I was checking out reader’s comments in Tanzania's Citizen regarding what the Minister for Tourism and Natural Resources, Mr Ezekiel Maige said the other day. Speaking to reporters, Minister Maige commended Asian investors who would help boost our tourist industry. This was during a private visit by Indian business billionaire, Mukesh Dirubhai Ambani, so impressed by Serengeti National Park that he called it a “gift from God” and promised to bring in more investors to help preserve and develop this special place.
In 2006 Serengeti was voted Seventh world wonder by over 13 million people from USA Today and ABC’s TV- Good Morning America. Hollywood released an animated film for children called “Lion King” inspired by Serengeti in 1994. One of the soundtracks, Hakuna Matata, used in the Walt Disney cartoon film is from a Swahili song by Kenyan band The Mushrooms (nowadays Uyoga) originally called Jambo Jambo.<!--more-->
Traditionally, foreign capital has come from Western countries but now explained Minister Maige, “We want new investors for our tourism sector.”
Two readers questioned the Minister wondering whether he was invited to the billionaire’s suite or vice versa. Another called Mr. Ambani who is fourth richest businessman in the world according to Forbes Magazine list of billionaires, a thief. “Why can’t he invest in Calcutta and not in my Serengeti?” the nervous reader wrote.
Forbes says Mr Ambani who loves Serengeti as his favourite holiday destination, is expected to overtake Mr Billy Gates, currently richest individual by 2014.
Reading the comments made me ponder on how sensitive some of us view foreign investment in this country.
Our game parks and natural resources have always been praised as amongst the most naturally preserved. During the Ujamaa era it was common knowledge that tourists flocked to Kenya more than Tanzania because first they were not aware of how good our attractions were; secondly we were not that keen on marketing. The effect still makes most overseas travellers think Mount Kilimanjaro and Serengeti are in Kenya. In current decades efforts have started to change this perception; our embassies have glossy brochures portraying Tanzania as the land of Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro and Serengeti. We are gradually learning to walk and talk the language of global business.
So should we feel nervous or sensible if the richest man in Asia thinks one of our natural resources is a Gift from God? Today, economic opportunities are swinging favourably towards the Asian continent. When Japan was booming as the new economic power in the 1980’s, there were suggestions for business people to start learning Japanese. It was seen as a psychological step if you wanted to make good cash.
Last Sunday, CNN, the American news broadcast ran a documentary questioning whether learning Mandarin, the Chinese language would be an added advantage for those wanting to trade with China. New economic frontiers are opening up, from South Africa, Brazil to Singapore.
Even educationally our young graduates are being advised to look for more affordable colleges in South East Asia. Last year’s student riots in the UK exposed this problem after college fees were raised three times. How can an East African student afford 9, 000 Pounds (20, 523, 600 T shillings), annually?
Minister Ezekiel Maige, is therefore, simply commenting on an opportunity that is a reality. In recent years many of our professional needs (such as publishing and medical treatment) have turned to India because it is affordable and manageable. The trend to trade with South countries, an expression popularised twenty years ago, seems to be the agreeable choice in these difficult times. Historically, up to 11th the century Africans were so advanced and had their own universities; yet as soon as the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade began, things got worse and by the 19th century we were at the mercy of colonialism and poverty. To this day we have not recovered and cannot even govern our so called independent countries well.
No wonder these tense readers’ comments express a national concern. Thirty years ago I was chatting to a Middle East diplomat in Dar es Salaam. After travelling around the country he was astonished at how vast and rich Tanzania was; yet totally neglected.
“You have everything here; rivers, lakes, green lands and minerals. Why don’t you invest? Why are so many people still poor?”
We have to ask ourselves what is the matter with our own local business people. Where exactly are they in this caucus? Is foreign investment a disaster then? Shall it create jobs and help boost the quality of our people’s lives?
-London, 4th January, 2011.
Published in "Citizen Tanzania" same week.