21 Jun 2010

Njoluma Region - some initial reactions

It was announced late last week that a new region, Njoluma (or perhaps just Njombe) is to be formed here shortly. If I have understood the changes correctly, what is currently Njombe town, Njombe district, Ludewa and Makete will no longer be part of Iringa region and will become Njoluma region, and two districts, Nyasa and Wanging'ombe formed within the new region as well. The map on the right here shows what the new region and districts might look like. This is something people in Njombe have been campaigning for for a long time - I started to work here in 2002 and the idea was already being pushed - but it seems it is now about to happen.

Since the change became public last week (it was already known about locally), I've been asking lots of people what changes they think will come about as a result. Is it, overall, a positive or negative move?

When asking people their opinions, I did not ask whether they would be happy for me to share them publicly, so I will have to keep this anonymous. But I will try to give some indication of the kind of person expressing particular views. And it is certainly not a random sample, though I did try to talk to as many different people as possible, and not just those here in Njombe town.

Overall, it was very clear that opinion is divided. Many people I spoke to said that creating Njoluma region would benefit the area, while others said that the cost and disruption involved were not worthwhile.

The usual first response was to talk about the "heshima" (respect) or the increased status of Njombe becoming a region - that by increasing the profile of Njombe nationally, this would somehow benefit the area. Though when I pressed people about what benefits this would bring, nobody had any very clear or confident answers.

A more specific reason for supporting the chance came from almost all the private business owners I spoke to. Constructing new offices, staffing them, supplying them, etc. will provide them with a lot of business and increase employment locally. They felt that creating a regional administration would benefit them personally and financially.

And some people said that bringing the regional administration closer to the remote parts of Iringa region, such as Ludewa district) would benefit those areas. I probed on this as well, and no-one had any specific examples of services provided by regional government that people in remote areas needed.

On the negative side, there were a lot of people (the clear majority of people I spoke to, though it was not a random sample) who were worried about the cost and disruption of new buildings, new staff, etc. The difficult recent experience of Njombe district being split just last year into Njombe town and district seems to have led to a feeling (including among some government officials) that establishing new physical and administrative structures takes a long time, a lot of money, and distracts officials from doing their real jobs.
"Hakuna kazi zinazoendelea wakati wa kugawa wilaya" (no work goes on while the district is being divided) - statement from a district official
"Itachukua miaka mingi hadi tuone faida yeyote" (it will take many years before we see any benefit) - statement from a local teacher
Some people saw this as a minor problem, a short term issue that would eventually be overcome. But others said this alone was enough reason not to support the change.

Another concern in Njombe town was that bringing in a lot of new people would increase the cost of living substantially. Rent and food prices will go up, which will benefit some people but hurt others, particularly the poor.

A few people argued that bringing another level of government into the area would just increase bureaucracy and/or would take power away from the district officials (which are accountable to elected councils) and put it into the hands of regional officials (who are accountable to national government). One person even said that Njombe had benefited from being far away from the regional centre, which "just gets in the way".

And when I asked why the change was being made, a lot of people were quite cynical, saying that this was just politicians doing what politicians do - creating more power for themselves (more government positions to appoint) and doing things that will make them popular rather than things that will benefit the people.

So a wide range of views, some in support and some against. Please don't forget that this was not a formal piece of research and not a random sample of respondents. But I think it gives a taste of the discussions taking place around Njombe at the moment. Here at Daraja we will continue to watch the changes with interest, and we will look into public opinions on this more closely when our local newspaper gets going.