Friday, January 23, 2009

What's your solution?

I spent a better part of last week discussing the questions of leadership with a group of ambitious young politicians. One of the persistent questions I put across to some of these guys is that...why do you want to lead? Is it just an urge to be upfront or you want to do something with the position that you are seeking? And, thinking through our challenges as a country, what is it that you are offering as solutions?

I want to put across some very real [immediate] challenges that would require creative leadership to overcome. Think of Dar es Salaam. And think of the combination of the following challenges:

1. Ruvu river, which is the main water source for Dar es Salaam, is decreasing in flow at the rate of 6-9 per cent per year. The next big crisis in Dar will be over water (actually we are starting to see it already)

2. At the same time, Dar es Salaam adds more than 200 new inhabitants per day. Slums are expanding, and rents in slums are skyrocketing. At the moment, Kariakoo day labourers and other unemployed pay 300 shillings to sleep overnight in someone's corridor in Kariakoo.(Fact: in all the cities in the world, Dar es Salaam is the 18th fastest growing. The first in the world is Kigali - but these guys in Rwanda have deliberately decided to urbanise the country. For us, it just happens)

3. 60 percent of Dar es Salaam dwellers are under-30, majority of them with high aspirations but no work.

4. 70 - 80 percent of Dar dwellers use charcoal as a source of cooking energy. At the same time, over the last 15 years, we have cut down 20 million acres of forests and therefore charcoal is becoming expensive (30,000 - 35,000 shillings per bag now), with no energy alternative for the urban poor. (Our energy crisis will be over the unavailability of charcoal).

5. A civilised society is determined by the manner in which it disposes its garbage. Every piece of land in Dar is now expensive, and since we are going to be churning out hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage per day, we are going to be hard pressed for spaces for "dampos". Incineration is costly because of the cost of power per kilowatt. Where and how do we dispose our garbage?

6. We can [structurally] sort out the transportation issues in Dar (with rapid transit buses, over-passes, better traffic policing, etc), but our city has no "soul" (perhaps because of its "balkanisation"), and therefore we cannot act as a community to tackle common challenges as other cities in the world do. Creative leadership is needed to "bring the city together" and make its dwellers feel as one. How do you do that?

....anyway, we could go on...but the point I was making to these guys (most of them Dar es Salaam dwellers) is that if you are thinking about being a leader, you should at least (minimally) reflect on the challenges of the community in which you reside (which is Dar es Salaam) and think through the solutions to those challenges. Other things (Buzwagi, etc) that our MPs fret about are important: but you start with the problems of your community. So, what are your solutions?

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Tanzania as a country that depends on agriculture as the main contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the main source of International trade, may need to rethink her economic future in the wake of 2008 oil crisis, in which a barrel of oil reached an historic high of $147 just to slide back to $36.2, a barrel in less than six months. Sending shockwave of fear to countries that relied on this commodity as their main source of economic vitality.

Oil producing countries such as Venezuela, and Iran just to name a few whose economies relies heavily on this single commodity, ripped massive profits and used their earnings not to diversify their economies, but to further their ideological beliefs. Both countries neglected their potential economic vulnerability based on oil dependence despite decades of huge profits.

They are now not only in the same financial debacle, but also in potential social quandary of a different magnitude; they relied heavily on now devalued oil as their main source of economic lifeline.

Energy prices have tumbled across the board; with oil plummeting to its historical low of $36.2, a barrel at the New-York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) as of January 16th; A figure far below budget projections of $60 a barrel in the cases of Iran, and Venezuela. Countries whose leaders ascended to power, based on promises of ambitious, social programs transformation .

The two countries must shelve some of their ambitious social projects for the time being, due to the impending budget deficits, and perhaps social problems, when some of the already existing services will have to be curtailed.

Oil accounts for more than 90% of Venezuela exports, while Iran depends on oil to account for 85% of the government’s revenues. Whilst this is the reality, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, has used oil money to make thumb his nose towards the west; he has used the petrodollars to further his socialist and revolutionary causes of being a defender of the Latin America, against the American Empire Influence.

His Iranian counterpart Mohamoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, has used oil profits to wag his finger, and heralding his determination to wipe Israel off the map. Iran, spent millions of her petrodollars promoting itself as the sole defender of Islam across the Islamic world; She is fighting for hegemony on geopolitical and economic fronts across the Middle East. Not only that, Iran, has used her oil wealth to fend off the western efforts to block her nuclear drive, and this is still going on in the face of rising unemployment, and sky high inflation. The bottom line is that, both Iran and Venezuela failed to look at the broader picture, which is Iran, and Venezuela without oil.

Thanks to speculation in the financial markets, the countries racked-in massive profits, but then their leaders ignored the laws of economics, and called the $147 a barrel an insult. Iranian leader arrogantly suggested that, $200 a barrel would not be a fair price either. Even after the financial crisis started, they forgot that mere speculation was not sufficient to reverse Economic Law of Elasticity.

Gasoline being one of the modern day necessities, many believed it was not going to undergo a price shock ; the economic boom in India and China, and increasing demand in the United States, led many to perceive oil as insensitive to price changes (inelastic), because consumers would continue to demand it despite price increases.

Economic theories have disapproved those who were convinced that, oil prices would never fall. Prices have plunged sharply globally, except in Tanzania; one of the few countries where merchants can impose upon the people their own prices. Sadly enough, In the United States, some are currently paying equivalent of $.55cents a liter, whereby many paid roughly $1.50 a liter, less than six months ago.

In the face of economic hardship, characterized by the rise of unemployment, and declining earning power, oil become less of a necessity; need for food and shelter precedes the need for oil. However, availability of alternative forms of transportation, amount of income to spend on gasoline, and time factors have driven oil prices to their current low levels.

Just like Iran and Venezuela cannot breathe without oil, Tanzania has no economic vitality without agriculture. Agriculture accounts for 42.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and more than 80% of the exports, and this puts our country in the same line of vulnerability, and insecurity as that of the oil producing countries which are now facing economic uncertainty because they did not properly plan for economic continuity without oil (reduced oil demand characterized by lower revenues).

An economy without agricultural dependence should be Tanzania’s motto. This ambition should take into consideration country’s massive wealth of natural resources. Just like Dubai, a tiny U.A.E country which solely relies on maritime and tourism for her survival, Tanzania should think 100 years from now by laying plans in place on how to exploit her massive wealth, such as the inexhaustible, and price insensitive Indian Ocean; making maritime services through port of Dar es salaam easily accessible, efficient and inexpensive for both domestic and to foreign customers such as Zambians, Congolese, Ugandans etc who are using Kenyan ports for the most part.

Massive advertisement campaign of our beaches as a focal point for attraction, for both domestic and foreign tourists would yield unprecedented positive results, just like it has in the cases of Mauritius and Morocco. Our historical wealth such as the famous Zanzibar, Bagamoyo and Mafia Islands are enough to shift the economic pendulum from agricultural dependence to a more balanced economy. Aggressive marketing of Mt. Kilimanjaro and other tourist attractions as parts of Tanzania and not Kenya, will definitely provide Tanzania with the missing link to full economic diversification.

Economists, financial experts, and scholars both in public and private sectors, should study the feasibility of balancing the economy from agricultural dependence to agricultural independence considering the country’s untapped wealth. In the face of climatic uncertainty of prolonged droughts, tsunamis, unfair agricultural subsidization by wealthy countries, Tanzania’s may find her competitive ability in the international commodity markets hampered by these factors. And possibly, chocking the economic lifeline out of the country.

There is no question, such ambitious move would be time consuming, expensive, complicated and very hard to accomplish. But in today’s dynamic and less predictable global economy, there is no other alternative. Tanzania MUST have economic diversification strategy. Massive wealth in the hands of a few could be channeled towards the feasible study of economic diversification for the good of the country’s majority riddled with poverty.

Tanzania, government must strengthen the country’s infrastructure, and use foreign resources in the form of investment to support the transformation. The law for attracting and protecting foreign investments must be enforced diligently, and foreign investors must be given assurances regarding the safety of their investments. Red tape and bureaucracy at government agencies MUST be ended.

The focus must be on the qualitative aspect of manpower by streamlining the government in such a way that quality becomes the highest priority, at the same time recognizing human talent and capability within the workforce. Rewarding employees to enable them release their full potential must be a common practice, and also retaining already developed talents to encourage innovation, which will in turn curb the current wave of brain drain.

With a young energetic population, Tanzania will enjoy an inexpensive labor force, should it adopt a broader industrialization project, which will reduce dependence on importation of unnecessary products, some of which are substandard and hazardous to the population. Domestic production of Industrial goods will translate into cheaper prices, as well as employment to the currently idle young population. These goods will not only be consumed domestically, but will also find demand in the Southern, Central, and East African economic blocs in which Tanzania’s influence is growing.

To fully diversify Tanzanian economy, the current government expenditure must be shifted to major development and construction projects to guarantee that in the future, the country’s infrastructure; will be able to sustain growth in all sectors of the economy, which will in turn shift the economic pendulum from agricultural dependence to agricultural independence.

We cannot wait until a crisis emerges for us to be able to start preparedness, the current economic and energy crisis are perhaps some of the best lessons we can learn in our generation. We do not want to go the Iranian or Venezuela routes. Now is the time to shove aside politics, rhetoric, and rattling, and think deeply on where the country is going to be hundred years from today. The question is, can we see our country surviving without agriculture?

Mungu Ibariki Tanzania

John Mashaka,
The Writer is a US based Banker, & Social Activist

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sex and War!

Comes from our own Salama Cooper. Enjoy!

Hi guys!

So, some of us have been blessed to see the New Year. Thank God.
As I mentioned in my new years's eve post when reflecting last year, that, Gaza was already in flames, and it's still is. We discussed about it here in this blog, and I'm so glad that I've been able to share opinions with some of the most brilliant Tanzanian's brains.

During the holidays, I read this interesting book. The timing, kind of lined up itself with some of the current events happening around the World. It's about War, Terrorism, Violence and yes, Sex. Me and my POLLUTED MIND!, jumped into it when I first learned about it but, it wasn't what I thought it was. (lol)

SEX AND WAR, by Malcom Potts and Thomas Hayden, is about how biology explains WARFARE and TERRORISM and Offers a path to a safer World. In their foreword they say, "As news of war and terror dominates the headlines, scientist Malcom Potts and veteran journalis Thomas Hayden take a step back to expain it all. In the spirit of Guns, Germs, and Steel," ( which is another great book by the way) "SEX AND WAR asks the basic questions: Why is war so fundamental to our species? And what can we do about it?"

In sex and violence, they explained that killing other members of our own species is a male behaviour that evolved early in our history because, " those individuals who manifested such a predisposition were more likely to transmit their genes to the next generation than those who didn't. War and Violence then, are indelibly linked to sex and reproduction...small groups of men who were prepared to attack their neighbors and steal their resources, and who could seduce or coerce women for sex, ended up having more offspring. Women meanwhile, were more likely to improve their reproductive success and have more children by aligning themselves with successful violent men rather than joining raids and risking death themselves..." (page 2)

They gave the example of some rich and powerful men throughout history and across cultures, typically had more sexual partners and thus more offspring than those lower in the social hierarchy. e.g, King Solomon, 700 wives and 300 concubines (Damn! 1000 women!), Idi Amin, four wives and thirty children. Harems were the order of the day for Egyptian Pharaohs, the Turkish Sultans, the African Kings and the Chinese Emperors to name a few. And even in our days, with some of our leaders, we've seen how power has been used to allocate sexual opportunities for men.

Women, on their part have a very significant role in the battle among the sexes, in the history of War and Terrorism. According to the book, If women are given the freedom they need and choices to decide what to do with their own reproduction systems, they can change this World to be a safe and better place to live. It's bizarre that some societies are still denying women freedom on what to do with their own production systems. In page 322, they explained that, "Family planning provides a key that can open the door to better health, well-being, and security. it's basic autonomy and contributes to the health of women and their children, also, it improves access to education and accelerates economic proggress."

I was able to come across this NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE extract about the book, by Matthew Philips

"Sex and Violence seem like polar opposites. Humans seem capable of keeping them apart. Or may be not. The big Idea. In the book M. Potts and T. Hayden, probe the biological basis for the two acts and argue that, in fact, they're more closely connected than we might think...violent behaviour grew indelibly linked with sex and reproduction. Simply put: those who did lots of the former got to have more of the latter. It's why even today, football players (or athletes generally) tend to get more dates than math nerds. The Evidence. Humans are the rare mammals that kill their own kind. A behavior traced by scientists back to our closest relatives, chimpanzees, which have been observed in the wild killing of the rival families. Understanding the competition for resources-reason, in other words- turns out to be our Achilles' heels. It's why pigs and dogs, which are just as interested in sex as we are, don't kill each other for it. The Conclusion. How does the circle end? Women are the key. In the cultures where women have power over how many children to have, Potts and Hayden note, the birth rate always falls. Overtime, as the competition to survive goes down, our prospects for peace go up."

Have a nice weekend everybody.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Why We Need Commodity Markets.

In the mid 1980s Tanzania changed the way it organize its politics and economy. On the political side the change was skillfully accomplished under the leadership of Mzee Mwinyi, with guidance from Mwalimu. As a result, Tanzania is one of the few countries on the continent that was able to move to a multi-party system without major social upheaval. The current assertive Bunge, which includes opposition parties, has created one of the few dynamic and progressive governments in Africa. Freedom of speech, political accountability, voter parity, etc, is largely a result of Mwinyi’s changes. More reforms are yet to be executed in the political arena but nobody can deny our progress. To the contrary, we can not say the same thing about our economy. The transition from our centrally planned economy to the free market economy has produced lukewarm economic growth.

The main reason for this lackluster economic growth, in my opinion, is that the reforms implemented over the past 25 years to introduce the elusive free market – introduction of the stock market, the push to private property, aggressive tax collection, halting of agriculture subsidies, etc – unlike the political ones, were not driven by Tanzanians. Rather we gave the international fairies (IMF and WB) the authority to restructure our national economy. Since foreign “experts” do not bother to understand our local economic structure and comparative advantage they gave us standard textbook reforms. Therefore, most of these reforms missed the “epicenter” of the economy which is in the informal sector: the agriculture industry. Our recent history traces reforms from the IMF’s structural adjustments to the current UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Most of the time, the internationally “peddled” reforms are based on sound theoretical models but look at our country as a generic economic canvas. This canvas is supposed to be restructured and given goals to achieve, independent of what is on that canvas.

The result is the creation of institutions and systems that do not serve the majority of the citizenry. In Tanzania these reforms have resulted in a waste of the collective wealth and in some cases pure wealth-destruction. We can look at our stock market with all of its eight stocks and ask ourselves: does the Dar-es-salaam bourse represent the country’s capital accumulation? And the companies that raised capital through this market; are they the ones which need it most? Are these companies the best purveyors of the country’s wealth?

If the answers to the above questions (and many other questions) are “no,” then why did we start our transition to the free markets with the stock market and not another market like the commodities market to serve our agriculture industry? Or municipal (or equivalent of) bond markets to rebuild our infrastructure? Or introducing ways of measuring consumer purchasing power (like credit scoring, i.e. FICO) in order to give power to credit markets and therefore allow consumer products – such as mortgages, car loans, credit cards, equipment leasing, etc – to transform the economy? There are many different markets that would have benefited the country and the majority of Tanzanians.

We have now spent twenty five years in this lackluster zone. Time to rethink the whole premise: who has the capital? Who will best utilize that capital and therefore create more wealth? And most critical: how can we, efficiently, link those who have capital to those who will best utilize that capital?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against the stock market. In general we know these markets are essential for a country to achieve a meaningful level of economic growth. I just don’t think that our economy is best served by the stock market when 80% of the population is employed in the agriculture industry; an industry that is dominated by small-holder farmers with not much industrial agricultural processors.

The Tanzanian GDP is $16.18 billion (Official, 2007) with the GDP measured by a Purchasing Power Parity of $51.07 billion (2007); Agriculture contributes 42.5%, Industry 18.9%, and Services 38.5% (2007). Agriculture also dominates Trade: it provides 85% of exports. In the mean time, there are only two agricultural companies listed in our stock market: TATEPA and TCC.

The government is right to give priority to Agriculture for the 2009 economic agenda as sighted in JK’s speech for the New Year. JK stated that the government has set aside ten billion shillings to be given as loans to farmers through the Tanzanian Investment Bank (TIB). But in my opinion, this is the wrong way of organizing credit availability to farmers.

The current banking system is staying away from giving loans to the agriculture sector, not because the industry is not profitable but because it is too risky. The agricultural industry is opaque to the banking sector because almost all small-holder farmers function in the informal economy. Therefore giving farmers government loans one-by-one will not solve the problem of credit availability. The solution will have to be systemic and agriculture-focused.

The government should use this ten billion instead to create a COMMODITIES MARKET. The commodities market would have the advantage of formalizing the contribution of the agricultural sector and creating positive externalities to the economy. At the same time infusing capital into the agricultural industry would increase productivity of both land and labor.

In conclusion, our poverty problem exists, not because we don’t have wealth, or we are less intelligent or even as many suggest, lazy. Rather, we simply need a system that does not see us as a generic canvas, but draws on our endogenous national strengths.


It is an absolute necessity. Sense of urgency says, "Ido not have time". Let me burn the candles at bothends. The sense of urgency is felt precisely likecutting off your air supply.

If someone comes up behind you right now and grabsyour nose and shuts your mouth. First minute you willsay someone is playing a game with me, who is thisperson…trying to figure it out etc. You hit your next30 seconds and start wanting to breathe, the persongrips harder.

Now you start pushing harder, becauseyou want to breathe, and if it continues for 30 moreseconds, you are into desperation. You scratch, youbite, you claw, you don't care who the hell it isholding you. At that moment in time, you will kill tobreathe.

And that is burning desire.

It is a lot morethan just survival. It is basically recognizing thatnothing can hold you back. Nothing should get in yourway. Survival would have been there in the first 10seconds. But at the last 10 seconds, it was not eventhe issue of survival. It came down to the simplefact: "I WANT to breathe".

Total focus becomes tinierand tinier until it reaches the point that "I want tobreathe".
Look at Thomas Alva Edison. He is there, workingaway, continuously for 96 hours in his lab, not havinggone home or out at all. He is so focused on his work.Literally, his housekeeper has to force-feed him.Nothing can irritate him, nothing can take him out ofthe lab if he is burning after an idea.

Tagore would look himself up in the middle of thenight, when he was writing his masterpiece Gitanjali.Nothing could touch him. Until it came out of him(Gitanjali), nothing could get in the way. What drivesthese people like that?

Picasso locked himself in the attic until he finishedhis painting. They all have that, where their focusboils down to that particular thing being achieved andnothing else. But you do have it too. Every single oneof us does. Almost invariably, usually, when we fall in love.

Be it puppy love at the childhood phase ormore serious mature things in adulthood, it comes at apoint where those that you love deeply, your parents,your best friends, who before this thing happened hadthe greatest influence over you, the people for whom you had great respect and admiration, all of them flushed down the toilet because of someone you don'tknow, have not really understood, not got to know verywell yet, and yet who took over your entire existence.So the capacity is there.

The sense of urgency is not something that one can seek, it cannot be contrived, it has to be derived. Itcomes from within us
-by Dato Vijay Eswaran

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Different Perspective.

I would like to thank January for creating this nice forum for average wananchi like us to pitch in our ideas on “politics, society & things” tena without being worried about character assassinations that are norms in other peer forums.

Anyhow, I am going to make a quick post on a moment I was a part of this past Friday. I live in metropolitan city in Mid West here in US. And I am a moderate Muslim. Actually my iman is not as deep as an average Muslim. I try my best not to miss a Friday prayer and most mosque goers are the diversity of Blacks (mostly Somali), few white folks, and Middle Easterners as well. The Imam is a Somali scholar and does not seem to be radical at all-most of his sermons are about social issues, importance of prayers and what not. Basic stuff.

However this Friday, Imam had a different tone, he had that Rev Wright-esque kind of delivery. He was talking about current Gaza Crisis, injustices, and killing of civilians Palestines (understandably he chose to ignore the Israeli side of the story) quoting The Prophet and invoking Quran verses. It was a powerful 40 minutes sermon and the anger was palpable amongst all of us in the building. Folks started to shout with God is Great chants and am thinking to myself if there was a sign up sheet to go to Gaza after a prayer, half of the masjid would somehow consider signing up or supporting it financially. Now this is in United States, imagine similar sermons delivered in Amman, Cairo, Islamabad, Yemen and the entire Arab world. You think how many terrorist were recruited just this last Friday?

My point is-there has to be a smarter way to fight against terrorist groups like Hamas or Hezbollah. The current methodologies are definitely counter productive. We have read how Al-Qaeda is now stronger than ever since 9/11 and Iraq invasion had a lot to do with it. Offering just sticks without carrots won’t do it, and Israeli obviously never understood the lessons of Iraq. Invading Gaza would create a lot of new terrorists that would have to be put to work after the operation. It would be interesting to see what Israel will gain from this invasion.