Relative to the hundreds of billions of philanthropic dollars spent every year on international development, all Karimu projects are tiny. Today, Marianne and I heard a story that made us think that small may not be bad.
We were told, during our visit to Tanzania in August 2012, that in the previous year the World Bank had learned about the plentiful water source that Karimu planned to tap for Ufani Primary School. The World Bank then added pipe that transported some of the water to another village, a number of miles away. The story included the name of the other village, which we quickly forgot. Our friends in Dareda Kati said that the walk would be too far—something never readily conceded by Africans, and therefore to be taken seriously—so there was no point in remembering the name. But it gave us deep satisfaction to know that the people of a village we had never heard of before and that we probably would never see could now enjoy clean drinking water.
We heard a different story today from some of our most trusted friends in Dareda Kati. Many of the people here have become increasingly comfortable in opening up about local problems. More and more, they realize that Karimu will not pick up its ball to go play somewhere else if we become disillusioned by the news that village life is as much of a tangle as human life is in any place where our virtues must scrap with our vices, and that the villagers are not just poor but simple, innocent versions of ourselves. The truth about the World Bank’s water project, so the new story goes, is more complicated than the story we were told last year.
The World Bank did learn about Ufani School’s water source, and it did decide to send some water to the other village. But the World Bank is too big to communicate with little African villages, so it contented itself with hiring a team of Tanzanian water engineers and left the rest to them.
The Tanzanian engineers visited the site without revealing their intentions to any of the local people. It seems that they were men of the city, who already had a contract with the World Bank; they did not need to talk to poor villagers.
The poor villagers took a different view, especially when the engineers were spotted in the other village by a man from Dareda Kati, who happened to have traveled there to visit relatives. As the rumor spread that all of the water from the Ufani School source would go to the other village, groups of people from Dareda Kati started showing up wherever the engineers were working in order to insult and threaten them. Although the threats never turned into violence, the engineers called the police. They fired shots into the air to disperse the villagers, who left the engineers alone after that. Left alone also by the World Bank, however, the engineers bought defective pipe, apparently so that they could pocket most of the funds they had been entrusted with.
The water intended for Ufani Primary School flows through at most half a mile of pipe, purchased by Karimu and installed by workers paid by Karimu for a total of a few thousand dollars—a drop in the bucket to the World Bank. The water arrives at the school safe and clean and can also be accessed from a handful of taps along the way as it travels downhill from the source.
The line of pipe paid for by the World Bank, which starts out from Ufani School and extends across a distance too far for Africans to walk, all the way to that other village whose name Marianne and I may never know again, has failed, and the people of that other village do not drink clean water.