In this interview Dr. David Potts gives us an insight into what led him to begin his research on Tanzania, the different perspectives and opinions in his recent publication and what’s next for him.
Thank you Dr. Potts for taking the time to answer some questions regarding your latest publication: Tanzanian Development. In your acknowledgements you discuss how your undergraduate dissertation was initially meant to focus on the Chilean five year plans, but this changed to Tanzania, would you be able to tell us what led you to this research?
As an undergraduate studying economics at Cambridge University I was involved in two student occupations arising from the refusal of the University to consider reform of the (then) archaic assessment system that consisted entirely of examinations. A staff student consultative group from the Economics Faculty made proposals for reform that were thrown out by the Senate in a matter of minutes. As a result, the students (including me) occupied the Senate. Several academic members of staff addressed the sit in, including Dr Brian Van Arkadie, who had been working in Tanzania. Two years later, after a second occupation, we managed to secure changes that allowed for a final year dissertation to replace two examinations. Obviously I was keen to take up this opportunity and my original study was intended to analyse the five year plans proposed by the Chilean government under Salvador Allende. Brian Van Arkadie was to be my supervisor. In the summer of 1973 the Allende government was overthrown so my dissertation topic became irrelevant. Brian suggested that I should look at Tanzania instead. The parents of my then girlfriend, Sally, who is now my wife, were living in Kenya at the time and Sally helped me to get hold of the two volumes edited by Cliffe and Saul entitled ‘Socialism in Tanzania’ and this helped me to write the dissertation. In the following year I went to the University of East Anglia to do an MA in Development Economics and I followed up my interest in Tanzania in my MA dissertation.
On completing my MA programme I was appointed to a short term post as a Research Assistant at the University of Bradford in what was then called the Project Planning Centre for Developing Countries. I was subsequently appointed for a further period as a Research Fellow. Both posts were mainly concerned with developing teaching material and while I was able to get some short term teaching and research assignments in Pakistan, Jamaica and Nepal, I had no long term experience in any developing country. In 1981 I was informed of a vacancy funded by the World Bank and executed by FAO in what was then called the Project Preparation and Monitoring Bureau (PPMB) in the Ministry of Agriculture in Tanzania. I signed up initially for a three month consultancy, but I ended up staying for six years! When I returned to the University of Bradford my main area of expertise was project appraisal and so my main publications were in this area. It was not until 2008 that I wrote a research paper relating to the development of Tanzania. However, over the years, I had visited Tanzania on consultancy assignments, particularly in relation to a collaborative programme with the Institute of Development Management, which later became Mzumbe University, hence the involvement of Mzumbe University staff in three of the chapters in the book.
This book includes a wide range of different opinions and perspectives, would you be able to provide a brief overview of some of these views?
I think the main issues relate to the different perspectives on Tanzanian socialism. These are discussed particularly in Chapters 2 and 3 by Andrew Coulson and Michael Lofchie. Many of the early authors who wrote on Tanzania were sympathetic to Tanzanian socialism, despite its inefficiencies, as I was when I worked in the Ministry of Agriculture. However it didn’t take very long before some of the inefficiencies became fairly evident to me and it took me some time to work out where I stood as a socialist working in a very inefficient and increasingly corrupt system. In some respects Tanzanian authors can be more objective because they don’t necessarily come with preconceived ideas about what is right and wrong in terms of policies. The situation has become more complex since President Nyerere retired because the idealogical basis for policy is less and less clear and many policy decisions are now purely opportunistic. Some lip service is occasionally given to guiding principles but there are increasing indications that preservation of power and influence and the benefits that flow from them are the main concerns of the ruling elite.
What’s next for you?
I retired from full time work earlier this year. So the short answer is to relax! Apart from that I may do a bit of consultancy, a bit of writing and enjoy my retirement with my wife and family including my current granddaughter and future grandchildren.
This is a shortened interview with Dr. Potts, you can read the full interview in the next volume of the African Griot, out later this month!
This guest post is written by Dr. David Potts. Dr Potts is an Honorary Visiting Researcher at the University of Bradford and was Head of the Bradford Centre for International Development 2015-16. He worked for six years as an economist in Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture in the 1980s, has had many subsequent short-term assignments in the country and is co-editor of Development Planning and Poverty Reduction (2003).