April 15, 2012
NEWS ANALYSIS: The President, Mining and The Rise of Populism

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By Omar Mohammed

In late February, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania gave a speech to mining sector stakeholders that caused a mighty uproar in the press. Speaking at Dar es Salaam’s Kilimanjaro Hyatt Hotel to launch the Presidential Award on the Extractive Industry Corporate Social Responsibility and Empowerment (CSRE) programme, the president was quoted as saying, ‘it’s disappointing to see some mining investors want to benefit alone… leaving the government and surrounding communities with nothing.’

According to published reports, President Kikwete told industry attendees that the lack of apparent benefits to local communities is a problem that, ‘triggers endless conflicts…between investors and residents living around the mining areas.’

‘If companies pay taxes that are due to the state… they will have good relations with the government,’ he added. In a tone that was described by one newspaper as ‘serious,’ he called for the creation of better linkages between the industry and other economic activities in the country. He said he was baffled by reports that mining companies choose to import goods from abroad that can be easily found in the country. “People… ask, “what do we get in return? Our gold is taken, companies have tax holidays and exemptions, [yet] they don’t even buy our goods or support us economically,”’ he said.

The speech and its perceived critical tone, especially, was unexpected. Reading the coverage, one would have been forgiven for mistaking the president’s comments for the kind of rhetoric usually associated with activists campaigning against perceived misdeeds by the mining sector. Mr. Kikwete was not only co-opting their message but in many ways he sounded like he was channeling their anger.

Meanwhile, the way the story unfolded in the media showed how narratives about the sector evolve and enter the public discourse. It began with the president giving what the media interpreted as a critical speech about the industry, which was then echoed by an incendiary press who amplified it to their readers who will, with complaints to public officials, in turn reinforce the anti-mining sector arguments. The storyline seemed to subscribe to the now familiar trope of “foreign investors unbridled in their plundering of our resources while local communities benefit little from what is rightfully theirs.” That’s the narrative that dominated Tanzania’s newspapers and airwaves.

However, in the media coverage that followed, conspicuous in their absence were voices from the mining sector explaining or offering an alternative perspective. But a couple of weeks after the President’s speech, the industry body, the Tanzania Chamber of Minerals and Energy, granted me an e-mail interview, presenting a different narrative to the one carried in the press earlier in the month. 

Mining and its contributions to the economy

The chamber strongly disputed what they termed as an ‘outdated characterisation’ of the industry, arguing that mining is ‘driving socio-economic development both in Tanzania and across the African continent.’ While they disagreed with the media’s spin, saying that reading the speech in its entirety would show how supportive of the sector President Kikwete is, they were also quick to emphasize what they believe are significant contributions mining brings to Tanzania’s economy. 

On the issue of taxes, for instance, TCME points out that their members paid over US$150 million (Tsh 250 billion) in taxes in 2010 alone. Furthermore, they argue, ‘total taxation from the life cycle of the five main producing companies in Tanzania are estimated to reach almost US$3.5 billion in total.’ 

As to the question of whether there exists linkages between the sector and the country’s overall economy, TCME calls attention to the activities of one of its biggest member, African Barrick Gold (ABG). The chamber says ABG currently employs 9,200 people whose wages amount to US$148 million, a chunk of which, they argue, drives spending in the local economy. 

In 2009, for example, the chamber argues, ‘through employment, taxes, royalties, and local procurement, roughly 70% of African Barrick Gold’s revenue was retained in the Tanzanian economy.’ They also point to ABG’s community development spending, which, they say, through its ‘Maendeleo Fund’ ‘provides US$10 million annually…to support communities [surrounding] the mining areas.’ In addition to this, TCME claims that ABG, ‘spent more than a half a billion dollars purchasing goods and services in 2010 of which 59% were made in Tanzania.’ All this, they say, demonstrates just how ingrained in the economy modern mining firms are.

If these figures are indeed true, why is it then that the mining sector is a target of so much suspicion and vitriol? 

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November 29, 2011
TEDxDAR: The Afternoon Edition

It was a mixture of big ideas, personal narratives and activism.

What is your big idea, asked January Makamba, the Bumbuli CCM member of parliament. ‘Mine is SAMENESS’, Mr. Makamba told the audience at TEDxDAR. 

What did he mean?

Tanzania has a young and growing population. However, the country is becoming increasingly divided along class lines. Data tell us that a typical Tanzanian is a 17 year old young woman who lives in the rural areas. Zawadi, as Mr. Makamba named her, is most likely a farmer, under-educated, doesn’t own a mobile phone, walks everywhere, will marry at 19 to a man who is at least 5 years older, have a baby at 19.5.

But how many in the audience can identify with Zawadi, asked Mr. Makamba. Not many.

A typical TEDxDAR attendee lives in an urban setting. Vanessa, as Mr. Makamba called her, is guaranteed a university education, probably drives her own car, has multiple mobile phones, will likely work a non-farm job, will get married at 23 to a man at least two years older, have a first child at 23.5.

Majority of Tanzanians are more like Zawadi than they are like Vanessa. And trends suggest that Vanessa will continue to get richer while Zawadi is becoming poorer.

That is the state of the way we live now. 

Mr. Makamba then asked another question: How possible is it for Zawadi to get to Vanessa’s level? And, in the larger scheme of things, is that even desirable?

'My presentation has been about consumption,' declared Mr. Makamba (You can find a copy of the presentation here). At the core of his talk lies this question: how can we achieve economic development for Zawadi and others like her without exhausting our resources? After all, the elevation of her standard of living will mean an increase in her consumption power. She will need more energy (electricity, fuel), water, food, demand a better education and all the luxuries currently enjoyed by the Vanessa’s of this world. What will happen when the poor 80% come to enjoy similar lifestyles of the rich 20%? Will it be sustainable? Can we achieve economic development without exhausting our resources? Will SAMENESS actually destroy us?

This is the profound ethical question that Mr. January Makamba posed at TEDxDAR. Zinjanthropus’s spirit connects us all. It is what makes us all, despite our diversity, the same. But to return to that original state of SAMENESS, we may destroy ourselves. Food for thought the audience will do well to ponder.

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July 15, 2011
'Rostam Quits'

“After consulting with my family, friends and my business partners, I arrived at the decision to step down, with the intention of maintaining my respect and integrity among party members and other wananchi as well as my leaders who I believe after my resignation will get an opportunity to focus on other challenges facing the party.”

So announced the honorable Member of Parliament from Igunga Mr. Rostam Aziz on the 13th of July, 2011 his decision to quit what he called ‘gutter politics’ to a group of elders and party officials at his constituency. 

The news sparked a media frenzy and the story quickly spread in the electronic and social media. At about 3.30pm, the first official confirmation of the news came through. The CCM MP for Bumbuli and the Party’s Secretary for Politics and International Affairs January Makamba tweeted:

In the twittersphere the response ranged from surprise at the abruptness of Mr. Aziz’s departure, cautious optimism that this may be a chance for the ruling party to start afresh, suspicious of CCM at their supposed attempts at deluding the electorate, to anger that this was a political tactic aimed at distracting the country away from government incompetence. 

Meanwhile, on Clouds FM, the presenters of the drive-time show Jahazi lamented the fact that, seemingly, once again, Tanzanian politics was embroiled in personality politics as opposed to the serious engagement with issues.

Back in Igunga, The Citizen reports:

Some [constituents] carried posters declaring: “No development in Igunga without Rostam. Several of the constituents collapsed as the long-time MP announced that he was quitting from the position and that of a member of CCM’s national executive committee.

Mr Aziz arrived in Igunga at around 1pm and proceeded to CCM offices where he found members of the party’s youth wing holding a meeting.He told them that he was scheduled to speak to the constituency’s elders.

As he was meeting the CCM youth, some of his supporters carried posters reading: “Igunga without Rostam, no development”; “If they expel you from CCM we are all going to quit from the party” and “We love you, our MP, and we have confidence in you.”

So, who is Rostam Aziz and why is he such a polarizing figure? 

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