Tag Archives: economy

A few small bananas

My third day in Nakivale, Uganda’s oldest refugee settlement, and feeling ready to move on tomorrow. Meanwhile my guide and translator, a film-maker and actor called Alex, is in his ninth year of living here. Some Rwandans I’ve spoken to have been here 16 years. Some mention those who were resettled in the US, Canada, Denmark; many have disappeared to try to make it in Uganda’s cities. Most people stay.

And they come. New arrivals — about 3000 each month — put the current number of inhabitants at 110,000. The population looks set to keep growing:  Uganda is receiving refugees from not one next-door crisis, but three: DR Congo, Burundi, South Sudan.

I’ve talked to maybe 20 people, some for five minutes, some for several hours. Olga, a warm young Congolese woman who has galvanised a group of her peers to start making and selling crafts, tells me in well-spoken French that life is better here for simple reasons: securité, liberté. We can do what we want. Many others are less positive. Yes, we could go and live elsewhere, but how can we afford to? Yes, we can set up businesses here in Nakivale, but how, without capital? Yes, we could buy better or cheaper goods from the cities, but who pays our transport there? Continue reading

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Learning, not burning [churches]

“All these men just hanging around doing nothing…!”, my Mum kept commenting when she visited Tanzania. It’s true. Partly because social life happens outside, and partly because Time here is a different kind of commodity – something to be shared, not jealously guarded as it is by us in the West, running around shouting about how busy we are.

By now, though, I had stopped noticing the lazing and lurking and staring; I (sometimes) enjoy the gentler approach to time. And many of these men – they are usually men – do work somewhere, during irregular hours perhaps: selling produce in the market, working in a relative’s shop, repairing things.

But even if they’re lucky enough to have that informal employment, a desperate lack of skills prevents them ever getting more than unstable, unreliable work for a minimal wage.
That skills deficit starts at the most basic level. Tanzania has made progress: the share of national income spent on education more than tripled in the last decade; in the same period, enrolment in primary schools doubled. But just being in school, it seems, is not enough. Continue reading

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Travelling slowly

Booking flights this week to Kigoma was a bit complicated, especially since Precision Air – the only airline serving that airport – suddenly cancelled all flights to/from Kigoma until further notice. Staff at Precision couldn’t tell me why, though we assume it’s to do with the runway which is unpaved, and has already caused accidents – a plane a few months back had a bit of a crash landing when 3 tyres burst on impact. It’s dry season now, so it’s at least possible to land, not always the case during rainy season.

In the meantime, we’ve all been mildly amused/concerned by the revelation that the only radar at the country’s main airport in Dar es Salaam hasn’t been working since the beginning of August. Without that radar, used for managing air traffic, “air traffic controllers are reduced to relying on guesswork, which is very dangerous”. (Hmm, I think you can land…. now!)  The reason it failed in the first place is, surprise surprise, problems with the power supply. Continue reading

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Trepidation / Inspiration

Putting things positively

Bad experiences accumulate: another friend gets violently robbed. It’s hard to resist the negative feeling that causes, especially when they talk about giving up and going home.

But the good Tanzania is also a bit contagious – the little sparks of inspiration here and there that remind me I’m not done here yet, only just beginning to get to the good stuff.

There’s actually no shortage of media setting out to change the negative images we have, to tell more good stories out of Africa. By now they too seem to be becoming a bit clichéd.

Even better is encountering the positive stuff directly.

In no particular order, then, some of the people I’ve met recently who aint put off by what can be an unforgiving climate to actually make things happen: Continue reading

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Emerging markets

Two per cent.

I had two meetings today with media people, and both of them quoted that figure – the proportion of Tanzanians with access to the internet. They were exaggerating, surely?

Apparently not: recent research found that indeed, a mere 2.5% of Tanzanians had access to the internet. I’m not sure how “access” is defined: ITU figures from 2011 say that about 11% are classed as “internet users” – those who’ve gone online in the past 12 months. Either way, it’s a fairly insignificant minority. What’s incredible is how those 2.5% with (I assume) regular access get online, as the graphic pinched from howwemadeitinafrica.com shows:

Continue reading

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Disproving myself

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. Continue reading

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Not planning ahead

Typing by candlelight is a novelty this evening, but if the power cuts or electricity rationing – not sure yet which one this is – become as frequent as they apparently were before I arrived, it’ll get a bit tedious. There are often brief blackouts during the day, but at the office we have a generator that kicks in with a groan to keep our PCs and air conditioning running. At home, with no generator, I’m anxiously willing my one candle to burn slowly: at least give me another few hours?

What’s irritating on a personal level (not being able to wash my hair, turn on the fan, boil water, etc.) translates on a national scale into one of the major obstacles – along with inflation and fuel and food prices – to economic growth. Continue reading

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