Never smile at a donor, he’ll be in your bedroom next By ELSIE EYAKUZE | Monday, November 14 2011 at 09:13
The Prince of Wales was in Dar early last week to pay a courtesy visit ahead of our 50th Independence anniversary. I listened with great interest as he pointed out in his remarks during dinner in the State House that the UK is the biggest Foreign Direct Investor in Tanzania, as well as the biggest donor. Prince Charles also mentioned that aid would be increasing in the near future.
Although all of this was said with the casual warmth that takes a lifetime lived under public scrutiny to perfect, I was left feeling more than a little sceptical. Especially after Prime Minister David Cameron — who actually runs Her Majesty’s Government — basically told African nations that they had better Embrace The Gays, Or Else. Charles offering the soft-n-sweet option, David playing Bad Cop... What’s going on here?
I think that maybe for once My President shouldn’t have been dispensing his smiles so generously. Nothing personal, but on principle no African should ever smile too widely at a development partner, no matter how charming they might be.
Post-colonial relations are a prickly subject, one that I have noted is carefully kept out of globalisation debates by slowly becoming a special interest area for Africanists and other stripes of fringe historian.
This is a shame because as Mahmood Mamdani and any worthwhile contemporary Africanist thinker will point out, our contemporary historical approach to international relations is unwise. It is precisely this mulish refusal to embrace the sticky past that contributes to the shallow decision-making that plagues our government.
If we put things in perspective, in less than a month we’ll be celebrating 50 years of “Independence” from the British Empire. I don’t hold much truck with the word independence because I suspect it misrepresents a few things. First of all, how do we call ourselves independent when so much of our development budget comes from the donor community — especially the former colonial power? The government of Tanzania might be independent in the sense that it collects our taxes and recycles them into Recurrent Government Expenditures (car, houses and the other benefits of power that we don’t talk about in polite company). Tanzania’s people, however, are still heavily dependent on donor support for basic goods and services. Is this an accomplishment our government really wants to feel proud of?
If we are to be really candid, the development sector is only the “nicest” part of international relations and is not really all that nice underneath the sloganeering and the fundraising campaigns. There is a lot of good that gets done, don’t get me wrong. But there is also a lot to be suspicious of, everything from tied aid to conditionalities to hidden extractive trade all the way down to the culture of “international” vs “local” staff salaries and benefits, which gives rise to a shady little practice called The African Discount.
Development is a heavily hierarchical industry that requires constant vigilance because of the not-so-hidden power dynamics. The attitude of gratitude has no place in these relationships, it creates freakish outcomes. Why else would a British premier get it into his head that he can tell African countries how to legislate their sexual politics and hope to get away with it?
The good news is that things are changing, as they must, because not even Africa can have a run of horrible luck forever. Arguably, there is the growing relationship with China to counterbalance the messy, complicated relationship with European countries. But really, what is going to drive the shape of international relations in the coming few years is increasing self-actualisation on the part of African countries. Looking at Tanzania, I am optimistic. You can’t go from hoarding sugar and yellow cornmeal in the 1980s to enjoying superb Azam ice cream in 2011 without feeling that perhaps the future does hold something good, including the wonders of modern medicine for all expectant mothers.
Prince William and I are of a similar age, and if we’re lucky we might be around to watch Tanganyika hit the century mark. If that’s the case, he’s likely to be the one giving a few casually warm remarks at Ikulu while our smiling president looks on. At that future point in history, it will be nice if a few things have happened.
First of all, the UN better put Mt Kilimanjaro on the list of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, snowcap or no snowcap. But more importantly, it will be good to celebrate the moment as a memorial of sorts, perhaps chat and forgive each other for a yet-to-be acknowledged history of dominance and economic exploitation. And to meet as peers and global citizens, with no talk of donors or recipients or recommended sexual legislation to dampen the party.
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