Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Picture: MUHAMMAD MAHDI KARIM
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Picture: MUHAMMAD MAHDI KARIM

The economies of the townships of Dar es Salaam repeat themselves with routinely sad monotony. Unpaved, unkempt roads lined by a collection of scruffy shops selling food and cheap electronics, photocopying, hair stylists and beauticians, pineapples, mangoes, bananas and coconuts, cellphone charging and accessories, and cooked food: mostly potatoes, samosas, shrimps, and dried fish.

The names of these slums define Dar — Tandare, Msasani, Magomeni, Kinondoni, Temeke, Dodoma, among many. Their streets are cross-crossed by boda-boda motorcycle taxis, dala-dala commuters buses, or bajaj tuk-tuks. It’s a marginal existence for many. A single room costs between 40,000-70,000 shillings a month, electricity another 20,000 and water 10,000. A taxi driver will rent his vehicle for 250,000 shillings monthly, and pay for petrol on top of that, eking out an existence in the face of low fares and the omnipresent predations of white-suited traffic officers asking for “help” in the form of, if they are lucky, blue 1,000 shilling or, less so, pink 10,000 shilling notes.

The wamachinga hawking goods face all the challenges of SMMEs, and more: long days on their feet, making just enough for the next days’ stock, with no access to cheap credit and no easy logistics.

More than two-thirds of the Tanzanian city’s 5-million residents live in such informal and unplanned settlements, lacking adequate infrastructure and services. More than half of them survive on less than a dollar a day. With an annual growth rate of about 8% a year, the World Bank denotes Dar as one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.

This is linked to unchecked population growth across East Africa. By 2050 Uganda (with more than 100-million people) and Tanzania (137-million) are projected to surpass Kenya’s estimated 95.5-million. There is every historical reason to suggest this will occur. Tanzania, whose population was 10-million in 1960, is today at 57-million. Kenya, which numbered just 8-million 55 years ago, is now at 50-million. Uganda is at 43-million today from 7-million in 1960.

Tanzania is expected by the end of the century to be the most populous state in the region, with about 299-million people, ahead of Ethiopia at 242-million (100-million today, four times the number in 1960), Uganda has 203-million and Kenya 156-million.

Much of this increase will occur in the cities. Dar will increase to 16-million in 2050, placing it in the top 20 most populous cities in the world. Kampala is estimated to increase from 1.4-million today to 10-million in this period, and Nairobi from 3.5-million to 9.5-million.

By 2050, there will be 50-million annual school-leavers in Africa. Today we battle to accommodate 2-million newcomers to the workplace.

The work of Hans Rosling, among others, illustrates that population increase is linked to child survival and that in turn to prosperity. As prosperity improves and child mortality falls, so family size reduces, fuelling a positive cycle of poverty and population reduction.

But policy interventions can change the speed of this change — or delay it. Here the signs are not terribly encouraging.

In September 2018, President John Magufuli dismissed the need for birth control, telling a rally that “those going for family planning are lazy … they are afraid they will not be able to feed their children. They do not want to work hard to feed a large family and that is why they opt for birth controls and end up with one or two children only.” He urged people not to listen to those advocating family planning about birth control.

At risk of dismissing this as an attempt to capture the evangelical vote, perhaps this is an admission that the government will never deal with the wealth gap? Or that they will never improve health services? Or is it just crazy populist politics?

He is not alone in the region. In 2017, during the launch of the 2014 national population census in Kampala, President Yoweri Museveni said a big population was good for development.

But bigger is not better if you cannot provide health and education services necessary to translate numbers of people into a productive economy. Without this change, however, and a radically different growth direction, Africa’s poverty is set to rise.

According to the World Bank, in 2013, more than 40% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lived below the poverty line. Although this fell from 56% in 1990, given population increases, according to current projections, 88% of the world’s poorest are expected to live in Africa (more than 400-million people) by 2030. If current trends persist, by 2030 the top 10 poorest countries in the world will all be African.

Similarly, inequality is problematic. Seven of the 10 most unequal countries in the world are in Africa, most of them in southern Africa. If one is serious about ending poverty, one needs to focus on Africa.

So what to do?

The simple answer is to find an economic growth formula that works to create jobs. This is different for different countries and sectors, of course, but there are common tensions across countries that have to be resolved.

The first is the tension between the need for politicians (at every level, including traditional leaders) to maintain control versus the imperative of letting things go to enable growth. This links to the inherent “public versus private” sector and “foreign versus local” mistrust, a product in part of colonial expropriation, no doubt, but more recently reflecting a pervasive narrow-minded mercantilism that blinds policymakers to the opportunities in the richer markets outside as they seek, rather, to protect their small cake internally. This is sometimes present in the retention of monopolies operating in the interests of a few connected individuals. There are other tensions, not least that between the executive and those that seek to check and balance otherwise untrammelled power, in the legislature and judiciary. And there are stresses, too, between the tendency to project grandiose development projects and schemes (which seldom happen) rather than proposing practical baby steps, the difference for example between promoting an African Free Trade Area for 2063 and fixing Beit Bridge this week.

How can change occur?

It’s unlikely to happen through aid donors, no matter the goodness (sometimes) of their intentions. Since independence in 1961, donors have provided no less than $58bn to Tanzania. Yet they not only appear powerless in the face of Magufuli’s rants against their capitals or against western liberalism, such as over homosexuality and in his increasingly robust treatment of the political opposition to the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), “Party of the Revolution”. And aid does not appear either to be a terribly good investment, given that Tanzania’s annual per capita income is still under $1,000, and the country’s total foreign direct investment (FDI) store just $20bn.

The defence mounted by the donors is that it is less bad than it might have been without aid, and that Tanzania remains broadly within a western ambit. It’s a sad and, as will be seen below, increasingly fallacious argument. For all the aid money (and perhaps because of it), Tanzania is a very tough place to do business.

In July 2017, the government levied Acacia Mining, a part-subsidiary of Barrick Gold, with a $190bn fine for back taxes, interest and fines. Although a settlement was later reached which involved a $300m payment and a profit-share arrangement, this extremism did not go unnoticed, especially since Barrick is a $15bn company.

Local businesspeople speak of increasing hassle around work permits and tax investigations since Magufuli — nicknamed the “bulldozer” for his uncompromising style — took over from Jakaya Kikwete in November 2015. As one put it: “In Kikwete’s time we had to grease the system and it would work; now you grease it and it may not work.”

Hali Ngumu — kiSwahili for “tough times” — is today’s byword.

But it’s not tougher for all. There has been an increase in a Chinese presence, benefiting from political contacts, say their business rivals, and the money flow over “and under” the table. Corruption is apparently still alive and well. And the day-to-day friction of doing business is compounded by rapid policy shifts, such as over cashews, the country’s most important agricultural export, where the president recently stipulated a 100% increase in the minimum price to farmers and set the army in to manage the process.

None of this is likely to help Tanzania address its core challenges of burgeoning population numbers, a shortage of permanent capital, a paucity of infrastructure and skills, and a lack of confidence in government. For now, Magufuli seems popular in the slums, but his populism won’t deliver investment, skills and jobs the wanainchi crave. To the contrary.  

Mills is the director of the Brenthurst Foundation.