- The Citizen Managing Editor, Mr Mpoki Thomson recently held an exclusive interview with four Nordic ambassadors to Tanzania. These were: Denmark’s Mette Norgaard Dissing-Spandet, Finland’s Riitta Swan, Norway’s Elisabeth Jacobsen and Sweden’s Anders Sjoberg. The interview focused on business, political and other historical ties between Nordic countries and Tanzania, highlighting the ups and downs, lessons learnt and future goals and expectations as they try to forge a path to prosperity.
Question: Tanzania and the Nordic countries have long term historical ties. What would you say cements the cordial relation between the two sides?
Answer: We have very long historic relations and they have also been very friendly and characterised by a mutual understanding, trust and confidence. I think the key word is trust and being able to build up a very good relationship.
We also have had wide cooperation, working with all stakeholders in the society like the government, private sector, civil society and academia, and we have done this in a very holistic way.
Q: The first ever Business Climate Survey for Nordic Companies in Tanzania 2019 viewed the Tanzanian business environment to consist of largely unfavourable terms; what are some of the issues you want addressed by the current government to improve business relations?
A: As ambassadors, particularly of Nordic embassies, we try to engage with the business community. We have a wide variety of business represented for different countries and we try to engage with them to create platforms so that business people can also meet with government representatives to exchange ideas, so we had such an exchange way back in 2018 and the business community identified a wide range of topics they saw to be challenging.
We commissioned Repoa to conduct the first Nordic business climate survey where around 135 companies participated, to see what issues, opportunities and challenges the Nordic companies face in Tanzania.
What we do know is that most of these companies have been investing here for a long time, for instance, the truck maker Scania, a well-known brand that has been around for several decades.
The issues that arose, although not surprising, included work permits, tax related issues while companies in Zanzibar talked about trade barriers between Zanzibar and the mainland.
We then had an exchange between the business community and the Minister for Industry and Trade, Mr Kitila Mkumbo, who also shared his views and response to the issues that were raised in the report and we all left the meeting hopeful.
Q: Did the report offer any recommendations from the Nordic companies to the government in addressing some of the challenges?
A: We recommended that the government look into the main challenges regarding taxes and how they are collected, permits for work and immigration and other issues related to skills development so that there is relevant competence for businesses when they start up and recruit Tanzanians.
We came up with recommendations but we got to learn recently that these concerns are not only of the Nordic businesses but are echoed all across, including by domestic businesses as was shared by many of the ministers in parliament.
We understood that these are common concerns and were very pleased to hear Mkumbo’s commitment to work to rectify the situation.
Q: The Tanzanian government is in the process of reviewing 22 laws related to trade and investment; what else do you think needs to be looked at to improve the business environment in the country?
A: It is not for us to look into specific laws; rather, it is the investment climate that we would like looked into by government. We have seen a clear recognition by the government that Tanzania is not alone in the world and that it is part of the international competition so if you want investment it is not only about Tanzanian issues but about comparing yourself to immediate neighbours and others that compete for the same business.
The Minister once said that the best ambassadors for Tanzania are actually the businessmen themselves, because we play a role here to guide companies and investors.
We always try to see ourselves as individuals that connect the dots, so that, for instance, if someone is interested in the mining sector, we try to connect them with the authorities and also reach out to the peers in the sector.
Part of the Nordic week has been to talk about how to create a conducive and sustainable growth in Tanzania. You need the government, the market and the community all moving in the same direction and working together in the best way possible.
That is a really difficult balance and I think our countries have been struggling with this balance since the beginning of time. It is not the same balance for every country, neither is it the same at every point in time.
We would like to see the government try to clarify the regulatory systems and then leave space for the private sector to be the entry point so that there is a division of labour. We would also like to have a stable and predictable legal framework for business.
We have heard from the Tanzanian government that we should be promoters of investment in Tanzania but it’s also clear that for us to advice our respective companies we need to portray an honest picture of what we see.
We have also seen business es that have been here for a long time close shop because they can no longer make ends meet for many reasons.
So even though we discussed the more generic issues: law, credibility, legislation, administration, tax collection, there is a clear recognition from the government that if there is no trust from the private sector to the government and from the government to the private sector, it cannot work.
Q: Are you confident that things will change for the better and bring a positive outlook for the future despite the negative sentiments on business operations in Tanzania?
A: We do have some concerns that came out of our meeting with the Minister of Industry and Trade. He understands our concerns and it is important for investors who come here to understand that the government also sees that there are challenges and it is willing to work on them and that is a big first step to recognising challenges, bringing change in attitudes and mindsets as well as changes in the law.
Since there have been discussions over a number of years on how to improve the business climate, it would be fair to say businesses are expecting to see actual change but we need patience and the business community is aware that it does not change overnight.
If you look at the global index ease of doing business by the World Bank, what came out in our study was very similar. They have very clear and concrete indicators that investors look at because they risk their money somewhere.
Our hope is that Tanzania will start planning on that index.
Q: What is your take on the current regime under President Samia Suluhu Hassan, especially on economic and diplomatic reforms?
A: We see lots of hope and positive messages. We have also been engaging with the new Foreign Minister, Liberata Mulamula and she has said that one of her tasks is to strengthen and develop relations with international communities. That is something that is very important for us diplomats to hear and I could say we have entered into constructive dialogues with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a range of other ministries.
Across the board, we see there is a strong engagement from the government and we believe in dialogues to see where we can work together
We are struck by the very positive signals coming from the President, her very active work in the last two months. She signals openness and transparency and we are pleased that she talked about the business environment very early when she said changes need to be done quickly to create a conducive environment and strengthen Tanzania’s engagement not only with neighbouring countries but also with other international communities.
She is also reaching out domestically to political parties, civil societies and more and we think that will benefit Tanzania’s development. When you open up for dialogue, you lead the country in the right direction.
Q: Is there any other area or something specific that you might recommend for the government to look into that hasn’t been looked into yet?
A: Not particulalryl; What she has been signalling very positively is freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. All these basic human rights and civic rights are very close to the hearts of the Nordic and other countries and it brings Tanzania back to that space where people can express themselves more freely.
Q: Do you think the Tanzanian government is doing enough to address the Covid-19 pandemic?
A: It’s no secret that we had wished that things would move differently for a long time.
We have now seen the recommendations from the national task force and we are impressed with the quality of recommendations and are convinced that the government is looking into them and they seem to be aligned with Covid-19 approach from across the world. Things in Tanzania will now go in the right direction.
We are very pleased that a task force was established to advice while following scientific evidence and to see what the rest of the world is doing. We are pleased that Tanzania has decided to join international efforts.
Q: Denmark’s relation with Tanzania is coined around three priority areas: Inequality and poverty reduction, promotion of inclusive green growth employment, and strengthening democracy, good governance, rule of law and respect for all human rights. How would you assess the government’s performance in these key areas and what do you think needs to be done to ensure optimum success?
Mette Norgaard Dissing-Spandet: The overall relationship between Denmark and Tanzania is similar to other Nordic countries. Across the board, it has been developed over time and when it comes to development cooperation we have been in as many sectors as you can think of.
Currently we are in four main areas; microeconomics (enabling Tanzania to better generate its own resources), tax mobilization programmes as well as public financial management programmes by engaging with the Tanzanian government to share experience on how Tanzania can better mobilize money.
In the health sector, together with the government, there is a basket fund that we support with other development partners to fund clinics all across the country.
On business development, we mostly focused on the agricultural sector trying to build access to markets and access to finance.
On good governance, we work with the parliament, human rights institutions and civil society organisations to support these baskets. This is important in helping Tanzania keep itself in check with accountability, expression in civic space democratic space, press freedom.
Q: What specific role(s) is Denmark playing to ensure democracy is observed in Tanzania?
A: That’s a difficult question; I think we were all clear we were not convinced that the 2020 general elections were free and credible and we hope to see more independence in institutions monitoring the campaigns.
Q: Tanzania is among Norway’s 10 partner countries for long term development. What’s your take on the government’s review of 22 laws related to trade and investment, considering the fact that development of businesses across different sectors is one of Norway’s areas of interest in Tanzania? Are there any specific laws that you would propose to be amended?
Elisabeth Jacobsen: Like Sweden, we have been here for over 60 years. We have had development cooperation and we focus on the general framework. We came to mobilise Tanzania’s own resources so that eventually Tanzania would not need development assistance.
We have a big programme for public financial management for tax reform and we are trying to build capacity for planning of financial resources.
We also contribute to sectors of energy, rural electrification and we see how people are when they get access to energy and how they use that for more productive use in business creating employment for many Tanzanians.
We are also active in the agriculture sector setting a framework for high productivity in agriculture and private and public sectors to find opportunities to work together.
We also put a lot of effort in human rights accountability and support gender equality which is common for Nordic countries.
Out of our development cooperation we also have very active political dialogues and we signed an MoU in 2017 for annual consultations where we have dialogues on global and regional issues.
We have a Nordic Africa initiative for strengthening multilateral issues because Tanzania is very firm and in support of the United Nations and the multilateral issue is under pressure. We are trying to reinvigorate multilateral cooperation, we have had a dialogue with Foreign Minister to take this forward.
Q: Is Tanzania among the top 10 countries for long term development for Norway or is this a historical view?
A: It is still part among the main countries for development, but it is not top 10 in terms of receiving money. However, Tanzania remains a priority country even though it is no longer among countries that received a lot of money for development. This is because there are other more fragile countries that need more support than Tanzania.
Q: Strategy for Swedish development cooperation with Tanzania for 2020-2024 covers inclusive economic development, among other areas. With the government’s move to improve the agricultural, livestock and fisheries industries in the next budget, what are some of the key issues you think should be looked at in order to achieve growth in the desired areas?
Anders Sjoberg: It comes back to what we discussed early on about the framework conditions that have been listed such as accountability and transparency. You need a predictable investment climate where rules and regulations are adhered to throughout the value chain from the farmer to the farm gate if you want to export globally.
So when you have these regulations in place everyone knows how the game is going to be played. You might need a certain kind of support credit or fertilize all kinds of things that go into that sector; but basically, it should be self-sufficient as it is based on principles of market value.
Q: On education, do you think there’s a need for an overhaul of Tanzania’s curriculum?
A: We are working very closely with the Ministry of Education for many years and what we cherish is free education. Of course there have been challenges on the sector itself due to a lack of teachers and of other capacities and that is where we try to come in.
With free education, you equip that person for life because a well-educated healthy person has the right conditions to get a job; our main effort is in the basic education to building quality.
Q: What’s your take on the role of technical institutions in the education sector; are they being fully utilized?
A: We haven’t been very engaged in technical training, but rather we look more into higher education and research and engage in that area.
Q: Finland is engaged in raising climate change awareness in Tanzania; how would you say the country is tackling the issue of climate change and what more do you propose to be done?
Riitta SWAN: Globally, Finland has been very active in trying to do our best against climate change. I believe the Finance Minister needs to be on board to tackle this and people need to be encouraged to take care of forests and fight against deforestation
Q: Let’s talk about Nordic week: What’s in store for the 2021 celebration?
A: This year we focused on two things: digital transformation and the role of the state community in entering the transformation.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are certain activities that we started refraining from undertaking, this began in 2020, but this year we managed to host different in-person activities that help to promote economic development but also provide a platform for cultural collaboration, exchange, and exposure, where cultures from Nordic countries through arts and film are exhibited to the general public. We are hopeful for more exciting events in the future.