Dubious Dubai-Dar deal: Too much opacity has eroded trust

Saturday June 10 2023

A ship docked at the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


Little is new in the current controversy surrounding a proposed agreement between Tanzania and a Dubai-based company that is seeking to operate Dar es Salaam port for the coming 100 years, or more.

We have, in our lifetime, witnessed other noisy exchanges about other agreements that have sought to allow foreign economic interests to have huge stakes in our national resources, stakes that did not make sense to many people, and the authorities failed to provide satisfactory explanations.

Generally, this kind of situation happens because those in government tend to believe that they have the right to do what they jolly well please and that those who express doubts thereon are either troublemakers or ignoramuses.

Those who have spoken of their opposition to this planned agreement — it is still not one, I understand — point to the opacity surrounding the issue. Why is the government and its agencies in a hurry to rush the proposals through parliament without sufficient consultations with the public? Indeed, the very existence of these proposals was made public by a leak through social media, and not through official channels.

Was someone in authority trying to pull a fast one over the face of the public only to be caught in the act? And why should government be treated with such suspicion by a large portion of its knowledgeable people, as evidenced by the angry comments on various media platforms?

The fact of the matter is that the government has, over time, eroded any trust it could have had with the public, basically by taking actions that have come across as, at best, incomprehensible. Recently, a number of railway locomotives and wagons were downloaded at Dar es Salaam port, official reports claiming they were brand-new — as they, indeed, should have been — when superficial scrutiny revealed them to be used. At an earlier date, “brand-new”planes were spotted getting a hand-paint job.


There may be too many things that need to be tackled with urgency, and it is beginning to look like such urgent matters are piling up with increasing rapidity, with little indication that there is some respite anywhere close by.

We recently were in the midst of something called “reconciliation” between President Samia Suluhu Hassan and Chadema’s Freeman Mbowe, although it was hard to pinpoint who was talking with whom: All the optics showed Samia, who is chair of the ruling CCM, with her deputy chair, A.O. Kinana, on the one hand, and Mbowe on the other.

It looked unbalanced, hobbled, limping. It made me want to rephrase the question I asked earlier: Who is zooming whom?
Now it is not clear that Mbowe, who has made his opposition to this port deal abundantly clear, will still have the same appetite for reconciliation he had a few months ago. In his recorded statement from Italy, he wondered why the soused agreement with the Dubai company was being hatched with a Tanganyika port, not a Zanzibar one, when President Samia and her line minister for ports are both from one side of the Union, Zanzibar.

Interesting. In the early 1990s, I was one of the Union members of parliament who passed a motion for the formation of a Tanganyika government with the Union structures. Founder president Julius Nyerere, although already retired, used his immense prestige to kill it, but I think he was wrong and what is happening now vindicates our action in the so-called G-55, as our group came to be known.

The problem here is that there is so much obfuscation in our Union structure, where the roles of Zanzibar ministers are ill-defined when it comes to their powers over Tanganyika matters. Those calling for a new constitution point this out, and there can be little doubt that they have been re-energised by the debate over the Dubai overtures.

Incidentally, the company implicated in this saga has been around the world, getting into agreements similar to the one they are trying to foist on Dar es Salaam. In most of the places they have entered into pacts, they are now in law courts claiming hefty damages over contractual breaches.

Tanzania has shown a disturbing penchant for entering into agreements that have landed us into trouble for careless commitments we undertook but failed to fulfil, in the self-defeating belief that if you can behave lawlessly with impunity in your own country you can do likewise internationally.

It is to be hoped that wiser counsel will prevail and that the Dubai proposals will be given a harder look before decisions are made.
There have been issues about which a lot of speculation has thrived. There apparently were other bidders for the job of running the port at Dar. How was the bidding process conducted, and was the best bidder chosen? We hear of organised visits paid for by the bidders, which might suggest not everything was kosher.

Unfortunately, with a rubber-stamp parliament and a neutered press, we have to keep our expectations as low as possible.