Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Institutional Memory and the Cyclic Cashew Crises

Institutional Memory and Cyclic Cashew Crises in Tanzania

Chambi Chachage

It is nearly 'half a year' since I penned some suggestions on Resolving the Cyclic Cashew Crisis in Tanzania. The proposed solution of uprooting the root cause seemed impractical. Readers were left wondering 'what' - and even 'who' - is the root cause.

As the crisis continues, I ought to clarify that the root cause is both institutional and individual. It is the collective and personal inability to sustainably use our accumulated knowledge, information, and wisdom. The systemic failure of our reminder.

This, then, is a question of institutional memory. Of how we store and retrieve our collective memory. And of when and why we use it as a reminder of what to do or not to do. Yes, and of who to remind.

Let us go back to 2012. The then Public Organisations Accounts Committee (POAC) tabled its annual report to the parliament. Among other things, it presented pictures of the cashew processing factory that had been privatized to BUCCO Investment Holdings Limited. POAC's verdict was as damning as the photographs:


Four years later, the Tanzania National AGOA Strategy prepared in collaboration with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (MITI) was published. BUCCO was listed in its table on "Current cashew processing factories capacities and operational status." Its capacity was 10,000 tones per year. And its status? "Closed"!

POAC - now the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) - and MITI knew or were supposed to know. In other words, two entities from two key institutions in our 'liberal democracy' - the legislature and the executive - had the institutional memory. Yet in 2018 we had to experience the moment of embarrassment when another assessment  publicly confirmed that the BUCCO factory cannot process cashew.

Embarrassing for a few days earlier the factory was somewhat 'nationalized' if not 'militarized' and mandated with the task of processing more than 5,000 tones of cashew. We unnecessarily became the laughing stock. Luckily enough, those mandated were/are methodical hence their decision to reassess the factory, a task that would have been redundant if the parliament and the government had publicly invoked their institutional memory.

MITI asserts it has now done a comprehensive assessment of our capability to process cashew. Our capacity, it has affirmed, is still insufficient. We did not have to wait this long let alone witness the pain of long-suffering cashew farmers to acknowledge the obvious.

So, the moral of the story is the same: Let's uproot the root cause.

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