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.