Asking questions in Tanzania presents you with an endless repetition, in various forms, of the same answer. A shrug of the shoulders, “that’s just the way it is”, “there’s no point”, “there’s nothing you can do about it”.
A Tanzanian friend told me her car was once broken into and the electric window controls from the four doors were stolen. She went to the “shop” where she knew she’d find them: she was asked what car she drove, what colour it was, and where and when it had been broken into. A few calls were made, and then she was told she could buy, conveniently, the exact goods for her make and model of car, for 400,000 Tsh (about 200 EUR). Had she told the police? No point. “Either they’ll hit a dead end, or they’ll have been paid off anyway by the people who’ve stolen the stuff”.
Other friends, advisors to the central government here, were talking recently about the sheer waste of money that’s been committed to a private company for a publicly tendered consultancy job. The bidding price of the selected firm is huge – far more than even the top-level equivalent in Europe could charge for the same amount of work. And part of the reason the price is so high, they said, is because the procurement team take a cut, this being the basis of their decision on who to award the contract to. Do my friends say something? Sometimes, they shrug, “but after a while you’re not surprised anymore”.
Some blame the socialist legacy – the 2-decade post-independence regime – for the all too easy-acceptance and lack of drive to initiate change among Tanzanians. Some say it’s an Africa-wide phenomenon. I don’t know; but already I can see that simply the scale of problems here wears you down and makes you think that the drop in the ocean you could achieve might not be worth the enormous effort it would take to get there. Because not only are the problems vast – a third of the population below the poverty line, over 5% of the population living with HIV and over 1 million AIDS orphans, life expectancy of 56 years – and all this despite Tanzania reportedly being by now the 3rd-largest recipient of aid, after Iraq and Afghanistan. But the obstacles are pretty vast too – without the basic things like a reliable electricity supply, a decent infrastructure that allows you to actually go to your meetings, sufficiently educated employees who can understand what you’re talking about – how can a government get things done?
And then there’s the systemic corruption: government sources themselves have been quoted as saying that 20 or even 33 % of the government’s budget is lost to corruption. In the East Africa Bribery Index 2011, Tanzania has regressed and is now perceived as more corrupt than Kenya. Part of this jump in perceptions is attributed to the simple fact that more people are talking about corruption here (particularly since the 2010 elections). Which is the first step. But that first step won’t be of much value if what people are actually saying is, yet again: “that’s just the way it is”.