Monday, July 25, 2011

Economics in Tanzania

One day as we were riding back home from our interviews, we were met by a massive raincloud. Raindrops came pelting down on us as we found shelter at a nearby coke stand. While we waited out the rain, I had a very productive conversation with Killion, our translator. Interested in how financial prosperity affects a family's willingness to seek medical treatment, I asked Killion to explain how the local village economics work, but instead, I was given a brief history lesson on the economics and politics of East Africa. This is what Killion told me...

When East African countries gained their independence, they had one of two options: completely abolish their colonial political and economic structures and create a new country from the ground up or build upon the existing system and make gradual improvements. Kenya, a country that chose the latter, has thrived economically in comparison because it built its industries on top of the existing framework. Tanzania, on the other hand, is far more impoverished because it demolished not only the framework but also the infrastructure that colonialism left behind. The Tanzanian government didn't have the immediate resources to build a successful country from scratch, and widespread political corruption compounded the problem. As a result, Tanzania has become one of the poorest countries in East Africa despite its wildlife and mineral wealth. Some villages watch their agricultural surpluses go to waste while others starve because of the lack of roads connecting the country. Furthermore, the value of the Tanzanian currency has dropped below the Kenyan shilling in the past thirty years as a result of poor global monetary policy, affecting the buying power of basic commodities.

Killion's lesson ended here because the rain had passed and we needed to get back on the road. That was probably one of the best conversations I had with Killion. I wish I knew more about the regional history and the economics of developing countries to learn more from him, but alas, maybe the next rain.

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