Sovereign Man…..Notes from the Field…..Simon Black

In Business, Business/Political Trends Worldwide, Money and Finances on October 14, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Sovereign Man
Notes from the Field

Date: October 14, 2010
Reporting From: Zanzibar, United Republic of Tanzania

The selection of books for sale from the street vendor was rather peculiar. Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich), Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad series, Warren Buffet investment guides, finance and accounting textbooks, etc. Mostly in English, but many in Swahili. And they were popular.

You don’t really expect to see a bunch of locals thumbing through business books in a country where the largest bank note is worth about $6. But this is just one small indicator that Tanzania is going places.

With a beautiful oceanfront and developing cityscape, the port city of Dar es Salaam reminds me of the way Panama City used to look about 8-years ago: fairly backward, but moving rapidly in the right direction towards modernization. Tanzania has as few things going for it that should play out well.

First, tourism is a constant. Despite a slowdown from westerners, there are quite a few Asian and intra-African tourists knocking on the door to see Zanzibar and the Serengeti. Some of the Asians, as a matter of fact, are coming to look for wives since there’s such a shortage of women back home.

In hopes of attracting a Chinese husband, many local women use a specially imported cream from the Congo to lighten their skin pigment and conform to Asian standards of beauty. They’re referred to locally as “Michael Jackson women”.

For the men, there is benefit in marrying a local. Many Chinese traders are here to stay, competing for market share of their own products. If they marry a local, they get residency and citizenship.

The influx of Chinese in Africa is nothing new. What’s not discussed very openly is the African land grab from the Gulf Arab states. Places like Saudi, Qatar, and the UAE have been buying up land across the stable Muslim and quasi-Muslim African states… and Tanzania qualifies. Sort of.

Tanzania is about 1/3 Muslim, 1/3 Christian, and 1/3 whatever– mostly tribal ritualists. As such, there’s a fair amount of Middle Eastern investment here.

For both China and the Middle East, it makes a lot of sense to invest in Tanzania. The country is de-facto dollarized– the Tanzanian shilling closely tracks the US dollar at about 1500 to 1, so it’s a great place for China and the Middle East to unload their dollar reserves in exchange for resources.

And resources are plentiful here. Tanzania has pockets of incredibly fertile agricultural land, and agriculture accounts for nearly 50% of GDP and 85% of exports. This is undoubtedly attracting foreign investors.

Furthermore, you’ve heard of Tanzanite, the bluish precious gems. They’re everywhere here, and quite beautiful in raw form. What you might not know is that Tanzania is Africa’s third largest gold producer after South Africa and Ghana, and there are new deals being struck all the time for various resources.

I had drinks last night with a gentleman who is heading up a large natural gas exploration project off the coast, and breakfast this morning with a chap whose company is installing solar paneling across the rural areas of the country.

There are many similar projects in the pipeline, and given the relative lack of infrastructure, I expect a small development bonanza to take place in Tanzania for the next several years. In terms of dollars, it’s too small for large multinationals to seriously consider, but great money for SMEs.

These projects provide substantial economic benefits for the entire society: the hotel operators make more money, the taxi drivers make more money, the restaurant proprietors make more money, the office supply stores make more money, etc.

More importantly, the resource projects generally beef up the local infrastructure, ranging from roads to ports to mobile phone service. Everyone benefits from this– especially from the higher quality mobile phone service.

Most Tanzanians are too poor to afford a computer… but everyone has a mobile phone. They’re ubiquitous. As such, businesses provide a wide range of mobile services– banking, shopping, downloading and watching movies, etc. Tanzania is a classic example of this growing trend in Africa.

Overall, Tanzania is yet another off-the-radar good news story in a world that’s filled with gloom and pessimism. While it’s not the most advanced country on the planet, there are a multitude of personal and professional opportunities in Tanzania for an adventurous spirit.

Until tomorrow,

Simon Black
Senior Editor,

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