Hope fades for Dar as MCC shuts office

Sunday October 2 2016


By Syriacus Buguzi @buguzi sbuguzi@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. Tanzania has been forced back to the drawing board to find ways of completing multi-million dollar US-funded projects as its troubled relations with the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) hit new lows on Friday.

Reliable sources told The Citizen on Sunday yesterday that the MCA closed shop in Dar es Salaam two days ago in what could be the end of the road for negotiations on Tanzania’s $472 million funding approval by the US agency.

This means the government will have to either swallow its pride and seek new ways of re-establishing its relations with the MCA, or dig in and find alternative funding to see through mega infrastructural projects that it hoped would be funded to completion by the US agency.

Tanzania, a long time partner and once a darling of the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC), found itself in the US agency’s black book in the aftermath of the controversial cancellation of the Zanzibar election results last year.

But relations had taken a free-fall a little less than two months earlier after the government enactment the cybercrime law, condemned by the US and human rights campaigners as an infringement on the freedom of the press and expression. Some complain that the law, which came into effect less than two months before the 25 October general election, is aimed at silencing voices critical of the government and ruling party.

However, in announcing its decision to suspend its partnership with the Tanzanian government in March this year, the MCC cited the annullment of the Isles polls as the major factor. A statement issued through the US embassy in Dar es Salaam said in part that it (MCC) was suspending “all activities related to the development of a second compact with Tanzania.”

This was after the two parties signed what was, at that time, the largest compact in the corporation’s history in February 2008 -- a five-year, $698.1 million compact in February 2008. It was designed to benefit more than five million Tanzanians by investing in the country’s economic growth and reducing poverty in the three project areas of transport, energy and water.

However, the move by the MCC would not affect Tanzania’s bilateral relations with the US. The country remains one of the major US development partners, with nearly $600 million in assistance coming from the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (Usaid) this year.

Responding to the MCC’s shock decision in March, the government said it would address the shortcomings cited by the US agency, and assured Tanzanians it was working towards ensuring that the financing was re-secured.

But with the latest decision by the MCC to close its Dar es Salaam offices, that mission seems to have flopped.

The MCC’s decision to suspend its partnership with Tanzania is consistent with similar decisions it has made in the past.

High profile partners such as the Honduras and Armenia have been through a similar experience with the MCC, according to reports.

After the MCC Board of Directors deferred a vote on the reselection of Tanzania for compact eligibility, President John Magufuli said it was an opportunity for Tanzania to start reducing its dependence on foreign aid and stand on its own. “We need to stand on our own. If you are a farmer, you need to farm hard, if you are a fisherman, fish hard, or if you are employed anywhere, then work hard so that Tanzania and Tanzanians can get rid of donor dependence,” the President said while addressing a public rally.

For more than two decades now, Tanzania has been the second-largest recipient of US assistance in sub-Saharan Africa, behind Ethiopia (which has double the population) and has averaged $545 million in aid each year since then, sources show.

The country remains a beneficiary in almost every US-Africa aid programmes. It is among the largest recipients of funding through President Obama’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar).

The US President’s Malaria Initiative - a bipartisan effort begun by former President George W. Bush to reduce the burden of malaria in Africa and Southeast Asia - has also mainly focused on Tanzania.

In addition, the country was the largest recipient of Feed the Future programming, and was among the first five focus countries of Power Africa - the Obama administration’s effort to improve access to affordable, reliable electricity.

There are clear indications that all these programmes will be sustained.

From what happened between other countries and the MCC, it was believed that had Tanzania backed down it could have been reinstated. However, Tanzania’s reinstatement required corrective measures on Zanzibar’s political situation - which the government has suggested is normal. Apparently, the US doesn’t see it that way.

Recently, the US envoy in Tanzania expressed concerns over the government’s crackdown on the opposition and its tendency to stifle freedom of expression. The Citizen on Sunday is still making efforts to contact the Ministry of Finance and Planning and the US Embassy following the MCC’s decision to cease its activities in Tanzania.