In recent years, Tanzania has discovered natural gas reserves off its southern coast worth roughly 15 times its annual GDP, at least before the recent oil-price slump. How can Tanzania use that money, if and when it arrives, and avoid the notorious resource curse?
Ongoing research here at CGD — together with REPOA, a think tank in Dar es Salaam, and a committee of Tanzanian intellectuals and policymakers — is trying to answer that question in a novel way: asking people.
Over the past two months, survey teams armed with tablet computers have traveled to the far corners of Tanzania, interviewing a nationally representative sample of 2,000 voting-age Tanzanians. We’ll also go one step further — 400 survey respondents from around the country will travel to Dar es Salaam in mid-April to discuss different ways of managing the revenues among themselves and with experts. The process is known as “deliberative polling,” and while it isn’t a new concept in general, it will be the first event of its kind in Tanzania.
This turns out to be surprisingly controversial.
Many economists we talk to are dubious about asking ordinary people how to use natural gas revenue. They argue populist pressure from ordinary people to overspend and underinvest — or to prioritize one region over another, in a zero-sum game — is a leading cause of the resource curse. By this logic, policymakers should seek to insulate natural resource policy from political discourse, not embrace it.
So why do we think it’s so important to consult citizens? While some aspects of managing the resource curse are inherently technocratic (e.g., avoiding Dutch Disease), others are fundamentally political — like holding politicians accountable for the use of sovereign rents.
One key lesson of the World Bank’s recent World Development Report on behavioral economics was that many development experts have no idea how poor people actually think. Lest you doubt us, let’s do a little test.
Since CGD blog readers are a fairly educated crowd ( “experts,” even?), we thought we’d see how you compare to average Tanzanians. Help us out by answering the same questions yourself. We’ll tally the results and compare CGD’s expert readership to the views of a representative sample of Tanzanians in a follow-up blog post.
The following questions will ask you to choose between two scenarios. People who strongly support the first option are at 1. People who strongly support the second option are at 7. People who support both options equally are at 4. Ask yourself, from 1 to 7, where would you place yourself according to each question?
If the survey doesn’t appear above, please visit it here.
Here are some reasons people might consider in deciding what to do with the money from natural gas. On a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 is an extremely unimportant reason and 10 is an extremely important reason and 5 is exactly in the middle, where would you put each of the following? 0 is the least important possible and 10 is the most important possible.
 The committee is chaired by Samuel Wangwe, director of REPOA, and Nancy Birdsall at CGD. Our CGD colleagues Mujobu Moyo and Faraz Haqqi are overseeing the project in Dar, with input from Jim Fishkin at Stanford and his colleagues at Reframe It. Fieldwork has been conducted by the Tanzanian survey company EDI.