Here to be Heard
Where natural resources are found, corruption often follows. At least, the opportunity certainly presents itself, and we see report after report on widening wealth gaps and rampant inflation as newfound cash is mishandled by government officials.
Tanzania’s recent discovery of natural gas raises many questions for the African nation. Primary among them is what to do with the new-found wealth: what to spend and what to save. Perhaps the best way to fight corruption is through vocal, well informed citizens. In developing nations like Tanzania, it can be hard to include average citizens even if you try. Difficulties arise from lack of infrastructure, lack of information, and lack of trust in government alike, but every once in a while a nation has the chance to get it right.
In the 1980s, James Fishkin developed “Deliberative Polling,” a method now being used by the Center for Global Development as the second part of a broad survey. The goal of deliberative polling is to combat the hurdles of engaging citizens and ask the Tanzanian people what they want done with their newly discovered resources. While the influence this polling will have on Tanzania remains to be see, the methods are sound.
First, Fishkin and the CGD sought a sample representative of ordinary Tanzanians, from farmers to housewives. Second, they offered them a free trip to the city to attend a two-day discussion on natural gas policy, rather than poll people on a subject they knew little about. Third, they offered free cell phones. The phones served not only as incentive to attend but also a way to contact the subject and poll them once they had gone home.
There was some distrust, and many citizens from the more remote regions turned the offer down, fearing it was the trick of a satanic cult hoping to lure victims. For the most part, however, Tanzanians were excited to be a part of the discussion and willing take a risk in return for some agency and voice. And become vocal they did, talking and listening to one another even through a power outage.
It’s not yet known what the Tanzanian government will do with the information and opinions offered up by its citizens, but this new method of polling may just help make the most of this economic opportunity. Perhaps in this case, the voices of the public will be harder for foreign and corporate interests to drown out. In a world where greed and corruption is no longer shocking, that chance is worth reporting.
Photo: "Tanzanian farmers" by Fanny Schertzer