Chart #38: The best and worst of the Tanzania Human Development Report 2014

The 2014 Tanzania Human Development Report was released last week. It’s been prepared by the Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF), with support from the UNDP.

It should be a fascinating document – the equivalent reports in the past have often been the best national-level summary of Tanzania’s progress towards Millennium Development Goals and Mkukuta targets – see this 2009 report, for example. But this time I was disappointed. In several important areas, the report has almost nothing to say.

Nor does it do a very good job of communicating its findings and analysis. In a 128-page document there is not a single photo, and just a handful of charts. The report is perhaps the densest, most text-heavy report I have tried to read for several years. The authors could very usefully take a look at the recent Big Results Now report – perhaps the glossiest and most visually appealing report ever produced by the Tanzanian government.

On the positive side, there is some interesting data and analysis in the report. I particularly liked the analysis of when Tanzania’s “demographic dividend” is likely to kick in. This is the time in the growth of a country’s population where a slowing birth rate leads to an unusually high proportion of working age adults among the population, which can in turn lead to a growth in productivity.

Demographic dividend, from THDR 2014

Demographic dividend, from THDR 2014

The chart seems almost to have been designed to keep the main point well hidden – which is that the green line rises well above zero from 2015 until at least 2050. In other words, the proportion of the population that is of working age will increase from 2015 onwards, representing an opportunity for more rapid economic growth. Or, as the report itself puts it:

“The difference between the growth rates of effective producers and consumers determines the population window of opportunity, which is likely to be experienced between 2020 and 2050. And this opportunity must be harnessed.” (page 69).

Elsewhere, the report explains that this is both an opportunity and a risk:

“Provided that the quality of education and the amount of employment opportunities
remain insufficient, Tanzania will witness an inflating bubble of unqualified, underemployed, and unsatisfied youth. If, however, Tanzania manages to improve its education and create employment, it can – as China has done in the last three decades – reap the so-called demographic dividend of having an eager and qualified young labour force coupled with low dependency rates.” (page xiii)

There are also some interesting data tables at the back of the report, including region-level data on a range of economic, health, education and gender indicators. I will look at some of this data another time.

But for now, two more simple charts, based on the text of the report – specifically word frequency counts, which can be a revealing measure of how much priority is given to particular topics.

First, lets compare the frequency of the words “economics” and “politics”, including any obvious variations on these words (such as “economy” and “political”):

THDR 2014 is clearly a politics-free zone. I recognise that the report’s main focus is “economic transformation”, but even so, the difference in these word frequencies is striking.

Second, how much attention does the report give key challenges facing the country? Again, this chart shows word frequency counts of a selection of terms:

In this case, the report’s author’s priorities are clear: “education” (261 times), “agriculture” (182) and “health” (170). In contrast, “water” hardly gets a mention. And surprisingly in a report that discusses the economic prospects for Tanzania in a lot of depth, the word “gas” is only mentioned 32 times, “energy” 17 times and “electricity” 16 times.

“Corruption” is mentioned just 13 times, “accountability” eight times, and “justice” and related words just ten times. “Policing” and “crime” do not get mentioned even once.

In a report that begins by quoting Julius Nyerere and Amartya Sen to make the case that economic growth is only a means to expanding freedoms, some of these omissions are remarkable.