The name ‘Shamim Khan’ is probably new to many readers of my column. But to those of us who have known her for quite some time, Ms Khan is a distinguished Tanzanian who is the leader of the Muslim Women Association of Bakwata, and chair of the women’s league of the Inter-Faith Association.
Ms Khan tells the story of how when she was a deputy minister for Trade and Industry decades ago a Kagera Region businessman interrupted a regional trade officer at a meeting and asked for which country she was a deputy minister...!
Undoubtedly, this was because the businessman did not know that Ms Khan was a Tanzanian citizen of Indian extraction dating back several generations ago, from when Asiatics came to East Africa as rail-way construction labourers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries!I recently had the pleasure of interacting with Ms Khan, and asked her to compare the current ‘Doing Business’ environment with what it was in her days during the 2nd-phase government of President Ali Hassan Mwinyi (1985-95) and the 3rd phase government President Benjamin William Mkapa (1995-2005).“Our biggest challenge as Tanzania in terms of business is our mindsets.
We have been unable to put our finger on the problem for a long time,” Ms Khan said.
“We have a major problem on our hands because government officials have yet to appreciate that we are competing with the rest of the world. In my time (as deputy Trade and Indus-try minister), there was no social media, so information took a long time to reach people. Today, every-thing is at your fingertips,” she says.
“The problem is that we want the benefits of post-20th century information technology vis-à-vis a bureaucratic civil service system that continues to operate in the 1960s mode; a bureaucracy that is the alpha and omega of all decisions-making,” says Ms Khan adding that the Civil Service should be an enabler, not a mere issuer of permits and permissions.
As President John Magufuli told public servants recently, inordinate bureaucracy is bad for investments, and under-mines investments promotion efforts.
“This is what convinces me that we have yet to get to the root of the problem,” Ms Khan says.
“Our civil servants are quick to think about this,” she gestures with her hand in the unspoken universal language which symbolises cash counting: rubbing the right thumb across the forefinger repeatedly. “They invariably put personal interests before any-thing else to the extent that their offices operate more or less like contact points only.
In her assessment, Ms Khan herself a stalwart member of the veteran ruling party CCM, a former Member of Parliament and a former deputy Trade and Industry minister com-mends the Dr Magufuli administration, even as she sympathises with him, explaining that “the President is being let down in a big way by his watendaji government bureaucrats.Across the length and breadth of the otherwise hallowed United Republic that was put together by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the lamentation of the business community in general is about unmitigated government bureaucracy.
No wonder the Trade-Mark East Africa Country Director, John Ulanga, reckons we need a new religion: a complete metamorphosis from the usual government control to a free market economy for real.
Under the patronage of Ms Khan, Purple Planet on May 1 last year brought together and formally acclaimed self-employed women for their gallant but unrecognised work.
Women who operate assorted businesses narrated the hurdles that a woman doing business in Tanzania has to perforce surmount, including a real possibility of marital differences, and even separation from their loved ones.
More often than not, the challenges stem from the reality that our society has been ‘internalised,’ and that women must be dependents of men and, as such, they are not expected to own the means of production, including productive land.
Without a change in our mindset, our communities will remain poor till Kingdom come...!
Kasera Nick Oyoo is a research and communications consult-ant with Midas Touché East Africa