Pachikonjo Beach Resort on Western Aid…. Pachikonjo isn’t all about Dar Es Salaam Beach Accommodation.
This month I wanted to take a step away from Pachikonjo Beach Resort and Dar Es Salaam beach accommodation and gingerly dip a toe in some dangerous territory; politics. Not just any politics- the politics about ‘ western do gooders’. I was inspired to write today about an article I read in the Guardian titled Western Do-gooders need to resist the allure of ‘exotic problems’ which explored the misconceptions and overly zealous assumptions of western attitudes towards aid in ‘exotic’ countries such as Tanzania. The articles author Courtney E Martin, I feel, smashes the nail right through the skull of the issue; disintegrates the veneer of honest charity and splatters thick sap of self service and profiteering across the wall.
Now, I don’t mean to be harsh or inflammatory, because everybody has a sense of duty to help the next person- there is however, a system of thought that needs to be tweaked slightly – and of course this is my opinion. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in Africa despite having an abundance of natural resources and tourist rich destinations but away from the Dar Es Salaam beach accommodation, the Dar Es Salaam city center and natural wonders, there is a world of people who live without clean water, basic education or medical care. I heard the story of a pregnant lady who had to walk two days to the nearest ‘hospital’. It is a sad, sad truth. No wonder it is so attractive for western ‘haves’ to want to help the ‘have nots’. It is wholly reasonable and understandable.
Charity- ‘Helping others to help yourself’
This is a topic that I spoke to my partner about at length a couple of months ago off the back off a flight from the UK to Dar Es Salaam. I was sat next to a really nice guy who worked most of the year in the country- not being too accustomed to the Tanzanian ways, I was quite loose with my questions. Long story short, we got talking about the perception of westerners in Africa. When our plane landed at the airport for Kilimanjaro, he pointed out the archetypal tourist backpacker with sunburned noses, bumbags/money pouches and a identical shorts with boots getup. I think his views were stronger than mine but he got me thinking about the internationally recognized pale skinned princess in sunglasses, flowy shawl and preset hipster hippy mindset with a dread-locked, guitar playing, flipflop wielding telephony adviser on a three week hike to build a well on top of the original one.
I’m hitting all the right stereotypes but in essence they are a more than common sight in Tanzania (depending where you go). The issue isn’t wanting to help, or try to gift somebody with a solution- the problem comes when aid turns to ‘help-tourism‘. The way I visualize the concept comes from the ever so present system of charitable companies flying out teenagers to build a school:
So when a tourist takes part of a tour, it is constructed for the best possible experience; a guide takes you to a watering hole- cameras out- click click click- a Rhino-click click click- a baobab tree – click click click. Every time, the guide takes a different group to the same places. Flying out with a help charity is a bit like that- helpers arrive, meet young village boy, selfie taken, brick put into wall, helpers leave, brick taken out ready for the next group and repeat. As the Guardian article rightly points out, the help comes, goes and leaves whatever they build without a care plan and often become just as, if not more, useless as what stood previously. What is also the point in teaching a child English when they will never have the opportunity to utilize those skills? It is a cycle of aid that grazes the skin of the problem. It is a form of help that simply satisfies a desire for westerners to imagine they have done their good deed- I don’t condemn the well meant help, but there needs to be a serious level of care, from the companies and paying volunteers, for the aid to work effectively. It is all too easy to wander in, impose what you think is a benefit and leave, all while funding a multi million/billion dollar industry of “charity”.
I simply ask – think good and hard about this. Are certain charities purposely creating a cycle of easily breakable short term solutions to ensure a long term business prospect of help tourism? I would love to hear your opinion in the comments.
Western solutions to ‘Exotic’ problems
To reissue another point from the article- a lot of people think that implementing western solutions to African problems will enable some of the poorest people in the world to make a better life for themselves- but the issues arise when you look closely at the clash of cultures between the helper and helpee. Majority of people that arrive with the charities only experience what life is like locally on a certain level- no matter how long a person stays, there is little chance of understanding the perspective of somebody locally. This allows people to innocently try to solve another persons misfortunes the only way they know how. It gives space for someone to let a child in a village play with their Iphone and teach them English words they will never have the opportunity to use; wouldn’t you agree that the idea of making somebodies life better with your own way of life without any deep understanding of theirs, is a bit patronizing? Will that child really be fulfilled with 10 minutes looking at a glowing brick? Honestly, I don’t think so. It is a thought process that needs the be altered in charitable circles.
I honestly believe that there isn’t all bad in this situation I have manufactured. It is an amazing world that we live in and to meet another person of anther culture, with another way of doing things can only further develop our experience as human beings. To teach another person your culture and for them to take in yours cannot be a bad thing. The problem is an unfortunate mindset ingrained into western people that ‘their ways are better’ – it is a reality and if you think real hard you may even find you (as a westerner) think that way too, albeit unconsciously. It is nobody’s fault and certainly not malicious but a habit of ignorance perceived as arrogance that should be kept in check.
Find your inner Philanthropist.
For me, on a wider scale, it’s a bit like me walking into your family and rearranging everybody’s bedrooms. What I have done may work in my family but what makes me think it will work in yours? People from the UK have a different idea of the world to the USA, from the Spanish, from the Tanzanian to the Congolese – It is unreasonable for western charities to intrude into other countries faculties with a simplistic, condescending regime of ideas that work back home. Sending second hand clothes is not the answer! Sending money is not the answer! Enforcing international laws is not the answer: Let me tell you why philanthropy is better than charity.
Instead of throwing your old clothes in the bin – oh, why not give it to somebody around the world in need. Well, the clothes that flood in from international aid generally find themselves beating sold at the markets. You may think that is awful but it isn’t- it give somebody a livelihood and allows the local economy to grow. But by flooding a country with free clothes, there is a good chance that it will undermine the textile and manufacturing industry; why would you buy clothes if you can get them for free? It will lower the value of clothes and those people with jobs working in a factory will lose their income. Why not, support the industries, put a focus on education and basic amenities that will help drive the economy so that people can buy the clothes for themselves – That is a sure fast, albeit a simplistic, way of lowing poverty levels in the long term.
We all know corruption is a massive issue on the African continent. Thankfully it has been recognized and is now in the cross hairs of the Tanzanian authorities. Something like 10,000 ghost workers (workers being payed that don’t exist) were found in government faculties which were costing the Tanzanian economy tens of billions of shillings a year. Sending money is like sending an invite to a wilder beast party to a lion. The money almost never reaches the right people, nor is it spent on the right things. I don’t know the process but I can sure as hell say that whatever it is, it isn’t working. Money really should be put exclusively into things like research for medial treatments for better understanding of things like Malaria, treatment centers, school resources. Tanzania is one of the best places in the world to explore cures for insect borne diseases faced almost unanimously in the southern hemisphere – why not exploit that. Put money into scholarships for Tanzanians to study abroad and at home to develop medical and educational skills which are needed all over the country! If corruption can be stamped out – this can be a reality and Tanzania could be the epicenter of something world changing.
… The long and winding road.
The issues faced in the coming years for the international and African communities are complex, widespread and have so many tentacles of thought. Whether or Whether or not, we have consensus on this issue, we can both agree that there is a long way to go to understand and to rectify the inequality in the modern world. I ask though, that there is consideration for the culture we look to aid, develop an understanding and relationship so to avoid a ham-fisted generic approach to international aid in Tanzania. Come to Africa with an open mind, enjoy it, relish in what it can teach you but don’t try to change it.
Although, our business is Dar Es Salaam beach accommodation our business is also Tanzania. We would love for you to share your opinions and get involved in the discussion so please leave a comment or email us directly – if you agree, share among your followers to get the conversation going!!