passing both Houses. This would ensure nothing that is detrimental to the Isles would ever pass without its consensus, and vice versa.
A debate on how best to enter into Federation with the other four East African Community countries is also something I look forward to having this year, and beyond. My opinion on whether we should dive into this envisaged Federation of East Africa (or better still United States of East Africa or U.S.E.A.) oscillates between supporting it, on the grounds that together tutawakilisha as EATV exclaims each day, to rejecting the idea on the grounds that Tanzania needs to first solidify its economic strength and political resolve before entering a Union with rising economic power, Rwanda and the giant that is Kenya or politically complex Uganda and Burundi. As of this writing, my view is leaning on the latter cautious route. But let us have the discussion, nevertheless, here and elsewhere, now and throughout this year.
REPOA has actually conducted a nationally representative survey on these issues, among others, as part of the Afrobarometer survey, and I look forward to the release of those results. They have questioned Tanzanians on whether they want to review the constitution, whom they want to lead the process, union matters, separation of powers, among other issues. Yours truly will report those results as soon as they become publicly available.
So, in general, I am hopeful as this New Year trudges on. I am not always a fan of nationalistic sentiment, as it often results in dangerous rhetoric, however, I cannot help but be nationalistic this year. Let us work hard to continue to build our economy. Let us continue our resilience during tough times. Let us continue our national tradition and custom of peacefully engaging in discourse, from the vijiwe of our big cities, to the local brew houses in our rural towns, to the halls of government offices, to the wooden benches in our hospital wards and the congested isles of our dala dalas. Let us show the world once more that we belong in the league of great nations. I am hopeful that we can. Let us make 2013 our luckiest yet. At the very least, let us be thankful that the world did not end in 2012. Bon chance everyone.