No country for old men

Karimu’s total reliance on Joas Kahembe as mover and shaker inside Tanzania often worries me. Our four other Board members live here in California, in the Santa Cruz area. Lorraine Flores, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, Marianne, and I all care deeply about Dareda Kati Village and its subvillage of Bacho B in particular. Yet without Joas we couldn’t make much happen there, or perhaps we could make only a lot of the wrong things happen. We depend absolutely on Joas’ squeaky-clean handling of our money wires, on his knowledge of and ability to connect with Tanzanian government officials, and on his organizing of the villagers by coaxing and cajoling and, once in a while, bullying them—for example, by threatening to “surprise them even in their bedrooms” to check on their use of mosquito nets, as I reported in my September 15 post. Without Joas or someone equally solid to do what he does in Tanzania, we would need to worry about inflated budgets, about the government blocking our proposals or reversing what we have already achieved, and about rivalry and squabbling among the villagers rather than cooperation.

But Tanzanians have an average life expectancy of just over fifty and we see that in microcosm where we work: the official census of Bacho B counts just nine residents, out of slightly fewer than three thousand, above age sixty. Joas has begun to push hard against seventy and I wonder when his age will start to push back? (By the way, I’m permitted to betray such arguably ageist sentiments because I’m fifty-nine and, I promise, not getting any younger—although saying so makes much less sense in California than it does in Tanzania.)

This renders somewhat paradoxical the Africans’ reverence for age: the elder on whom a community depends for wisdom might have few years left in which to share that wisdom. Of course, even in Africa, advanced age cannot guarantee wisdom, as shown by Zimbabwe’s deterioration under Robert Mugabe, born in 1924. In Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, Richard Dowden suggests that the former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, could never talk sense into Mugabe partly because Mbeki, born in 1942, “was but a young boy compared to Mugabe” and, in their meetings, “Mbeki was reported to be nervous of Mugabe, even obsequious.”

Don’t look for a sly subtext here. I emphatically do not ascribe Mugabean character to Joas—but I wish him Mugabean longevity.

If this man is over sixty, he has few contemporaries in the village.

Anyway, the stark reality that people grow old and die explains only part of what a veteran development worker told me recently. Eric Younger says his Foundation for Community Development and Empowerment, which does a lot of work in Kenya, insists on working with at least two local contacts. In Karimu’s case, never mind Joas’ age: what if our Californian Board members have a falling-out with him? I don’t foresee anything like that, yet I can no more imagine it could never happen than I can pretend immortality. Therefore the fact that so far we have found nobody in Tanzania to help Joas shoulder the load of Karimu’s work does bother me.

Eric’s Foundation also does other things differently from how Karimu does them. In particular, they will not even attempt development work in a community where other nonprofit organizations, including ones founded by citizens of the host country, don’t already work. Though I appreciate the value of that kind of support, the way Marianne and I fell into our development work precluded this level of planning. On our way to Tanzania for our first visit three years ago, longterm involvement in a campaign to lift a village permanently out of poverty never crossed our minds. Then we got there and simply answered a call for help from some new friends in a place where no other nonprofit organization had a presence. Impetuous and imprudent, maybe, but I don’t regret it.

And I hope that, after several more years of doing what we do, the villagers themselves will not regret it and ask what we truly did to benefit them.—Don Stoll

 

 

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About Don Stoll

Don and his wife, Marianne Kent-Stoll, are co-founders of the Karimu International Help Foundation. They established Karimu in 2008 at the request of the people of Dareda Kati Village, in the Manyara Region of northeastern Tanzania. Karimu is devoted to working with the residents of Dareda Kati in order to satisfy their development needs, as defined by the villagers themselves.
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