On December 9, this year, finally about 44 plus million people from Tanzania, formerly known as Tanganyika, marked the 50th golden birthday of our nation with divided opinions.
Others think that as a nation, we have made some strong progress economically, politically and socially, while there are those who also believe we have failed as a nation to achieve our dream, a dream that led the founders of this country to fight for the independence from British colonialists.
To them, there’s nothing to celebrate in splendour and fanfare because during the past fifty years, we have recorded abysmal performances in economics and politics, with corruption and poor governance taking the lead in sinking Tanzania deep into the bottomless pitch of massive poverty.
While we highly appreciate the concern raised by those who believe we haven’t achieved what we were supposed to achieve in terms of development, we, at The Guardian on Sunday, believe at the age of 50, Tanzania has weathered so many storms and somehow gained good progress.
We can’t run away from our past, but still, we can’t also deny the truth about the storms that we weathered as a nation during the time when many African countries fell apart because of tribalism, internal divisions, military coups, the impacts of cold war and imperialism.
We can’t also shy away from telling the truth on what we have achieved as a nation in terms of development, though; it didn’t match with the expectations of many in this country. However, the truth is we have gained progress economically, politically and socially.
At an infant age, Tanzania was forced to take drastic measures especially in 1967, when the government introduced nationalisation, nationalising all private properties, in a move that was aimed at building equitable society by putting all major means of production in the custody of the State.
Done under the umbrella of Arusha Declaration, the measures failed to yield major positive results as expected, though at the beginning it looked like a very positive economic path fit for our country to follow in those days.
However before the Arusha Declaration, Tanzania survived perhaps one of the worse military mutinies in the history of our country. Just three years after independence, the then Tanganyika almost fell into the hands of the military regime, but thanks God, we survived as a nation.
As we moved on as a nation, we realised that without a free Africa, our independence was meaningless, and therefore decided to invest heavily in liberation struggle especially in Southern African countries.
With a very small and infant economy, Tanzania apart from supporting militarily the liberation of Africa also played a role of hosting prominent liberation struggle leaders.
This situation apart from ruining our coffer as a nation also attracted more enemies inside and outside Africa, and we paid the price heavily. From Johannesburg to Maputo, Windhoek to Harare, Kampala to Lusaka, Tanzania played a crucial role in liberating African countries.
Driven by the spirit of Pan Africanism, the move came with pride at the right hand, but at the left hand, it also came with a heavy price that hampered our economy at a great deal, considering the facts that we were an infant nation struggling to define its destiny.
While we were still pondering the liberation of African countries, suddenly, we were invaded by a mad man known as Dictator Iddi Amin Dada, the then military ruler of Uganda, who invaded our country in 1978.
Amin backed by Libya’s Colonel Muamar Gaddafi and other leaders of his calibre, claimed that part of Kagera region belonged to Uganda, and bombed our people, forcing the former oresident and father of the nation, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, to declare war with Uganda amid stiff opposition from African Union.
We bravely, but costly, fought the war with Uganda, and finally won at the end of 1979. But, the economic impacts caused by that war have come to haunt our economy as a nation for decades. We were forced to drain our foreign reserves to finance the war, and finally, we won but at a very heavy price.
At the time we were still counting the cost of war, Africa and the rest of the world faced severe shortage of oil that caused the price to tumble by 200 percent, a situation that affected us heavily for three years. The oil crisis plus the cost of fighting Amin changed our economy negatively, putting us at a brink of collapse. Our industries could not produce enough goods to satisfy the market demand, creating scarcity of basic goods, due to lack of capital, technology and modern management.
Suddenly, the once prosperous and export oriented economy buoyed by agriculture, and strong industry, became an import relied economy.
To tame the economic hardship of post war Tanzania, some folks advised Nyerere to introduce “operation economic saboteurs”, targeting mainly private businesspeople.
The operation proved futile because it was a result of an ill-conceived advice from some folks who failed to see the reality on the ground because they opted to be blind.
The impacts of this operation apart from filling our prisons worsened the situation, whereby we reached at the point of lacking basic goods like soaps, salts and sugar.
Tanzanians were forced again to queue for a piece of soap or a packet of salt. Owning a Television set was the biggest crime that could earn you twenty years in prison, while having an imported toilet soap from Kenya, was a criteria for you to qualify to be an economic saboteur.
We continued to struggle at a snail’s pace, taking one step ahead, but going back two steps, until when the second President Ali Hassan Mwinyi became the president in 1985. Alarmed by the acute scarcity of basic goods, Mwinyi introduced free economy for everything, aiming at curbing the acute shortage of goods in the country.
The situation somehow helped but since it wasn’t properly regulated, it became another big blow to our struggling manufacturing sector, and therefore affected our economy badly.
Some industries were forced to close their business because they couldn’t afford to compete with goods, which were smuggled into the country and sold at cheapest prices.
Today, our economy has rapidly plummeted a hundred times what it was in 1961, when we got our independence. In 1961, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is the value of goods and services produced in a country within a year was Sh7.2 billion, an equivalent of Sh766 income per capita.
Currently Tanzania’s GDP stands at Sh32.3 trillion, an equivalent of Sh770,464 income per capita. Though in numbers, it seemed like the economy has grown, in reality, we have sunk deep into the bottomless pitch economically.
The value of Sh766 of 1961 is equal to Sh7.6 million putting into considerations the exchange rate during that period plus the purchasing power of the local currency.
But as a nation, there are areas where we have gained some positive development during the past fifty years. When we got our independence, we had only 9 qualified medical doctors, but today, we have a total of 5,026 medical doctors.
There wasn’t any referral hospital in this country fifty years ago, but today, we have five modern referral hospitals.
We had only 3,238 primary schools fifty years ago but today, there are 16,001 schools. Though the quality of education has dwindled dramatically, the numbers of schools have increased, paving way for many children to access basic education.
There was only one tiny university fifty years ago, but today, we have 34 universities both public and private, with an estimated number of 100,000 students compared to just hundreds in 1961.
During independence, there was only 130km of tarmac roads, but, today we have built about 6,500 tarmac roads according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Works.
As we gained some progress, so did we fall down economically and socially, and therefore making our journey to a prosperous nation a day-dream especially after the resignation of the man who initiated the Tanzania dream, Julius K. Nyerere.
However one of the greatest and precious things that we have achieved is peace, unity and stability as a nation. It wasn’t easy in a continent torn apart by wars, tribalism, greedy, military coups and imperialism forces, to remain who we are even at the time when our neighbours who swimming in the pool of bloods caused by political and ethnical violence.
This is not just gift from God, but an achievement maintained and protected by all Tanzanians. We didn’t allow our economic hardships to destroy our nation. Despite all our problems, challenges and weaknesses, we still remained a united nation.
That’s why we at The Guardian on Sunday would like to say proudly, ‘congratulation and happy birthday Tanganyika, you have weathered so many storms and challenges.” God bless Tanzania, God bless Africa.