A fresh start, a young cabinet: 36-year-old Hon. Mudrik Ramadhan Soraga is one of the promising talents of Zanzibar’s new government elected in October. Frank and open-minded, the Minister of Labour, Economy and Investment spoke to THE FUMBA TIMES about the planned mega-port, business incentives and called Zanzibar “one of the world’s hottest investment locations”.
Minister Soraga, how many people hold a job in Zanzibar?
45 per cent, about 60 per cent of these in tourism. The rest - the majority of Zanzibari - work in the informal sector, in small-scale farming and fishing or have no job at all.
Tourism alone cannot be the answer; the coronavirus has taught us this lesson. What’s your plan to diversify the economy?
I agree, we have far too many eggs in one basket. We need to expand our portfolio. Our biggest asset is the ocean, that’s what we call the blue economy. Improving and industrialising the fishing industry and seaweed farming is a major opportunity. The same goes for the clove industry; Zanzibar used to be among the three top sellers of cloves worldwide until 2010, in a bygone era it was even Number One! That’s a field for investors. We ill provide three million seedlings free of charge. We want to increase clove output from the current 3,000 tons per year to 8,000 tons.
What caused the collapse of the clove industry?
It is high time we privatise that business. Most trees are old and worn out, many still from colonial times. We must plant new trees. Let the free market economy take shape.
Has the corona pandemic caused less economic havoc than first feared?
From March to September we endured what was like a complete lockdown. Everybody, from hotel owners to tour operators to spice farms, saw huge losses. From October onward, however, the fact that Zanzibar was wide open, generated a massive tourism influx from Eastern countries, which in return created an economic cushion. All in all we made 50 per cent of the revenue of 2019 - more than most tourism destinations in the world. Zanzibar had 600 plane landings in less than three months, ranking it among the busiest airports in Africa. Now we have to be careful not to diminish the value of our brand.
The brand Zanzibar – does it exist?
I’d like to say it very clearly, and not only because I am the son of a permac
ulture farming family: Ecotourism is the new frontier. We are an island with limited space and an ever-growing population. High-yield, high-value tourism is the answer. For Pemba, one of the most divine biospheres on the planet with intact coral and fishing reserves, we will allow only a maximum of 25 hotels with focus on wellbeing, escapism, isolation in nature.
If I were to invest in Zanzibar today, what would you advise?
Deep-sea fishing including freezing & packing industry for export.
Is there no overfishing yet?
No, quite the contrary. Currently, we exploit only one per cent of our fishing stock.
What about the local manufacturing industry, the long-awaited alternative to tourism?
I completely agree with you and appeal to investors to make use of our Free Economic Zones (see box, Ed.) to establish small-scale industries. A Turkish investor for instance is showing interest in establishing a household appliance and furniture factory. At the moment, manufacturing accounts for only two per cent of Zanzibar’s economy.
There has been a massive decline in the manufacturing industry.
The economic collapse at the end of the 80s happened for a number of reasons: After privatisation, factories closed due to mismanagement; dishonest civil servants on a grabbing spread exaggerated the trend, certain institutions benefitted from imports. I never understood all that! First priority of a government should be to protect the local industry.
Where is the skilled labour
A topic very dear to my heart! We urgently need to invest in our knowledge economy, ensuring that people are prepared for the job market to come. At
the moment, the pass rate at A-level in Zanzibar is a mere 40 per cent. That means, 60 per cent did not understand what they were taught in class.
Exports as well as imports need a well functioning modern port - a weak point so far…
Very much so. We are a seafarer’s nation! We have to bring back the old glory days of world trade. That’s why we are extremely happy to have ratified a deal with Oman to finance a multi-million-dollar industrial port in the north-western Mangapwani area where we have ideal deep-harbour conditions with a seven kilometres shoreline and 20 metres depth. It will be a multi-purpose port with numerous terminals, state-of-the-art container handling, facilities for oil, natural gas offshore services, fishing and a backup for rehabilitation of marine vessels. We will still keep the existing Malindi port and convert it into a leisure yacht and cruise ship terminal with curio shops and dhows.
The new port – a massive, long-term project...
..which we intend to speed up by expecting the master plan to be on our table within three to six months.
Some regulations, regarding taxes for instance, still need to be harmonised between Tanzania and Zanzibar?
A lot of regulatory and legal reforms are coming. We want to remove everything which is putting investors off.
Much too slow, critics say. Fumba, for instance, lacks sand for construction, a huge problem.
I am aware of it. We can’t use local sand because we would deplete our natural resources in Zanzibar. Sand from Bagamoyo should be allowed in for construction; there have been some issues with permits but we have sorted it out, and we are working hard on the matter.
Surely, your ministry can’t complain about a lack of chores, what’s your vision for Zanzibar 2025?
A thriving business environment, a significant reduction in poverty and, hopefully, to become an upper middle-income economy in Zanzibar, too.