The Bandari Saga: Who’s Telling the Truth?

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In his little but imperative book titled ‘Who Tells the Truth in Tanzania?’ a veteran journalist Ndimara Tegambwage, poses three key questions, “Does government tell lies? Do officials tell lies consciously on behalf of governments? Do officials and politicians tell lies and attribute them to governments?” and on this I will add mine, why the public find it difficult to believe what is told by government officials? The Bandari Saga unveils all!

The ongoing discussion about developing the Dar es Salaam port has once again exposed the bitter truth of how little trust the public has in government officials regarding issues that affect their daily lives and matter most in their lives. The confusion we are witnessing from either side of the Bandari saga debate is not but the reflection of inequitable political practices.

It goes without saying that the current situation at the port causes shipment delays, disruptions in the supply chain, additional expenses, and reduced competitiveness. For any nation whose people, especially those entrusted with leadership roles, think and act like normal statesmen/stateswomen, we were to get to the bottom of these setbacks at the Dar es Salaam port yesterday.

The upshots of poor performance at the port extend beyond the port’s hinterland to others as container shipping services follow a fixed schedule with specific berth windows at each port of call. Therefore, underperformance at one port could disrupt the entire plan. This, in turn, increases the cost of imports and exports, reduces the competitiveness of the country and its hinterland, and hinders economic growth and poverty reduction.

Any rational Tanzanian and well-wisher would like to see the Dar es Salaam port as a world-class performer by fully utilizing its potential. Its strategic location makes the port a gateway for 90 percent of Tanzania’s trade. It provides vital access to the country’s six landlocked neighbors, Eastern DRC, Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Malawi. So far, Tanzania has been missing this opportunity to exploit the full potential of the port for its economic advantage.

According to The Container Port Performance Index 2022 (CPPI 2022) report, containerization has significantly changed how and where goods are manufactured and processed. This trend is likely to continue with digitalization.

“Container ports are critical nodes in global supply chains and essential to the growth strategies of many emerging economies. In numerous cases, the development of high-quality container port infrastructure operating efficiently has been a prerequisite for successful export-led growth strategies. Countries that follow such a strategy will have higher levels of economic growth than those that do not. Efficient, high-quality port infrastructure can facilitate investment in production and distribution systems, engender expansion of manufacturing and logistics, create employment opportunities, and raise income levels,” says the report.

If the CPPI report is anything to go by, we might agree that investing in upgrading and digitalizing the ‘Bandari ya Dar es Salaam’ is not debatable. The issue is how we, as a nation, will have a better deal.

Some of the people who are pro-DP World in the ongoing debate find it problematic that why others are not seeing things the way they see, some going as far as to condemn those against the current agreement as treacherous because they pick ‘altered’ explanations and turn deaf ear for government’s clarification version. It’s even deplorable that some politicians and government officials use the port debate to attack each other for political mileage.

The average wananchi,’ despite being the valid owner of the resources, is at the point that they cannot tell who is telling the truth between the two opposing sides in this saga. Normally one would expect that the government’s official version be the one to rely on when seeking the truth. Still, the negative perception of the economy, scandals associated with foreign investors, and concern about lavish government spending on issues that have no direct impact on the lives of the people lead to declining public trust in government.

And if the American author, poet, and actor John Payne was correct when he said, “It’s only through history does a nation become completely conscious of itself.” We must revise and do our homework well when dealing with foreign investors. The history of our relationship with them has never been in our favor. Tanzania and other developing countries endowed with natural resources are not new to the paradox of plenty, a phenomenon where a state rich with natural resources experience poor economic growth.

People, especially youth, are always skeptical of official positions, not because they choose to be disobedient. Still, the history of being a good teacher informs them of the cost of blind acceptance of whatever defense by government officials about multinational companies’ engagement.

Africa has learned with bitterness that African governments must bear a tremendous responsibility for abusing the continent’s resources. As opposed to the former finger-pointing perception, we are always linked with the scramble and partition of Africa, blaming our former colonial masters for our underdevelopment.

Since scholars turned the pointing finger inwards, we almost all agree that African governments’ poor governance, rampant corruption, and poor negotiation skills regarding rights to natural resources are the real cause of poverty amidst wealth.

Tanzania has no exception; the public still recalls with clarity how the mines caused them more harm than blessings in the early years of mining investments.   In a report titled “A Golden Opportunity? How Tanzania is Failing to Benefit from gold mining”, released in 2008,  religious leaders observed that, “In a nutshell, we have found out how deep are the ethical problems that exist among the decision-makers in our country. There is no transparency, and much information is poorly coordinated between our decision makers”.”

Recalling the introductory questions in this article, ‘it s’s high time for the government to submit itself to an internal critical examination on why the public has less trust in them and do the needful to win back the faith because the government is not but of the people, by the people for the people.

Catch up with an Exclusive analysis of DP World’s deal with the Tanzania Government here.

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