What you need to know:
- Tourism is about more than natural wonders such as Serengeti, Ngorongoro, and Mount Kilimanjaro, which we make it about but also about immersing oneself in a country’s rich cultural tapestry and architectural marvels.
Nestled in the heart of Europe is a captivating country that boasts a rich tapestry of history, culture, and beauty. Poland, situated at the centre of Europe, serves as a bridge between the East and the West, offering a unique perspective on the world.
I recently had the pleasure of touring Poland, and my experience shattered my preconceived notions and opened my eyes to the tremendous potential that this remarkable nation holds.
My journey began with a visit to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, a choice that I initially found curious but turned out to be the perfect introduction to Poland. The museum breathed life into the past, immersing me in the struggles and resilience of the Polish people. The Warsaw Uprising serves as a microcosm of Poland’s history—a nation squeezed between powerful neighbours, enduring countless challenges and destruction, yet always emerging stronger and rebuilding from the ruins.
As I ventured through Poland, this theme echoed in every corner of the country. Warsaw itself stood as a testament to resilience and growth. Communist-styled buildings and wide highways mingled with sleek skyscrapers, representing Poland’s rapid development and its appeal to multinational companies such as Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Amazon, Accenture, and General Electric. These towering structures symbolised the beacon of opportunity and innovation that Poland has become in its region.
While the modernisation of Poland impressed me, it was the country’s architectural heritage and old towns that truly captivated my heart. Exploring the cities of Warsaw, Lublin, and Gdansk, I discovered many a hidden gem. The grandeur of Poland’s historical attractions, coupled with delightful dining experiences, left me in awe. When travelling abroad, you often visit restaurants which are quite pretentious in their presentations – minuscule morsels on oversized plates and perplexing dishes. But I found Polish dishes to be rich, sensible, and delicious. Tourism is about more than natural wonders such as Serengeti, Ngorongoro, and Mount Kilimanjaro, which we make it about but also about immersing oneself in a country’s rich cultural tapestry and architectural marvels.
During my time in Gdansk, I had the pleasure of meeting Krzysztof Buzalski, Poland’s ambassador to Tanzania. Krzysztof, a native of Gdansk, shared stories of his experiences during the communist era and his appreciation for the blessings of his homeland. His tales of how resilient and resourceful his mother was in coping with the situation resonated with me – wherever you go, mothers are the best. The ambassador and I both share a belief in Tanzania’s great potential; however, whether that potential will ever be realised is a completely different matter.
Poland’s journey since the fall of communism has been remarkable. From a low starting point, the country has experienced significant economic growth, with its GDP increasing tenfold to nearly $700 billion by 2022. Poland’s favourable location in Central Europe, skilled workforce, and well-developed infrastructure have contributed to its success. However, Poland recognises the need to further internationalise its economy for sustained growth, which has led to its focus on Africa as a strategic partner. With twelve embassies already established on the continent and plans for more, Poland aims to forge meaningful connections and seize opportunities for collaboration.
Of particular interest to the East African region is the forthcoming embassy in Rwanda. Rwanda has actively forged close connections with Poland: last year, 789 Rwandans went to Poland for higher learning, compared to only 108 Tanzanians. Unlike Tanzanians, Rwandans must travel to Dar es Salaam to make their visa applications. Surely, a dedicated embassy is more than Rwanda deserves. That said, the numbers of students we send abroad – in this case, to Poland – are depressingly low compared to other nations. I will expand on this subject more in a future article.
As I engaged with various individuals in Poland, including African students studying there, I was struck by the humility of the Polish people. Despite their achievements, they remain modest and constantly seek ways to improve. Their views expressed a profound sense of purpose—an attitude I have seldom encountered, except through my engagement with, say, the Chinese and the Israelis. When a nation possesses such a high degree of purpose, greatness usually beckons.
The question we must ask ourselves is how we respond to nations like Poland. They understand the importance of strategic partnerships and actively seek them out. They are unafraid to take risks and engage with others as equals. Poland’s strategy for Africa exemplifies this approach. However, this window of opportunity will not remain open indefinitely. As Poland grows and develops a strong national brand enjoyed by big powers in Africa, it will start to negotiate from a position of strength. I have personally talked to directors of Polish companies eager to invest millions of dollars in Tanzania. If we fail to act proactively, we risk missing out on mutually beneficial collaborations.
My visit to Poland served as a reality check, highlighting the developmental divide between our nations. It is easy to become absorbed in our own narratives and assume that we are on a trajectory toward development. However, witnessing the progress and potential of a country like Poland makes me wonder – if countries like Poland are on a development path, which path are we currently on?