Land, Labour, Legacies: Long-term Trends in Inequality and Living Standards in Tanzania, c. 1920-2020
Since the beginning of African decolonisation in the mid-twentieth century, many newly independent countries struggled to embark upon a path of sustained economic growth to raise their populations out of poverty. One of these countries is Tanzania. Surrounded by the Great Lakes on the west and bordering the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania is the fifth-most populous country in Africa. It is also one of the poorest.
To explain the persistence of poverty across the Global South, two factors have become increasingly prominent: economic inequality and colonial legacies. Tanzania emerged from colonial rule as a country with high economic inequality and low living standards. Since then, it has managed to overcome the legacy of high inequality but struggled to lift most Tanzanians out of poverty. How has the legacy of inequality been overcome? And why does poverty persist? What role does the colonial legacy play for income inequality and living standards? And how are economic inequality and living standards in Tanzania related to one another?
This dissertation seeks to answer these questions through a series of papers which employ analytical narratives to trace and explain the evolution of inequality and living standards over the last century. For the British colonial period, these narratives combine new quantitative evidence on wages, agricultural production, and living standards, and analyse them using a combination of economic theory and qualitative historical evidence. The analysis of the post-colonial period is based on a wide range of existing datasets on income inequality and living standards and uses triangulation methods to analyse the interrelationships between growth, inequality, and poverty as well as the many competing narratives concerning Tanzania’s economic development since independence. Together, the papers form the basis for reflection upon broader issues surrounding the complex linkages between economic development, inequality, and living standards in Tanzania and beyond.
The dissertation shows that first, the relationship between economic development, income inequality, and living standards in Tanzania is complex. While the inequality-growth relationship does not show a systematic pattern, economic growth was found to be a prerequisite for poverty reduction. Second, both in colonial times and after independence, the main obstacle to raising living standards was not income inequality itself, but the lack of access to diversified economic opportunities like cash crop production and wage labour for most Tanzanians. Third, looking at growth, inequality, and poverty in Tanzania over the span of a century, economic development was found to be slow and often arduous, but attempts to fast track this process were risky and often reversed the hard-won gains made during previous periods of development.