mandag den 17. maj 2010


I came to Tanzania in order to right a wrong, fill in a gap, or replace one of the missing pieces of the development puzzle, if you will. I came because I have an expertise they desperately lack here (and almost everywhere else in Africa), driven by a strong sense of the closest you get to something sacred in my atheist world: The right of every human being, anywhere, to be enabled to improve his or her own life, to learn, to grow mentally and emotionally.

South African writer Rian Malan, in his excellent book ”My Traitor's Heart”, points out again and again that the casualties on the privileged side of social unrest is always the ”good people”: Doctors, nurses or social workers who take on the challenge of working in deprived environments, volunteers working on development projects, teachers who give up their cosy suburban lifestyles to bring education into the deepest, darkest corners of the social divide, scientists conducting research into alleviating the effects of the income-gap...

While I am not trying to argue that Tanzania is as unstable as South Africa was in the later half of the 20th century, or that I have sacrificed all my middleclass conveniences to teach math in a destitute environment, I still feel that I fall into the light end of the same category as those whites who lost their lives or were disabled in black violence while trying to counter the effects of the same Apartheid regime that the blacks thought they were fighting by indiscriminately attacking all non-black people they could get to, which sadly enough especially were those siding with the blacks, as most other whites wouldn’t dream of entering a township.

Neither am I trying to argue that this antagonism is a race thing, or an African thing. It is an income-gap thing. It exists in any country where the gap between rich and poor is so large the sense of being one people, of the same society, is lost to the obvious inequalities. No matter which colours are present on either side of the income-gap.

Like all do-gooders, I had naively thought that my good intentions were enough to protect me, to bring me at par with the locals. I had not anticipated that my white skin, which in Tanzania is associated with being rich (however right or wrong that assumption might be), would automatically mark me out as being on the “other side”, or that the resentment directed towards “the other side” would be as deep.

In South Africa, I met with one “black racist” in the clubhouse at the employee’s compound, a guy who literally told me to “fuck off back to Europe because Africa doesn’t need white people like you” and tried to make me leave the bar because of my inappropriate skin colour. At the time, I was living in a rather protected environment at the CSIR in Pretoria. I guess this matter is most easily demonstrated by the fact that the person who came to my help was the bartender, a dignified and delightful black man known as Johannes to whites and Masemula to blacks (part of the Apartheid oppression was disallowing blacks to have their own names, they were forced to take “white” names in order to get the passbooks all blacks had to carry). Masemula saw me, the white, as “one of us”. I was naively expecting to be met with the same attitude here in Tanzania.

Of course, it is not true that every black Tanzanian perceives me a an untouchable on the other side of the social divide. But it is the automatic response until I have proven myself in the sense that I am locally employed and earn a Tanzanian salary (+ a 50 % ex-pat allowance), pay taxes to the Tanzanian government and use the dala-dala (public mini-busses known as matatu’s in Kenya or taxi’s in South Africa) for transport. However, this isn’t even enough. Some Tanzanians feel contempt at my willingness to live like one of them and openly ridicule my stupidity in accepting such a low-paying job, and most of the rest of them just cannot understand that I do not have any other course of income.

It is a subtly hostile environment. The latest incident to prove this is that my cleaning lady stole my digital camera. Or if she didn’t steal it, she let in some third party who did. She comes to clean while I’m at work, so I have no idea what she’s actually doing when she’s in the house. This kind of incidents don’t just happen to whites, of course. It happens to anybody who’s perceived to have an advantage. And it alienates anybody who’s perceived to have an advantage.

I gave the cleaning lady a chance to return my camera. She didn’t, so I’ll have to report her to the police on Monday. One of my Tanzanian friends questioned her about it. She went into a long, passionate monologue that went something like this: “Oh, you’re black like me. You can understand me. This Mzungu is so difficult. She gives me such a hard time. I know her very well. She has so many friends. She likes to play around with many men. She drinks a lot… I’m sure one of her many friends who are in the house at all times took the camera.” Most of this is prejudice. Very common prejudice against white women, unfortunately.

Only 2 other people, 2 of my closest friends, have been in the house since the last time I used the camera, and they haven’t been alone, I’ve been with them at all times. I haven’t drunk any alcohol in the house since some time last year. I haven’t drunk any alcohol outside of the house more than 4 – 5 times this year. Most of my friends here are men, that is true, but most of them don’t enter the house. A lot of Tanzanians genuinely believe that men and women can’t be friends, which is why they perceive a woman with many male friends to be a woman who sleeps with many men.

What makes the environment so hostile is that it is impossible for friendship or genuine trust to grow across the gap between you and your domestic workers and guards or most other people you deal with in your everyday life, no matter if the gap is subjective or real, no matter if you’re a naïve idealist who has given up 80 % of her salary, reliable electricity and water supply, high quality free health services and a functioning administrative sector to fulfil a wish to contribute to the development and common good of their country. Every time you get a chance to catch a glimpse into the mind of your cleaning lady or your guard, what you see is resentment, envy, prejudice and a perception of you as something that belongs to a different world and to which an altogether different set of rules applies.

People like guards and cleaning ladies do not understand that I make a salary which is 14 – 15 times larger than theirs because I have a Master’s Degree in math. They honestly believe that I make this “huge” salary because I’m white. While I do not think that their salaries are fair, or reflect the actual value of their work, I do not think that it’s unfair that a person with a long tertiary education makes more money than a person with no education at all, either. However, a guard makes a salary so low that if he has to take 3 dala-dala’s to get to work (you pay Tsh 250 or around $0.2 each time you enter a dala-dala), his transport expenses make it impossible for him to afford having the job.

It’s election year this year and people rally for a higher minimum wage. Kikwete, the president, flew into a fit of rage on national television and told the rallying people that they were liars, that the state budget would crumble and disintegrate if their “unreasonable” demands were met, and that he didn’t need their votes anyway. His calculations were soon found out to be around 600 % off the real expense of increasing the minimum wage, of course. But how does he know that he doesn’t need people to vote for him to get re-elected? Well, the head of the national voting committee (responsible for counting the votes) is appointed by the CCM, his party…

While I was living in South Africa, many of my white friends held that blacks were whiners and wanted everything handed to them without having to work for it. My white friends were more well off, it’s true, but they were working very hard for it. At the time, I felt that I was listening to some left-over Apartheid propaganda coming from otherwise quite reasonable people, but I’m not so sure any more.

I’m not saying that black Africans are intrinsically lazy or uncritically demanding to have everything handed to them without wanting to contribute, but they’re living in conditions in which it is very hard to grow a sense of self-efficacy because you simply do not have that much of a chance to effect a change for the better in your own life. Illiteracy rates are high as a consequence of being unable to pay school fees, uniforms and leave your children’s potential labour and income-generating abilities un-used so that they can stay in school. And I am saying that you need a sense of self-efficacy to even start trying to improve your chances.

Leadership deficiency runs rampant, meaning that most of the money that were supposed to improve education, basic health, infrastructure and provide agricultural extension programmes to increase yield and protect the environment by preventing soil depletion end up in somebody’s pockets instead instead of being invested in the common good. Elections are fraud and most people don’t bother voting. They do not feel that their votes count or that their voices are heard, so who bother spending time and money on voting?

In addition, the international development assistance has been handled in a spirit of knowing better, meaning that projects have been imposed on communities without much attention being paid to creating a sense of local ownership or to making the beneficiaries understand why indeed those white people come here giving us bednets (irrigation, health clinics, …). At the same time, it is only recently that self-sustainability has entered the requirements for project-design, thus meaning that money have kept being poured in without being put to use enabling people to help themselves or keep running the projects after donor phase-out. This has created a situation in which people both become dependent on foreign aid and do not develop a sense of the need of being able to sustain themselves. Kenyan Nobel peace prize winner Wangari Maathai calls this a culture of dependence.

I think these three factors (lack of opportunities, bad leadership, culture of dependence) play a large role in making black Africans come across as whiners who do not want to do anything for themselves.

I can vaguely, but not completely, understand why living under such conditions make people develop a sense of resentment and antagonism towards those who do better instead of letting other people’s hard work and consequent successes inspire them to try to improve their own lives. I can not understand why it makes people think that cheating you, stealing from you, lying to you and trying to break up your friendships with other Tanzanians by incriminating them (to prevent them from getting a share of your alleged riches) is OK. I just can't understand it.

But it does make it that much harder for me to keep seeing the people I came to support in the first place as worthy of anybody's help. And it makes it that much harder to keep trying to befriend them, see how they live, understand them and develop a sense of their problems, worries and wishes.

I guess this is a contributing factor to the failure of so much well-intended development assistance, too. You cannot deal with the people you're there to help, so you become isolated from them, do not understand them and cannot communicate with them well. It becomes a deeply problematic situation to be in for all volunteers, too. You're there to help people out of a genuine belief in human dignity and equality, but the people you're there to help see you as something almost un-human, treat you with more or less well hidden antagonism, and you can never belong between them and get a realistic feel for them.

Tanzanian Dilemmas

Tanzanian cinema is bad. Tanzanian movies have no discernible plot, no internal logic, no development of the characters. Tanzanian movies leaves you with the question: "Why did I have to spend 1.5 hours watchig that?" after seeing them. A friend of mine is a script writer and wants to make a good Tanzanian movie. We discussed what makes good movies good and agreed that most of them present a conflict or dilemma that the characters have to solve in the course of the movie. It made me think of the Tanzanian dilemmas that I know. All the following stories are true stories or in some cases a combination of more than one true story.

1) A journalist of a government-friendly newspaper discovers evidence of a huge corruption scandal involving the president and 5 of his ministers. He knows that his editors won’t be happy to publish such a story and that he might well lose his job if he goes to another newspaper with the evidence. He also knows that publishing such stories is a risk (refer e.g. to the editors of MwanaHalisi who have been attacked with acid and machetes and had their newspaper banned and offices trashed). He is responsible for 4 children, one of his own and 3 of his late sister’s. She and her husband died of AIDS. He knows from his work as a journalist that many other AIDS orphans aren’t as lucky as to have relatives who can take care of them as their own children,and that they are frequently subjected to sexual abuse, working under slave-like conditions and denied access to education. The money that was stolen by the president and his ministers were donated by a European government development assistance agency to go to the construction of 20 centres with orphanages, schools and health care for AIDS orphans across the country. His wife doesn’t want him to publish the story because she likes their convenient lifestyle and doesn’t want any problems. Can he ignore his conscience? Will he choose truth over calm and convenience?

2) (This is more of an inspirational story than one presenting a dilemma) A young doctor at Muhimbili Hospital decides that the salary, $200 a month, is too low to reflect the actual value of a fully educated doctor. He and his colleagues discuss how they can take action in order to get fairer salaries. It is a sensitive question, because a normal strike by health professionals can be fatal to many patients. In the end, they decide that young doctors, but not nurses or specialists, will go on strike if necessary. They approach all relevant government bodies with their request to discuss their salaries, but are ignored. They try a second time but are ignored. Then they announce the strike to take place the next day and suddenly they’re listened to. They decide to go on strike for one day anyway. The strike is successful and the salaries are raised, but the young doctor is banned from practising as a doctor in Tanzania for 2 years. He starts a business instead and an NGO with international support and international internees dealing with health issues such as domestic violence, HIV/AIDS outreach programmes and so on.

3) Two girls, Bahati and Neema, grow up in the same village and are like sisters. They both go to Mwanza to study. They both find boyfriends. Neema’s boyfriend is quick to tell her that he will take her to his family, he will go to her family to discuss the bride price. She believes him and moves in with him, but he keeps making excuses for not going. Bahati’s boyfriend is very difficult to her and demands that she always cancel all other plans to be with him whenever he wants to see her. She is afraid that he will leave her and does what he says. Eventually, he starts talking about getting married and introduces her to his siblings and start making plans for having her meet his parents. Meanwhile, Neema discovers that she has become pregnant. Her boyfriend is still full of excuses and doesn’t take her to meet his parents. When she gives birth, the baby is very sick and it is discovered that both she and the baby are HIV positive. When she tells her boyfriend, he leaves her with the newborn child. The baby is dying and her only trusted friend in Mwanza is Bahati. When it becomes clear that the baby will die within a few days or at most a week, Bahati’s boyfriend suddenly decides that they should go on a little holiday for 2 weeks. He hasn’t asked Bahati if she wants to go at this time. Bahati knows that Neema is so sad that she considers suicide when the baby has died. But she’s afraid that her boyfriend will leave her if she doesn’t do what he says. Can she let her friend down? Is it even right for her to marry a man who demands that she always give everything up for his sake?

4) A young man has introduced a girl to his mother, and tradition demands that he marry her after introducing her to his parents. It is not culturally acceptable or even heard of that he marries somebody other than the first and only girl he introduces to his parents. But he realises that he doesn’t love her, and he discovers that she’s seeing other guys and even telling her friends all about it, friends whom he’s been introduced to as her boyfriend and has known through the 2 years of the relationship. They’re fighting all the time. However, his parents still expect him to marry her. Now he has to choose between his own happiness and respecting the traditions.

5) A man who’s the oldest brother of his family has been in the UK to study. He’s stayed to work, he’s met an English woman and they’re living together with their small child. They’re not married because his girlfriend doesn’t believe in marriage. He has settled in so well in England that this hasn’t bothered him or struck him as wrong. But then his father dies and as the oldest son, he’s expected to go home and take care of his mother and younger siblings. But can he leave Europe? Can he leave his child and girlfriend? Or can they give up all the things they would have to give up in order to live in Tanzania?

6) A poor young woman is offered a “little house” by a rich married man (i.e. to have a house paid for, and food and clothes and so on, if she agrees to live there and have his children as some sort of more or less secret second wife without a marriage certificate). Should she choose the convenience over a chance for real love? Is she being abused because she’s poor and doesn’t have many other chances of getting that level of material convenience? Or is it possible for a relationship like that to be emotionally fulfilling?

7) A man dies from AIDS. Tradition demands that his widow be married to one of his male r
elatives. Everybody knows that he died from AIDS though nobody speaks of it openly, and everybody suspects that the widow is HIV positive too. She won’t be able to retain any property, custody of their children or any material security if she doesn’t marry into his family. How will they solve this?

8) a Christian woman is married to a Muslim man in a Muslim marriage. She finds out that her husband is cheating on her. As time goes by, she sees how he gets more and more involved with the other woman and in the end, she decides to put an end to it. She calls the other woman to warn her off, but the other woman tells her that she has agreed to become second wife. According to her husbands tradition, this is acceptable. According to her faith, it is not. Can she stay in her marriage? Can she heal the feelings of hurt and betrayal? Can she accept sharing a man with another woman openly?

9) A woman who has lost her relatives in an early age is married to a man whom she discovers to have made the housegirl pregnant. She decides to leave him, but she doesn’t get a divorce because she won’t be able to remarry before he dies anyway. She goes to Dar es Salaam, where she meets another man who’s married. They like each other and she becomes pregnant, but she dies in childbirth. This man’s wife doesn’t know anything about the affair or that her husband has fathered a child with another woman. He doesn’t know how she will take it. The late woman has no other relatives than her husband whom she left with the housegirl. Who will take the body? And who will take the baby?

Human Rights Abuses

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, armed soldiers threatening students protesting a 9 month delay in receiving their grants to pay tuition fees and exam fees until they disperse is perceived as being peaceful.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, banning independent newspapers for arbitrary periods of time if they dare to publish critical articles about the government is perceived as being peaceful.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, banning leaders of trade-union like actions (e.g. for fairer salaries) from performing their professions for any number of years is perceived as being peaceful.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, un-investigated disappearances or deaths of well-known good governance advocates is perceived as being peaceful.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, regular acid or machete attacks on editors of independent newspapers by un-known assailants following especially exposing editorials is perceived as being peaceful.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, voter fatigue causing around 80 % of the voters to refrain from voting is perceived as democratic.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, the government changing anti-corruption bills after they were passed in parliament and then signing them and making them public is perceived as being democratic.

Tanzania is perceived as an East African model democracy because of its apparent peacefulness and stability. In Tanzania, 60 % of the government budget disappearing into over-seas accounts of government ministers is perceived as being democratic.

mandag den 10. maj 2010


Deficiency is when a child develops too slowly because of innutritious food
because the leaders haven’t learnt and do not want to pay
the investment in the common good
that it is to feed your children the right things every day

Deficiency is when a child goes ignorant because of unobtainability of education
because the leaders haven’t learnt and do not want to pay
the investment in poverty alleviation
that it is to teach your children new things every day

Deficiency is when a child dies from curable diseases like TB and malaria
because the leaders haven’t learnt and do not want to pay
the investment in the future generations of this area
that it is to make healthcare available each and every day

Deficiency is when a young and enthusiastic worker loses all his fire
because the leaders haven’t learnt and do not want to pay
the investment in escaping the quagmire
it is to kill the desire in your people to move forward day by day

Deficiency is when a young and intelligent woman is constantly pushed aside
because the leaders haven’t learnt and do not want to pay
the investment in the national development and pride
it is to acknowledge the capacity of women and give them equal say