Our today’s edition leads with a story about the soaring cost of food items, spiralling almost uncontrollably this year compared to the past few years, thus hurting millions of Tanzanians.
According to our survey, basic food prices have shot up by a hundred per cent during the past six years as supplies tumbled while demand soared. Though official data show that inflation is currently raging at 24 per cent, the reality on the ground paints a gloomier picture than what the government would want the people to believe.
Whatever yardstick one uses, whether by market prices or the current inflation rate, the reality is very clear: the cost of living is out of reach for millions of families, which is a clear sign that the economy is performing awfully.
However, what puzzles many is that so far no one in government or the opposition camp seems to care much about the plight millions of Tanzanians have to contend with. There is a paucity of concrete measures which the government has taken to protect Tanzanians against soaring food prices.
The common man has been left to fend for himself as politicians and policymakers are busy indulging in cheap politics.
However, it appears that some of our leaders have very short memories. The Arabs Spring, which erupted in Tunisia early last year before it spread across the Arab world, was sparked by one major factor – the soaring cost of living! But our leaders seem to have forgotten even such a recent incident.
When men and women couldn’t afford to put bread on the table while their leaders led a luxurious lifestyle at their expense, the people rioted against their governments.
The outcome was both shocking and surprising. Leaders who had tenaciously clung to power for decades and couldn’t be removed through the ballot box or the barrel of the gun were easily ousted through what has now come to be known as people power.
Remember the Bill Clinton slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid”. The phrase gained currency in American politics during Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign against George Bush, Senior. For a time, Bush was considered unbeatable because of foreign policy developments, such as the end of the Cold War and the Persian Gulf War.
The phrase, a slight variation of a phrase created by Bill Clinton's campaign strategist James Carville, referred to the notion that Clinton was a better choice because Bush had not adequately addressed the economy, which had recently undergone a recession.
Clinton's campaign used the recession to successfully unseat George Bush. In March 1991, days after the ground invasion of Iraq, 90 per cent of polled Americans approved of President Bush's job performance.
Later, the following year, Americans' opinion had turned sharply: 64 per cent of those polled disapproved of Bush's job performance in August 1992. In the end, President Bush lost the election.
Today, we see unrest in Greece owing to the government’s austerity measures which it was forced to adopt in the wake of the Eurozone crisis, with hundreds of people demonstrating on the streets. Those demonstrating are hungry people who can’t afford the cost of living.
In Uganda we all remember opposition leader Colonel Kiza Besigye’s ‘walk to work’ demonstration, which was a move to protest high prices of fuel as well as soaring inflation in the country. The demonstrations rattled President Museveni’s regime to its roots.
We are not foretelling a similar chaotic situation for Tanzania, but it would be prudent to warn at this juncture that Tanzanians are no different from the rest of humanity when confronted with adversity such as the current soaring food prices.
We wish to tell the government and opposition leaders therefore that Tanzanians need to be protected against the soaring cost of food before the situation destroys our nation.
The government should seriously address the situation – and now. Its economists and other technocrats should put their heads together and come up with a solution to ease the current situation. Since this is a domestic problem, we believe there’s a home-grown solution to it without having to seek ‘expert’ advice from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The cabinet, the National Assembly and policymakers should take high food prices as their major agenda in next month’s national budget. Tanzanians have for too long borne the brunt of soaring inflation. It is time the government came to their rescue by coming up with measures to tame it or cushion the people against its ravages.