Mine's bigger than yours: Tanzania just as corrupt as Kenya and Uganda, so why don't donors cry thief loudly?

Because stability really matters. But the honeymoon is ending, it would seem.

SOME years back, Prof Anna Tibaijuka was being whispered about as a possible candidate for the Tanzanian presidency. 

On Monday in a nationally televised address, President Jakaya Kiwete sacked her from his Cabinet, following a $1 million cash sum that she allegedly took from a businessman implicated in an energy scandal that has riveted Tanzania in recent months.  

Tibaijuka, a former high-flying United Nations official, had in a spirited defence said the money was a donation to a school for which she was the main fundraiser.

But said Kikwete: “We have spoken to Tibaijuka and she told us she received the money as a donation for her school; but we asked ourselves: if the money was for the school, why was it transferred to her personal account?

“No matter what the reason was, it went against public leadership ethics; so we asked her to step aside so we can appoint someone else to take her position.” It would appear that she was a sacrificial lamb, with the country’s prime minister and energy minister also strongly linked to the scandal.  Last week, the country’s Attorney General resigned, another victim of the controversy.

The former energy minister last year stepped down in a different energy scandal, as did the then prime minister, with the industry a minefield despite the a crippling energy deficit. 

The bulk of Kikwete’s address was devoted to addressing the scandal where $120 million was taken from an escrow account, paid to an energy firm and then siphoned off by senior officials into offshore back accounts. The fallout threatens to tar his legacy, as he prepares to step down in 2015.

Many Tanzanian watchers would have seen the recent chain of events as further evidence that the country is firm on corruption. The East African country occupies a unique position in the perceptions of many, held in high esteem in Africa due to its support for many liberation struggles, while welcoming both the West and China, with little of the tensions seen in neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Kenya.

Big on national unity

US president Barack Obama and good-as-new Chinese president Xi Jinping both visited the country last year, a vindication of the smart and all-embracing diplomacy it has employed throughout its post-independence history, including the Cold War years.

It is a country that proudly emphasises its national unity, borne of its experiment with socialism. The economic argument was lost, but the social unit remains strong, premised on a safety-first approach, and protecting the stability that investors so crave. 

Is it a cohesive peace? Many debate this—the Fragile States Index ranks it at a rather high 65th position out of 178 countries (number 178 is most stable), but the fact is that it is a system that works.

Regionally, it tussles for geopolitical supremacy mainly with Kenya, with which it maintains an uneasy but essential relationship, both being members of the East African Community (EAC) bloc. Even over this Tanzania is split, being also a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

But it has notably been a donor darling despite the type of transgressions with taxpayer cash—both its own and others— that have seen many other countries such as Malawi swiftly shorn of benefactor support. A third of its budget is currently funded by donors.

A land of crooks

Yet the statistics would suggest that it compares favourably with other regional corruption “rogues”.

In the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index released recently by Transparency International, the country placed 119th out of 175 countries surveyed, while Kenya was 145th and Uganda 142nd. In another poll by Gallup, Tanzanians were the most worried in Africa about corruption, with nine out of ten citing graft as their top concern.

The same poll also showed the country has seen the largest swing in corruption perception over the last seven years—in 2007 only 68% rated graft as a big concern, in 2014 this rose to 90%. The media, despite being seen as half-controlled, still earned a higher rating that the national government.

The corruption trade-off 

So, why doesn’t graft in Tanzania make the news internationally? One word, stability. The country has over the decades afforded a predictable political and commercial environment to investors, a crucial anchor for snapping up commercial deals, as Kenya and Somalia would testify. 

Nothing appeals to the investors like predictability of policy, as the latest Mo Ibrahim survey noted, something that Zambia is slowly coming to learn as mining majors threaten to exit over ever-changing revenue sharing policy. Call us names, accuse of labour malpractices, but stick to exisiting policy and we’ll lap it up, has been the creed for foreign investors. 

With this in mind, donors have been more lenient with what they see as a model country by the region’s turbulent standards. But it would seem the marriage is strained: it is notable that Kikwete’s wielding of the axe has coincided with the withholding in October of nearly half a billion dollars in aid by major donors as Japan, the UK, African Development Bank and the World Bank.

Even they have their elastic limit when it comes to patience, it would seem.

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