Deporting farmers, teachers bad economics for Tanzania

The on-going eviction of “illegal immigrants” in Tanzania has taken an interesting turn that if not handled carefully could have serious ramification on that country’s economy and social life.

The on-going eviction of “illegal immigrants” in Tanzania has taken an interesting turn that if not handled carefully could have serious ramification on that country’s economy and social life.

Latest reports say that while eviction of pastoralists from the Akagera region continues, Tanzanian authorities have started deporting about 10,000 foreign teachers who are mainly employed in private schools to teach English.

Under Tanzanian immigration laws, foreigners are supposed to pay $2,000 (about Rwf1.3 million) per year for a work permit. Naturally, private school operators can not raise that money and their appeal for a waiver or a reduction has largely been ignored. 

That means they will have to lose the vital manpower they need to operate because Tanzania is said to be short of that category of teachers due to the country’s long history of using Swahili as the medium of instruction at lower education levels 

Migrant labor is not entirely bad for any country – in fact big economies in the West, including the United States of America, were built on migrant labor. Targeting productive people for expulsion under the cover of a clampdown on illegal immigrants can only be counter-productive for the economy.

Over the past four weeks, thousands of evictees have been crossing borders to Rwanda and Uganda with hundreds of thousands of cattle. Some have reported loss of livestock and money during violent evictions. 

Individuals may not be wanted by the powers that be in Tanzania, but their expulsion from the only place they have known to be home for decades, can be a loss to the country.

The people being bundled out are not common criminals or vagabonds. Tanzania is actually evicting the most productive people – the ones who produce wealth and own property needed to improve living conditions of many Tanzanians in impoverished rural areas.

There is need to consider a farmer with 100 head of cattle as an investor, employer and wealth creator who should be protected and helped to grow the business, but not harassed like a common criminal irrespective of their descent or ancestry . 

Take for example Alex Rurangwa, a farmer who had 3,000 head of cattle who was expelled from Biharamuro District. The multiplier effect such a huge investment has on the rural economy of that district is big by any standards to guarantee him respect.

If, for example, Rurangwa milked just 700 cows every day, he would need to employ at least 30 people to do the job. He will also need several others to transport the milk to urban centers for sell or to be processed into milk products. 

All through the value chain – from the men and woman who feed and water the animals, to the milk vendor in town, there is employment and income generated. The same applies to other livestock products such as beef, hides and skins that not only provide employment and income, but also have potential to provide raw materials for the much-needed agro-processing industries. By evicting farmers with capacity to produce for the market, Tanzania risks a decline in milk and beef production – that may result in increased numbers of malnourished children.

Yet where there is income, there are also taxes to be paid to the government. Factories that process milk and milk products employ people who can be taxed. Those people earn money that they use to purchase other taxable goods such as beer, soda, cement as well as services such as education and health. This ensures that other people employed in those sectors also get income – which they also use to consume goods and pay taxes.

Tanzania certainly needs investors whether Rwandans, Ugandans or Indians. The notion that investors are only those who set-up supermarkets to retail foreign-made toilet paper, soaps, biscuits and soft drinks should be discarded. A farmer with 3,000 head of cattle is a big investor by far because of the multiplier effect that farm or ranch will have especially in a rural area. 

Teachers

Tanzanians have invested in schools – some probably using bank loans. Some of the decisions to invest in schools may have been taken basing on the availability of cheaper manpower from neighboring countries.

By rounding up teachers, the Tanzanian government is simply telling its own people who have invested in schools to close shop because school with say, ten foreign teachers, cannot afford to pay $20,000.

Not that there are many Tanzanians with skills to do the job and therefore no need for foreigners.

Figures point to a teacher-student ratio of 1:40. The country is said to have only 13,657 teachers which is several thousands less than the market demand of 23,546 teachers. It is that gap that private schools filled with teachers from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia.

It would be better for Tanzania to continue developing internal capacity to appoint when foreigners won’t be needed any more instead of threatening to blow up in smoke investment in its education sector and disrupt learning by its younger generation.

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