You just want to get into my mines, don’t you?

First things first, this border skirmish that Tanzania is on the verge of having with Malawi. Which strange stew of discontentment was that birthed by?

Tanzania and Malawi at loggerheads just sounds wrong. It doesn’t trip off the tongue lightly.

The reheated East African Community has sucked our collective attentions northwards and westwards where we are told the action is.

By long tradition we seem to have enjoyed a polite neighbourliness with our southern neighbours, kind of like those favourite cousins you can have a perfectly good time with at family reunions while taking a break from the hysterical elements of the clan.

Territorial disputes are nearly as boring to keep track of as footballers’ careers, but I tried patriotically to take some interest in this particular one.

The story that is emerging smacks of colonial baggage, avarice and no small amount of military restlessness.

Even as I am of a mind to scoff at the thought of boys in uniform and their toys in matching camouflage getting excited about mud-wrestling over invisible lines, I am aware that there is a seriousness to these matters that should never be disregarded.

Land is becoming a surprisingly valuable commodity in Tanzania, appreciating with every prospector who comes to scratch and sniff at what useful things might be lurking beneath.

I wonder if this is part of why the world is all a-twitter about selling us the notion of an African Renaissance.

It’s certainly couched in the language of courtship and why not? With every news bulletin that comes out, it seems that yet another commodity that the world is hungering for has been found in unbelievable quantities in our soils.

In other words: Economic temptation, precisely the kind that no nation-state has ever been able to resist over the course of history.

I remember being struck by the jubilation in Kenya when it found out that it had oil. Wonderful news, indeed... if one believes that the wealth will be redistributed in a meaningful way.

Has this happened in any of the other African countries in possession of great mineral wealth? Hmm. The Congo comes to mind as the most immediate example of the contrary.

Let’s not beat about the bush: Tanzania is filthy rich. So rich that any cartoonist who uses the visual metaphor of a poor nation sitting on a golden stool is clearly out of inspiration and working against deadline, the trope is so overused.

We always have been filthy rich; ask the disgruntled capitalists who were frustrated for decades by Nyerere’s “don’t bother with it if we can’t grow it” policies.

Seems like Mwalimu didn’t want to have to deal with a resource curse on top of the delicate politics of Cold War double-dating, especially not in an era that gave rise to Mobutu-esque insanities.

The intention might have been to wait until we had developed a national corps of policy-makers, technicians and all the other professions you need to adequately administer such wealth.

Trouble is, it didn’t work out that way; we were so busy marching in socialist lockstep and gutting our education system that...Well. Here we are today.

We’re not anywhere near sophisticated enough to make our mineral wealth work for us in the collective sense, but the good thing is that we seem to be aware of this problem.

The budget session in Bunge, which seems to last a longer eternity than Olympic opening ceremonies, got interesting again when the Ministry of Finance read its budget this week.

The chance to kvetch about tax policy gets MPs into those red recliners in a way that, say, education or health doesn’t seem to. More specifically, taxing the living daylight out of the extractive industries and making broad accusations of dirty dealings brings the best out of our politicians.

I watched an opposition man who is not known for his oratory skill wax so poetic about the need for economic unity across ideological lines that I nearly stood up and cheered. Then I remembered that different ideologies cannot have a unity of economic vision by definition, but his point came across all right.

In the spirit of common sense and fraternity, I want to jump on to his point. In the local sense at least, I may be one of the few who is perfectly happy with the slow pace of exploitation that we have adopted.

It behoves us to take the time to do this right. And in the meantime, it would also be nice if those gifted with the gab could just deal with our little misunderstanding down South before the chest-beating turns into something truly regrettable.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, http://mikochenireport.blogspot.com. E-mail: elsieeyakuze@gmail.com

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