The impact of institutional reforms on poverty and inequality in Tanzania

  • Godfrey Sansa

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Poverty is a historical development curse in Tanzania, which has incited extensive institutional reforms and policy changes and received numerous analyses in development research literature. Paradoxically, taking actions to study and alleviate poverty have increased with its continuing severity. A substantial body of research on poverty in the country suggests that, the vast majority of these studies focus on the content rather than the context of poverty alleviation processes. Specifically, the focus has been on: ideas, interests and struggles for resources between political leaders and bureaucrats believed to be taking place at the expense of the poor; ill-informed and unrealistic development policies and strategies; anti-development behaviour and tendencies of the peasants and their alleged conservatism and resistance to modernity, and weak incentive structures of the economy. There is little focus on the character and dynamics of the (historical) institutional context in which these economic conditions, struggles and policy initiatives emerge and take place. Motivated by the disappointing results of anti-poverty initiatives and weaknesses of previous studies, this study uses historical institutional impact analysis guided by institutionalist theory to analyse the problem. The central argument is that the existence and functioning character of institutions are necessary conditions for any human development activity. So, acceptance of the crucial importance of historically oriented institutional context analysis in understanding poverty alleviation initiatives and outcomes is imperative. The study draws on primary and secondary data collected through documentary review and interview methods to explain the ways in which institutional reforms result in an institutional order tolerant of poverty and which create conditions that perpetuate it. It does this by exploring the mode of historical institutional development and by examining the functioning character of the institutional order in respect of poverty alleviation. The study argues that achieving success in poverty alleviation related reforms is dependent on proper understanding of institutional realities of Tanzanian society and the functioning character of the existing institutional order. It proposes a reform process in which institutional legacies and their impact on society become the focus of the reform process itself. The findings indicate that, while reforms and policy changes have taken place and new patterns of behaviour introduced, the logics of institutions central to development and poverty alleviation have not, been fundamentally altered and new patterns of behaviour have simply perpetuated it. Specifically, the findings suggest: first, that institutional reforms pursued by the government are inadequate due to misconception of institutional problems of Tanzanian society; second, that the reforms have created new conditions which perpetuate poverty; and, third, that fundamental character of the functioning of the Tanzanian institutional order will need to change before such anti-poverty measures can hope to succeed. Thus, the study offers a correction to ill-informed poverty analysis by providing an alternative account of the root cause of poverty while insisting that a better understanding of the failure of poverty alleviation requires a strong focus on the historical institutional realties of the country.
Date of Award1 Jul 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorGuy Standing (Supervisor), Susan Johnson (Supervisor) & Ana Cecilia Dinerstein (Supervisor)


  • institutional reforms
  • poverty
  • corruption
  • socio-economic insecurity
  • inequality

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