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Like many if not all Tanzanians, I sit irritated and frustrated by TANESCO and the entire fiasco of power cuts, I have come across a very interesting book that I highly recommend as it makes not only a good read but gives a fresh new perspective and helps one understand better and more comprehensively why foreign aid is actually not helpful to Africa in our case to Tanzania.
The book in question is ‘White Man’s Burden” by William Easterly and I would not even pretend to write a mini-book review as I can only categorize myself as a grateful fan who finally ‘saw the light’ when it came to a topic that has often been a subject of my discussions with family, friends, colleagues and even strangers if it happens to be at one of those cocktails organized by a given embassy.
We are generally wary to say that AID is not good for us, we risk looking mean, petty and of course to be labelled ‘elite’ – something that has happened to me often, especially when diplomats explain to me that my opinion does not reflect the ‘average Tanzanian view’ because I am ‘elitist’. But that is another story.
In this case I would like to point out a very important explanation given by Mr Easterly which is the difference between Planners and Searchers. I suggest that you read the book to learn more but in brief the Planners are those who come with ‘huge plans’ to save us poor Africans with various huge ideas and programs like MDG, while Searchers are those entreprenuers and creative people who find solutions on seemingly small scale but actually get things done – this group includes Bill Gates (the businessman not the philanthropist), the Harry Potter publishers etc.
And it is with this line of thought that I openly declare that one of the biggest problems to date in Tanzania is that we have been nurtured to believe that only NGOs have the solutions for poverty, that entrepreneurs are after profit so that is bad, while looking at it more closely it is our SMEs that drive the economy (and because they are feeble, our economy is on shaky grounds).
I also remember that an elder Scandanavian diplomat once told me ‘We are to blame for the economic woes of this country. Because we have been pumping in aid without any accountability’ this statement has stayed with me for many years and it is exactly this sentiment that is echoed so eloquently by William Easterly. After all think about this (what Mr Easterly pointed out): the foreign aid organizations are not held accountable by the people of Tanzania. If a project that was funded for millions of dollars fails, who do we hold accountable? Maybe if we are lucky we hold accountable our local leaders through the ballot box, but can you really hold anybody in particular accountable if we fail to meet the Millennium Development Goals? Yet Tanzania has received millions in the name of MDG from various governments and foundations. I think this lies at the heart of matter and it is one reason for the major disgruntlement of Tanzanians. It is when they hear in the news that a public official received millions in aid yet they continue to struggle in their everyday misery with little change seen over the years. And it is in cases like this that foreign diplomats protest that ‘We are not to blame, it was the local leaders who squandered it’ But the question is: why continue to throw good money and leave the cabbage to the goat? I think it is better not to get aid and like what Damibisa Moyo suggested give startup capital to Tanzanian enterprises (based purely on merit) rather than wasting millions on unattainable goals set by Planners thousands of kilometers away, IMHO!
What do you think?