Does Tanzania employ wrong model of graft?

Op-ed in the Citizen of 12 June, 2010 by Rose Aiko

What if Tanzania’s problem is not that there is corruption, but that there is the wrong kind of corruption?

For the past thirty years the Chinese economy grew at about 10% per year and poverty reduced from over 80% to less than 5%. In Tanzania, by contrast, poverty has hardly changed.  Chinese development experience suggests that China’s breakneck growth was driven by a strong direction towards development by the Communist Party leadership.  This direction did not allow the country to get rid of corruption, which remained an area of great challenge for the Chinese government. However, the Chinese leadership thought hard about incentives and made sure its officials were promoted or sanctioned on the basis of their results in terms of economic growth. The result of this strong accountability of public officials has been that corrupt activities which had a strong negative impact on economic growth, were not permissible.

Is it possible that unlike China Tanzania employs the wrong model of corruption? In China corruption is a serious problem, but at least it is not allowed to undermine development.  At times, corrupt individuals have even been able to remain in positions where they can steal, but only where they deliver on the leaders’ agendas and bolster their legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

In Tanzania too, our officials and civil servants are under some sort of scrutiny from the ruling party. The difference between the two countries is that in China performance matters, whereas in Tanzania one is less certain. What indeed is the basis on which our Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Regional and District Commissioners, and other high officials get promoted or demoted?

Can we discern, based on the decisions of the last 10-20 years, a clear pattern of accountability? Do we have clear evidence that those leaders who have spurred economic growth, reduced poverty and delivered on their job are rewarded while those who have not are out the door? In China it seems they do! So when the official wakes up in the morning he (or she) knows there will be consequences.

It brings to mind the anecdote of a minister of infrastructure who visited his counterpart in China. When the visitor commented on the size of his host’s home, the latter pointed to the toll road at the horizon and said: “I made sure that road was built and that I get 5% of the toll proceeds”. Upon a return visit, the Chinese minister is invited to the home of his East African colleague who also lives in a beautiful house. Asking how he could afford it, the minister points to the thick forest and says: “You see that road? 100% went into my pocket.”

A key difference between China and Tanzania is that our officials enrich themselves regardless of its consequences for growth and poverty reduction. How else to explain why the port remains congested, why water and electricity services remain dismal, why railroad transport is a farce? How do we make sense of the fact that our schools are hollow veneers where there is little teaching and even less learning, and where children graduate unable to thrive? Or that half our health center positions remain unstaffed even as we build more hollow buildings or that half the public water points have broken down?

 The potential for growth and development is not realized because selfish individuals prevent these services from functioning adequately. And without development, only few get to eat from the little there is. If we could think creatively about shifting their incentives to favor growth, the pie would be much bigger, and we might all be much better off.

In many ways it is puzzling why the leadership is satisfied eating so little when much more could be had. Could our leaders not follow the example of their Chinese colleagues? The irony is that if they did so, everyone – the top officials and the ordinary people – may have more to eat.


Rose Aiko is a research analyst with Uwazi at Twaweza. Email This article represents her personal views.

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