Tanzania Embraces Free Enterprise; Mkapa Weans Nation off Its Socialist Roots
Byline: Carter Dougherty, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania - From the lowliest street peddlers to the largest state-owned companies, the winds of free enterprise are blowing through Tanzania, as the country slowly erases the legacy of what was once Africa's biggest experiment in socialism.
But the country's new orientation is also testing President Benjamin Mkapa's ability to deliver tangible improvements to his people.
For near 30 years after the union of Tanganyika and the Sultanate of Zanzibar created the United Republic of Tanzania in 1964, the country pursued the collectivist vision of its founding father, Julius Nyerere. Known as "ujamaa" - a Swahili word describing close familial relations - the system emphasized public education, self-reliance and communal ownership of property.
Tanzanians credit "ujamaa" with having welded the country's 130-some tribes into a coherent, Swahili-speaking nation of 36 million people, free of the ethnic divisions and violence that plagued neighboring countries like Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. The people speak reverently of Mr. Nyerere, who died in 1999, simply as "Mwalimu" - teacher.
But most Tanzanians also concede that his economic policies failed utterly, driving living standards steadily downward through the 1970s and 1980s. In retrospect, even older citizens concede that Mr. Nyerere helped smother the individual initiative their country now needs to boost its per-capita annual income from what the World Bank estimated to be an appalling $280 in 2002.
"We grew up expecting a lot from the state," said Cranmer Rutihinda, an economist in Dar es Salaam. "The entrepreneurial spirit was dead."
These days, a growing band of pro-globalization free-marketers, most notably Mr. Mkapa, spend their days trying to resuscitate entrepreneurship while preserving the positive spirit of "ujamaa" that has kept Tanzania whole.
Mr. Rutihinda oversees the research division of the Tanzania Investment Center, an institution whose existence would have been unthinkable a decade ago. The organization, which answers directly to Mr. Mkapa, aggressively courts foreign investors with promises of limited regulation and a level playing field.
It has been instrumental, for example, in helping the mining industry recover, where international companies are now exploiting rich deposits of gold, diamonds and tanzanite, a light-bluish stone unique to this East African region.
As Tanzania's leading evangelist of free enterprise, Mr. Mkapa shows a fervor seldom seen in Africa. He was once a protege of Mr. Nyerere, and the elder statesman made him president by ensuring his nomination as the candidate of the ruling party - the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) - in 1995. Though opposition parties exist, the CCM is the de facto power center of Tanzania, dominating both the executive branch and the parliament.
While Mr. Nyerere was still alive, the president established the groundwork for reform with some early privatizations and reforms of restrictive land-ownership laws. In the last few years, other, more dramatic changes followed.
Now, with less than two years to go before the constitution requires him to step aside, Mr. Mkapa is exhorting his compatriots to pick up the pace, hoping to leave a solid legacy of reform.
"Frankly, I am sick and tired of always hearing Tanzania being referred to as 'one of the most poor countries,' " Mr. Mkapa said in his Feb. 12 state of the union address to parliament. "It is possible to shed this obnoxious epithet, but not at our present speed."
So far, Mr. Mkapa's main achievement has been to make peace with the International Monetary Fund, and by extension, with the Western donors whose aid still makes up roughly half of Tanzania's national budget, through solid macroeconomic policies.
Inflation, which stood at 27.4 percent in 1995, sank to 4. …