Recently I had the pleasure of attending the presentation ’Development Culture in Tanzania: The Effects of Aid’ by Maia Green, Professor of Social Anthropology at Manchester University. The event was held at UCL’s African Studies Research Centre in the Institute of Advanced Study in conjunction with the British-Tanzania Society. The presentation – and following open discussion session – had Maia Green’s newly published book ‘The Development State – Aid, Culture and Civil Society in Tanzania’ as starting point. I had little knowledge about Tanzania, let alone the development efforts in the country, before this event. Therefore, I was very pleased with the highly informative nature of the presentation.
Maia Green put emphasis on how her work and book concerned the effects of development in everyday life and social contexts in Tanzania. I found this to be interesting and important. Sometimes there can be a tendency to solely focus on the size or scale of an aid package and its form in a political context – and less so on the actual effects it has in everyday life for the target group. Maia Green did very well in explaining how local and national initiatives affected several social groups throughout Tanzania, both positively and negatively.
I particularly noticed and appreciated the honest statements that ‘aid is a political project’ and ‘aid is a business’. The point being that we have to be aware of various agendas when it comes to development in Tanzania.
An example was Maia Green’s observation that a large part of the Tanzanian middleclass and elite got involved with volunteering in development, because the association of helping lower social classes reflected well on their personality and own social status. As she phrased it: ‘You want to be the developer, not the ones being developed’. Personally, this is something that I find difficult to create an opinion on. On the one hand I find it baffling how some people are driven by egocentric reasons to get involved in development work. On the other hand, I am not sure that the various motivations for being a volunteer really matter as long as the help is undertaken.
Another aspect I have reflected on was the discussion of the numbers of NGOs involved with development. The issue of having thousands of small individual NGOs raised the point that there might be too many stakeholders involved. Also, it was argued that the high number proved how the financial resources associated with development aid are comparatively high – and that various projects/interests with no direct relation to development were ‘designed’ as development efforts, when they in fact were not. In this context it is important to understand that Tanzania has had a steadily growing economy and stable political situation, but still receives approximately a third of its government expenditure from development assistance.
Both the presentation and the discussion talked about the current development plan for Tanzania, named ‘Tanzania Development Vision 2025’. It was interesting to hear how Chinese investments in Tanzania are central – but seeing how China has recently invested heavily in the African continent, it might not be too surprising. In the discussion, it was argued that a development plan for 2025 is missing the long-term perspective. People were optimistic for Tanzania’s future, but there seemed to be a consensus that the particular goals in the development plan will be highly difficult to achieve in time.
I learned a lot from Maia Green’s perspective on how numbers in development contexts can sometimes be misleading. This was brought up when discussing education in Tanzania. Everyone is very pleased that the vast majority of children are now able to attend middle school in Tanzania. However, as Maia Green pointed out, there needs to be much more focus on the quality of everything associated with this education. There is a need for a higher number of qualified teachers, school materials of sufficient quality, equipped science classrooms, etc. To me, this was an important point about development – figures do not always paint the full picture. To fully understand the effects of development for an everyday activity as education, we have to dig deeper in our research. Also, this proved to me the complexity of quantitative development measures.
This event was very well visited, with many university students as well as numerous people from the British-Tanzania Society among others. As a postgraduate student within African Studies at UCL, I was very pleased with this experience. Not only did I get tremendous insight on development in Tanzania, but I also witnessed a group of people sharing ideas, reflections and arguments, which left everyone more informed than before. People who genuinely knew what they were talking about and had significant experience – this is an important complementary aspect to the daily academic approach I recieve through teaching. We all have expert knowledge in something, and I would like to thank Maia Green – and the rest of the attendees – for sharing theirs at UCL.
Jakob Glibstrup is a student on the UCL African Studies MSc Programme, taking the Health pathway. Jakob is Danish and did his undergraduate studies in the UK and US within Business Studies. He holds an interest in how business development in Africa can help drive poverty alleviation as well as promotion of human rights, particularly in areas of conflict and extreme poverty.