To the Border and Back

My internship at MCC this summer has been really incredible so far. First of all, my job description has followed the Terms of Reference to a tee (when does that ever happen?!). It is exactly what I wanted for the summer: substantive experience in evaluations for large projects, hands-on work with enumerators and researchers, greater exposure to issues of data tracking and quality control, and field travel to speak to actual beneficiaries. Also, lucky for me, Tanzania is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen — definitely to be added onto anyone’s bucket list.

To give you a taste of what types of issues we deal with at work, this post is about a trip I took at the beginning of the month to Tanga, in northern Tanzania by the Kenyan border. MCC finished a road project there last year, renovating the road from Tanga to the border town of Horohoro. I went with my colleague to monitor the work of our Road Traffic Count (RTC) evaluation consultants, who were collecting data on the vehicles using the new road, and new enterprises that have sprung up since the renovation. In addition, an article had been written in a local paper last month about increased tax revenues from international trade at the Horohoro border Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), and I proposed to my manager that this might make a good case study component about the road reconstruction’s long-term benefits.

Tanga is a 5-hour drive north from Dar es Salaam. The scenery was beautiful — waving palms, stretches of farmland, and a welcome change of pace from the traffic and bustle of the city. We left early in the morning and arrived to the Road Traffic Count mid-day.

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The count was in full swing when we arrived. Counting vehicles is harder than expected — there were about a dozen categorizations of trucks, cars and other vehicles. The enumerators sat in either the hot sun or the black night for 12 hours at a time. We identified some issues with the enterprise surveys and gaps in the enumerator training and skills, and raised them with the consultant. That evening was spent editing the enterprise survey tool together with the RTC team over a sunset dinner overlooking the coastal waters.

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[Roadside enterprise and driver surveys]

Unfortunately, the next day disaster struck. As is typical out in the field, nothing ever goes as expected. I spent the night with shaking chills and a high fever from some unknown bug. The next morning, my coworker went out to conduct the field surveys on her own, but before she got halfway to the border she got a call about a family tragedy and had to leave Tanga immediately. I was left with what was thought to be typhoid (in retrospect a questionable diagnosis), no interviews for our case study that we had come all the way out to collect, and no interpreter.

Followers of the blog from my Peace Corps days can understand what transpired next! First of all, a (Returned) Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) never gives up in the face of unforeseen setbacks. Secondly, an RPCV knows the value that a Peace Corps-like mentality and integration brings to any field study. So, I did what should be expected — rallied myself the next morning through the fever, contacted a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanga who was miraculously in town for the fourth of July, and recruited her to be my interpreter. Naturally.

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 [Trucks at the Horohoro border]

Our interviews went very well. The TRA border manager told us that East Africa trade had gone up a lot at the site since the road reconstruction, with trucks carrying everything from aluminum to mangoes increasing in number and volume on both the import and export side. Image

[Crossing over to Kenya to do a cross-check of trade benefits on the other side!]

Some of the benefits we found by interviewing local truck drivers were unexpected. First of all, the road renovation had eliminated an entire culture of crime from Tanga to Horohoro. It used to take truck drivers 6 hours to get from Tanga to the border, at slow speeds and suffering frequent breakdowns due to the bad road conditions. As a result, thieves could either cut cargo off of the back of slow-moving trucks, or surround a truck during a breakdown and rob the driver of all his money. Now that the road has been renovated, it takes only 45-60 minutes to get from one end of the road to another. Thieves have no more reason to conglomerate along the road and prey on distressed or decelerated trucks.

Life along the road had also improved. Access to concrete building materials has resulted in updated infrastructure and real estate along the road. These in turn bring employment and revenues from construction projects, and greater disaster resiliency in the roadside communities. Investors have already come into the area to open new shops and even a gas station.

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[A mud and straw building next to a new concrete building. Better building materials are more accessible after the road renovation.]

All in all, what could have ended up as a fruitless expedition turned into a very worthwhile trip. I got a real feel for how the projects and beneficiaries look after the investments of the 5-year MCC compact, and hopefully the information we got can be used in both closeout outreach efforts and preparations for the second compact coming up!

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This entry was posted in adventure, Africa, development, field trip, insanity, Peace Corps Moment, Tanzania, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

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