torsdag den 29. april 2010

You can’t help people who refuse to help themselves

I used to participate in the collective European guilt trip about Africa. I used to think that it is our (inherited) fault that things have gone completely to the dogs here. Because of colonialisation. Because of behaving like colonial powers always have: Making sure that you destroy and ridicule all indigenous culture, all indigenous legal and administrative systems, all indigenous beliefs and traditions, and making sure that you play people up against each other.

I’m not saying it doesn’t play a role. All peoples that have been colonialised have higher rates of suicide, sexually transferred diseases, alcohol consumption and drug abuse, schizophrenia and you name whichever other indicators of being thoroughly messed up as a people that you want.

However, not all of them have higher levels of corruption. Not all of them have higher levels of bureaucracy. Not all of them have complete chaos instead of public administration. Not all of them have seriously questionable democracies…

I met with a colleague who’s timesharing between the Dutch university where he’s doing a PhD and our little campus where he used to work before starting his PhD studies. He told me that he’s been trying to have knowledge sharing symposiums since he started on his research (which is something you have in EVERY other university), but the leaders here are just playing their favourite power ping-pong game with him: Each and every one of them sends him on to one of the others, allegedly because it isn’t the responsibility of any of them to approve such an initiative. Result: No knowledge sharing takes place, nobody knows if any active research is taking place on the campus, if there is, the results of it are not dispersed - and apparently, nobody cares.

When I and another colleague of mine applied to get financial help with participating in the eLearning Africa Conference (see, you can hardly get any more relevant to an open university than that), they started playing power ping-pong with us, too.

To move a bit away from the OUT and quote some statistics, we have that:

118 out of 1,000 live births die before the age of 5.

Life expectancy at birth is 55 years.

Tanzania is number 151 out of 182 countries in the human development index and number 93 out of 135 in the human poverty index.

The adult literacy rate is 72.3 %.

Tanzania has 45 multilateral and bilateral donors.

Official development assistance is approximately 2 billion US$ and 35 % of the government budget is directly dependent on foreign aid.

Around 60 % of the government budget goes into foreign accounts owned by Tanzanian politicians. This is regularly reported in newspapers which are only available in the big cities. The same politicians spend some of their secretly siphoned money on building community halls or printing T-shirts for their very rural constituencies and get re-elected again and again.

Out of a population of around 40 mio, only 4 mio are registered to vote and out of those, only 3 mio actually vote. Most of my Tanzanian friends don’t vote. They don’t believe in democracy, they say.

There are no trade unions to speak of.

There’s no civil society to speak of. People do not do voluntary work.

In everything professional you do, you have to safeguard against fraud, trickstery, delays, incompetence, people disappearing with equipment, people trying to get away with not delivering according to contracts, bills not being paid,…

This is all statistics.

Tanzanians are excessively selfish. There are a few good people around, but they’re drowned out by the vast majority who just don’t give a fuck about anybody else. And nobody wants to accept responsibility for their actions and for their areas of responsibility. You read correctly: People whose jobs land them with an area of responsibility don’t want to accept responsibility for their area of responsibility.

Leaders have been given too big privileges, and as always, that makes them seek to destroy the structures they lead instead of strengthening them. They sit on their fat arses and refuse to do anything other than participating in questionable transactions with their fat salaries.

Tanzanians have a peculiar tendency of being uncooperative. They don’t keep their appointments, they don’t do their work, they expect you to thank them for nothing and get mortally offended and decide to not help you at all (irregardless of present delays and other obstructions) if you don’t express absolute gratitude for the absolutely nothing they’ve done for you, they’re extremely envious and regard it as perfectly reasonable to try to ruin things for anybody they perceive to do better than themselves.

People say that if you speak out too loudly against the corruption and bureaucracy you simply disappear. This seems to be common knowledge. However, there’s no international reports about human rights abuses. Tanzania is one of the favourite African countries in the eyes of international donors.

Violence lurks right behind the surface. Around 3 out of 4 women are beaten by their husbands or boyfriends and they think that things such as burning a meal, leaving the house without permission or refusing to have sex justifies domestic violence.

I fell victim to a racist mob. A bajaji driver tried to make me pay 33 % more for the trip than agreed, and when I refused, he followed me and cheered on by a crowd laughing and shouting “piga
mzungu (beat the whitey)”, he hit me.

The doctor who was supposed to fill in the police report expected me to have sex with him and was mortally offended when my reaction to his statement (it was too matter-of-fact to be called a suggestion) that we would spend a lot of time together today and then go to his office in the government hospital together in the morning to fill it in was to protest that I’d never agreed to sleep with him.

One of the police officers at the Urafiki Police Station is related to the bajaji driver and they gave me a contact who doesn’t speak English.

Now, my friends advised me to forget all about it. They said the police was just going to waste my time and my transport and telephone money and keep trying to avoid running the case because of the family ties to the criminal.

They said that such beatings are normal, especially when the victim is a foreigner.

They said that though Tanzania is considered a very stable country, they’re all expecting political or tribal violence to break out at some stage.

Whenever you mention the democratic deficiency, the corruption, the bureaucracy, the reaction is: What can you do? Just accept it, live your life around it and don’t make it ruin your day. Budget time and money for making people do their jobs. Never mind…

Another Swedish friend of mine who was doing an internship here and promised a job if she wants to return after finishing her thesis decided against it, because, as she says: Tanzania doesn’t provide a conductive environment. They try to frustrate all efforts to take things forward. Why would I want to work in an environment like that?

So to return to the central question: Is it possible to help such people? Any help given could only be successful in spite of the leaders, in spite of the apathy, in spite of the egoism…

I’m sure Europe played its part in creating an environment of defeatism, bureaucracy, corruption and indifference, but it’s up to the Africans to deal with it now, to take their future into their own hands. And it needs to be dealt with if they’re going to change anything.

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