Thoughts from Tanzania

Some things don’t seem like a big deal until you live without them.  Electricity is one.  There are so many little things that make life without power difficult.  Without electricity you can’t plan a regular schedule.  You can’t sleep at night because you don’t have AC or a fan to keep you cool.  You can’t shower when you want to because the water heater won’t work.  Kids can’t do their homework because there is no light.  I haven’t found any statistics, but I’m sure Tanzania loses billions of dollars a year to lost productivity.  I went to a factory the other day that simply shuts down when the power goes out: running the generator is too expensive.  They lose up to 12 productive hours a day because the government can’t get its act together.  In my senior thesis (Conveniently posted in the “Other Writings” section of this blog) I wrote about the need to increase infrastructure rather than aid to developing countries.  I didn’t even mention electricity because I had no idea.  If I were writing the paper now I would put this essential element of development towards the top of the list.

Another thing on my mind has been the relationship between NGOs and businesses in developing countries.  There are so many NGOs in Arusha it’s crazy.  Whether they are actually having much impact is up for debate.  I had a thought the other day that I’ve been considering carefully.  I think non-profit organizations were created for wealthy rather than poor countries.  They were designed to fulfill needs that free-market economies missed.  So if a poor community in Compton had terrible schools and the government wasn’t doing it’s job, NGOs would step in and provide after-school programs, free lunches etc.  The problem is that we’ve taken NGOs which were designed to address very specific needs in small communities, and used them to replace entire economies, resulting in mega-NGOs that become huge bureacracies.  Their intentions may be good but they are killing countries.  Again, I don’t have statistics but I wouldn’t be surprised if 10-20% of Tanzania’s struggling economy came from donations.  That is dangerous ground where systems of dependency become permanently ingrained in peoples’ mindsets.  Twice today people have introduced themselves to me, promptly asking for money.  Something is wrong with that mentality.

I have one more strange story before I finish.  Today I was walking back from my meeting with World Vision and met an albino guy on the road.  He didn’t speak much English but we must have walked for a couple of miles together before I got into a taxi.  It was strange walking with another “white” person in such different circumstances.

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