Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Key to Progress: People, Land, Good Leadership and Good Policies?

I simply hate to circle around an idea or an individual. Nonetheless, sometimes the temptation to dance around an idea or a person is so great. I just couldn’t help myself going back to the same old Nyerere thing. Please bear with me. I promise I will make it insightful and meaningful.

As I said before, it is difficult to discuss the Tanzanian experience without being drawn into throwing Nyerere into the mix. My personal belief is that in order for Tanzania to progress, some of the foundational philosophies have to be thrown out of the window, if not debunked so that we can all see their weaknesses.

We can’t build a strong structure if the foundation is weak, can we? And that’s the point.

In setting the stage for his vision, Mwalimu Nyerere once asserted that in order for Tanzania to progress, the country needs four key elements – People, Land, Good Leadership and Good Policies.

The Mwalimu tried, but boy, how “great” his idea was.

Maybe I am missing something, but I never heard of any other speech where Mwalimu Nyerere explained why he was utterly convinced that those elements are foundational elements for development. Furthermore, I don’t know of any speech where he ranked those elements in their degree of importance or gave a definition of those elements. As such, it safe to assume Mwalimu believed those elements to be equal and universal, as I don’t know of anywhere Mwalimu considered those elements be Tanzania specific. I would be more that happy to be if anyone could direct to any sources that contradict my thinking.

My personal conviction is that all those elements are not equal, and in reality, some of the elements are just a subset of a primary element. Let me break that down...

Let’s take land for instance. Where in the world did Nyerere come up with land as a key element for development? The reality is this – every country, be it on an island or otherwise – is founded on some piece of land. Can you have a country without a piece of land? If Nyerere meant a larger or fertile piece of land, then there is no empirical evidence to prove that the size of land is correlated to the degree of progress in any one country.

Given that the size of land is not correlated to progress, the key issue must be what the people of a particular country do with their land.

What people do with their land or other resources is a question of the people's "quality", that is their ingenuity, resourcefulness, attitude, etc. I give Nyerere credit for identifying "people" as a key element for progress, but equating people to land on the degree of importance was crazy or shortsighted of him. See, the truth is this – human capital (that is, people) – trumps all elements. History has proven that great human capital generates great ideas. Look around, do you think Switzerland is ahead of Tanzania because the Swiss have a huge piece of land? Even further, what is size of land do you think Bill Gates needed to be a billionaire?

You get the idea.

I know Nyerere is not here to change his idea, but the current Tanzanian society can reshape some of the foundational principles on which the country is built on. Certainly, that would require us to embrace "people" as the main ingredient to progress. The other two elements – good leadership and good policies – emanates from people. I have said this before; leaders are a subset of a larger society. As such, crazy leaders are just a reflection of the society from which they come from. If you think Kikwete stinks, then that is just a reflection of the entire Tanzanian society, generally speaking. Of course, there are exceptions.

After all that yapping I have done, may I propose to you that lack of quality people, not land, good policies, or good leadership is the main reason for lack of progress in Tanzania?

I’m not an expert on how the Tanzanian society could start producing quality people, but I know the right type of education would do the trick. Can I also suggest that a major paradigm shift is needed in Tanzania, as attitudes, mindset and cultural tendencies are major propellers or hindrances towards progress? All that could work if Tanzanian society is willing to make a change.

And that’s up to my fellow Bongolanders.
Photo Credit: www.undp.org