Saturday, September 6, 2008

Aid , Economic Development and the Alleviation of Poverty

One of the first questions I asked before starting AA was , " Why has Africa, with all the aid and assistance that it has received, not made the gains that other developing areas have achieved?" There are no simple answers to this question. My time in Siha has given me insight and some possible solutions to the issues facing Africa today.

First , there are two fundamental assumptions that need to be dispelled. One is that Africans lack the drive and work ethic to succeed. The truth is that to survive everyone in a family, including very young children, need to work exceptionally hard just to provide for the basic needs of daily living: food, fuel and water. If you don't you die!!

The second is that Africans do not know how to make their lives better. This belief is the reason why so much of the donated money has not helped the people, and in some cases been counter productive. Rarely are local people asked what they need to make their lives better. Both governmental and NGO programs have come to Africa with their preconceived ideas of what they think will help. A large amount of the money of their programs goes for administrative costs for foreign advisers and consultants, and for their on the ground costs plus money paid to government officials [for bribes and corruption] so that only a fraction of the money is actually spent on the project. Once a project, like the construction of a hospital, is finished, the program is also done. The long term funding and staffing issues are not addressed and the goals for the program fail to be achieved.

There have been several programs that address these deficiencies and are truly helping the people. One is the Dutch NGO - FEMI-DIRA 1. They have working in an area south of Moshi called TPC [Tanzanian Planting Company] which grows and processes sugar cane. TPC employes about 4000 people. The NGO has been in the community for many years and has the trust of the local people. To better understand the community and to get base line data, Joris de Vries has conducted over 900 household interviews of the residents of a village of 4000 people. With this information, his NGO will work with the community and TPC to develop community projects and programs. After a period of time, the survey will be repeated to see if their goals were met.

What is lacking in the African psyche, especially among the poor, are the concepts of long term planning saving and investment. These are difficult ideas for people living from day to day or season to season. The VICOBA program that I have written about in an earlier blog provides not only the ability to save and lend money but also teaches business skills and community involvement with tree planting and other civic projects.

Miriam's rosella wine making operation is another example of small scale capitalism. Her group of 10 women set up a complete cottage industry from first growing and harvesting the hibiscus, to making the wine and setting up markets for their product. They made 100% return on investments, returning half as profits and reinvesting the remainder. Now they are looking to double or triple their next "vintage". More important than this economic success was the change in the mind set of these women. Having felt that there was no chance to improve their lives before this project, they now are empowered and energized by their accomplishments.

On a larger scale, Siha is looking to develop itself as a tourist destination. The District is capital poor and tourism offers the community the influx of money to help their economy as well as work and training opportunities. There are potential downsides to doing this. When two cultures interact it can be for the good or more commonly for the worse. In Arusha ,for example, where the vast majority of tourist go before they go on safari to the parks on the "Northern Circuit" [Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti etc.] foreigners are hounded by "touts"who are people trying to sell their wares, and children begging. Siha has very little of this now. It is the goal of the District to develop "Green Tourism " [see the description of this concept on the AA web site] where the visitor is "educated" to respect local customs, behavior and dress and the community is discouraged from begging and harassing touts. Adventure Aid is looking for people with skills in marketing and web site design who would be interested in working on this project and developing the concept of "voluntourism".

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