Slowly Emerging Tanzanian Success Story

Jonathan Power

Jonathan Power is a widely syndicated correspondent focused on international affairs



Something is happening in Africa; particularly in one corner, to the mid south east of the vast continent. It is noteworthy that the ongoing world economic crisis, particularly in Europe, has had little negative impact on most African economies.

Instead African countries have been able to take advantage of the strong foundations they built in the years leading up to the present crisis. Since 2000 debt levels in Africa have fallen from over 100% to under 40% of GDP. Foreign exchange reserves more than doubled and inflation has been cut in half.


Even while the crisis raged around them in the global world they share, two third of all African countries including Tanzania have pursued expansionary policies. Unlike in Europe and the US, these countries followed the Keynesian line of not slamming the brakes. They have accelerated spending, on health and education, and have drawn a circle of protection around the most vulnerable people.

Judging from the substantial amount devoted to Tanzania from the US Millennium Challenge Corporation, Tanzania could be in line to become an African lion. The American aid program is contingent not just on economic and social policies but also on the degree of political freedom and the pursuit of justice.

The US ambassador to the country has heaped praises on Tanzania’s performance. The World Bank has labeled Tanzania a top performer. In economic terms Tanzania has been a rock of stability.

But it is not long ago that Tanzania was in deep trouble. Led by the charismatic Julius Nyerere it won independence from the British in 1961. Nyerere was a socialist who dreamed of creating in Tanzania Israeli style communal Kibbutz that he styled ujamaa. He was an admirable man; intellectually one of the three most impressive heads of government I have interviewed in my long career.

But Nyerere led Tanzania into a cull de sac. Villagers had no wish to be uprooted from their ancestral lands and be aggregated into new fangled socialist units. Nyerere’s nationalization of the economy, of mission schools and hospitals led to poor performance and falling standards. The economy did poorly for the best part of the 25 he was in power. Eventually Nyerere, leader of the one party state he had created, stepped down.

Despite his mistakes Nyerere had melded Tanzania’s diverse ethnic communities into one peaceful nation and had shown that a transition to new leadership could be done by the ballot, even if the ballot was restricted to party members.

Since Nyerere, his successors have moved Tanzania rapidly away from the socialist model. Private enterprise flourishes, privatization is the norm and foreign investment is arriving at a steady rate. Added to that vast reserves of gas have been discovered and a pipeline is being constructed to bring it to the port of Dar es Salaam, once the capital of the country.

The country has successfully launched its citizenship ID cards and computerized driving licenses. The first will enable direct aid to the poor to become more effective. Mobile phones are now used by 50% of the peasants. Local studies have shown that phones significantly encourage marketed production. There is a boom in construction, banking and transportation as visitors can see in Dar es Salaam which is now the 9thfastest growing city in the world. Mineral production is doing well. Tourism has increased, lured by pristine beaches and the world’s most extensive and well-stocked game parks. Thankfully there are no ugly high rise hotels. The country intends to avoid mass-market tourism.

There is a dark side to this new found capitalism; income distribution is worsening and corruption is endemic. Even the head of the central bank was found to have salted away a fortune. Yet here again Tanzania shows its effort to improve its management is working. Anti-corruption policing is becoming more effective, the police better trained, and behaved, and the judiciary more self confident. The press is gaining experience and confidence at unearthing scandals.

Seventy percent of the population is peasant and their incomes have little improved in 50 years. However access to school and health clinics has steadily improved. Infant mortality is sharply down.  Agricultural is doing well. In the north horticulture is growing at 9% per annum, selling fruit, vegetables and flowers to Europe. There are productive mango farms and butterfly farms for exporting pupae. Unfortunately Tanzania is way behind Kenya in niche agriculture.

Today Tanzania is far from a full blown democracy but the main opposition party is visibly growing. There is a healthy national debate going on about policies. The country is peaceful. Could this underrated well endowed country show the way for the rest of Africa, where in many instances life presidents reign behind the armor of fake elections?