Why are Foreign Investors Shunning Education?

Published on 27th November 2007

Tanzanians remember the third phase of government for its privatization and investment policies. Tanzanians are finally waking up to the fact that many countries in the world  are using the same process to build up their economy.

During his visit to the University of Dar es Salaam early this year, President Mbeki observed that in spite of millions of Africans residing with abundant natural resources that should be utilized for their betterment, they are poor. 

“We need to use our natural resources for our own benefit,” he said. “This will enable us negotiate with rich countries, not as poor beggars, but as resourceful people.” The South African president also called upon African states to monitor investors with a view of ensuring that deals that are struck are not exploitative, but benefit respective countries on a win-win basis. 

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah also believed that Africa can develop without necessarily depending on foreign aid.  In his 1961 I Speak for Freedom speech, Dr. Nkrumah said that although most Africans are poor, Africa is extremely rich. Its mineral resources which are being exploited (but mainly enrich foreign investors) range from gold, diamonds, uranium to petroleum. Its forests contain some of the finest woods. Its cash crops include cocoa, coffee, rubber, tobacco and cotton. As for power, which is an important factor in any economic development, Africa has over 40% of the potential water power of the world, as compared to about 10% in Europe and 13% in North America. Yet so far, less than 1% has been developed.

“This is one of the reasons why we have in Africa the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty, and scarcity in the midst of abundance,” Nkrumah said.

Beyond doubt, Nkrumah’s words are still alive; it is factual that foreign investors are gaining more than Africans themselves. Today Tanzania is jam-packed with foreign investors, and this is good. But a time comes when we have to review whether both sides are gaining. Although Tanzania is dishing investment opportunities to foreign firms, ordinary citizens are not benefiting from the deals.

I spotted a poster near Ubungo bus terminus calling upon all Tanzanians to contribute towards the construction of at least 822 classrooms for Form One students in Dar es Salaam. The poster stated that in January 2008, at least 36,000 students are expected to enrol in Form One in Dar es Salaam. The government, through the Regional Commission Mr Abas Kandolo, was calling upon Dar residents, civil servants, business people and Non Government Organisations among others to voluntarily support the project.

Civil servants are contributing towards the national revenue every month, but it seems the amount is not enough. Why are investors reluctant to invest in education? Why can’t they seek land to build universities, secondary schools, and make business?

We need to review the past, compare it with the present in order to map out the future. One factor that led to the rise of the African nationalism was the emergence of an elite generation after obtaining education. Educated Africans led the African struggle for independence. We can now see why Foreign Investors are not keen on investing on education but are keen on extracting minerals that are easily carried to abroad.

While University students are facing acute accommodation shortage, investors are constructing a luxurious city, Milimani, within the university land. All business is conducted there while student roam and knock one house after another, in search of   rooms to rent.

African governments must ask investors to invest in sectors that will improve the living standards of Africans, empower Africans economically and generally lead to the growth of the continent. Africans should not be blinded by fleeting luxuries from investors that further retrogress the continent. Let investors invest in higher education and health. We want to see an infrastructure base that will enable specialists to be trained here in Africa. Then shall we know that they are for us. 

I am not against foreign investors. Probably, there are many genuine investors seeking opportunities in Tanzania but our government officials, though educated, have embraced underdevelopment as their lot and hence see no problem in Tanzania. Such leaders cannot effectively advise and guide on investment. Today the government that owns Tanzanite, natural gas, gold, national parks, rivers, lakes and highest mountain in Africa ( I mean Kilimanjaro) is asking its citizens to construct 822 classrooms!! What a wonder!

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