Tanzania: Rethinking Poverty and Social Exclusion

In the year 2018, Tanzania was the 4th largest producer of sweet potatoes in the world, with China, Malawi, and Nigeria being the first three. The East African nation also boasts of being the 7th largest producer of peanuts in the world, the 5th largest producer of sesame seeds in the world, with Sudan, Myanmar, India, and Nigeria holding the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th positions, respectively; the 6th largest producer of beans and cashew nuts in the world; the 10th largest producer of bananas in the world; the 11th largest producer of coconuts in the world; and the 12th largest producer of cassava and sunflower seeds in the world.

Tanzania, the largest East African country with its beautiful landscape and coastline along the Arabian Sea shore, is plagued with a significant challenge of poverty and is one of the world’s least developed countries using the Human Development Index (HDI). With opulent vegetation and a wide variety of wildlife roaming the alluring scenery, a great chunk of Tanzania’s 63.59 million people (World Bank, 2021) are either experiencing income poverty or multidimensional poverty. To make matters worse, intergenerational poverty has continued to hinder the economic growth and progress of the populace, whose poor parents pass on poverty to their offspring. Economic and social mobility remain low, while social exclusion continues to hit the roof. There is a dire need for this largest East African nation to relieve itself from this economic quagmire and liberate itself from intergenerational poverty by utilizing its people and natural resources for economic gains and its social well-being. A land endowed with so many resources ought to have outgrown handouts in terms of aid and grants from developed nations.

Tanzania’s Economy at a Glance

The economy of Tanzania is very much based on agriculture. This accounts for nearly 30% of its gross domestic product (GDP), provides 85% of its exports, and accounts for more than 50% of its employed workforce (Lars Kamer, 2022). Agriculture, being one of the main sectors of the economy in Tanzania, has consistently contributed to its GDP growth and has maintained its contribution above 25% for almost a decade. Agriculture on a subsistence level is mostly carried out by peasants dwelling in the rural areas of the country.

In the year 2018, Tanzania was the 4th largest producer of sweet potatoes in the world, with China, Malawi, and Nigeria being the first three. The East African nation also boasts of being the 7th largest producer of peanuts in the world, the 5th largest producer of sesame seeds in the world, with Sudan, Myanmar, India, and Nigeria holding the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th positions, respectively; the 6th largest producer of beans and cashew nuts in the world; the 10th largest producer of bananas in the world; the 11th largest producer of coconuts in the world; and the 12th largest producer of cassava and sunflower seeds in the world. That same year, the country also saw the production of large quantities of some products, such as tobacco, maize, coffee, tea, and sisal. Mango, pineapple, orange, tomatoes, cotton, sorghum, potatoes, sugarcane, and rice But Tanzania’s very high dependence on agriculture makes its economy highly susceptible to weather shocks and unstable commodity prices. A high percentage of Tanzania’s farmers are engaged in subsistence agriculture, and the lack of technical know-how, infrastructure, and agricultural technology, as well as the use of crude implements, is a key indication that their economic livelihoods can be easily destroyed by acts of God such as floods, droughts, temperature variation, and the negative impacts of climate change. This would have a ripple effect, increasing unemployment, malnutrition, hunger, the spread of diseases, and most likely spiking the mortality rate due to famine and starvation.

Industries also make up a major and growing component of the Tanzanian economy. The Tanzanian industrial sector contributed about 22.2% to its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013. The Tanzanian industrial sector includes but is not limited to mining and quarrying, electricity and natural gas, water supply, construction, and manufacturing. Tanzania also exploits its mineral resources for economic gains. So far, salt, pozzolana, kaolinite, gypsum, copper, phosphate, silver ore, phosphate, tin, graphite, bauxite, and Tanzanite are some of the minerals being exploited in Tanzania. Tanzania is also engaged in the importation of goods from its main importation partners, the United Arab Emirates, China, and India. Some of the goods imported are palm oil, cars, wheat, packaged medicines, and refined petroleum.

The rebasing of Tanzania’s economy in 2014 saw an increase in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by a third to US$41.33 billion. In 2019, the nation’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$60.8 billion grew by 4.8% to US$64.4 billion in 2020, making it the second largest economy in East Africa only after Kenya and the seventh in Sub-Saharan Africa. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected a GDP growth of +4.0% and +5.1% in 2021 and 2022, respectively, and a 6.0% growth of GDP in 2026 for Tanzania. (Wikipedia, 2023).

The government of Tanzania has taken up the responsibility of encouraging more active participation in the private sector of the economy. In 1986, it began an adjustment program to take apart the socialist economic controls. This program reduced the budget deficit, substantially depreciated the overvalued exchange rate, improved monetary control, liberalized the trade regime by removing most price controls, freed interest rates, eased the restrictions on the marketing of food crops, and commenced the restructuring of the financial sector.

A Land of Contrasts

With its abundance of natural and human resources and an overwhelmingly high level of multidimensional poverty, Tanzania is a land of contrasts. Tanzania has experienced economic growth over the years, but this growth has not been felt in the lives of the populace; it has only been economic growth on paper. With a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 5.5% as of 2021, the agricultural sector accounts for almost 30% of GDP, the industry’s exports account for 28.6%, and the service sector accounts for 47.6%. As of the year 2020, Tanzania’s inflation (the Consumer Price Index, or CPI) was estimated at 3.9%. With an employment rate of 82.2% and agriculture making up 50% of the labor force by occupation, the unemployment rate in 2017 was 2.2% (Lars Kamer). Yet, the nation is among the 15 poorest countries in the world. A third of Tanzanian children live in extreme poverty, and as many as a third quarter are experiencing multidimensional poverty.

Unfortunately, the steadily increasing Gross Domestic Product of Tanzania did not have a significant impact on Tanzania’s poverty reduction. And across the board, Tanzania has only achieved a 2% poverty reduction over the last decade, leaving a huge chunk of the country’s population wallowing in privation.

Poverty is basically a state of lack and insufficiency to meet basic needs. Income poverty is the lack of a minimally adequate income. A large portion of Tanzania’s population is poor; they lack the financial resources and essentials for a minimum standard of living. Basic amenities of life such as portable water, healthy food, medical attention, and proper housing are out of their reach. People in this state find it difficult to access quality education, sustainable income, and basic infrastructure services.

Reasons for poverty in Tanzania

Tanzania has over the years witnessed growth in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP); in fact, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects a 6.0% GDP growth in 2026; this, however, has not reflected on the income level of the populace as the population of Tanzania also soars with a 3.0% annual change according to the World Bank in 2021. The increasing rate and rise in population are not met by the increase and rate of economic growth and development; the rise in population by far surpasses economic growth and development, making its impact minimal. This has led to an increase in the level of poverty in Tanzania.

Corruption has also played a major role in the impoverishment of Tanzanians. Corruption, which is prevalent all over Tanzanian society, is a serious problem affecting all sectors of the economy. For example, in the agricultural sector, poor utilization of the budget for agriculture by unscrupulous agents has led to widespread food insecurity. Though there are laws, institutions, commissions, and agencies set up by the government to tackle corruption, weak internal control and poor or non-compliance with anti-corruption regulations within different government agencies have seen corrupt government officials go scot-free, compounding the problem of corruption in the country. The diversification of resources meant for developmental projects and programs by dishonest office holders in government has slowed down or completely hindered growth and development in rural communities and some urban centers. Corruption is a serious problem in Tanzania and should not be taken with levity; it is like a cancerous worm eating its way through the fabrics of all aspects of the society, hindering growth and progress and leaving in its wake a people endowed with so many resources but living in penury.

In Tanzania, individuals and groups are unable to take part fully in economic, political, social, and cultural life. They are bereft of the processes that lead to the attainment and maintenance of such states. Social exclusion is very high in Tanzania, and it has contributed even more to keeping people in poverty. When individuals and groups are exempted from the prevailing social systems and their rights and privileges and are unable to escape their present state and develop, they degenerate more into poverty. Social exclusions have hindered the growth and development of individuals and groups in Tanzania. Resources and the means to attain them are held by a few, while a large portion is left with little or nothing. Unless the gap is bridged and all forms of discrimination are dealt with, social exclusions will continue to hinder the poor in Tanzania from ever getting out of poverty.

Lack of education has played a major role in poverty aggravation in Tanzania. The people most affected are those living in rural areas and the poor families that cannot afford quality education for their children. Inaccessibility to education is a serious problem in Tanzania, and this trend has continued to keep the country backward in terms of growth and development. For example, in agriculture, where farmers still rely on crude implements for farming, a lack of technical know-how, use of technology, research, and development in agriculture has slowed down the progress and growth in that sector. Poor parents, who themselves weren’t educated, cannot afford to send their wards to school to attain quality education; their offspring grow up and continue to live in the same state of poverty as their predecessors. Proper education would bring about a lot of opportunities for the populace of Tanzania. But education in Tanzania has not grown consistently. According to Montana Moore, as of 2020, Tanzania’s literacy rate was 70.6%. That notwithstanding, the literacy rate has fluctuated over the last decade, causing a hindrance to continuous growth.

The shortage of capital and able entrepreneurs has also contributed to poverty in Tanzania. Inadequate income leads to low savings, and low savings result in low capital for investment. Restricted access to loans and inaccessibility to adequate capital for business startups and entrepreneurship hinder the growth of businesses, slow down economic development, and reduce the capacity of individuals interested in running businesses. Low turnout of startups and entrepreneurs starves the labor market of jobs necessary for the income development of individuals. Lack of access to jobs and livelihood has contributed much to Tanzania’s poverty status.

Lack of access to clean, portable water and nutritious food is also a factor in poverty in Tanzania. The time taken by women and young girls to travel long distances to get portable water for consumption would have been invested in other useful ventures that would have produced positive results. Lack of access to basic healthcare has also plunged many into poverty. Illnesses and diseases that would have been treated efficiently by quality healthcare are not available to low-income earners; they spend the little they have on treating these ailments, reducing their purchasing power and plunging them into income poverty.

The Road Out of Poverty

For Tanzania to tackle the problem of extreme poverty plaguing the nation, it has to pay more attention to social developments, and one of the key areas is in the educational sector. Tanzania, which faces poverty as one of its significant challenges, can improve its Human Development Index (HDI) using education. Education would bring about economic mobility, which is the ability of individuals and groups to improve their economic status progressively over the course of their lifetimes. Improved income and economic status give one an edge in society. One can significantly improve upon their food consumption, household, social class, health, and overall wellbeing. Research has shown that income, earnings, and wealth increase with educational levels. According to Kimberly Amadeo, the best way to improve one’s economic mobility is through education. The Tanzanian government’s investments in education would bring about great returns. Structural inequality has over the years restricted the very poor from having access to quality education, and the increasing cost of education has worsened the situation, keeping the poor from improving their lives. Government policies that would bring about an investment in education in the form of infrastructural development, quality personnel and teaching materials, a standard curriculum, and an overall reduction in the cost of education or even free access, making it available to income earners and the poorest of the poor, would bring about a significant improvement in education in Tanzania, thus putting a check on poverty.

Government policies on social inclusion are also very important in reducing poverty in Tanzania. Social inclusion is the process by which efforts are made to ensure equal opportunities— that everyone, irrespective of their background, can achieve their full potential in life. Social inclusion includes policies and actions that promote equal access to public services and enable citizen participation in the decision-making processes that affect their lives. All groups in a society need to have a sense of belonging, inclusion, participation, legitimacy, and recognition. Potentials—skills, opinions, and ideas —  embedded in diversity can be harnessed through social cohesion (UN, 2022).

Social inclusion would tackle social exclusions in Tanzania through a shared social network that abounds in learning opportunities, reduces isolation, and increases safety. It makes individuals and groups feel connected and valued within a society, and through shared opportunities and prosperity, poverty would be greatly reduced.

Access to healthcare is a significant issue that the government of Tanzania needs to tackle by bringing relevant stakeholders on board. People in urban areas may have access to healthcare, but those living in rural areas do not. It is unavailable in these rural communities, and the cost of the ones in urban centers is high for these low-income earners. Access to healthcare is a fundamental human right, and it should not be denied to citizens because of their economic status. The provision of healthcare facilities, especially for the poor people living in rural areas, would significantly improve their lives. A lot of these people spend their hard-earned money on the treatment of ailments and diseases, which has ultimately reduced their purchasing power. The provision of affordable and quality healthcare would significantly improve their well-being as well as their finances.

The government of Tanzania should also ensure that there are policies in place for women’s and youth’s empowerment and development. Women and youth play key roles in the economic development of any country, and their importance cannot be overemphasized. Policies that the government puts in place to oversee their empowerment make them an invaluable asset to the country. Education should be followed by skill acquisition and training, after which an enabling environment would be provided for these women and youths to put into use all that they have learned. Soft loans should be made available to encourage startups and entrepreneurs. Tanzanians are industrious people; given opportunities, the right resources, and the right environment, they would thrive significantly and economically, putting a halt to the economic carnage confronting them.

Extreme poverty in Tanzania is a challenge that is not beyond redemption. Well-thought-out policies, decisive implementation, and sustained improvement would, over time, liberate the country from the shackles of poverty. Tanzania has the natural and human resources to tackle its economic challenges; what is needed is the willpower and earnestness to do so. Tanzania would rise from the ashes.



The World Bank (2020): Understanding Poverty Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2YqnG3n

Kimberly Amadeo (2021): What Is Economic Mobility and How May It Impact the American Dream? Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3mzFkmo

Lars Kamer (2022): Share of Agricultural Activities in Tanzania’s GDP, 2012–2021 Statista. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3YFiKGj

Montana Moore (2021): 5 Facts About the Causes of Poverty in Tanzania Retrieved from https://bit.ly/400kf2S

Tanzania Invest (2021): Tanzania Will Experience Strong Economic Growth in 2022 and 2023, AfDB Projects Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3mNkxMb

United Nations (2022): Social Perspective on Development Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2tfPYjy

World Bank (2021): Population Data of Tanzania Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3mLyQkm


Geographer, environmental enthusiast, and a social scientist. He is concerned with human activities and their impact on the environment. A lover of history, natural sciences and the arts. A graduate of Geography and Environmental Management from the University of Abuja, Nigeria.

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