Moving a country’s capital city has always been contentious. When, in 1973, Tanzania decided to move its capital from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma, it was joining a number of countries in and outside Africa which had decided to move their national capitals to a new locations.
Examples of the countries shifting their capitals included Malawi (from Zomba to Lilongwe), Brazil (Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia), Nigeria (Lagos to Abuja), and Cote d’Ivoire (Abidjan to Yamoussoukro). These four countries had successfully moved their capital by 1993. In that year, a paper titled ‘Will Dodoma ever be the Capital of Tanzania’ was published. It analysed, why, 20 years after making the decision, the Tanzanian government had not moved to Dodoma.
The reasons for that failure included lack of resources - especially in the light of adverse national economic problems - feet-dragging by officials, the attraction of Dar es Salaam, and waning political will. The approach taken then was to create a Capital Development Authority (CDA), which would develop the essential infrastructure and move the government step after step over a period of 10 years. By 1983, the whole government was supposed to have moved to Dodoma. Although not officially abandoned, the capital movement project died a slow death as political, economic and social activities continued to flourish in Dar es Salaam.
The shifting of the capital was revived with renewed vigour during the Presidency of the late John Magufuli. His approach was: move immediately and build the necessary infrastructure in situ. The CDA was abolished. A Government area was identified and Ministries were all given an area and a budget to construct their office accommodation and strict deadlines were given.
As of today all government ministries as well as major public institutions have their head offices in Dodoma. With the demise of President Magufuli, however, these seems to be some second thinking. At least two articles have appeared in newspapers recommending the abandonment of the capital shifting undertaking. An entrepreneur I talked to, and who is investing in Dodoma, hinted at a sombre mood in the capital, with some investors adopting a wait and see attitude, as speculation in a possible abortion of the whole project is rife.
Recently, the Speaker expressed his concern. Winding up Parliamentary business on 10th September 2021, he tasked ministers why they have decided to hold many conferences, workshops, and seminars in Dar es Salaam, and not in Dodoma, the national capital.
The Speaker queried as who was in control of ministerial expenditures since every time ministers move to Dar es Salaam, they do so with their assistants, which entails huge budgetary implications for transport and per diem allowances.
There is no doubt that Dar es Salaam continues to be attractive. Indeed, come every Friday afternoon, fleets of buses are seen bringing hundreds of Dodoma residents to Dar es Salaam for the weekend. These include those who live as a split family, with one half in Dodoma and the other in Dar es Salaam. Many people too, had invested and continue to invest in Dar es Salaam. Some investors, especially in real estate, would like to see reverse action, since there seems to be, as of now, a property glut in Dar es Salaam, partly attributed to the shifting of the government to Dodoma.
Fortunately, there are no signs of the government reversing its decision. Construction is continuing in Dodoma, of government offices, residences, the State House, International Airport and major infrastructure. The President’s crie de guerre of ‘Kazi Iendelee’ is very reassuring.
There cannot be a shortage of reasons why a country should not move its capital city. Key among these is the enormous cost of doing so. The biggest problem however, is usually making the decision, and implementing it.
These have already been done, so there should not be any backpedaling, since this means doubling the cost of movement.
Imagine all the records that must have been lost or misplaced during the move from Dar es Salaam. Imagine all the furniture, machinery and equipment that were moved. You do not want to repeat that.
A lot of investment has already been sunk in Dodoma. We have to live by the Swahili adage: ‘Maji ukiyavulia nguo, huna budi kuyaoga.’ We have undressed - and we must take the bath. Others have done it. We have already done it.
The Government, for its part, should wean Dar es Salaam from its grip by strengthening city governance structures - and let the city develop as a mature and competitive institution.