Experience as a DAB Member in Tanzania
By Simon J. Lowe, Executive Director
From 2011 to 2014, I was a Member of a Dispute Adjudication Board on a 95km road upgrade project in Tanzania. The road ran from Sumbawanga to Laela, close to the borders with The Congo and Zambia. The population in the region generally consists of rural communities, most of whom subsist on or below the poverty line.
Travel to the site was by means of a 4-hour flight from Dar Es Salaam on a 14-seat Cessna. The trip was often non-stop depending on passenger demand, meaning careful toilet management was required pre-flight. On one trip we made an unscheduled stop to pick a ranger up from a nature reserve and witnessed elephants and hippos in their natural environments.
The plane was owned and operated by a Christian missionary, and the pilot prayed out loud at the beginning and end of each flight. After take-off and setting the plane on the right heading, the pilot’s routine was to eat his sandwiches and then doze off for a while, confidently advising us that “the plane will fly itself”. All rather unsettling for the nervous fliers amongst us.
…the pilot’s routine was to eat his sandwiches and then doze off for a while…
The project itself was extremely challenging for the Contractor (a Dutch-Danish JV), primarily due to its remote location and harsh conditions. Cement was trucked from Zambia and was in short supply; road aggregate was blasted and crushed from a quarry that was created solely for the purpose of the project; plant and equipment came from the port in Dar Es Salaam and could take several days to arrive, depending on the rainy season(s) and road conditions. Staff and in some cases their families were accommodated in a purpose-built camp at the mid-point of the project. The camp was donated to the local community on completion of the project. It was a truly multi-national and multi-cultural effort (engineers from Tanzania, Netherlands, Philippines, Sweden, South Africa, Ireland, Denmark, France; excavation operators from Ecuador, Panama, Kenya; a Tanzanian labour force; chefs and cooks from Thailand and a DAB from Germany, UK and Sweden); involving all of the difficult challenges and pinch points of a truly international construction project.
Project funding of US$97 million came from the Millennium Challenge Account, which was an agency created by the United States Government (under the leadership of George W. Bush at that time) with the objective of reducing poverty through sustainable economic growth.
…it is so easy to become wrapped up in first world problems, without pausing for a moment and considering that no matter how hard things become, there truly are always people much worse off.
Sadly, I have witnessed a fair share of poverty in other parts of the world (favellas in Brazil, slums in Mumbai, townships in South Africa, shanty towns in multiple Asian countries), but the hardship and destitution of the communities in the areas surrounding this project was at a completely different level. It was an extremely humbling and sobering experience. The reason I have chosen to highlight this project over the hundreds of others on which I have been lucky enough to be involved is twofold. Firstly, the sense of fulfilment it gave me to be able to contribute (even in the very tiniest of ways) to something that improved the lives of others. Secondly and more fundamentally, to emphasise that it is so easy to become wrapped up in first world problems, without pausing for a moment and considering that no matter how hard things become, there truly are always people much worse off. We really could and should do more to stamp out poverty, think of others and make the world a better place.