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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Where are our Oil and Gas Engineers?

Where are our Oil and Gas Engineers?

Chambi Chachage (2016)


The raging debate on the 'crackdown' on 'foreign' workers with no work permits in Tanzania has sparked a fiery discussion on the 'capability' and 'employability' of Tanzanians. In Wanazuoni, a listserv of 'Tanzania's intellectuals', two particular professions have come to the fore: Information Technology (IT) and Oil and Gas Industry. One contributor had this to say about their state:

"54 years after independence government planners should have educated our people in those fields you are mentioning. Take the example of gas. When did we realize we have tons of gas? And what did we do to train our people in those fields? I was amazed when I heard [Former President] Kikwete say he was sending students from Lindi/Mtwara to acquire knowledge in gas technology. Meanwhile all the top jobs are being occupied by foreigners and most likely by the time our people come back with the skills the employment positions may have been filled. I hear even in Dangote's cement factory the IT staff and management is Indian and Chinese. How do we allow this?"

His contribution reminded me of this passage from Al Noor Kassum's (2007: 131) 'Africa's Winds of Change: Memoirs of an International Tanzanian' that captures where we are coming from:

"[Frederick] Lwegarulila once received an offer from the Swedish government to send Tanzanians for training as water engineers in the Ministry at that time. Lwegarulila replied that Swedish technology was too advanced for Tanzania and also every expensive. He suggested that, instead, Sweden should provide scholarships for Tanzanians to be sent to India for training. They agreed, and we made arrangements to send 120 civil engineers and a geophysicist to Roorkeer University in India for further training. They were the first to be sent abroad under a comprehensive programme of the Ministry of Water, Energy and Minerals and represented about 43 per cent of the projected demand of about 300 engineers required by the Ministry in 1981/1982. The students graduated four years later, on 18 May 1979....[We have requested SIDA to sponsor another batch of 75 students (45 mechanical and 30 electrical engineers) and it is gratifying to know that SIDA has promised to provide the necessary funds]...."
It is important to recall that, in his various capacities, Kassum was instrumental in the initial development of the oil and gas sector in Tanzania. "Over the 13 years [from 1977] that I was Minister for Water, Energy and Minerals", he recalls, "we also developed and exploited the Songo Songo natural gas reserves." He even credits himself for having "persuaded the World Bank and the European Investment Bank to provide US$ 90 million to drill more wells at Songo Songo" and asserts that this "was the first time that the World Bank had provided funds for oil exploration."

One can thus understand why the Ministry responsible for this sector needed nearly 300 engineers in the early 1980s. Lest we forget, when Tanzania got independence in 1961 it hardly had any African engineer. In fact by the time it became a republic in "1962", as John Iliffe (1979: 573) reminds us in 'A Modern History of Tanganyika', only "one of 84 civil engineers" were "Africans."

Surely any attempt at 'criminalizing foreigners' and 'demonizing' them as 'illegal immigrants' is problematic to say the least. As we have seen in the case of our fellow Tanzanians in South Africa, utmost care must be taken lest what would otherwise be a fair and just implementation of the 'rule of law' end up with unintended consequences of fuelling Xenophobic sentiments and animosity.
Nevertheless, any government ought to ensure that its citizens are educated enough and well prepared to compete in the so-called 'job market'. But more significantly, it needs to make sure that when it has done so, those professionals are provided with incentives to remain in their respective sectors otherwise they will be 'under-utilized' or even work in places where they are 'overqualified.'

All this brings me to this question that I once asked: Where are those thousands of engineers? It is a question that is still relevant today as we attempt to train those who will elevate the seemingly promising oil and gas industry to a whole new level. Hence I take the liberty to reproduce below an article that addressed it in 2008.

Chambi Chachage (2008) 

The President has spoken. Again. This time around it wasn’t in front of those Tanga schoolchildren whom he gave a call to opt for science subjects. It was in front of engineers.

In Tanga the thrust of his message was that it is primarily science, rather than arts, that brings, in a ‘revolutionary’ way, social-economic development. His message was more or less the same in Dar-es-Salaam: "Development is construction, a nation's prospects of developing may as well be gauged by the number and quality of engineers that country produces" (Daily News 06/09/08).

Out of a population of nearly 40 million, the President sadly noted, our country only boasts 8,000 registered engineers. To put it more scientific, he comparatively observed that 1 engineer in Tanzania has to serve 5,000 people whereas in Japan 1 engineer only serves 54 people.

The lack of science teachers and laboratories was cited as a “major problem that hindered the government`s efforts in getting enough students to undertake engineering courses in the local universities” (The Guardian 06/09/08). As such the primary solution is to improve secondary education whereby students should and would be encouraged to study science subjects.
Indeed we need more local engineers in order to develop. The President has a point when he says that the shortage of engineers reflects the nation's poverty. In fact the nation’s 3 main enemies of development, namely ‘ignorance, diseases and poverty’, also reflect the shortage of engineers.

Concerning these linkages, the first President of Tanzania had this to say in 1998: “I was in Washington last year. At the World Bank the first question they asked me was `how did you fail?' I responded that we took over a country with 85 per cent of its adult population illiterate. The British ruled us for 43 years. When they left, there were 2 trained engineers and 12 doctors.”

He then said: “When I stepped down there was 91-per-cent literacy and nearly every child was in school. We trained thousands of engineers and doctors and teachers. In 1988 Tanzania's per-capita income was $280. Now, in 1998, it is $140”. 

“So”, he went on, “I asked the World Bank people what went wrong. Because for the last ten years Tanzania has been signing on the dotted line and doing everything the IMF and the World Bank wanted. Enrolment in school has plummeted to 63 per cent and conditions in health and other social services have deteriorated.”
Then he thus concluded: “I asked them again: `what went wrong?' These people just sat there looking at me. Then they asked what could they do? I told them have some humility. Humility - they are so arrogant!” 

Where are those thousands of local engineers that we trained? If by 1988 they were already in their thousands how come in 2008 they are only 8 thousand? What went wrong? What could “they” do? What is going wrong? What can we do?
I, among others, think the primary problem lie in the way we treat science and arts as if they are opposed to each other. Even some of those who religiously insist that we should adopt European models tend to ignore, or forget altogether, the fact that in Europe scientific revolution went hand in hand with the revolution in the arts. The Shakespeares and Newtons belonged to the same era. 

It was when people are at liberty to think, speak and write in ways that are familiar to them that they come up with all those scientific discoveries and innovations that changed the world. For a lack of a better phrase they called it the European Renaissance. But it was a global awakening.

Ironically, some, if not most, of our engineers experience a different kind of awakening. More than often it happens when they reach the job market. There they discover they were not that special after all. They observe that it is the arts and business that really pay, not applied science.
So, away they go to become ‘Mistress and Masters of Business Administration’. Then they come out as sales and marketing agents. Other become executives of agencies that have nothing to do with science or engineering. It would be very interesting to do a proper study to see where those thousands of engineers and other applied scientists have gone to and why they have done so.

I know a couple of colleagues who graduated with very good grade point averages in electronics and engineering but now they are financial auditors. In school it was fun to solve those complex numbers and calculus equations together. Yes, I, too, was a (natural) science student once upon a time but the reason why now I am ‘merely’ a (social) scientist is a story for another day.

Today it suffices to conclude that the problem of not having enough scientists and engineers may be deeper than we think. Yes, some incentives must have pushed those brilliant engineers out there to become business directors of international organizations for public relations. What went wrong after all those sleepless nights at university? Let us enquire artistically and scientifically!

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