Tanzania is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies — but inclusive, broad-based growth is not yet realized.
In spite of nearly 7 percent annual growth in national gross domestic product, Tanzania’s rural population — which represents 73 percent of the country — lives in poverty. A staggering 68 percent of Tanzanians live below the extreme poverty line of $1.25 per day. The government’s National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty aims to improve the standard of living and well-being of its people. None of this will happen, however, unless there are more efforts for improved governance and accountability.
Three key areas require support if the development prospects for Tanzania are to improve:
1. Civil society organizations need greater capacity to hold government to account for the provision of quality services, particularly education and health.
2. Access to information needs to be enhanced. Citizens can’t hold the government to account if they aren’t aware of their rights, don’t know what services the government is meant to provide (and to what minimum standard) and can’t track funding for those services.
3. Political competition needs to increase but with a view toward conflict mitigation. Demands for greater autonomy in the island of Zanzibar and calls for secession from the mainland need to be managed carefully to avoid greater social unrest. The lack of meaningful political competition constrains debate and limits government effectiveness.
All this calls for further reforms in Tanzania, and failure to improve on the three key areas means that the country is risking not getting more development support — including from the Millennium Challenge Account, on which it’s important to note that the country has regularly met the criteria in the past. More efforts are needed to control corruption, one of the key indicators under the MCA support.
In May, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete fired six ministers over corruption allegations. Following an annual report from the Controller and Auditor General alleging misuse of public funds in at least seven ministries, the ministers of finance, energy, tourism, trade, transport and health all lost their posts. We hope that these allegations will be investigated and prosecuted accordingly.
The political landscape will be renegotiated in the course of the next year, with presidential and parliamentary elections slated for late 2015, as well as an ongoing constitutional review process. Both are important opportunities to engage citizens and ensure that the pillars of good governance are strengthened.
There are positive initiatives on Tanzania’s institutional landscape that could prove valuable for enhancing governance. Institutions of accountability have received support from the U.S. Agency for International Development and — in spite of constrained resources and capacity — have demonstrated willingness for reform. The National Audit Office plays a key role in working with citizens and other agencies to help them to read and understand audit reports. The Public Procurement Regulatory Authority sets more rigorous standards and can help mitigate the corruption that is currently rife in the systems. The Ethics Secretariat is tasked with ensuring integrity but its home in the President’s Office can undermine its autonomy.
These government efforts at transparency need to be monitored and complemented by robust CSOs. Plan International Tanzania is one example of a locally rooted organization providing vulnerable children and their families access to health care, education, safe sanitation and water, and productive livelihoods. Fundamental to a successful development approach is capacity building and empowerment, so that the poorest and most marginalized are aware of their rights and able to engage with the local and national government to articulate their demand for better public services.
Important to wider reforms are the coalitions that call for change. For instance, the White Ribbon Alliance Tanzania has partnered with local organizations, government, donors and international organizations to create a broad and effective coalition for change in health care services. Using tools like scorecards to report on the percentage of government budget allocated for health across categories such as pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, labor and delivery, newborn health, child health, and overall health systems and financing, the alliance is able to use evidence to call for reforms where needed. Such examples of coalitions are rare given funding pressures that create competition rather than collaboration, but this is precisely the kinds of demand-driven approach that will strengthen civil society and hold the government to account. Support is needed for these organizations to inform citizens and carry out effective advocacy campaigns.
According to USAID’s country strategy for Tanzania, national policies encouraging civil society participation have not been fully implemented. The government’s draft Open Government Partnership Self-Assessment Report found that “civil society and private sector participation has been relatively low.” To increase participation and to make it meaningful, greater access to data and information must be provided and CSOs should have the skills needed to translate this into compelling public messages that citizens can understand and act on to demand services and accountability from the government. Information is critical for budget planning, tracking of expenditures and social accountability efforts.
Key to these public calls for services and responsiveness are the voices of marginalized groups, including women and youth. Information not only needs to reach these groups, but be systematically channeled from them to policymakers to ensure a wide cross section of society’s interests are represented.
The 2014 local elections and the 2015 national elections in 2015 will be milestone moments for increased political competition and greater government accountability in Tanzania. The youth have an important role to play in this process, and registering young voters is important before the 2015 elections in particular, in part because of the dramatic percentage drop in voter participation in 2010. Young people and youth leaders are essential for a vibrant democratic process and to demand accountability. Constructive dialogue between citizens — particularly the youth — is a crucial element of conflict mitigation. Increasing equitable participation in elections will support the overall goals of accountable governance.
Tanzania has the potential to contribute in a meaningful way as an engine of Africa’s growth. But if that growth is to have a true impact on people’s lives, then greater attention needs to be paid to good governance and accountability. Good efforts are underway — they need to be broadened and supported to reach their full potential.
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Ann Hudock is senior vice president of international programs at Plan International. With over 20 years of experience in international development, Hudock previously led DAI’s governance work and served as special assistant to the U.S. undersecretary of state for global affairs overseeing democracy, human rights and labor and was on the board of the Association for Women in Development.