Cinderella and Her Three Sisters
For years, the investment community regarded Kenya, Uganda, and Mozambique along the eastern part of Africa as the economic darlings of the continent.
Up close, however, the so-called darlings turned out to be duds but one of their sisters, Tanzania, viewed most often as just a socialist experiment gone awry, is coming of age.
We found Uganda had become entangled in the war with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kenya, once the jewel of Africa, was experiencing electricity and water shortages; its roads and infrastructure were falling apart. And as it turned out, Mozambique was even more disappointing.
As I left South Africa to tour the nations along Africa's east coast, I did so fully prepared to invest in Mozambique. For several years now, Mozambique has had one of the fastest-growing economies on the African continent. I thought the recent flooding there represented only a temporary setback.
As recently as 1992, Mozambique was one of the poorest countries in the world, the victim of a devastating 16-year civil war. But when it achieved peace later in 1992, the economy began to rebound.
During the past three years, its gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate in excess of 10 percent. Foreign investment poured into the former Portuguese colony as the government privatized more than 900 enterprises. Inflation declined, and foreign exchange rates stabilized. A stock exchange, Bolsa de Valores de Mozambique, recently opened in the capital city of Maputo. Mozambique became a sparkle in global investors' eyes, including mine.
As I looked closer, however, I learned that a huge portion of Mozambique's economy is propped on the stilts of foreign aid and rising borrowings. Per capita GDP was $80 in 1997, for example, while total aid equaled $48 for each of the country's 19 million residents. The aid came from groups like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as from foreign governments and charitable organizations. Mozambique received $3.7 billion in debt forgiveness in 1999, but its total external debt still exceeded $6 billion.
Growth based on handouts is, of course, rarely, if ever, sustainable. Recall the old adage about giving someone a fish as opposed to teaching the person how to fish.
While touring the countryside, I saw few signs of vigorous economic activity. Much of the new money and wealth is centered around the South, near Maputo. In the northern countryside, roughly 70 percent of the population lives in poverty. Skilled labor is in short supply. I'd have a hard time calling some of the paths I drove on roads.
Corruption is also a serious problem. I heard stories of extortion and bribery by local officials, who make businesspeople pay for permits and licenses. In the North, I was stopped for speeding and had to pay a fine of $65, nearly a year's salary for many residents. He matter of factly explained "We get our money from white foreigners." Later, when he noticed we had a video camera, the cop told us he was going to have to confiscate it. No reason was given; he just wanted it. I've been in 74 countries, many of them former communist regimes, and nothing like this had ever happened. Finally, after some pleading, the policeman agreed just to take the tape. I told him he could look at it to see that there was nothing controversial on it but he wanted nothing to do with us any more. The cop pocketed our fine and walked away with our video tape.
As we were leaving the country, a border guard insisted we buy automobile insurance for our cars. I said, "thanks, we're leaving" and told him we didn't even have a visa to come back. He said we couldn't leave until we had bought 30 days worth of insurance for $50. I insisted I was only going to be in the country for another three minutes but he didn't care. He just saw us as rich foreigners who he could exploit.
I drove through the flood areas in the South, and the scene was devastating. Whole villages had been swept away. The national highway, which links Maputo to the rest of the country, is impassible in certain areas. At least 500,000 people were displaced. More than 20,000 head of cattle disappeared, and more than 500 schools were seriously damaged.
Still, the television news made it look as though the entire nation was underwater, not just a small part of it. I couldn't help wondering if Mozambiques government was actually encouraging the bleakest possible story, reflecting the national addiction to foreign largess. Before investing one penny in Mozambique, I would have to be convinced it had broken the habit.
North of Mozambique, I came across a country I do think is worthy of investment: the formerly socialist nation of Tanzania.
For nearly three decades, Tanzania was run by Julius Nyerere, a socialist liberator who became prime minister andthen president when the country gained its independence from Britain in 1964. (Prior to its liberation, Tanzania was known as Tanganyika.) Unlike many of the leaders who came to power in post-colonial Africa, Nyerere wasnt corrupt or greedy, just overly idealistic. He tried to run Tanzania as a socialist experiment, encouraging communal living and ujamaa, the Swahili word for cooperation and self-reliance. He promoted Swahili as the national language, hoping to bridge the barrier between the many tribes of the country. He nationalized almost every industry.
Nyerere was an honorable man. He preferred the title mwalimu, or teacher, to president. He never received more than $8,000 a year in salary. He promoted education and literacy. In fact, Tanzania has the highest literacy rate of any African country. In 1979, Nyerere and his army helped overthrow the infamous dictatorship of General Idi Amin in Uganda.
Unfortunately, Nyerere's social experiments did little for Tanzania's economy. During his tenure, the economy shrank, on average, half a percentage point a year. Tanzania's once thriving agriculture and mining industries went belly up under strict price controls and government mismanagement.
Nyerere stepped down as president in 1985, although many believe he continued to rule the country for years from a distance. In 1995, the first multi-party elections took place, and a new leader, Benjamin Mkapa, a former press secretary to Nyerere, became president. Mkapa has moved the nation toward a free-market economy. In fact, driving through Tanzania, I saw signs in English encouraging foreign businesses to invest in the country and billboards touting franchise opportunities with cellular phone companies and ways to invest in electric utilities. Local singer John Komba even has a pop song about the benefits of privatization.
Tanzania's GDP has increased since 1997: Growth was just over 4 percent in 1999, and economists expect it to exceed 5 percent this year. Inflation is falling, and the trade deficit is shrinking. Foreign currency reserves are up. Among the 23 countries listed in the World Economic Forum's Africa Competitiveness Report, Tanzania was the leader in terms of direction and extent of change between 1996 and 1999. Although foreign aid from governments and other sources has played a significant role in rebuilding the economy, it is only 20 percent as large as GDP.
Mkapa is making better use of the country's vast agricultural resources, including coffee, cotton, and tea, which had been thriving industries before independence. I met two Italian brothers whose family had been farmers since 1931. They showed me a map of almost 300 coffee farms that flourished in their region before the socialists came to power. Under socialism, farmers were required to sell their coffee at a fixed price to the government. The bureaucrats then resold the coffee on the open market and pocketed the profit. With reduced financial incentive, all but six of the coffee estates closed. Under recent new policies, some of the farms are opening again. Today, agriculture accounts for 50 percent of Tanzanias GDP and employs about 80 percent of the population.
Last year, Tanzania had the highest level of international investment in mineral exploration of any nation in this resource-rich continent, and it soon should be one of the three largest producers of gold in Africa (South Africa and Ghana are the others), with annual production rising to 2 million ounces by 2003. I still am not optimistic about the price of gold, but Tanzania's deposits are near the surface, so the production costs are low.
Tourism is also thriving and accounts for nearly 16 percent of GDP. In fact, the number of tourists jumped from 482,000 in 1998 to 627,000 in 1999. Of course, Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest mountain which Ernest Hemingway helped to make famous, is the main attraction. You don't need to be a professional to climb it, though getting to the top isn't a simple stroll either. I've run three New York City marathons, yet I was never as out of breath as I was while climbing the last 500 meters of Kilimanjaro.
Tanzania also boasts some of the continent's best game parks, including the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, a conservation area stretching across 265 kilometers of northern Tanzania. At 600 meters deep, animals can't leave this incredible habitat. Unlike game parks in Kenya or South Africa, we never had to worry about not seeing something one day as we saw dozens of lions and zebras and elephants eavry day.
Then there's Zanzibar, the fabled island off the coast.
Zanzibar has long been a focal point for trade for three continents. The Arabs and the Asians have been coming for centuries. Europeans used the term Spice Islands because of all the spices produced there. And in the early 1960s, the ruler of Zanzibar needed help surviving so he turned to Tanganyika. The subsequent deal kept him in power, but joined Zanzibar to the newly independent and renamed Tanzania.
Most of Africa's borders are artificial and problematical, leading to many of the continent's current conflicts. Zanzibar is a snapshot of the situation.
The island has an entirely different history, culture, and outlook from the mainland. Tanganyika is Christian, agricultural, and African while Zanzibar is Muslim, trading/merchant, and Arab. While these are oversimplifications, you can see how different they are.
There is strong separatist movement as Zanzibar wants out. The last election was so rigged that even the international observers had to call it a sham. The mainland spends huge amounts trying to maintain a union which should never have occurred in the first place. This source of tension and expense will certainly eventually end in separation. I would hope everyone involved would see reality and work toward a speedy separation so both could get on with each's development. Tourists are already re-discovering Zanzibar; it can certainly survive on its own.
Unfortunately, the Zanzibar situation is reflected all over Africa. Europeans carved up the continent at the Congress of Berlin in 1884 paying no attention to historic, ethic, religious, linguistic, economic, or national realities. These adsurd borders are a, if not the, major source of Africa's problems today. It would be wonderful if someone could call a new Congress of, say, Congo and redraw all the borders. Then all of Africa could get on with it.
There's certainly room for entrepreneurs. I met an Indian man who had come to Tanzania and built cashew processing plants. Cashews have long been a major industry in the country, and Tanzania now supplies a quarter of the world market. Still, bringing cashew production back to its pre-nationalization levels has taken some work. All the production facilities pretty much been shut down or went out of business during Nyerere's regime. The raw nuts were shipped elsewhere for processing. Wisely, investors now are reworking the system. The man I met had hired dozens of women to work at his plant and was now making a fortune.
There is a new stock market in Dar es Salaam, the capital, but foreign investors cannot, as yet, invest directly in the three Tanzanian companies with public shares. That should change soon. Meanwhile, the Presidential Parastatal Sector Reform Commission, a group that promotes privatization in Tanzania, offers an introduction to investing in the country and lists opportunities on its Web site (www.psrctz.com). I cant vouch for the site's specific content, but I do have high hopes for Tanzania -- she is Cinderella compared to her East African sisters.