UN Abolishes Foreign Aid: some express ambivalence

(AFakeP) In a move that surprised industry leaders,  the United Nations announced on Sunday that they were abolishing all non-UN foreign aid. UN Senior Official Juan von Bonbon made the announcement from the UN headquarters in New York.

Source: United Nations Association

“Foreign aid is completely ineffective,” said von Bonbon, “and we’re the best at being ineffective. So we’ve decided to streamline the process by trimming away the excess fat from the system.”

Actors throughout the aid world expressed surprise, shock, and anger as well as bewilderment at the fact that such a move was within the UN’s mandate. “Most of us are not related to a UN staff member and are therefore out of jobs, at least in the aid sector,” said one NGO director. “We will be forced to take jobs that normal people do. How humiliating.” Sven de Menn, of UP!Yrs, a small NGO based in West Africa, noted angrily that his staff would now have no way to change the world. “They all have master’s degrees,” he fumed, “And there aren’t enough Starbucks in America and Europe to absorb the influx of qualified workers resulting from this decision.”

Officials from USAID, who requested anonymity in order to protect themselves from ridicule, expressed indignation that they were not consulted. “It’s just unconscionable,” said one senior official. “The UN does not have a monopoly on self-righteous jargonification, despite what they may claim. In fact, studies have shown that we are actually best at that.” Another official complained, “How will people know which countries the US is afraid of now?”

Not everyone was critical of the decision, though. Prominent aid advocate Jeffrey Sachs remained positive, suggesting that now no one would be able to oppose his proposal for a system of helicopter delivery of aid. “Previously, there were many in the sector who objected to helicopters flying over poverty-stricken countries releasing giant bales of money. Now, however, the five-year plan for propeller-driven aid can be implemented.”

Marcia Mwonge, a landlady in Dar es Salaam, told reporters that this move would be “a boon for property owners throughout Africa. Now there will be no more NGOs depressing housing prices.” She was then interrupted by a phone call from the local UN office, which had called to request that she expand the garage on one of her properties to accommodate the new Land Rover they had just purchased for the Chief of Party’s 16-year-old son.

However, William Easterly, author and professional aid-hater, released a statement saying, “The Untied Nations has only ever had a deleterious effect on development. This new move is just another example of MDG skullduggery ”.

Sachs responded to the statement, claiming that Easterly had “purposely misspelled ‘United Nations’ in a weak last-ditch effort” to delegitimize the Millennium Development Goals. “Some people say that universal primary education isn’t attainable in the next three years. Well, just wait till Operation School-a-Day starts. They’re using dollar bills to build the schools, literally,  so the US will continue to benefit from aid distribution.”

Unofficial reports suggest that the UN’s first move as sole provider of development aid will be to implement their Project to Increase Gender Equality and Sustainable Agricultural and Health Development Through Community-based Participatory Planning and Results Framework Action within Possibly Well Governed and Definitely Very Poor Countries with Exotic Sounding Names.

(Note: Views purportedly expressed by real people may have been made up by the author for the purpose of being funny; they are not officially endorsed by these people.)

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The poverty we live near

15 July 2012

My brother sent me the following email last week:

“I just caught up on your blog. As you may or may not know, I’ve had trouble dealing with poverty emotionally from a young age (like the day trip we took to NYC back in the day.. as we were arriving back at the car I was crying because I didn’t know how to make sense of all the homeless people we had seen that day). Of course I’ve had some time to make sense of it since then, and had a little more exposure to poverty in our culture and maybe one or two others. I felt some of those issues resurface as I was reading your post ‘The hand-out dilemma.’ I think your analysis of it, and your ability to separate yourself enough from it to make a rational analysis of it is very valuable. I was reading your posts from most recent to less, so a few posts later I read ‘Family, connected.’ The contrast between these two posts is noticeable: one is, as you define it, begging. The other is a gift to good people. I’m glad that’s a part of your experience over there, to balance the other out. Red Sox just scored a run. Now we’re only down 7-3.”

I was struck by his statement that, “your ability to separate yourself enough from [witnessing poverty] to make a rational analysis of it is very valuable.” Here is my response to him:

Hello Little Weasel,

That was a very thoughtful and unexpected email. I’m glad you enjoyed the posts and that they made you think, feel etc. It’s sort of weird, the issue of living somewhere with so much poverty. For starters, this part of TZ is the most affluent part – people have better houses, eat better, have more access to services (via Moshi and Arusha), etc. So to be honest I still don’t feel like I’ve been exposed to the truly grinding poverty that many people in this country suffer. When I visited an HIV support group with KEDA, then I felt like I had experienced some. But I’m not as exposed to it as I could be.

It’s also interesting how ex-pats deal with living here. Most of us are here to help the poor people. But our lives are so separate from theirs – we will never ever know what it’s like to be them, truly, even if we get the challenges they face. Obviously, throughout the developing world, foreigners live in varying degrees of comfort and integration, from Peace Corps volunteers who are very integrated to UN staff who have a very cushy lifestyle of comfort. Everyone has a different way of dealing with being here, and it’s fascinating. But everyone has a way out; everyone has access to things that locals don’t. And of course, this is something that gives a person pause. We have to reconcile ourselves to that fact. To accept (or not) that we have a lot more comforts than the Tanzanians around us, regardless of what strata of the ex-pat community we occupy. It’s tricky. Should we feel bad that we live such a comfortable lifestyle here (to clarify – compared to living in the US, not especially comfortable and definitely not easy. Compared to a typical Tanzanian, pretty darn comfortable and easy)? And yet to be in such a different place, we do need some things that are familiar to us. And I don’t think Tanzanians begrudge us our nice things; I think that for the most part they just accept that that’s how it is for ex-pats. We just plain old come from richer countries.

Also, the poverty isn’t the only thing you notice about society here – you also notice the patience, the different way people interact with fellow bus passengers, the very different, and much less cuddly style of parenting, the aspiration to leave the country because that’s the only way to get money, the view of white people as walking ATMs, etc etc. There’s a lot more to notice and experience than just the poverty, and I think because of that, it’s not like you’re constantly thinking, oh these people are so poor – you’re thinking all sorts of things!

And when you arrive, I think you’re expecting people to be poor, so it doesn’t come as a shock. Not to say that it doesn’t affect you, but that you were at least expecting it. Rather than having to deal with an initial shock, you can get on with dealing with all the things I’ve mentioned above. Maybe that’s just me, but I bet that’s the case with a lot of people. I mean, we’re all people who have thought about poverty and Africa, or we wouldn’t be here doing aid work.

And however I personally have dealt with these things, I still read the news about people who are suffering, refugees, war victims, and so on, and it still makes me cry sometimes. Because I just don’t understand how we can live in a world where these things are possible.

Daladalas go on strike – Jamie takes pikipiki

8 July 2012

When I first got here, I thought that daladalas, the private minibuses used for public transport, were governed by some mysterious informal network of drivers, conductors, and cranky-looking guys with clipboards. How wrong I was! Due to the current daladala strike, I now know better.

On Friday, I needed to go to town for a meeting and for groceries, preceded by lunch with a friend. I went to the road and waited. And waited.  I knew the daladalas were striking because the previous day there was chaos at the central bus station in town – it appeared that no one was leaving, and the buses were all just stuck inside the station – and when I finally was able to get home and ask Mama Dora (whose husband is a driver) about it, she explained that the price of oil, insurance and registration have gone up, but because the government won’t let the drivers raise fares, their profits are falling. In this article, it describes the problem as being the parking fees buses pay, which would explain the issue at the station two days ago.

But on Friday, I thought maybe someone would give me a lift to town; this is a normal thing here. Now, I know my mom reads this, and I seriously debated providing the following information, but in the interest of painting the full picture of the transportation situation I will divulge. Mom, please stay calm. After waiting for an hour (yay, my patience is becoming more Tanzanian!), I finally gave in and took a motorcycle, called a pikipiki here. One of the drivers approached me and gave me a price that was so surprisingly reasonable that I said, ok. I asked him if he had a helmet; he said yes. And I told him to be safe and go slowly, not fast. We crossed the street to his bike, where he put on the aforementioned helmet (yeah – bit of a misunderstanding there…). And we proceeded to town.

The main bus station in town was completely empty aside from, ominously, two large police vehicles. The stall where drivers pay their parking fee was on its side. Unused daladalas lines the streets. Crowds of people waited at all the bus stops, and many more people than usual were just walking.

As I sat down with my friend, cold and wild-haired but alive, the owner of the coffee shop came over to greet us. My friend mentioned the daladala strike, and told the owner that I had come into town on a pikipiki. And the owner gave me a free coffee for putting all that effort and risk into coming to his restaurant!

Daladalas seem to us Westerners to be very informal, what with the fact that most of them are barely running and that the conductors regularly fit up to twenty-six passengers into a minibus with seventeen seats. But I’ve slowly gotten the picture that they are much more organized than you would think. They all have set routes; deviation from the route requires special permission (from whom? I have no idea). Down the road from my village is a guy who sits there all day with a list and a clipboard looking cranky, and sometimes the daladala stops to give him a few thousand shillings. And now, it turns out that the government has the power to prevent them from raising fares! Who knew?

Apparently they’re back up and running today. And so ends the great daladala strike of July 2012. I hope…

Secondhand clothing market, part II

5 July 2012

Last week I went to the secondhand clothing market in Moshi again, easily one of my top three favorite places in Moshi. The place is a massive warren of wood-and-tarp stalls where one can easily get lost in the vast treasure hunt that is secondhand clothes shopping.

Near the front is an open area where the really cheap stuff gets dumped in piles. This is where the fun really is, as you sift through pile after pile, pushing shoulder pads and polyester aside in search of that Great Find, while vendors shout their prices over and over, ‘Five hundred, five hundred, shirts for five hundred!’.*

Clothes arrive from Europe and the States in big bales. The bales come pre-sorted and labelled, like ‘t-shirts, children’ or ‘trousers, women’.

Each vendor has a certain variety of clothes – you can’t buy trousers at a dress stand, and you can’t buy skirts at a blouse stand. You can get most anything, including winter coats for those chilly 70/21 degree (F/C) days, or underwear if you’re feeling brave.

I’ll stick to t-shirts and skirts, thank you.

These shoulder pads would be easy enough to remove…

Where are we? Which direction is out?!

Yes, my friend Sami is in all but one of the these photos (I cropped her out). I was using her as an excuse to take pictures so no one would get annoying or demand money.

Just as last time, I ended up with more than I intended to get. Last time I went for one dress and got three; this time I went for a couple of short-sleeve shirts and ended up with four, plus a pair of skin-tight red jeans, all in perfect condition. My grand total? $12.50.

I know you’re jealous.

*About 31 cents.