Tanzania: An African Success Story?

Quinn Libson

Quinn Libson discovered her love of African history, culture and politics while on a gap year in Botswana, South Africa and Senegal. While she hasn’t yet selected a major, she hopes to be able to incorporate her interest in Africana studies into her eventual area of academic concentration. Quinn’s work was developed in Professor Ken Menkhaus’ Politics of Africa course.

Tanzania is often lauded as a great African success story. Since its independence from Britain on December 9, 1961, Tanzania has been a model for political progress, economic reform, and social stability.1 Since colonial rule, the Tanzanian government has transitioned through many stages. Under the British, the government consisted of a highly racially-stratified bureaucracy.2 After independence, a democratic single-party system was put in place under Julius Nyerere and his ruling party, the Tanganyika African  National Union (TANU). TANU would later become the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) after a merger with the Zanzibari ruling party.3 In the early 1990s, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi introduced a multi-party system and the first multi-party elections were held in 1995. Since the inception of its multi-party system, the Tanzanian mainland government has held three elections without major civil unrest. In addition, the five-year presidential term limit set by the Tanzanian constitution has been consistently respected. This could be owing to the example set by Nyerere when he stepped down from office in 1985.4

The Tanzanian economy has also enjoyed marked success in recent years, and the current situation is very promising. Starting out as a socialist state-run system, the economy has been almost completely revamped in the past two decades. The GDP has been continuously increasing since reforms began; the average growth has increased from 5.2 percent from 1998 to 2000, to 6 percent in the period fromtanzania162 Tanzania: An African Success Story? 2000 to 2005, and is estimated to grow by 10 percent in 2010.5 There has been notable growth in all sectors of the economy: industry grew by 8.7 percent and services by 5.9 percent.6 Overall, Tanzania has been one of the fastest-growing non-oil economies in Sub-Saharan Africa.7

Growth in the agricultural sector, which remains the main source of livelihood for 74 percent of the population, has also been striking.8 The average annual growth of agriculture from 2000 to 2005 was 4.8 percent.9 Tanzania’s most remarkable success is its history of internal peace and stability. This peace is made all the more extraordinary when Tanzania is compared to neighbors like Rwanda and Burundi, the sites of horrific genocides, or Uganda, which was rife with conflict under the oppressive regime of dictator Idi Amin. Even Kenya, which was once thought to be another stable force in the region, has experienced ethnic-fueled conflict after contested elections in 2007.

Tanzania has also been successful at improving its provision of social services like education and healthcare. In 2002, the Tanzanian government introduced free schooling.10 By 2006, the net enrollment rate for primary schooling was 94.8 percent, and the great achievements have been made with regard to gender parity.11

The foremost challenge in the health sector is the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, but there are indications that Tanzania is making progress. The number of detected HIV cases has dropped from 9.4 percent in 2000 to 6.8 percent in 20-05, meaning that Tanzania is currently on track with the Millenium Development Goals.12 In 2008, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare also announced a tripling of patients who will receive free antiviral drugs.13 Tanzania is also in the process of improving its overall healthcare system.

However, Tanzania is in a precarious position; in the past decades it has made major gains, which also means it has much to lose. Throughout its recent history, pressure and assistance from external actors have dominated Tanzanian reforms. This external influence prompts questions concerning the sustainability of Tanzania’s gains. In this report, I evaluate the overall validity of Tanzania’s reputation as a “success story.” I examine the causes of success in the political, economic, and social spheres, as well as the factors needed to sustain them.

Political Reform

The call to reform the Tanzanian political system came almost entirely from external forces. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Bretton Woods institutions in the 1990s, the concept of “good governance” in the form of multipartyism became a global agenda. More and more, multi-party democracies were becoming a condition of international loans.14 Tanzania at this point was highly dependent on assistance from international financial institutions, and therefore was not in a position to refuse growing demands from the international financial community.

In 1991, the sitting head of state, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi called together a Presidential Commission on Multi-Party Democracy.15 Despite the findings of the commission (which found that 77.2 percent of people polled would prefer a single-party system) the commission recommended a shift to multi-partyism, and in 1992, the constitution was amended to allow the registration of opposition parties.16

I evaluate the overall validity of Tanzania’s reputation as a “success story.” I examine the causes of success in the political, economic, and social spheres, as well as the factors needed to sustain them.

The first Tanzanian multi-party elections took place in 1995. The overall electoral process was highly disorganized, but yielded pleasant surprises. One positive indicator of the success of this election was popular participation: 81.1 percent of potential voters registered.17 And, despite electoral confusion, Tanzanian citizens refrained from violence and conflict. But, as is clear from the results of this election, the oppositional parties weren’t strong enough to challenge the CCM. In total, the CCM took 78 percent of the parliamentary seats and Benjamin Mkapa, the CCM candidate won the presidency with 68 percent of the votes.18

Zanzibar, which was unified with the mainland in 1964 but still maintains a semi-autonomous government, has struggled to sustain a state of stability similar to that of the mainland as it transitioned into multi-party democracy.19 The major Zanzibari political party is the Civic United Front (CUF). In the past three elections, the CCM has defeated the CUF by a very slim margin. These elections are generally considered fraudulent and the response has been increasingly violent and disputed.20 Very recently, however, there have been signs that point to an end of the conflict. On November 5, 2009, Amani Karume, the CCM president for Zanzibar, and Seif Shariff Hamad, the leader of CUF for Zanzibar and Pemba, met to discuss an informal peace between the two parties.21 Initially, Tanzanian political reform was made possible through external pressure, followed by supportive domestic policy decisions. Tanzania’s stability and its culture of national unity were also instrumental in carrying out the smooth transition to multi-party democracy.

Economic Reform

Tanzania’s early economic policies were highly influenced by Julius Nyerere’s philosophy of Ujamaaa, a community-based version of “African socialism.” Through the Arusha Declaration in 1967, almost all economic activities in manufacturing, commerce, banking, mining, construction, import and export trade, etc., were nationalized.22 The private sector was suppressed. Entrepreneurs were portrayed as mabepari (capitalist exploiters) and business expertise was viewed as ulangazi (conmanship).23 These socialist policies are often blamed for the productivity decrease and macroeconomic disparity that led to economic crises in the 1980s.24

During this period of crisis, the donor community began insisting on structural reforms for the Tanzanian economy. With the slow crumble of Eastern Europe, the legitimacy of the socialist system was on the decline, and economic conservatism, commonly known as the Washington Consensus, was increasing in global influence.25 Due to the weakness of the economy, Tanzania had little choice but to open its doors to international financial institutions in 1986.26

The initial reform programs, including Economic Recovery Programs I and II (ERP), supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, focused on achieving macroeconomic stability. The second wave of reforms focused on directing Tanzania away from socialist policies, and moving the economy toward a free-market system through liberalization and privatization. Despite past reluctance to reform, the current situation in Tanzania is very promising. The governments under both Benjamin Mkapa (President from 1995-2005) and current President Jakaya Kikwete, have been open and receptive to reforms.

Under President Mkapa, the Tanzanian banking sector was completely revamped. Among other problems, the old government-controlled system only benefitted the government, and the quality of service to depositors and borrowers was poor and inefficient.27 The opening of the market to new, local, and foreign banks through the Banking and Financial Institutions Act (1991), the Foreign Exchange Control Act, and the Foreign Exchange Control Ordinance Act  (1992), has stimulated competition in industry, and improved overall customer service.28 In addition, the two largest state banks have been successfully privatized.29 Other improvements in the banking sector include better regulation. The Bank of Tanzania now acts in a supervisory role. In its new position, the Bank of Tanzania has handled three cases of bank failure. In this case, it intervened early enough to safeguard clients’ interests.30

Financial reforms have improved the overall economic environment and revitalized the private sector, which has grown more than 30 percent annually in recent years.31 In addition, trends suggest that a strong private sector is a driving force in promoting economic diversification.32 Agriculture, which is responsible for 37 percent of the country’s annual growth in GDP, continues to be a sizeable factor in the recent economic growth in Tanzania.33 The growth in this sector has been impressive, but, since agricultural liberalization, most of the gains have depended exclusively on expansion of the area cultivated.34 Future successes in agriculture will depend on additional reforms.

A particularly promising development in Tanzania’s economic story is the creation of the Eastern African Community (EAC), which was scheduled to sign the Common Market Protocol on November 20, 2009. This new protocol will allow free movement of goods, persons, and labor among the five partner states, allowing for more efficient cross-border trading, and increased economic cooperation.35  Like political reform, Tanzanian economic reform originally stemmed from demands of the international donor community. Economic programs, however, have been sustained by domestic openness to reforms and strong domestic policies.

Internal Stability

Tanzania’s history of internal stability is often attributed to Nyerere’s policies, which were chosen deliberately to ensure that race and religion would not become major societal dividers.36 These initial policies make up what John Bower describes as the “raw materials for social peace.”37 In 1961, the Tanganyika Citizen Act was passed to give multi-racial citizenship. Nyerere also ensured the nationalization of private schools, a large number of which were Catholic, in order to give equal educational opportunity to Muslim students.38

All across Africa, during the period of political transition to multi-party democracy, there were concerns that political competition would result in ethnic divisions.39 In response to this worry, specific restrictions on political parties were made under the Political Parties Register in 1992. New parties could not register if they had ever advocated the use of force. A party’s membership was required to have been voluntary and open to all citizens. New parties were also required to demonstrate a wide geographic base of support; tanzania162 Tanzania: An African Success Story?religion was allowed only if a party had shown at least two hundred supporters in ten or more regions, including Zanzibar and Pemba.40 It is also believed that Tanzania has avoided ethnic hegemony, partially because of its large number of ethnic groups, more than 130 in total, with relatively small representation within each group.41

In recent years, however, religion has been shown to the most concrete societal division, not ethnicity. The current estimates on the religious make-up of the country are very evenly spread: mainland Tanzania is made up of 30 percent Christians, 35 percent Muslims, and 35 percent believers in indigenous religions.42 The concrete divisions between religions in emphasized by the results of a nationwide opinion poll taken in the mid-1990s by Research and Education for Democracy in Tanzania. The study asked the respondents whether they would approve of their children marrying someone from a variety of different groups; at 44 percent, inter-religious marriage earned the lowest approval rating.43

But there are also statistical signs of societal cohesion. Another REDET study, conducted in 2000, found that 78 percent of those polled positively depicted relations between Muslims and Christians, and 86 percent felt positively about the relationship between their religion and the state.44

Certain elements keep relations between Tanzanian religions peaceful. As a general rule, there is more intra-faith conflict than inter-faith conflict, the conflict between Sufi Muslims and anti-Sufi Islamists, for example.45 In-fighting among sects of of faith groups limits their ability to unify and mobilize. Likewise, a significant overlap exists among the religions in Tanzania; many Muslims and Christians continue to identify with indigenous beliefs.46 These similarities between the groups keep their boundaries more fluid and flexible. Overall, crosscutting religious identities and wise initial policies have kept Tanzania internally stable.

Social Services: Education

The principal program for improvement in primary education has been the Primary Education Development Plan, a five-year plan which started in 2002, but has been extended to 2011.47 The specific objectives of this plan are to enroll all children 7-10 years old, to improve educational quality, and improve management capacity within the educational system. While goals of this plan include new teacher recruitment and classroom construction, the plan also strives to use existing teachers and classrooms more effectively. The majority of the funding for this project comes from external donors such as Ireland Aid, Norway, and the EU.48

Social Services: Health

The issue of HIV/AIDS is now at the top of Tanzania’s development agenda. The Tanzanian Commission on AIDS coordinates the response on the mainland and the Zanzibar AIDS Commission coordinates the Zanzibari response.49 The funding for Tanzanian HIV/AIDS programs comes mostly from external sources, primarily from the Global Fund, the World Bank, and PEPFAR.50 There has also been direct cooperation between the Tanzanian programs and the UN, under the Joint Program on HIV and AIDS. This program gives direct support and guidance to government programs to strengthen their effectiveness.

The structure of Tanzania’s overall healthcare system is also moving in a positive direction. In 2003, President Mkapa appointed David Tregoning, a Briton, to revamp the state hospital in Dar es Salaam, which had fallen into a state of neglect under the previous socialist government.  The goal is to make the hospital more efficient and accountable; all staff have agreed to performance reviews, and doctors–who have a reputation of devoting more time to lucrative private patients–will now have to dedicate 70 percent of their time to the hospital. If this program is successful, it will be applied to hospitals and clinics around the country.51 While the funding for this program comes from international donors, the initiative comes from within the Tanzanian government.  Overall, reforms in the social sector are funded almost entirely by international donors. Domestic initiative is strong, but unfortunately, Tanzania simply does not have the necessary revenue to finance major development projects.

Lesson Learned

The most powerful lesson to be gleaned from Tanzania’s story is the value of stability. But, unfortunately, this is not a lesson that is easily transferable to other African countries, even of the same region. Like conflict, stability is complex and based on a wide variety of country-specific factors.

In effect, all success in Tanzania, whether political, economic, or social, can be traced back to stabilizing demands made immediately following independence. The wisest decision made by Tanzania’s early leaders was to pursue the goal of creating a unified country based on human cooperation. This rhetoric established a cohesive culture and has kept the country conflict-free.

It is because of this stability that political reform has been achieved, but also, it is because of its stability that Tanzania is so attractive as an aid and FDI recipient. Many economic reforms have been made possible through foreign technical assistance and aid. Donors see Tanzania as a place where aid money will be put to good use, and not used to fund conflict or to fill the pockets of politicians. Because of this, Tanzania has been one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s top recipients of foreign aid.52 Due to Tanzania’s stability, Britain alone deposits $170 million per year directly into the Tanzanian budget.53


Tanzanian’s successes, although impressive are little consolation for the major challenges it continues to face in all sectors. In the political sector, the CCM’s domination of Tanzanian politics raises questions about the legitimacy of Tanzania’s multi-party democracy. Even in 2005, the CCM candidate, Jakaya Kikwete, won 80 percent of the votes.54 The ruling party also currently holds 264 of 323 parliamentary seats.55 Despite more than twenty years of multi-party democracy in Tanzania, the CCM still behaves as if the country were a single-party state.56 Popular support of democracy has dropped in recent years, from 84 percent approval in 2001 to 38 percent in 2005.57 And, according to Freedom House, Tanzania’s elections are only “partially free.”58 Democracy in Zanzibar, as well, will need continued surveillance.

Despite major reforms in the past two decades, the overall business environment in Tanzania continues to be poor. According to the World Bank and IFC’s Doing Business 2009 report, Tanzania ranks only 127th out of 181 countries (significantly worse than its neighbors Uganda and Kenya).59 And, despite Tanzania’s major overhaul of its banking system, reports show that finance remains generally inaccessible: only ten percent of Tanzanians had a bank account in 2007.60

This financial disparity leads to the foremost complaint about recent economic reforms: their benefits do not trickle down to the general population. In spite of economic growth, people remain extremely poor. Tanzania ranks 159th out of 177 countries on the 2007/2008 UNDP Human Development Index (HDI).61 There are also indicators of vast urban/rural disparity. It is clear that a new definition of success must be considered. Instead of measuring economic success purely by GDP growth, the international community should instead measure success based on improvement in well-being of the general population.62

Agricultural reforms will be crucial to the future success of poverty reduction in Tanzania. Labor productivity in particular will be vital to strengthening the agricultural sector. From 1990 to 2003, labor productivity growth in Tanzania was 1.1 percent, a figure that is significantly lower than that of its neighboring countries: Malawi with a 5.5 percent increase, and Mozambique with 2.3 percent.63 Tanzania has begun experimenting with farmer empowerment programs as a way to boost labor productivity.64 Technological change will also be key to improvement in agricultural growth, no only labor-saving technologies such as improved machines and animal power, but also land productivity technologies, like irrigation. The frequency of droughts highlight the need for such technology. New technologies for land productivity are crucial to protecting the Tanzanian ecosystem. Current land expansion-based reforms are environmentally costly, as forests and wildlife are being encroached upon.65

There are significant challenges in the Tanzanian education system. Some worry that too much emphasis is being put on the Millenium Development Goal of achieving 100 percent enrollment rates, while not enough effort is being put toward improving the overall quality of education.66 Additionally, there remains a gap between urban and rural children, with rural children left far behind. The poor as well continue to struggle in the Tanzanian school system. Only 2 percent of the poorest 30 percent of the children advance to secondary schools.67

In evaluating Tanzania’s economy, the most alarming factor is its financial dependence on external sources. Currently, Tanzania gets 40 percent of its government budget from foreign aid.68 Another worrisome factor is low domestic revenue. There is evidence that points to a very limited area where taxable activities take place. The current year revenue for 2008 was estimated to be 16 percent of the GDP, while government spending exceeded 27 percent of the GDP. This left a gap of 10 percent for international donors to fill in.69 The Tanzanian government’s dependence on foreign funds raises the question of economic sustainability. If it wishes to continue economic growth–especially in this period of global economic downturn, when donors may not be as willing to disburse funds externally–Tanzania will have to focus on self-sustaining policies.

Tanzania warrants praise for its overall successes, but these successes should not be taken for granted. Tanzania must focus on economic sustainability with a concentration of strengthening its domestic revenue streams by diversifying the economy, enhancing export capacity, and weaning itself from the international community’s good will and generosity.


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