Much ado about budget: Here in Tanzania we shrug off these things

Saturday June 22 2024

Tanzania's Finance Minister Mwigulu Nchemba. PHOTO | NMG


Tanzanian budgets are built from the grassroots up — at least on paper. We have processes; we can get participants from our local communities all the way up to contributing to the discussions at a parliamentary committee level. On paper.

In real life, it is yet another top-down experience of government. Arguably one of the more important ones.

This importance is not the vibe on the ground. Since it is a yearly event — I think we do notice it in the lead-up to the Saba Saba public holiday. We have opinions about the budget speech, ranging from the formal analyses that are released by consulting firms as soon as they can plug numbers into their crunchers, through to sophisticated analyses by experts and the general “okay” of the Woman on the Street.

In keeping with how our government prefers things, we, regular citizens, feel that the budget is a bit far away and not our business to discuss. Doesn’t one need a degree to do that sort of thing?

Read: EYAKUZE: Tanzanians are charmingly affable in this hostile world

And that right there is a core contradiction. Participation feels like rubber-stamping, even though we know our participation is valuable.


Sometimes we push back against the confusion of being asked to attend meetings and voice opinions, which are not reflected when the central budget trickles down to noticeboards across communities all over the country. Why did you ask us, then? But it certainly doesn’t escalate to the extent that it can Up North.

We might coordinate our budget speeches in East Africa, but the reception of said speeches by the populace is far more localised. In Tanzania, we shrug, left out of the vigorous agency that current Kenyan youth display.

Things were more exciting when we had year-round and fuller coverage of the parliamentary sessions through live TV. Parliament is boring but, in Tanzania, we couldn’t get enough of watching our legislators at work. We saw who attended meetings and who didn’t.

We heard them speak outside of the usual asking for votes. Some communities realised their legislator wasn’t a top-shelf purchase. When this exercise in transparency was discovered to be helping us understand governance better, it was halted without ceremony. And just when the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation was starting to look like a friend of the public. Shame, hey.

So, here we are. It is possible that there are big policies hidden within this budget, especially in an election year. My purview is to keep an eye on how taxes might affect freedom of information and speech, and there is a proposed tax on digital content that looks a bit concerning.

Read: EYAKUZE: Taxation is a good idea; the issue is tax redistribution

Otherwise, I am content to point out the stark contrast between my reaction here today — placid, almost cheerfully unmoved — to that of the Kenyan youth who are causing fracas.

Their situation is different, to be sure. I would be lying, though, if I didn’t admit to wondering what it would take to get Tanzanian youth to that point of activation. I do know that access to information has everything to do with it.
Happy mid-June. I hope the taxman was good to you this month.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]