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"We Are a Looking for a Skilled Candidate Who..."

In Iringa, there was a job advertisement on one of the lampposts on the main street leading to the bustling central market. A renowned international organization was hiring local stuff to do market research and data analyses to help determine the best strategies to gain access to the local market. In its brief description, the high expectations for the job are made clear. To get the job done, computer and critical thinking skills, a rarity in this mostly rural community, are obviously essential.

The salary expectations were clearly noted: 140 USD a month in the current exchange rate. Post-taxation, this is equivalent to around 4 USD a day in earnings. This is the salary for a university graduate in a town where 95% of the population are farmers with little beyond primary school education. Certainly, compared to the college graduate with a steady income, these farmers cannot possibly be expected to have a higher income by any means. It is not at all surprising, then, that brain drain has led to a dearth of the educated in this little highland town.

Given the financial situation of the average resident, the hustle-and-bustle of the local market is puzzling. Even many of what people will consider being daily necessities, such as food, are a struggle for someone making 4 USD a day to afford. This is especially true considering that many packaged goods of non-agricultural nature have to be imported into the town via not-so-developed logistic networks. A bottle of shampoo and mouthwash would be equivalent to 10% of this four-dollar-a-day university graduate's monthly income.

It is a sheer display of misfortune when a person of high intellectual caliber is rewarded with some little in a place where he can barely eke out a living without being able to afford the closest semblance of a lifestyle he deserves as a white-collar worker. As I thought of this, he receives a message on the popular Chinese mobile app WeChat from a Chinese girl based in Dar es Salaam. The content of the message is as usual: "where are you?" and "when are you dropping by the Yuetan Hotel," referring to the popular Chinese hangout in the busy Kariakoo market area.

In a Chinese community where the population is almost exclusively composed of youthful and energetic Chinese businessmen and laborers, girls like these have become a hot commodity. "Working in the service industry" as they would introduce themselves in the messaging app, their abnormal "massage services" seem to sell like hotcakes despite the steep price tag of 100 USD per hour, or at an extreme bargain, 300 USD per night. Purportedly not receiving any non-Chinese guests, the girls cater well to a Chinese male population that has enormous "needs" while abroad. They see a couple of years in Dar to be a time to really make money.

The image of the Tanzanian college graduate living on 4 USD a day contrasted with that of the Chinese prostitute at 100 USD an hour does show the disturbing multiplicity of the local economy. Yes, the money is indeed floating around; otherwise, no Chinese businessman would be in Tanzania, paying large sums of cash to girls flown in from China just to serve them. But the money is not going to the local and the intelligent, only to the foreign and the opportunistic. It is clear that this country, devoid of manufacturing capacity, values those who are able to meet local needs much more than those who are not resourceful.

Perhaps the critical thinkers in these Tanzanian small towns are simply ahead of their times. As the rural Tanzanian economy grows and becomes more complex in nature, bigger firms will emerge and require the service of those capable of providing complex data inputs for long-term, strategic decision-making. But in today's local economy, there are just too many market niches waiting to be filled and too few contenders to fill them; at the moment, it simply needs no complicated analyses to show what the company can devote resources and make good money.

In essence, both the lowly paid college graduate and the highly paid prostitute are part of this rather early stage of economic development in Tanzania. At this point of progress, those performing highly demanded services, whether requiring intelligence or not,  will be rewarded handsomely. This reality, as the country becomes one where more and more credible competitors emerge for every industry, will undoubtedly come to an end. When that day comes, the college graduate will have the last laugh. After all, it is much more difficult and rarer a skill to be able to do complex thinking than to spread one's legs for horny strangers.  


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