Ruvuma as a case study of unbalanced college distribution

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By Charles Makakala

If the administrative regions of Tanzania had been countries, the residents would fare much better than they do today.

This is the argument I made in the article I wrote in December 2021, using Ruvuma as an example. In the article, I pointed out that Ruvuma is larger than 14 African countries, including Rwanda and Burundi. However, in terms of development, the region lags far behind many of these nations in comparison.

Read: What if the sleepy region of Ruvuma was a country?

It is instructive to remember certain facts.

Ruvuma has no university. Eighty-five percent of high school students get divisions four and zero on the national exams. A district has only one health center which serves 15 neighborhoods. Only 3.7% of arable land is irrigated. There is no railway in Ruvuma, and manufacturing and tourism are virtually non-existent. And some time ago, the total electricity demand in Ruvuma was equivalent to that of the Golden Jubilee Tower in Dar es Salaam!

The differences, even adjusted for population size and income, indicate that the situation could be much better in Ruvuma.

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I remembered Ruvuma’s article after seeing a post on Twitter which listed regions without universities in Tanzania. The author listed Kagera, Tabora, Manyara, Singida and Tanga before inviting others to add to the list. They did, adding Songwe, Kigoma, Njombe, Katavi, Rukwa, Mtwara, Lindi, Shinyanga and, of course, Ruvuma. Unfortunately, the outcome was questionable as there was no shared understanding of what a university entailed.

That said, the discussion highlighted a similar issue to the one I touched on in Ruvuma’s article – how we do development in Tanzania. For some reason, there is a remarkably unequal distribution of resources. Think of an unwarranted amount of resources now going to Dodoma and Zanzibar at the expense of other places. As a result, many Tanzanians are staying put.

The absence of universities in many regions shows this quite clearly. Let’s use Rwanda (comparable size) and Botswana (comparable population size) as nations of comparison.

According to comprehensive source, there are 26 tertiary institutions in Rwanda and 15 in Botswana. The criteria chosen for their selection was proper accreditation, they offer degree programs and deliver courses primarily in a traditional, face-to-face, non-distance teaching format.

Therefore, we conclude that:

First, given the population and geographic size of Tanzania, the number of universities is grossly insufficient. Second, about half of the regions have no universities. Finally, in the case of Ruvuma, given population size and GDP per capita (best done by regression analysis), Ruvuma should have at least four universities. He has none.

As centers of higher learning, universities increase opportunities for academic and intellectual development in a community, but universities are also forces for cultural and economic transformation. They attract skilled workers, thereby stimulating innovation, and catalyze demand-side investment in support services such as housing, cleaning, catering, stationery, transport, communication, etc. This is what promotes growth.

Dodoma was similarly transformed by the launch of the University of Dodoma (UDOM).

I first visited Dodoma in 2006, when UDOM was just founded. Dodoma was dull, totally devoid of character. A few years later, Dodoma has changed beyond measure. The UDOM has brought the region to life. There’s nothing like stimulating small-town life like an injection of thousands of optimistic, half-cooked fresh blood.

But why is the government implementing these projects unfairly? Are our political masters unable to find a development formula that works for all, or have they conspired to favor some and deny others?

Think of Dodoma. If Tanzanians were asked whether trillions of shillings should be spent on new capital or whether they should be invested in the productive sectors of their communities, what would they have chosen? Is Dodoma a higher priority compared to universities, improved seeds, irrigation projects, fertilizers and agricultural value chain developments? Alas, medical devices and irrigation projects were funded to deliver Dodoma!

This reveals that the government had usurped the right of the people to choose their destiny. This is why elected politicians ignore people’s wishes with impunity. Ultimately, revenues are collected and allocated without considering what people really want.

Fortunately, Tanzanians are extraordinarily resilient, but whenever they shape something that works, the government can always be counted on to mess it up. Set up a cashew development fund, and the government will hijack it. Embrace mobile money for financial inclusion, and dirty hands will be thrown in the cake. It was these decisions that made Tanzania what it is today.

Unfortunately, we seem to have missed a good lesson in our history.

In the 1980s, when the economy was on its knees, it was not the government that fixed it, but the people. Central planning ruined the economy, but President Mwinyi came with the rukhsa and the people revived it. If the government stays out of the people’s business, the people will do the rest.

Tanzanians do not need ministers to build them mosques and churches. Nor do they need ministers to build universities. They don’t need it for schools, hospitals, neighborhoods, hotels, or irrigation canals.

If only they took a break.

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