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Foreign aid is fuelling poverty



I was born and bred in a small town in rural Tanzania, and all I saw around me as I grew up was poverty. I saw a peasant who always worked hard in his small farm but could not transport his produce to the market because the roads had not been repaired since the British colonial government left in the early 1960s.

For orphans who hoped to get school uniforms, books and school fees from grassroots religious charity organisations, which paid for the education of over a thousand children in my home town, rains and impassable roads meant that even the most generous and caring of charity workers could hardly reach them.

Expectant mothers would walk for hours on end to reach the nearest health centre, where they badly needed the services of midwives and other experts. Some had no option but to give birth in the open – on the roadsides -before reaching the village dispensary.

umasikini tanzania

Women sell their products along Kasulu-Kibondo highway. Their experiences show how Tanzania still has a long way to make aid work for poor people.

Those lucky enough to reach there would sometimes find the only nurse at the village health centre gone to a distant village to visit other mothers. During those few times she would be around, she seldom helped the mothers because she lacked proper training and was without the facilities needed to take a mother through safe birth.

That was more than twenty years ago, long before I could call myself an adolescent. I am now an adult – and a journalist. My work entails visiting rural families frequently to write about their lives. I stay in poor people’s homes while there, squat with them around a plate of boiled potatoes and greasy wild vegetable soup.

I would sometimes sleep in their small huts, where the air was filled with the stench of goat urine. The ruminants would bleat into my ears all night long. It is from such experiences that I have discovered the bitter truth about the little aid can do to change people’s lives.

In these particular cases, what the aid had done was to widen the gap between a poorly starving African and a beer-bellied senior civil servant entrusted with donor sponsored poverty reduction programmes.

Sometimes a ten-classroom school would be built. The cost of each classroom would officially be put at $6000 or thereabouts, but it would be built with half the amount, the balance going into the wrong people’s ever hungry pockets. A year later, when the long rains set in, the school buildings would start crumbling.

Senior civil servants overseeing the construction of a number of such schools in different parts of the country would write sweet reports for consumption by unsuspecting donors. The officials would pay themselves a daily $100 or so each per day for attending meetings to deliberate on the future of school construction plans, the meetings being conveniently held twice a week.

Those involved in the implementation of the projects would compete against each other in buying ultramodern Toyota Land Cruisers, Japanese brand fuel guzzlers that not honest civil servant in a poor nation could afford even if it meant hoarding a whole lifetime’s salary.

One of them would happily shout at a pub how he near effortlessly he would pay a staggering $30,000 the following week for his son or daughter to study at a prestigious university in London or South Africa. He would do that while juggling his Iphone in one hand and a Blackberry in the other.

The conversation would be incomplete if he forgot to brag about his plan to buy a new house in a posh neighbourhood for his newly found long-legged mistress, a mere 20 years old. “Small change” coming to a few thousand pounds would then be deposited in an offshore account somewhere in Europe or the Americas.

President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, a popular name with the West, admitted months ago that about 30 per cent of the government’s national budget got “lost” through corruption and embezzlement. He was in fact talking of an amount equivalent to the country’s annual budget support, a warning that the system in use had serious shortcomings and called for urgent review.

As the leaders of the world’s richest nations devise ways to meet their historic pledge to double aid to Africa, the must also think of coming up with comprehensive plans on how to make aid work better.

They need to help strengthen local councils and charities at the grassroots not only to a competitive wage but also to hold leaders who misuse aid to account. This could help end the embezzlement or misuse of their taxpayers’ money.

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  1. Mziba

    27/09/2010 at 4:53 am

    Erick, thanks for sharing this with us. Oh man! We needed you like ten years ago. I think you are using innovation to get us to focus on what is important. You and your team are social innovators. I think that is how we gonna overcome our little trouble. It is a struggle. In terms of a solution, I have an idea, I think we need to build a vocational school for Accountancy, I will teach the GAAP and Financial Audit to Secondary school youths na bookeepers, this will improve reporting standard and accountability. It has been said that, you can fool somepeople sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the times. Accouting will help us not to be fooled all the times. Keeping records is what is what got other developed would be where they are in terms of growth. we do have a chance to make a change. communities will know how to keep, recordds reliable, relevant and report it in a timely manner. Then we can move up to other villeges.

    Another thing I like about this piece is the Photo. Here’s my take on that. It takes me back on my childhood. I think this one is worth two thousands word. :p

  2. Yasser Mziba

    29/09/2010 at 12:59 pm

    I talk an accountant in EU, We gonna need strong management team for the project that i mentioned earlier.

  3. Yasser Mziba

    30/09/2010 at 2:23 am

    Thanks angel for the posting. I really do not see your name here. but thanks.

  4. Yasser Mziba

    30/09/2010 at 2:36 am

    The article sounds like a thesis question, but its productive though. There is two side to this story. One view is that, if we change politician will fix the problem of chronic poverty. Another is that, there is a bigger room for innovation in poverty alleviation goal. Governance is just one of them. I am talking a market solution, we have not try that one have we,. I think they can both goes together to accelerate growth. from 50cent to maybe a dollar and fifty cents and people opens their eyes. We gotta give chance for others to own a television set at least.

  5. Johannes

    01/11/2010 at 11:59 pm

    When I read the first paragraph, I thought you were agains foreign aid. But when I read futher I became appreciative for your great article. As you said, foreign aid is crucial for poor peple to stand on their feet. This will only be true if the coins are indeed channelled in a right direction under serious scrutny. Every local NGO you will find in the country, has been established to fullfil self interests of the founders. We would think of government intervention on such aid project for contol and transparency but those are the ones who need 10% from the project funds in order for the NGO to implement the project objective in the area. We will not reach anywhere in this style.

    Manymany thanks for opening our eyes..


    23/11/2010 at 5:42 pm


  7. Shaaban Fundi

    11/12/2010 at 7:58 pm

    I was just saying thank you for highlighting the issues regarding foreign aid in Tanzania. We should be able to use those monies wisely than we have done in the past. Its my tax money and I would love for some of it to be sent back to Tanzania, but it needs to be used wisely and appropriately to help the intended populace.

  8. Danny

    15/12/2010 at 5:22 pm

    Hi erick, are doin a great job.keep it at UDSM doin my bachelor and my experience tells me one with with regard to Aid-That aid alone will never eradicate poverty.We need commited and accountable people.People who have both the will and know the way to change things.Corruption is one of those problems that are tied up with us unless the lives of civil cervants are improved.We must uproot the roots of the problem for the problem itself to disappear.keep on wprkin hard and revealing these things.Tanzania needs you.brvo


    15/12/2010 at 11:53 pm


  10. katemca

    29/03/2011 at 7:20 am

    The question is not how to give aid more effectively, but how rapidly to stop it and to start to jitegemea. Aid has become another profession, not a way to challenge the status quo, and when it loses sight of its purpose which is to bring about change, it loses its legitimacy.

  11. gandy

    03/06/2011 at 12:07 pm

    i wish one day to hear that tanzania has technological debt, we should strive to borrow technology and not money.
    Europe ddnt develop cause they had money but simply bcause they had technology, they had knowledge on how to start from zero to hero.
    What makes me feel pinch is how african leaders have shifted the whole meaning of foreign borrowing to cash only.
    Arabs have cash but they do nothing so strive to get the knowledge and the technology.

  12. Lee

    06/07/2011 at 4:43 pm

    I cannot speak with the authority that all of the previous writers have however I can say that the road system and infrastructure stands out in Tanzania as seriously lacking. I was with a voluntary group teaching in Moshi and many days we could not get to the schools to teach because of the rain. The weather should not be a determining factor in learning, and certainly for general transportation, is probably the biggest stumbling block…road infrastructure would change the face of Tanzania and the lives of everyday people just as Erick suggests.
    As for the corruption, I have travelled to the poorest and richest countries in the world and unfortunately, none are immuned to the greed of corruption, it is just that some are better concealed than others. Independant governments have to take responsibilty for their actions in dealing with aid, whether it be tecnological of financial and be entirely answerable and transparent to the community as a whole.

  13. Kigali

    26/09/2011 at 6:20 pm

    corruption in this country will never stop as long as we government employees are underpaid!

  14. erick kabendera

    03/10/2011 at 5:53 pm

    Thank you all for your comments. And lets keep talking and writing!

  15. Joseph Kajembe

    18/05/2012 at 10:13 pm

    To Kigali — who states that government employee’s low wages are to blame for the corruption in Tanzani, that is absurd. While the nations schools, hospitals, and roads pitifully crumble, and the common Tanzanian lives on about 3000 shillings per day (1.5 USD), members of parliament earn over 100 times this wage — 330000 (150 USD) — and most of their earning is untaxed.

    So do you propose we pay MPs even more, those who allow the countries infrastructure, health, and education systems to fail so miserably?

  16. Lucy

    19/05/2012 at 11:02 am

    Further to the suggestion to build an accountancy school …

    I feel it is imperative that TZ has a Teachers Traininig School which teaches our teachers in the latest methods of education. We’d initially need international teachers to come and start the training ball rolling and pass these ‘latest’ skills to our teachers. Govts love uneducated populations, as they are more easily controlled… We need to change that.

    We need to teach enquiring minds, not parrot fashion learning; teach kids that they are welcome to question the teachers, not that it is insolent. Teach internet researching techniques and how important it is for kids to have access to this wonderful web.

    Teach the democratic power of the people and encouraging them to speak out and have their say. After all public / civil servants, are exactly that – the servants of the public! Poverty may be the root of all evil, but it is caused by corruption.

    Let’s change the outdated ‘meme’ (culturally created belief) that ‘this is Africa’ or ‘corruption is endemic’ – Let’s all BE THE CHANGE WE WANT TO SEE – and have zero tolerance for any practices that aren’t for the greater good.

    Only then will our world and lives change. Are we prepared to put in the effort??!

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