Sunday, July 4, 2010

Tanzania is a Poor Country, but Bongoland is Blingtastic

I was staring out the windscreen at a 100,000 USD car and praying that we wouldn't scratch the metallic paint on it when La Dee piped up: 'Tanzania is a poor country?' Um. Maybe, but not judging by that car... We were on the peninsula trying to pick up something to eat after a surprisingly long-winded wedding planning committee meeting, because grease makes everything better. Sadly we had forgotten: Sunday Night.

On Sunday Night inhabitants of the city center, Upanga and other surrounding areas get into their vehicles and go hang out on the Peninsula. Every single establishment we passed was crusted with people- malls, bars, restaurants, shops. And showing off? Forget about clothes: it is all in the cars. Gleaming vistas of air-conditioned 4x4s in all their variations were practically parking on top of each other wherever they could find space. Same people that bitch up one side and down the other about traffic congestion*. Genius.

It occurred to me as we- phew- avoided scraping the expensive metallic paint job that Tanzania might be poor... but much of Dar doesn't seem to be. The number of new cars on the streets in the past three years, the blinging ego-mobiles people can afford, the number of families treating themselves to a nice meal in the most expensive part of town- disposable income anyone? Nothing at all like the 'bad' old days when I was a kid and we had to forage far and wide for any kind of eatery that had seen fresh produce in the last month. You couldn't throw money at anything back then. There are definite benefits to being an emerging market, why lie.

But for me the deeper issue is a tough one. For every dollar Bongolanders spend making themselves feel good about living in the 21st century with all its modern conveniences, how many cents are making it down the chain of consumption to our brethren and sistren who are living simpler lives out in the hinterland? Why does the Village Supermarket stock beans imported from Argentina? Seriously? Have we gotten rich off the fat of our fellow countrymen's poverty? Where the hell is all this money coming from, and how much of it is ethical (forget legitimate)? Oh, and can TRA actually try to come up with a rational and progressive taxation system?

Don't get me wrong: I have no beef with legitimate affluence. Hell, I aspire to it. Kind of. But I do get a bit twitchy about callous inequalities- how does one drive a Shangingi around town when you know in your bone marrow that the majority is getting totally shafted. So, economists, I have one question for your number-loving brains: what is Tanzania's Gini coefficient? First one to give me a reasonable answer and explicate it without mentioning elasticity wins a couple of cocktails with one cantankerous liberal blogger who likes to annoy economists for sport. How can you resist :)

*Yeah, I own a pair of wheels as well but they are superbly fuel-efficient and well-maintained Japanese works of art with little mileage on them. Heh.


  1. What a coincidence, I was just looking at tables of Gini coefficients and HDIs just last night!

    (1) Have you checked out SERIOUSLY COOL. More stats than you can shake a (well manicured) fist at.

    (2) Here is a sortable list of countries by different measures of inequality including Gini coefficient:

    According to this data TZ isn't that unequal: Latin American countries tend to be the the most unequal, Scandinavian countries (& Japan!) tend to be the most equal.

    In particular Tanzania's Gini coefficient of 34.6 puts it at around 80th or so out of about 120 countries that have data . UK scores 36 and US scores 40.8 by contrast which indicates greater inequality.

    BONUS!: According to the most recent official Human Development Index: => TZ is now a "medium human development" country and not one of the 20 odd "low human development" countries almost of which happen to be in Africa. But our "score" of 0.533 is just on the edge of this group.
    Soooo.... cock tails at a bougie spot of your choice? ;-)

  2. Elsie,

    The question you ask in your blog inspired me to attempt and answer about Bongoland’s ‘blinginess’. And being a ‘good economist’, I some numbers I got from the 2009 UN Human Development Report.

    Tanzania is towards the bottom of this chart because it had one of the lowest levels of inequality in the eight countries in Eastern Africa between 1992 and 2007.

    The richest 10% in Tanzania spent nine times more than the poorest 10% in the country, according to this data. Compare this to Kenya where the rich spent 21 times more than the poorest. Anecdotal evidence and casual observation probably confirms the fact that Kenya is a more unequal country than Tanzania. The chart below from The Economist (where else?) provides further evidence of how far up the hog Kenya’s top leaders are compared to their citizens’ average incomes.

    Will more recent data show an increase in inequality, since many of the mouth-watering shangingis you saw are probably newer than 2007 models? I daren’t hazard a guess.

    But an interesting question suggested itself to me, ad I want to ask it of you as a sociologist. Does a higher gini coefficient – more inequality – lead to more aspiration and motivation for self-improvement among people? Or does it engender more resentment and desperation? What do you think?

  3. Oops. My charts didnt show. So how do I put them up?

  4. Um. Dr. Bob, I appreciate that you were first off the block but I think that Aidan hit the finish line on that one with comprehensive and comparatively recent data. So to compromise I plan to buy you each drinks at your earliest convenience :) Thanks, guys.

  5. Yes, but my charts are still not showing! Boo hoo hoo!

  6. Whaaaat, nilifikiri nisha shinda so I was just chilling! :-) Kumbe we were still being evaluated!

    But fair play, Aidan has come up with some very interesting data/hypotheses. *Hat tip*

    Aidan's question is interesting, I guess I'll comment on it on your next post.

  7. This clearly shows how stupid ur!!!! have u been in oversee?or perhaps South Africa? Stop being brainless


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