Since the 1960’s, Tanzania has occupied a privileged position as a priority country of the Swiss government, which has provided significant support to the East African state’s efforts at reducing poverty, improving governance, and fortifying its capacity for sustained economic growth. With the establishment of a Swiss cooperation office in the capital of Dar-es-Salaam in 1981 and the implementation of the Swiss Cooperation Program (2004-2010) for Tanzania, the two countries have been working hand in hand towards forging a brighter future for the Tanzanian people.
Stepping out from his position as the Head of the Swiss Bilateral Development Cooperation for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and into his new role as the Swiss Ambassador to Tanzania, Adrian Schlaepfer understands that although his work will still include the supervision of Switzerland’s bilateral cooperation program in Tanzania, his responsibilities to the African country now require a more concentrated, hands-on approach. “In my position as the Head of the Swiss Bilateral Development Cooperation, I was working more in the context of constituency in the Head Office in Berne, and I was dealing with a very broad range of issues for a broad range of countries,” he says. “Here in Tanzania, I act as the head of our cooperation program. My work now concerns only one country, which, of course, is much smaller in size than what I was overseeing from Berne.”
Because one of his primary responsibilities is to look after the implementation of Switzerland’s development activities in Tanzania, Schlaepfer is intent on producing concrete improvements in Tanzania’s efforts at poverty reduction. “We are ultimately accountable to the Swiss taxpayer,” he observes. “We have to make sure that the money here is well-invested, that the returns are accounted for, and that the ultimate goal of poverty reduction is gradually being achieved.”
Schlaepfer realizes, however, that his work will not be without its own brand of difficulty. Challenges on the job abound, the largest of which is lifting the Swiss Cooperation Program in Tanzania from the level of mere theory to solid, actual results. “The greatest challenge here, as it is elsewhere, is to really make sure that what you discuss at the policy level - that the exchanges that you have with the other donors on strategic issues - really translates into tangible improvements in livelihood and of standards of living,” he says. “We want to be certain that in the end, there’s a reality check anchoring all these procedures, and that all our efforts will trickle down to the level of those people whom we want to help.”
Nonetheless, there is much that he looks forward to as he eases himself into his new office; these details, however small, keep him enthusiastic about his responsibilities as the Swiss Ambassador to Tanzania. “What I like about my job is that I’m surrounded by a lot of professional and committed people, Swiss and Tanzanian alike,” he points out. “There’s a very high degree of commitment, and that is something that is probably particular to this kind of business, that we all try to put a little bit of our own effort into improving the world.” He also finds many sources of encouragement when he ventures out into Tanzania’s various communities. “What gives me a lot of satisfaction is when I see during my travels how much the local communities appreciate our help, how they learn to empower themselves into taking things into their own hands.”
Before his appointment as the Swiss Ambassador to Tanzania, Schlaepfer was both the Head of the Bilateral Development Cooperation Department and the Assistant Director General of the SDC, where he also served as a Project Manager, Program Officer, Resident Country Director, and Division Head at various points. He has also worked as a Junior Professional Officer for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and as a consultant for a research project for the World Bank. Schlaepfer obtained his Master’s Degree in Economics from Zurich University and proceeded with his postgraduate studies on development policy at the Federal Insitute of Technology in Zurich.
As Schlaepfer prepares himself for the sizable challenges that come with his ambassadorship, he is careful to nourish a positive outlook on how Switzerland can guide Tanzania towards genuine growth. “There are all the indications that this will be a rewarding experience,” he muses. “As it looks now, Tanzania is really something like an island of stability and economic progress.” He is satisfied with how the African nation is so far pursuing its development objectives, and he is confident that the country can still attain the Millennium Development Goals. “Here in Tanzania, people have quite a clear idea on the way ahead, and the country has a well-functioning democracy and a good government. It’s a very conducive environment, and that gives me a lot of hope.”