Even though the gift is small. . .

My Tanzanian Diary mentioned twice (in my August 1 and August 13 posts) the dissatisfaction with Tanzania’s government felt by the Ufani Primary School teacher Daniel Amma.  I respect Daniel, but his complaints would be unremarkable in themselves if other Tanzanians had not echoed them during the recent visit by Karimu (www.karimufoundation.org) volunteers to his village in the Babati District.  But almost any falsehood can seem to carry the weight of truth if one hears it from enough people.  Maybe some falsehoods originate when intelligent people who are desperate for explanations find themselves floundering in a vacuum of information.  I didn’t know what information Daniel and the other dissenters possessed and, deep in the African bush, I had no way to look for it on my own.

I’ve been out of the bush for a few weeks now, flooded with information. And, whether or not our Tanzanian friends who despise the government of President Jakaya Kikwete were basing their objections on intuition, the hard numbers back them up.  Some of these had been cited last December 3 in Tanzania’s leading English-language newspaper, The Citizen.  The reporter Mkinga Mkinga pointed out that, exclusive of military assistance, in 2010 only Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries ripped apart by war, had received more foreign-aid dollars than the $2.89 billion pulled in by historically peaceful Tanzania.  This, of course, made Tanzania the leading aid recipient in all of Africa.

Tanzania has not only been peaceful, it has also escaped the twin curses of drought and famine.  Foreign aid to Tanzania has therefore not taken the form of relief assistance for refugees from disaster.  Instead, aid to Tanzania has been directed toward development, projects in education or healthcare or provision of clean water that are designed to supply basic necessities so that people can work in order to accumulate surplus.  People who have acquired a surplus not only of material goods but also—because they are no longer exhausted by the quest for necessities—of physical and intellectual energy should be in a position to build markets of a scale that enables the multiplication of wealth.  Or so the theory goes.

By now, however, a well-established critique of traditional development theory has identified another fate for the surplus that foreign-aid dollars is supposed to create.  The critique upends the relationship that the older theory saw between national poverty and foreign aid: It’s not the case that a nation receives foreign aid because it is poor but, rather, that a nation which is already poor will remain so because it receives foreign aid.  But this should not be confused with the argument about “creating dependency” that is an article of faith for American conservatives, who worry about making poor people psychologically and, in the end, economically dependent by giving them handouts.

The difference is that the critique of traditional development theory worries about making rich people dependent.  A nation which is already poor will remain so because it receives foreign aid, the critique says, because the lavish flow of aid dollars gives the people who hold power a compelling reason to keep their nation poor.  The people who hold power skim off the surplus, transfer it into foreign bank accounts, keep their nation poor, and thus have reason to keep going back to the aid agencies with their hands out.  This, Daniel Amma and a number of other Tanzanians whom I spoke with last month were suggesting, is exactly what goes on in their own country.

Back in 2005, development economist Owen Barder notes at http://www.owen.org/blog/5839, “Raymond Baker [Director of Global Financial Integrity and of the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development] estimated that more than US$540 billion was flowing out of developing countries each year thanks to a combination of tax evasion, fraud in international trade, drug trafficking, and corruption.”  It was an estimate, and perhaps an unreliable one.  Yet, closer to home, Mkinga’s article mentions the 2009 Human Rights Report by the U.S. State Department, which asserts that Tanzania’s “senior government officials estimated that 20 per cent of the government’s budget in each fiscal year was lost to corruption.”

Global Integrity’s 2010 Report (http://www.globalintegrity.org/report/Tanzania/2010/), not cited by Mkinga, remarks that “efforts to implement and enforce the country’s laws to curb corruption are weak.  Similarly,” the report continues, “several oversight agencies and related institutions face low levels of transparency and accountability, including an ineffective anti-corruption agency with few resources to pursue investigations and a Controller and Auditor General that tend to avoid investigating politically sensitive issues.”

To the extent that government officials pay attention to the ways they can become rich, they ignore the means by which their fellow citizens could lead better lives.  Rapacious governing implies inept governing, misuse even of those government funds that are not plundered.  But so much is plundered, and so much of what is left gets misdirected by the plunderers because all they truly care about is plunder, that solving the country’s problems seems a long way off.  With the prize nowhere in sight, the path to it is a mystery, and intelligent people of blameless intentions can chart courses out of the wilderness that lead in opposite directions.

Mkinga quotes Saumu Jumanne, a teacher in the Dar es Salaam University College of Education who is also a keenly observant journalist.  Jumanne complains that “foreign assistance has not helped to alleviate poverty as only a trickle reaches the targeted groups” and that sometimes “even aid for orphans is misappropriated.”  This is rapacious governing.  As for inept governing, Jumanne argues that “education, which is supposed to guide us in transforming our nation, is grossly inadequate.  Agriculture is not being taught at primary level yet 85 per cent of the populace depends on the sector for survival. That is having our priorities wrong.”

Agriculture, even superior agriculture, is unlikely to transform a nation that is already—that has been throughout its half a century of independence—overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture.  Yet Jumanne may not be off the mark if her interest is in, so to speak, “changing the world without taking power.”  For this, as one of the directors of an essentially powerless small nonprofit organization, I have some affinity.  I have no idea what the odds are that Tanzanians will start benefiting from an honest, solicitous government any time soon.  But Tanzanians who could farm more efficiently than they do now would, it goes without saying, make up a better-fed and healthier nation.  A better-fed and healthier village is not a lot less than the sum of what Karimu hopes to see Dareda Kati become.

Many of the students of Ayalagaya Secondary School impressed our volunteers, when they got to know them last month, with their dreams of becoming doctors or engineers.  The fulfillment of those dreams, however, will depend on much more than the determination of the children.  It will depend also on events, destined to take place far from Dareda Kati, that decide whether Tanzania will have the higher-education and industrial infrastructures to supply adequate professional training and make sure that there are jobs for all the people who complete that training.  Jumanne implies that this is not yet the case when she points out, in an article she published in The Citizen in April of last year, that “Very few government owned dispensaries and/or health centers in the country are manned by qualified doctors.”

At Karimu, we want to see the big things happen that will let ambitious children know that their hard work can lead to a medical or engineering career.  But, without any ambitions of our own of taking power, we are also satisfied in the meantime with changing the world in little ways.

We are happy to fund Ufani Primary School’s new free-lunch program for fifty children of the poorest families in the village, children who have gone without lunch in the past.  We are happy to see that our friend Esther, a small woman in her thirties who is a midwife and a drummer and dancer in the village’s traditional-dance troupe, is usually smiling despite having lost a husband and two sons to tuberculosis.  We are even happier, though, to think that Dareda Kati will witness far fewer preventable deaths because of the clean water that Karimu now pipes to much of the village and because of the shower, sinks, and toilets that we have recently brought to the public health clinic, and the motorcycle we have bought for the clinic that can take nurses and medicine to sick people who have no way of getting to the clinic themselves.  We cannot bring a doctor to the clinic, but we can help make it possible for the nurses who work there to give their very best to the patients.    

Often, when the people of Dareda Kati present a gift to one of our volunteers, the giving is accompanied by a song, in Swahili, explaining that “even though the gift is small, it is still a gift.”  The villagers know that the cloaks and shawls they give us, although beautifully patterned, are inexpensive and that we could buy them for ourselves without a second thought.  Yet the song reminds the beneficiary that the gift is given with an open heart.

Karimu’s gifts are also small.  They are not transforming the nation of Tanzania, but we are grateful that the villagers nevertheless receive them with their own hearts open.

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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.
This entry was posted in Africa, development, poverty, Tanzania, volunteering. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Even though the gift is small. . .

  1. Maje says:

    Thanks Don and Marianne for your visible heartfelt support to our fellow Tanzanian residing at Bacho village. Your support has reduced the critical problems on social and economic issues which seriously constrained development in Tanzania

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