Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Opportunities for all is a fable

It was a young George W. Bush in the documentary Fahrenheit 911 who laid down the reality on the significance to overall business success of who you know in business and the relative insignificance of what you know. He said; "When you're the president's son, you've got unlimited access...In Washington DC people tend to respect that. Access is power."

It's difficult to disagree with George W. Bush in this instance.

President Jakaya Kikwete has also made statements that support this position. At least on one occasion, to justify some of his frequent foreign visits, he said his presence in the meetings he calls abroad to woo foreign investors is critical to the success of those meetings. Those who attend do so because he is there; they might not if a mere minister or the director of the Tanzania Investment Centre called the meeting.

The point is taken; most humans pursuing a particular goal prefer the shorter route to success. If that shortcut goes through hell and there is a possibility of making the return trip and achieving those goals then chances are that most reasonable people will go through hell. Preferably these goals are easily achieved by connecting with the right individuals. For the Saudis then that individual was George W. Bush. For other times and countries there are other well-connected individuals and they do not always have to be the president's offspring.

But here's the problem: there aren't many of these individuals around. And they do not connect with everyone. Which is why we should question anyone who suggests there are equal opportunities for all in Tanzania today. In recent times when the government gradually abdicated from its duty to ensure that some semblance of "opportunities for all" remained within society, the vacuum created by this abdication necessitated a new shift in political terminology.

Socialism was replaced by market-driven policies where individuals were encouraged to take advantage of opportunities that chance, favourable policies, and an enabling environment provided. The reigning slogan became, chagamkia fursa [crudely translated: grab the opportunities]. Implied in this statement was if you don't succeed it's your fault.

Both George Bush and President Kikwete know only too well that opportunities find their way to the privileged. Which is why it should not be out of the ordinary for those potential investors who attended President Kikwete's investor meetings abroad to first seek an appointment with him once they land at the Julius Nyerere International Airport so he may help them to get straight to business in as little time as possible. How many Tanzanians are able to provide those connections? A tiny fraction.

At any one time in any country there is a handful of individuals who hold the critical success factors to a particular business venture. Sometimes education might level out the playing field and serve as a means for reducing the disparity among individuals of these critical success factors. But where education could be the saviour, it has become the very factor that worsens the disparity. Members of the political and economic elite can afford a better education for their children while the poor strata of society continue to receive a substandard education that only serves to entrap them inside a cycle of poverty with little chance of moving upwards.

What does this mean? In general, it is the minority affluent well-educated "connected" class that will have the chance to take advantage of these touted opportunities while the majority poorly-educated class will remain within the clutches of poverty and destitution.

It might be fair to say that I am outlining what is true of most countries in the world, not just Tanzania. Then again it should also be fair to ask why politicians keep parroting these fables about the existence of opportunities for all.

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