Dar es Salaam. Three main issues trouble the majority of Tanzanians according to the latest Sauti za Wananchi findings from Twaweza. They are the rising cost of living (48 per cent), the lack of employment or income-earning activity (29 per cent) and hunger or the lack of food (26 per cent).
These are followed by concerns about the quality of public services: poor health facilities (23 per cent), access to clean water (20 per cent), poor transport services (17 per cent) and the quality of education (15 per cent).
The findings were presented today, August 25, 2022, as part of Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi, a nationally representative mobile phone survey that was carried out between October and November 2011 and June and July 2022.
Twaweza, a regional NGO that works on enabling citizens to exercise agency and governments to be more open and responsive, interviewed a total of 3,000 households (3,000 individual respondents) on their views on the economy and the 2021 mobile money levy.
The organisation interviewed adults-aged 18 and above living in urban and rural areas with the mobile phone network coverage. The surveys were conducted in four areas of Dar es Salaam, Other Urburn and Rural areas and Zanzibar.
Presenting the findings at the Protea Courtyard Hotel in the city, Twaweza’s Executive Director Aidan Eyakuze said he was “shocked” by the revelation that only nine per cent of Dar es Salaam’s residents complained about hunger but it is 30 per cent in rural areas.
“It is slightly surprising given the fact that in rural areas there is plenty of food,” said Mr Eyakuze. “But this was not reflected in the respondents’ views. They consider the lack of food as a major concern.”
Asked about their opinion on the direction the country is going, many citizens said they were uncertain (44 per cent) while 30 per cent said the country is going in the right direction and 25 per cent thought it is taking the wrong direction.
Rising prices are the most frequently cited reason for concern about the country’s direction, Twaweza found out.
“This level of uncertainty is very big compared to past trends,” Eyakuze acknowledge. “In the past, many people were certain that the country was either going in the right direction or in the wrong direction. But lately, there has been a huge uncertainty. But this is a global phenomenon thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing wars.”
Twaweza also asked the respondents for their views on the controversial mobile levy introduced in July 2021 as part of the government strategy to finance its Sh36.6 trillion budget for the 2021/2022 financial year.
Following much criticism of the levy, the government reduced it by 30 per cent in September 2021 and another 30 per cent in June 2022. Twaweza’s survey, among other findings, found that the use of mobile money services decreased from 80 per cent in November 2021 to 75 per cent in July 2022.
There has also been a change in terms of citizens’ opposition to the levies. In 2021, for instance, 57 per cent of the respondents said they did not support the levies. In 2022, however, it is only 32 per cent, a change Eyakuze attributed to mass education that has been provided.
Also, 71 per cent of Dar residents reduced the use of mobile money services to send money, Twaweza findings show. Eyakuze says he thinks this has contributed to the lack of food concern raised by people in the villages.
“This is just my personal opinion, not that of Twaweza’s,” Eyakuze clarified. “You know food is not just the crops that you have cultivated or goats that you keep. There is also sugar. Cooking oil. There is salt.”
Eyakuze said all these need money, adding, “And if the money used to come from Dar es Salaam, where 71 per cent has stopped using mobile money services, that tells something.”
Fewer concerned about governance
But while Twaweza’s findings show that concerns about the economy and public service remain high, fewer and fewer Tanzanians are concerned about issues of governance.
“These findings inform us that the issue of governance is not the priority of the citizens,” Mr Eyakuze said during his submission.
“The trend has been so since 2014,” he added. “It’s a bit of a surprise, right, given how vocals we have been about the issue of governance? I think there is a lesson here. We need to know why.”
But what does this finding mean for the ongoing movement in the country demanding political reforms?
What impact, if any, would this perception have on the movement for the New Constitution that politicians from across the political divide, scholars and other activists have been pointing that it is urgent, saying it is Tanzanians’ top priority?
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Mr Eyakue thinks the finding sends a clear message to politicians, urging them to speak the citizens’ language by better understanding their priorities.
“So, put this issue of [the New] Constitution aside, that’s Aidan talking,” he said while laughing. “Put it aside. Talk about the income. Talk about the struggles the informal sector workers are going through. That’s how the people are going to listen to you.”
But according to Jane Magigita, Executive Director of Equality for Growth, an NGO that empowers women in the informal sector, it is not a matter of what is overriding the other; that people want to eat and not the Constitution.
“The Constitution is very important and it was beyond the scope of this survey; people were not asked whether they want the New Constitution or not,” said Magigita who was among the panellists. “The Constitution is a national issue, it is an important contract between the governors and the governed.”
Widening tax base
Elvis Mushi is a leading Tanzanian researcher who underscored the need for Tanzania to broaden its tax base.
Speaking during the event, Mushi, who works as the executive director with Redefine Africa, a Tanzanian-based data, innovation and digital revolution firm, said restructuring the entire economy should be the first step in the process.
“If 40 out of the 70 sub-sector in Tanzania are in agriculture, we need to rethink how best we could get the tax from that place,” Mushi, who noted that agriculture contributes only five per cent in taxes, said.
“These alternatives will lower people’s complaints of being exceedingly taxed by the government,” he added.
Mushi said if that does not happen, the government will be coming back to the same regular people demanding tax, calling taxes collected from, say, mobile money services, “the easiest one to collect.”