In Tanzania, gravy trains come special — recipe for indigestion

Sunday February 04 2024

People use a bicycle to ferry goods across flooded Morogoro Road in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on May 7, 2015. PHOTO | DANIEL HAYDUK | AFP


There is something that has come to be known as a “gravy-train”, which depicts a political and governance system characterised by excessive luxury and easy living, obviously at the expense of other members of a society, community or nation.

Such a situation is to be observed in our midst, and especially in times of economic hardship and other difficulties facing the people at any given time.

For instance, currently, Tanzania, along with other countries in the region, has been experiencing unusually heavy rains caused by the El Nino effects across a large swathe of the African continent.

This is a frequent phenomenon, and we should have built up resilient ways of dealing with it.

Read: ULIMWENGU: There is more worth in what is public than in what is private

Our fault


Unfortunately, there are things we are able to do and others we are not able to do, although, many times, it is our fault that things are the way they are.

For instance, we are put before the evidence of our rulers’ inability to build proper infrastructure capable of holding strong when the heavy rains arrive.

We realise that there is a huge problem, which could perhaps be the result of poor engineering, or something more ominous.

If it were to be put down to poor engineering, we would have cause to worry, because Tanzania-trained engineers have been known to do a good job wherever they have gone in the region, for many years since the engineering department at Dar es Salaam was set up, back in the days of Silas Rwakabamba in the 1980s, and has produced many engineers who have excelled in all the neighbouring countries.

So, our engineers are good, and we have nothing to report on that front.

But, what about the officials who make decisions about the quality of the infrastructural constructions that we carry out on, the strength of our roads, bridges and draining systems, etc?

Read: EYAKUZE: Chadema marched and nothing happened...

Engineering genius

Once we come to an agreement that our engineers are beyond reproach as far as their engineering genius — forgive the pun — then we have to find out just what is wrong, and that is that someone in decision-making positions are deliberately allowing the building of sub-standard infrastructural bodies whose fragility is exposed every time a little water is showered onto us.

That means there are people in government employ who know how to build these things but who do not use the knowledge they have, because they are simply dishonest and are involved in ripping us off.

Now, our towns have impassable roads and the roads connecting our towns — forget about those linking villages — have crumbled, and they run the risk of disappearing altogether in some cases.

The main road linking Dar es Salaam and the new capital, Dodoma, is almost gone as I write, and travellers on a road journey that should take no more than five hours are taking a whole day.

SUVs on our roads

In the midst of all this, while we are experiencing terrible difficulties in the use of such roads as we have been given by our rulers — do we have a choice? — we notice that the gravy train is doing very well in rude health, as evidenced by new arrivals of the latest word in Land Cruisers and Nissan SUVs on our roads navigating the mudslides alongside us, and sometimes trying to muscle the drivers with smaller cars off the road.

Read: ULIMWENGU: We either fix our problems or prepare to perish

This is what is easily called insult added onto injury.

For, anyone observing this scene would be justified in asking if these luxurious vehicles — I’m told one of these petrol-guzzling monsters could cost the upward of $100,000 are — carrying the same people whose decisions caused our roads to be so hopelessly bad, and if their behaviour on the roads does not amount to insulting the small citizen struggling in his rickety jalopy, hoping the water does not rise up to his dashboard.

The angry, small motorist on the road, who sees all this ostentation by public officials in the midst of this highway chaos, is forced to think about the cost of living, which has been galloping over the past few years, making life harder that it is necessary.

No one in their right mind would think that government is responsible for all these woes, but the government ought to rein itself in and curb the baser instincts of some of its officials.

Nothing to worry about

Among government types there are elements who think they can do anything, drive any car, get paid any salary, travel abroad anywhere and drive on any side of the road when they are in town, and still have nothing to worry about.

That is the very definition of “gravy train”, and it comes in many manifestations in all the African countries, in some more than in others; we are all trapped.

But some gravy trains come special, with all the trappings of culinary wonders to suit all types of palates assembled in our government departments. They are fitted with porkchop coaches, seafood cabins, sushi platforms, caramel berths and vanilla stations.

They’d better watch out against indigestion.

Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]