THINKING ALOUD: Are slogans, declarations and SDGs the key to development?

Thursday June 22 2017

Professor Zulfiqarali Premji

Professor Zulfiqarali Premji 

By Prof Zulfiqarali Premji

Tanzania is not poor, but it was poorly managed and that’s the main reason for the prevailing poverty. The rich and developed nations did not have MDGs and SDGs yet they developed and more recently, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) neither did they have these global slogans and declaration yet they are now recognised as middle-income countries.

These global declarations are nothing but semantics, something like a high school wish list for how to save the world. They are meant to keep busy and pay high salaries to so-called aid experts.

For example, the structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were the greatest single cause of poverty since colonialism and these are never mentioned in any of these slogans.

I think this is the period of renaissance in Tanzania and we should be focused and concentrate on good governance, political stability, invest in human resource, exploit the full potential of agriculture, create a better business environment, institute social reforms to improve equity, improve infrastructure, energy sector and regulatory concerns. The over arching theme is work hard to earn your living.

None of these slogans talk about tax evasion and tax avoidance, which drain developing countries of $1.7 trillion each year. Then there’s debt service, which drains another $700 billion per year; instead of demanding cancellation, the SDGs call for “debt financing, debt relief, and debt restructuring, as appropriate,” which specifically means that debts will not be cancelled

Western countries have promised to double aid to Africa, but have not been keeping this promise. Also, African countries suffer form Western protectionism. European cows receive subsidies of $2 a day, while Japanese cows receive subsidies of $4 a day in both cases more than African GDP.


Notwithstanding the blame game with the label of eternal hope, and hoping and praying for a renaissance, Tanzania is indeed now seeing a renaissance in the horizon. To some extent, Africa is still considered the continent of lost hope and while Asia exceeded all expectations, Africa dashed its hope. Despite this concern there is a rekindled hope for Tanzania.

There are still many challenges and the process of development is at times painful. One biggest challenge is to recognise and be aware that mass impoverishment is the product of extreme wealth accumulation and overconsumption by a few, which entails processes of enclosure, extraction, and exploitation along the way. You can’t solve the problem of poverty without challenging the pathologies of accumulation. While Tanzania moves forward, the benefits of development should not be skewed and despite our diversity and heterogeneity, which is our strength, everyone who works hard should taste the fruits of progress.

The indications are positive and we see that some serious engagement has started with the private sector and hopefully the private sector entrepreneurship will improve. Many challenges lay ahead, for example there are about 27 acts implemented by 19 Agencies to directly regulate interface with SMEs, this creates a negative environment for start up businesses. According to surveys, African countries are the most difficult in the world in which to do business. Access to finance, infrastructure, institutions and skills are the most severe constraints cited by entrepreneurs. African countries have the highest levels of corruption and Tanzania is no exception. Currently corruption in the country seems to have gone down but there is still significant corruption and the dynamics may have changed. At the Immigration department if you apply for a passport you are told that the passport books are out of stock but at Sh200,000 the book is immediately available. Thus by changing work stations of civil workers corruption will not go down-more needs to be done.

Eliminating poverty will require more than charity, it will require reducing inequality, combating climate change, strengthening labor rights, and above all serious hard work, going beyond the required routine.

These global slogans do not mention about the unfair trade regime of the World Trade Organisation, and the bilateral trade deals like the one Tanzania has refused to endorse a regional trade pact with the European Union, saying the deal stood in its way to industrialisation. The Economist recently called the 169 SDG proposed targets “sprawling and misconceived,” “unfeasibly expensive” at $2–3 trillion per year, and so unlikely to be realised that they amount to “worse than useless” a betrayal of the world’s poorest people.”

Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible; and suddenly you will be doing the impossible.