Not long after arriving here, I wanted to write an article on the big unanswered question about this country. Why, having benefited from peace, stability and relative democracy (not to mention coastline, enough natural resources – but not too much, an English-speaking population…), is Tanzania still one of the poorest countries in the world? Why is it hanging out at the top of the list of aid beggars along with the war-weary Iraqs and Afghanistans of the world?
I planned to come back to that question after a year to see if I was any closer to understanding. But I didn’t publish the article in the end, and it’s probably a good thing, because it looks like the answer could end up being simple, but horribly un-PC: Tanzania isn’t working because Tanzanians don’t really want to work. Tanzanians are lazy.
I’m not convinced of this, yet. But both Westerners and other Africans I’ve met here say this is the case. At a dinner recently, a Nigerian entertained us all with impressions of the typically disinterested, sluggish salesperson you come across here; it would never be like that back home, she says. A Kenyan-Tanzanian who moved here a few years ago enjoys the relative safety compared to Nairobi but whispered – “they can be a bit lazy”. An energetic young Tanzanian who has established herself in the fashion world in parallel to holding down a day job in a government agency is so atypical that she’s often mistaken for a Kenyan. Her Kenyan friend, one of the few foreigners working in a Dar es Salaam bank, is always being assigned extra work because her boss knows she’s one of the few who will actually do it. Two expat friends employed as advisors to the government end up taking their colleagues’ work home at weekends because it simply won’t be done otherwise.
Anecdotal evidence, all this. But maybe it’s better to start from the most cynical hypothesis and work on disproving it. So that’s the plan (contributions welcome). Not quite ready to become another gin-swilling, weather-beaten, smirking cynic who mutters that all the bloody Africans are the same.