Now it looks like we’ll have to scramble if we hope to deliver to the villagers, before we say goodbye only nine days from today, all six hundred forty mosquito nets for which we had raised money. This afternoon at A to Z Textile’s mammoth new factory several miles outside Arusha, I was told that a couple of years ago both Tanzania and Kenya adopted an official policy of rejecting U.S. currency notes printed before 2004—like most of the money I brought with me.
None of this surprised Joas, who sat with me in A to Z’s offices while an assistant to General Manager Divyesh Ramanandi looked for the date of issue on each of the thirty-nine one-hundred-dollar bills I had handed him. Joas expressed shock that my bank in California had cheated me, precisely as a number of American clients for his cultural tourism business recently tried to do. Even though I assured Joas and the A to Z man that I could spend my pre-2004 notes anywhere in the United States, it did no good. (This makes a mystery of the fact that the passport-control workers at Kilimanjaro Airport who give us entry visas in exchange for cash—one hundred dollars a pop—never bother to check the dates on our U.S. notes; it wouldn’t surprise me if word about an official government policy simply had not reached these low-level employees, but who knows?) A to Z turned down twenty-one of my hundred-dollar bills. So we left the factory with just two hundred ninety-five nets in the back of Joas’ well-traveled Land Cruiser and will need to ponder our next move.
Today’s other frustration had struck earlier: Joas received what we both think was a doubly fraudulent parking ticket after he came out of his bank in Arusha. Neither of us could see the border painted on the street which his Land Cruiser’s left rear wheel supposedly had transgressed. The unsmiling parking officer, however, whose vest didn’t quite stretch all the way around his barrel of a torso, insisted that he had worked the neighborhood for years and knew all its parking spaces, including this one. I have often seen Joas bully his social inferiors and charm his equals or superiors. With equals or superiors, sometimes he will tell a story or a joke and sometimes a casual question about tribal origins will do the trick: “You’re Chaga? Ah, my mother was half Chaga. Maybe her father knew your grandparents?” Yet Joas merely listened rather than spoke to this man, underpaid and undereducated but physically superior to both of us, and swaggering with the sense of invulnerability that any big, strong man whom nobody will hold accountable can feel. He climbed into the back of the Land Cruiser and gave Joas directions for a short drive onto the grounds of a warehouse. Though we could not see what it held, we also couldn’t help noticing no Tanzanian flag nor any other sign of government presence—certainly not on the small one-room building into which the parking officer led Joas, and which Joas found just as bare inside as out. “Fifty dollars! This fellow saw my Land Cruiser and imagined a rich man against whom he could take out his resentment.”
Joas is not rich. Nevertheless, theft of twenty-five dollars—I gave him twenty-five—will not sink him. But the encounter with the crooked parking officer disturbed us since it came on the heels of the bribe we paid two days ago to the airport customs official. Yesterday in Babati, once Joas had finished his shopping and before we went on to his home, we stopped by the Internet cafe near his guest house. Its dial-up service, behaving less temperamentally than usual, gave me time to take some notes on corruption in Tanzania. From http://www.business-anti-corruption.com/country-profiles/sub-saharan-africa/tanzania/corruption-levels/police/, I copied the following:
“The police in general and traffic police, in particular, are considered extremely vulnerable to corruption. Salaries are low and junior staff members are reported to engage in petty forms of corruption.”
“[I]n 2003. . . the police department was the most corrupt institution in Tanzania with the highest number of corruption allegations. In a survey conducted in 2002, more than 60% of respondents knew someone who had experienced corruption involving traffic police. 18%, meanwhile, had been directly exposed to traffic police corruption.”
Old news, old hat, maybe. Yet the data looked fresh in light of what Joas and I had just gone through. And the incident with the customs official and the later one with the parking officer reminded me that countries where government cannot, or refuses to, pay civil servants well enough so that they abstain from “salary-supplementing” activities are the very same countries in drastic need of clean, competent government. Tanzania and its neighbor Kenya—ultimate destination of the howling passenger from three nights ago—need government capable of fostering genuine economic development. I don’t therefore suggest mobilizing again the heavy socialist hand with which Tanzania’s first President, the former schoolteacher—“Mwalimu”—Julius Nyerere, forced peasants off of scattered homesteads into “solidarity villages” and compulsory communal farming. Tanzania’s standard of living fell roughly forty-five percent between 1975 and 1983 and, if his compatriots still revere Nyerere even today, they do so not because of his economic successes but because of his good intentions, clear from his willingness to yield power once he could no longer deny economic failure.
Truly promoting economic development would surely entail, at least much of the time, governmental willingness to stand aside. The 2006 International Finance Corporation-World Bank Enterprise Survey found Tanzania typical of poor countries in making acquisition of business permits and licenses clumsy, time-consuming, and fraught with opportunity for self-enrichment by government officials. According to this survey, senior managers spend four percent of their time dealing with government regulations, while twenty percent of companies anticipate having to give gifts or make informal payments for operating licenses and thirty-two percent for construction permits. Of course, government officials and members of other elite classes can pursue diverse paths to riches: a 2007 study estimated that just five percent of timber revenues went to villages and local authorities, with ninety-five percent finding their way into the pockets of corrupt higher-level politicians, ministers, and corporations (http://www.business-anti-corruption.com/country-profiles/sub-saharan-africa/tanzania/corruption-levels/environment-natural-resources-and-extractive-industry/).
The dead weight of government that can’t or won’t further economic development partly explains why Tanzania and Kenya, along with almost all other sub-Saharan African nations, remain poor. Thus the vicious circle familiar to poor countries: poor, disempowered citizens cannot demand better government and more effective promotion of economic development, and so on. I never learned the howling passenger’s story, but I’m tempted to imagine that I did because I’ve met so many Tanzanians, Kenyans, and other Africans anxious to move to rich countries like the United States and the UK.
Speaking bluntly, however, rich countries don’t spread out the welcome mat for poor would-be immigrants—hence the mass roundups of Africans attempting illegal entry to Europe that I mentioned three nights ago (and hence the controversy, or hysteria, surrounding unlawful passage of Mexicans into the United States). In any case, our volunteers can affirm the presence of many things worth loving in a place like Tanzania, so Karimu must face the challenge of making as much as possible of those good things for the people destined to stay in Bacho and to bear and raise children here.
One way to make the best out of life in Bacho would be to reduce the extortionate fee needed to transport a woman experiencing a difficult childbirth to hospital. Marianne heard about this only today, while I traveled. But because ten o’clock approaches and with it the end of our electricity tonight, I’ll save the story for later.—Don Stoll