Monday, November 9, 2009

A slight lapse in sincerity

In a fit of pre-election inspiration, the government decided to brand this fiscal year with a catchy-yet-considerate theme: Kilimo Kwanza. Agriculture First is an excellent program to promote considering the statistics that are often bandied about- 42 million Tanzanians and 80% of those living in the rural areas with most of them farming for subsistence. By caring about agriculture, the government is purporting to care about the poor majority. However, those numbers also hint at the fundamental problem that arises from the Kilimo Kwanza program, that of a lack of commitment on the part of the government to make deep and lasting changes in the lives of the majority of Tanzanians.

Just a couple of years ago, the education sector was unfortunate enough to become the subject of a massive government initiative. Eschewing true investment in improving the quality of education, the establishment went for the easy kill- increasing access to education by throwing money at things that can be seen and counted. So innumerable primary school buildings have been built, and every ward was very strongly encouraged to build a secondary school so that every single student who successfully completed their primary education would be guaranteed a place. Where were the teachers going to come from, the teaching aids, et cetera? These were mere details that were not allowed to interfere with the government's top-down approach.

Fast forward to today, when the government has moved on from Education to its new mistress Agriculture. Ward Secondary schools are not doing very well. The students have realized that they are being shafted with crappy new recruit teachers who don't know the language of instruction let alone the subjects in any depth. Take a moment to imagine thousands of young Tanzanians simmering with the realization that their government has shafted them, and that they are not going to get the education they thought they would...and let that thought marinate for a couple of years. I hope Kikwete's successor has a plan for the youth vote because s/he's going to need it.

That education sector story is just a recent example of the many well-intentioned but hopelessly hollow initiatives out there. So I was a little skeptical about the Kilimo Kwanza gig when it appeared- there was that excess of official exuberance that is the hallmark of a dubious proposition. I have been lying in wait for months for the cracks to show. Patience does get rewarded in some small measure, as this story shows. It could be argued that in a developing country like this one, there are innumerable demands on public officials-how, oh how do they pick which sitting allowance to receive each day? But perhaps this is reason enough for the government to stop promising sweeping changes the likes of which it cannot effect. And perhaps this will be one more piece of evidence in the case for a strong, expert and indigenous civil society to bridge the development gap that the government cannot.

1 comment:

  1. You make an excellent point about Kilimo Kwanza. People I have spoken to in government will tell you it is not supposed to replace/overshadow/undermine the Agricultural Sector Development Programme (ASDP) and that it is supposed to galvanise the private sector into action to invest in agriculture. My fear is that it is yet more sloganeering...and when government ministers and officials fail to show up at very relevant regional meetings, my fears are proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Excellent spot of the article in The Citizen!


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