There is much debate on the pros and cons of the US President’s visit to a country, considering how the common mwananchi in Tanzania was affected. According to the Ministry Foreign Affairs’ directives, upcountry people who intended to travel to Dar shortly before or during Obama’s stay were advised against doing so. Many streets, roads and facilities were closed down to give room for Obama to visit some projects. The country was held to ransom for three days as President Jakaya Kikwete laughed for enhancing such a ‘milestone’ visit.
Obama’s visit to Tanzania does not mean that all is rosy in the East African country. Ahead of his visit to Tanzania, the Committee to Protect Journalists asked him to touch on the tribulations that journalists in Tanzania face. Part of the letter to him read, “….several journalists have been attacked in connection with their work. In March, unknown assailants attacked Absalom Kibanda, chairman of Tanzanian Editor's Forum and managing editor of the New Habari media company, leaving the critical columnist with severe injuries. No one has been arrested. Local journalists also said they have often been threatened by officials and high-ranking businessmen via text messages, emails, or intermediaries. Reporters based outside the capital, Dar es Salaam, are often targeted, the sources said.”
When it comes to media freedom, Tanzania might compete with Eritrea, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Its media laws are archaic and draconic. For example, the 1976 Newspaper Act allows the information minister to employ his discretionary powers to suspend or even ban Newspapers or any publications he or she deems fit for the action.
The corruption in the country cannot be overlooked. It came to light a few months ago that Tanzania loses over one billion dollars in tax collection not to mention another big chunk of money that is lost to corruption annually. Government-owned Newspaper, the Daily News recently reported that the country loses Tsh 15 billion annually thanks to smuggling. It wrote, “The government suffers over 15bn/- loss annually in revenue due to smuggling and improperly taxed cement imports through Zanzibar, an industry source said in Dar es Salaam over the weekend.” Every year, the office of the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) unearth and report mega corruption scandals. Nobody has ever been held accountable. Sadly though, every year witnesses the surge in corruption.
Two days before Obama arrived in Tanzania; Kikwete was quoted saying that Tanzania is currently the most favoured country in investment. Unfortunately though, Tanzania has lagged behind economically due to the fact that investment is clouded by corruption. Insecurity too is on the rise as was witnessed during the recent grenade attack on a political rally in Arusha where CHADEMA was wrapping its local government election campaigns.
I know many people will say that the coming of Obama means more cooperation with Tanzania. Bill Clinton came to Tanzania and nothing changed. Essentially, Obama visited Tanzania not just because it is better than others. He came to erase or to minimize the Chinese influence in the region. Those in the know also quip that he visited Tanzania to make sure that the recently discovered uranium does not fall into wrong hands. So too, many types of minerals are being discovered in Tanzania something America needs to put a hand on before others do it. So, what attracted Obama to Tanzania is not democracy or good leadership but resources.
By Nkwazi Mhango
A Canada Based Tanzanian and author of Saa Ya Ukombozi