When good is not good enough for 40m Tanzanians

Tanzania has undoubtedly performed well over the past decade, with growth that has averaged approximately 7% per year, thanks to the emergence of a few strategic areas such as communication, finance, construction and transport. However, this remarkable performance may not be enough to provide a sufficient number of decent or productive jobs to a fast-growing population that will double in the next 15 years. With a current workforce of about 20 million workers and an official unemployment rate of only 2%, the challenge for Tanzanians clearly does not lie with securing a job. Rather, it is to secure a job with decent earnings.

In 2012, the average working Tanzanian earned the equivalent of US$1,200, which is lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa, and ranks Tanzania only ten places above economies with the lowest output per worker in 2012. Most workers, about 85%, are employed in traditionally low-productivity sectors such as agriculture, retail trade, and small-scale mining, where the output per worker averages only $700 per year. In emerging industries, however, output by worker averaged $4,500.

By 2030, Tanzania’s workforce will grow to 40 million workers who will need productive jobs. International experience suggests that the workforce will have to shift from traditional toward emerging sectors to create them. In Thailand, for example, agriculture represented 80% of the employment force in 1990, while it was only 50% by 2005. And in Indonesia, the share of agriculture in total employment declined by almost 20 percentage points, from approximately 64% to 45%between 1990 and 2010.

Can Tanzania replicate such structural shifts in the next 15 years? The response is negative if the economy continues on its recent trajectory. Indeed, at current growth rates, the share of the population employed in emerging sectors will marginally increase from 14% to 22% between 2012 and 2030. Perhaps not so bad, but the average annual income per worker will only increase to $1,900 by 2030 – approximately the level reported by Senegal today.

This modest structural transformation of the Tanzania employment force is not explained by the lack of dynamism in emerging businesses. Their average annual growth rate has been close 10% per year since 2008, which is higher than in Indonesia (8%) or Thailand (6%) during the same period. Arguably, it will be difficult for Tanzania to do much better in the foreseeable future.

Everything else equal, it will take simply more time for Tanzania to increase her share of the labour force working in emerging businesses, where currently only 15% of Tanzanians are employed. The starting point was more than 20% and almost 40% in Thailand and Indonesia. Another explanation is that the rapid growth of modern businesses has not been accompanied by a similar increase in jobs. This is expected for low-labour intensive areas such as finance and communication, but it also happened to some extent for construction and tourism. While growth in the construction industry surged at a cumulative rate of more than 50% in the last five years, employment in this sector only increased by 25%.

What needs to be done for creating productive jobs in Tanzania?

The answer to this question is at the centre of the World Bank’s recent Tanzania Country Economic Memorandum: Productive Jobs Wanted (CEM). To succeed, productivity will need to increase in traditional areas, which will continue to employ the majority of Tanzanian in the coming years. In parallel, the economy will need to extend and diversify toward new industries and markets.

While cross-cutting actions are central, policy-making might require some degree of specificity – otherwise there is a risk of diluting implementation and wasting scarce public resources. For this reason, the analyses identify some industries on the basis of the country’s comparative advantage, their potential for growth, and for their ability to create multiple jobs. Along those lines, the movie industry, or “Swahiliwood”, can create multiple jobs in the right environment. Short-term opportunities also exist in the leather industry, high-value vegetables and tourism. Such drive can be encouraged by a focus on quality (raising standards and skills), improving access to regional and global markets (port efficiency), and possibly pro-active promotion policies in selected areas.

Where will Tanzania be in 2030?

Business as usual will bring Tanzania at the current level of income per worker in Senegal, hardly the kind of progress that Tanzanians expect in the next 15 years. Yet, with the right policies, one can expect Tanzania to become the Vietnam, Indonesia or even the Thailand of tomorrow.

Let’s assume that the implementation of the CEM action plan will lead to an increase in additional productivity of 1-2% per year compared to historical rates. In that case, the average income per worker will reach almost $3,000 (in 2012 dollars) by 2030 or close to the levels reported by Vietnam today. If Tanzania can generate additional productivity gains in the range of 5%, over the recent historical trend, the average income per capita will reach almost $6,000 by 2030. This is Thailand today.

Such a goal might appear very ambitious, but possible if the above mentioned action plan is implemented with a sense of urgency and the country adequately manages its resources derived from natural gas. Such performance was achieved by China over the past decade and by other emerging economies during shorter of periods of time. Of course, to replicate these successes, Tanzania’s performance will need to be not just good, but very good.

This article was first published on the World Bank blog by Jacques Morisset, a World Bank lead economist.