‘The Royal Tour’ projects light at the end of the tunnel

The initial announcement of President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s brainchild, The Royal Tour documentary, was not met with much enthusiasm in Tanzania.

Many people were quite cynical about the idea, particularly the part where the President stars in it. If you want to attract tourists, people argued, why not get “Bongo” celebs such as Hamisa Mobetto, Diamond, or Haji Manara to do the job for you?

People’s cynicism was not unfounded. Youth, beauty, and popularity sell. So, the idea of using an outwardly conservative person to champion a marketing campaign was considered unorthodox. However, today, The Royal Tour increasingly looks like a strategic masterstroke, creating all the right kind of noises for Tanzania.

That’s the vibe that we get from the United States.

According to the latest communique, during the trip where the Head of State met, among others, the VP of the US, the World Bank president, and the WTO president, the Tanzanian team signed agreements for projects to be implemented in Tanzania worth $5.04 billion with the potential to employ over 300,000 people.

Not a bad return for a week’s engagement.

After six years in the wilderness, Tanzania can surely use a hard reboot of its international relations. The Royal Tour is a sequel to the efforts that are being made to bring light back to the nation.

In today’s world, going it alone is not an option. All nations that have made it have done so through more, and not less, globalisation. Shunning integration implies little or no economic growth. Even for losing globalisers, the solution is not less globalisation, but more of it.

Thus, the government’s efforts to reintegrate the nation with the rest of the world are praiseworthy.

The same can be said of the government’s decision to make tourism a priority, given its importance to the economy. In 2019, when Tanzania attracted 1.6 million tourists, tourism brought in $6.6 billion to Tanzania and employed 1.6 million people – 11 percent of Tanzania’s workforce.

That said, despite the presence of world-famous attractions such as Mount Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti, the number of tourists and associated receipts can be much higher. For example, Tanzania’s 1.6 million annual tourist arrivals pale in comparison with nations such as Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa, which each receive more than 10 million visitors. Given Tanzania’s massive comparative advantage for nature tourism, it is not inconceivable to attract 5 million tourists or more a year with little effort. Hence, the President’s efforts to unlock that potential, especially after the Covid-precipitated slump, cannot be overemphasised.

Then there is that $5.04 billion in business deals. If there was ever a question about Tanzania’s economic potential, then this should provide the answer.

Foreign direct investments (FDIs) are the growth fuel of modern economies. The amount of FDIs a nation receives is usually a very good indicator of the competitiveness of its economy – the higher the FDIs, the more attractive the economy. It is no wonder then that the two biggest economies in the world – the US and China – are also leading in terms of FDIs received, with inflows in the US being in excess of $400 billion in 2016.

In Tanzania, FDIs peaked during the Kikwete years when Tanzania overtook Kenya in inflows among EAC member states. However, FDIs tumbled from an average of $1.6 billion in Kikwete’s last five years to $0.94 billion during the Magufuli years. In five years, Tanzania wasted opportunities worth at least $4 billion – even after discounting growth. That has led to significant pent-up investment demand, which the government is now capitalising on, and that is encouraging. It shows that President Hassan has her priorities right. That is called leadership.

Tanzania requires billions of dollars to be invested in the economy every year to unlock its economic potential. For instance, at least $10 billion is required by 2025 for Tanesco to meet its targets. About $30 billion is needed to kick-start the LNG project. Some $4.3 billion is required for the Mtwara Development Corridor. Thus, from sector to sector and project to project, it is the same story.

The Royal Tour brings to light a number of things:

One, that it is possible for leaders to choose to compete politically by doing the right things. Until now the trend has been to suppress or kill the Opposition. But why not choose to deal with the Opposition by getting things done instead? Tanzanians aren’t stupid. They will know who to thank for their development.

Two, that Tanzania can be transformed very fast. Foreigners don’t invest in a country out of benevolence. They do so because they have something to gain. The good thing is that Tanzania has a lot to offer, so the potential for change is massive. It is all about political will.

Three, that Tanzania needs a long-term economic vision. Economic success is the outcome of doing the right things consistently. The US didn’t become the world’s biggest economy by growing in leaps and bounds. It grew at an average rate of 2 percent for 150 years. They aren’t doing so bad, are they? Without a long-term plan, Tanzania risks getting another loose cannon at the top who believes that all economic wisdoms don’t matter.

Here’s to hoping for a new beginning.