On Tuesday evening I sat with my dad and explained to him my book concept as I am in the process of revising it and writing a proposal for a potential publisher. In general, the book is trying to explain why poverty exists in Tanzania amidst high economic growth rate. Statistics have it that between 2001 and 2011 economic growth in Tanzania has been at an average of 7% while poverty rate declined from 35% to 33% only. This does not add up and it creates a paradox. It is a puzzle that we need to answer.
So I had been looking at neoliberal theories and other “external” factors that may explain this situation. Indeed a number of economists have tried to explain this situation. Stiglitz in his latest book “The price of inequality” tackles the same issue only in a different context. It is almost becoming conventional knowledge that neoliberalism causes inequality which reflects uneven income distribution. This is arguable. I will not go into discussing this, but just to mention there is now an emerging literature arguing that Adam Smith’s writings’, if properly interpreted, would not lead to a system that enhances inequality.
In Tanzania, the standard explanation for this has been that agriculture, which employs 80% of Tanzanians, has not grown to the same rate as other sectors. The service and mining sectors that explain the growth do not trickle down to the large portion of the population. In CNN’s Amanpour’s interview last week, President Kikwete gave the same answer to the question.
Well, so when I was sharing with my dad my plan and argument structure. He challenged me not to ignore the “internal” issues rather than looking at the “external” factors such as neoliberalism. He told me to have a chapter on “morals” and/or “ethics”. By this he challenged me to examine issues such as allowances, lack of solidarity, hypocrisy behaviour, “democratic centralism”, etc. We had a long discussion on this. He urged me to look into how leaders and/or citizens in general prefer to have “short-cuts” and explore their priorities etc.
Today, as the #Posho saga in the Bunge came out, I couldn’t stop thinking of my dad’s arguments. How can members of the Constitutional Review Assembly dare to ask for more allowance while there are Tanzanian’s who earn only a bit over half of Tsh. 300,000 as their monthly salary? What is the minimum salary scale in Tanzania? It is very disheartening to see people who have been entrusted by the President and “theoretically” by the citizens to be crucial part of preparing a document to guide our country for the next 50 years or so would do this? It is even more weird that a committee was formed to look into this issue! Why couldn’t that request be turned down immediately? Are we a nation of jokers or what?
Please let’s be serious! And with such attitudes we should never ask why we have poverty amidst economic growth. Before we blame MNCs, etc, we look into ourselves first. A verse in the book of Matthew (7:5) says: “first remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from you brother’s eye”.