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Elites Like Preaching About Development. But Whose Development?

Is it people’s development or the elites’?

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There is this saying that our ruling party elites are so fond of peddling, which I find particularly tiresome because while it has some truth, it also hides it. Also, the people who use it are more interested in hiding than revealing such truth.

The saying is maendeleo hayana chama, meaning development is not a party issue; development is just development! Well, of course. That is a statement of the obvious.

But then we must ask ourselves a series of questions: Which development? Who decides? Whose development? Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s Founding Father,  was not wrong when he said kupanga ni kuchagua, to plan is to choose. And our elites are not good choosers.

For example, this publication reported that our Fire and Rescue ‘Army’ lacks 99.4 per cent of the water points required for its fire engines; less than one per cent of needed water points are available. OK!

And they also lack 91 per cent of the fire and rescue equipment they require. They have just nine per cent. Is that not equivalent to saying we have no ‘army’ at all? Can you imagine any army going to war with only one or nine per cent of the weapons required to fight?


For instance, the speech makers remind us that we do not have unlimited funds, so we must prioritise. Fine. So, with the funds we have, what do we choose? Do we select huge V8s for many leaders, or can we spend the money more strategically?

You squeeze your way between the lines of these monsters and find that the internet isn’t working in the office or that critical people don’t have a computer. In the world of today, are the monsters the best way forward?

READ MORE: Democracy Identified As Prerequisite to Development

Oh, yes, the speechmakers cry, but you must realise that leaders need these monsters to travel around. But there are monsters and monsters. For example, one V8 costs something over Sh300 million. Another powerful SUV, such as the Fortuner, costs under Sh150 million.

Thus, one can buy two Fortuners for the price of one V8 and still have money left over to employ some teachers, build latrines in schools or buy those computers necessary. I don’t believe there is much difference in the reliability of these two cars, and the V8 is also more expensive to run.

Who plans?

This brings us to the second aspect of choosing to plan and planning to choose. Do we plan, or do we just act without thinking? Then, who plans? And for whose benefit? While a car like the Fortuner is also suitable for long distances, safety and on rough roads, it doesn’t have all the same luxuries as a V8.

So choosing a V8 over a Fortuner implies that those making the choice think of self-development rather than development for those they claim to serve.

Yes, but, claim the speechmakers, these are just a few individuals. But when you add up Sh150 million x 1,000 cars, you get Sh150 billion. How many teachers could the state employ with that money, or could we not provide health insurance for all children with such funds?

Individual choice multiplied by large numbers has massive societal effects. The same applies to the nature of housing for these same people. That is why we have to realise we are not talking about individuals misbehaving but about class interests.

Development for which class are we talking about? Is development for them not a political issue?

READ MORE: Of Tanzania’s Ruling Class and Its Desire to Misuse Words to Achieve Its Ends

On a broader scale, the issues remain the same. Regarding infrastructure, do we invest in more roads or improve public transport? Do we give tax breaks and holidays to foreign or local investors?

Do we invest in our people or regard them as impediments to outside investors? Do we buy more planes or upgrade our rural schools? Do we continue with hydropower, develop gas power, or invest in renewables such as wind and solar power?

The list is endless, and each item will benefit one group or class over another. Do we balance these interests?

Participatory development

These are challenging questions to answer, but maybe the big issue comes: Who decides? We talk so much about participation, but do people participate? Are they informed enough to participate? Or are they propagandised? And, of course, who decides for the benefit of whom?

I am shocked when I go to work in communities how often people talk of development in negative terms. They were doing fine until ‘development’ came.

READ MORE: Licence to Silence: Making Sense of Tanzania’s Efforts to Control Dissent

It is because elites do not consider their development priorities when it comes to planning development, and even worse, they are often forced or coaxed into using their scarce resources to satisfy other people’s priorities.

I remember one community I visited where authorities asked it to prioritise education, water and health. The older men decided they wanted to rebuild the school, which was in bad shape.

Authorities allocated the money, but after several months, something had yet to happen. The foremost priority was a well, as women fetching water faced regular attacks, while the men had only asked for money for a school to keep the district authorities happy.

A better school was necessary, but the well was far more urgent, and when authorities reallocated the money to the well, within three months, the community could use it. Women were now safe from crocodiles in the water and human predators on the way to and from the river.

The problem was that, just as at the national or regional level, we follow the priorities of the speechmakers; at the community level, we think the community consists only of the elders – men – and better off.

READ MORE: Welcome to Tanzania, Where El Kura Is More Important Than El Nino

In another community we went to, the young women and men said we were the first people who had ever asked them what their priorities were. Community members assumed that the leaders’ priorities were the community’s priorities.

So, let’s be honest when we talk about development.

What and how we prioritise and who is involved in the prioritisation are political issues; therefore, they are party issues. Each party should be explicit about whose interests they are prioritising and convince us their class priorities are the best.

Richard Mabala is an educator, poet, and author. He is available at or on X (Twitter) as @MabalaMakengeza. These are the writer’s own opinions, and they do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further inquiries.

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