- Published on Sunday, 10 February 2013 02:09
- Written by TUMA ABDALLAH
- Hits: 1897
MS Diane Corner, the outgoing British High Commissioner to Tanzania, began her tour of duty in the country in 2009. The envoy who accomplished her assignment recently speaks about her work experience in Tanzania and the cordial relationship that exists between the two countries in an interview with Staff Writer TUMA ABDALLAH...
QUESTION: Your Excellency, you are finishing your four years tour of duty in Tanzania. How can you describe your stay and work experience in the country?
ANSWER: The word that immediately springs to mind is “busy”. We have such a wide-ranging relationship between our two countries, and my four years here have been spent covering a wide range of subjects and activities. It’s been challenging but also professionally and personally rewarding.
Q: What was your first impression when you arrived in the country in 2009 and what impression are you leaving with?
A: Tanzania struck me as a beautiful and diverse country, one with a great deal potential. It still does -- in fact Tanzania’s potential has if anything grown even more. The challenge of course is whether it can realise that potential, and actually improve the lives of its citizens in terms of health, prosperity and happiness, ensuring that its natural riches benefit the country as a whole.
Q: When you came to Tanzania you had your plans and priorities. How much have you fulfilled?
A: My four years here have been packed. The first year I spent getting to know the country and the issues. The second was dominated by the elections, which is a fascinating time to be a diplomat in a country. The third year was dominated of course by the visit of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall which was part of Tanzania’s celebrations to mark 50 years of independence for mainland Tanzania.
I thought the final year would be quieter, but it too was busy, however I did get to see more of the country, including Bukoba and Kyela. And I handed over 3 rhinos from the UK to Mkomazi National Park. I shall never forget that, it’s not something every diplomat can say they’ve done!
Q: Did you notice, during your stay in Tanzania, any remarkable changes in the country’s social, economic and political landscape? Is there a way that the country would have done better?
A: There have been huge changes in my time here. The biggest is that the economy has grown by 30%. That’s great news and you can really see the difference in cities like Dar, Arusha and Mwanza. But in that same time of course the population has grown by about 11%. So there is absolutely no room for complacency if Tanzania is going to create enough jobs and grow enough food to feed its growing population. And on that, I think more could be done.
The type of farming that worked in the past won’t work for the future. And Tanzania’s agricultural potential is such -- with fertile land and good rainfall -- that it could be feeding not just itself but the region too. Changes are coming. But there are still too many obstacles to modernising farming.
More could also be done to improve the business climate more broadly. Tanzania has been slipping back in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index and this is bad news for a country that needs to create jobs and fast economic growth. Young people coming out of schools and universities need to know that they have a reasonable prospect of a decent life.
Q: How do you assess the long standing brotherly cooperation between UK and Tanzania?
Are there areas that you think need strengthening? A: We have a very good bilateral relationship, spanning many years. The UK is the second biggest donor to Tanzania with over USD 250 million of bilateral aid per year. We are also the biggest foreign investor, and according to the Tanzania Investment Centre, 60% of foreign investment in Tanzania is British owned. These investments range in size from family owned concerns to some of the biggest companies in the UK. And the number and scale of investments is growing all the time.
Then we have the political relationship with a steady stream of visits in both directions, and this is complemented by close relations between our two parliaments. There are also good academic contacts with British researchers working in Tanzania and vice versa. We also have a very large number of NGOs working in development in Tanzania. And finally there are the people to people links epitomised by the work of the Britain-Tanzania Society. I’ve been very pleased that the British Business Group has gone from strength to strength in the last 4 years. I think we could do more together in the area of defence engagement and that’s something which is starting now, with UK military trainers down from our East African training team.
Q: If given another chance to come back to Tanzania in the same capacity what would you like to see done?
A: Well, I think it would be very unusual indeed to come back to Tanzania in the same capacity! But if -- or rather should I say when, because I know I will -- I come back, I’d like to see those things I mentioned earlier, more productive agriculture and a better business climate. And of course continued strong progress in improving education, better health, better infrastructure and, overall, a sharp reduction in poverty.
Q: What have been your best and or worst moments in Tanzania?
A: My best moments ... Where do I start, there have been so many great moments. I think though that the visit by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall was really special. We had a great programme, which showcased the breadth and depth of the relationship between our two countries. And wherever they went, whether in Dar, Zanzibar, or the Arusha region, the royal couple were received with such warmth and enthusiasm. The worst times for me were the two Zanzibar ferry disasters. They were such a senseless loss of life, and they could have been prevented. These were not “the will of God” but manmade disasters.
Q: You are leaving Tanzania when election fever is almost everywhere. The country is just two years away from the next general elections which will see the end of the Fourth Phase Government and the beginning of the Fifth Phase Government, what is your comment?
A: Well, in a democracy it’s vital for everyone to remember that the people are sovereign. Perhaps sometimes politicians can get a bit too focussed on what is happening within their own political parties and forget that they are actually there to serve the electorate because it’s ultimately the people who will decide who comes to power. So for 2015 it’s important to see everybody working to ensure that there is a fair and open election, and that the will of the people -- whatever their choice may be -- is respected. That’s how Tanzania will preserve its much-prized stability.
Q: If asked to describe Tanzania in just one sentence, what will that be? A: A beautiful and diverse country, with bright prospects for the future as long as it takes care to realise them. Q: Your next duty station is DRC, another African country, are you excited?
A: Yes, very much so. I’m looking forward to working on a very different agenda, in another country where the UK is a big player because of the size of our aid programme and the role we play in the United Nations. I’m particularly pleased to be staying in Africa, which for me is the most fascinating of continents. And of course, it means that I’ll be able to come back relatively easily to see my friends in Tanzania.