Still in Tanzania! But the last few days I was in Arusha, where I had a truly awful internet connection, and so could not post.
Couple of quick, general thoughts.
-- They missed a bullet with the tribal thing. Tanzania -- unlike Congo or Kenya -- has a really strong sense of nation. Kenyans are likely to say "I am Kikuyu" or "I am Luo" before "I am Kenyan", and this has had really poisonous effects on the country's politics. (And let me pause here to recommend Michela Wrong's wonderful book It's Our Turn To Eat, which goes into detail about why this is so, and why it is bad, and how much evil has flowed from it.) Congo, same-same. But Tanzania, nobody much cares what tribe you're from.
This is one of the great positive legacies of the late Julius Nyerere, who ruled Tanzania for its first 25 years of independence. Nyerere had his little quirks -- he was a romantic socialist who ran the country's economy into the ground -- but he got the tribal thing superbly right. Okay, he was helped by the facts that (1) the tribes in Tanzania tend to be smaller but more numerous than the large groups in Kenya, so that no tribe had more than maybe 10% of the population, and (2) almost all the tribes already shared a common second language (Swahili). Still, it was an impressive achievement, and a truly admirable legacy.
(I heard the difference between Kenya and Tanzania summed up like so: "After independence, Kenya built an economy. Tanzania built a society.")
-- They've missed... well, partly missed a bullet, on corruption. (Can you partly miss a bullet? Grazing, light flesh wound?)
I mean, Tanzania has corruption. No question. We are in Africa.
But compared to Kenya or Congo? It's Sweden. You can conduct your business without being harassed by inspectors looking for bribes. A truckload of produce can travel across the country without being stopped by cops demanding a handout. Foreign investors do not have to accept a Minister's nephew as a "local partner" in order to do business.
Talk to businessmen -- which is pretty much all I've been doing for the last ten days -- and you'll hear that taxes are a problem. Finding competent people is a problem. The sluggish, bureaucratic, not-really-business-friendly government is a problem. Constant theft and pilfering and the need to spend money on guards and fences; difficulties with getting credit from the banks; the bad roads, the electricity that goes off, the general shoddy state of infrastructure... problems.
But what you don't hear, or at least right off, is that corruption is a problem. If you raise the issue, you'll hear that it exists, but it's usually not even in the top five. And when you ask them to describe how it works, much of what you hear is dinky stuff -- slipping a tax inspector a few hundred bucks to settle an outstanding dispute, type of thing. I mean, yes, that's bad, but it's not the kind of shakedown / protection stuff that just kills investment dead.
Or the port. The port of Dar Es Salaam deserves a post of its own, but here's the short version: it used to be horribly congested, totally dysfunctional. So the port authority made an aggressive effort to fix the problem. And now it just somewhat sucks. It's still a bad, congested port where containers may take weeks to process, leading to annoying storage fees and possibly the loss of perishables. But it's no longer a godawful port where everything always takes weeks or months to process, and may disappear altogether. It's gone from horrible to just bad. That's real progress.
Noel Maurer raises the issue of a foreign private company taking over Customs. That's unlikely to happen in Tanzania, for the simple reason that Tanzania's Customs system kinda works. It's not very good, and it's certainly not very fast, and there are problems with corruption, collections, data accuracy, competence of the customs agents... you name it. But there's a big difference between something that works, albeit not very well, and something that doesn't. In Tanzania, things work. Sort of.
Here's a comparison: if you look at a list of countries by per capita GDP (PPP adjusted), Tanzania comes out a little bit ahead of Haiti. But Tanzania just doesn't give off the same vibe of deep dysfunction. N.B., I have never been to Haiti. But I know a lot of people who have. Even the ones who like it concede that it's a very troubled place. Well, Tanzania too, but... not the same.
One big difference between the two: Tanzania has one of the lowest Gini coefficients in Africa, or indeed in the developing world. At 34.6, it's around the low end of the EU, comparable to the United Kingdom or Poland. By way of comparison, Kenya's Gini is 44.5, and Haiti's is 59. Tanzania has, by African standards, an incredibly flat distribution of wealth. This probably goes a long way towards explaining why, while Tanzania is certainly very poor, it doesn't feel as poor as the raw numbers might suggest.
So, another point for Nyerere. We'll talk about some of the less positive aspects of the Great Teacher's legacy later, time permitting.