Zitto Kabwe On Aid

The Honorable Member of Parliament from Chadema representing Kigoma North recently spoke in Berlin at the launch of One International’s 2010 DATA report on the subject. I think this particular little nugget from the speech is worth highlighting:

I welcome the critics of aid, because they are right when they argue that sloppy management erodes value for money; they are right when they say aid can be used corruptly; they are right when they call for greater transparency and scrutiny. But they are wrong when they conclude that solution is to End Aid. The debate should not be whether aid work[s] or not, but how to make aid work and uplift the living standards of the bottom Billion.

You can find the rest of the speech on his blog here.

Now, there were some interesting, if unoriginal, ideas in that speech. He talked about the need for transparency and accountability etc. Nothing new there. But I am afraid I find the notion that a people can break free from the shackles of poverty through aid quite troubling. We demanded independence from our colonisers fundamentally because we believed that we know how best to run our country. How can we then claim to be fully independent when our national budget is almost 40% foreign subsidized, even with greater transparency and accountability? How can we proclaim ourselves a free people if, as a result of this ‘generosity’, these foreign powers proceed to dictate how we should govern ourselves? Where is the agency in that? Where is the freedom in that?

What is disappointing about the Hon. Zitto Kabwe’s speech is that it offered no new ideas or thinking or strategy on how this country can wean itself off our dependence on aid. It is becoming increasingly clear that the longer we continue along this path, being dependent economically on the free hand of others, the more we work to confirm the claim our colonisers once made when we demanded independence, that we were not ready to govern ourselves. If almost half of your income comes from foreigners can you credibly claim to be independent and free?

So Mheshimiwa, I ask you, with all due respect, what is your strategy, how are you going to untie this knot around our necks? Because only when we are able to say that we have earned every cent of what constitutes our budget, will we then, Sir, be able to convincingly declare that we have uplifted ourselves from poverty.


10 thoughts on “Zitto Kabwe On Aid

    • Shurufu,

      I heartly welcome your views and critics on my speech in Berlin regarding Aid. It is very true that it is shameful for our country to continue with this dependency almost 50 years after independence. I share with you the frustrations and that we must have a strategy to end this dependency. What has to come to be realised is that our country Tanzania has been under colonialism and before that slavery for more years than the years we are free. Colonialists left us so bare that our founding leaders Nyerere, Kambona, Kawawa and the likes inherited not a nation but a collection of tribes. This is similar story to most African countries. International Aid is not a problem at all. What is important to me is how we use Aid to unlock our potentials to develop. Great countries like China still receive Aid and countries like Germany and South Korea used their Aid money well and today they are donors. It is very simple to rhetorics on Aid and Aid money. It is surely very simple to talk about it but realities show that we will continue to require some forms of Aid to address some our challenges. Were no new idea on my specch? You can be right. But what i wanted to insist was on transparency on Aid money. Transparency increases Accountability and hence we will able to identify where we need support from our partners. I would love to see Tanzania without Aid for sure. However i must be realistic on the capacity of our governments to finance projects and eventually end poverty. We have great responsibility to this. We must end wastes. We must collect more domestic revenue and we must increase our productivity, especially in rural economy. During this transition towards economic independence, we will need support from other countries. It is our duty to utilise it cleverly.

  1. Of course it’s easy just to say “No more aid”. But it is both unrealistic and naive. Do you think that getting rid of aid money in Tanzania would lead to better public services? To greater freedom for politicians and other decision makers to act in the interests of the population? No. Come and live in the real world. Western (and Eastern) countries and companies have many many ways of constraining the decisions of Tanzania’s leaders, aid is just one of them. Far better for donors (who are almost always well-intentioned) to influence than to hand that space over to the mining companies, international banks, etc. At least donors put some effort into reducing poverty, increasing accountability and combatting corruption. The banks and mining companies don’t care about any of these things.

    Yes, thinking about how to get past aid-dependence is important, but don’t imagine that getting rid of the donors will do anything to improve life for Tanzanian citizens.

  2. Zitto,
    “However i must be realistic on the capacity of our governments to finance projects and eventually end poverty. We have great responsibility to this. We must end wastes. We must collect more domestic revenue and we must increase our productivity, especially in rural economy.”

    How do you propose we do the above (quoted)?

  3. Dear Mr. Taylor,

    I am going to try and ignore the ad hominem attacks and deal squarely with the issue at hand. If you actually go back and read my post you will see that nowhere am I suggesting that we abruptly and arbitrarily end Aid. What I am asking from my political leaders is very simple: I want to hear a plan, a clear strategy on how we are going to move from this dependence to economic freedom. That’s what I am interested in from our parliamentarians like the Hon. Zitto Kabwe.

    Furthermore, I find your comment personally insulting as a Tanzanian. The implicit suggestion in your reply seems to be that we as a people are unable to get anything meaningful done without the help of donors. I find this regressive. It feeds into that very idea that the colonialists used to promulgate against independent movements across Africa: that we can’t govern without their help. Additionally, the idea that we should shut up and accept whatever donors tell us because they supposedly have our best interests at heart is what’s naive and devoid of common sense. Don’t you remember your Shakespeare Mr. Taylor? Well, I’ll remind you of the Bard’s warning, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

  4. Habari za mchana!

    I try to be responsible for my feelings and thoughts,

    These are the issues i have with Aid,

    1; whether ‘intetionally or not’ it has made Africans governments accountable to donors and not citizens, take them out of the equation and the government would have to focus on taxing me. And before i pay any more tax (es) i would ask for the account of my last night’s tax (es).

    2;I am confused as the following questions ravages my being. Why is it today 50 years on it we are actually worse off becoming more and more dependent on it??Are our nations Aid junkies??? has it evolved to become an industry giving back where it is coming from and not rather where it is going? Has it created a culture of begging rather than inspire innovation??? Is it defining how we relate to one another-with the giver telling us what our priorities should be? Is it determining the nature of the relationship between state and citizens? Is it financing the survival of the current African state? Shall we cut Aid today will ‘God’ forgive Donors and African people for peoples death as he has for Slavery, Colonialism, World wars, genocides, terrorism, weapons of mass distraction? Why is it easy to give Aid and not improved trade conditions?

    I am comforted with a number of things, between 1980-1985 Tanzania survived AID freeze, Kenya before the election had managed to cut down on Aid, I seem to have better innovative ideas when i am broke. Clearly this can be replicated across Africa. yes? No?

    In my “naive” thinking i sleep well at night imagining Africa without Aid right now.

    Clearly there will be death, suffering and chaos but guess what Africa has survived these before.

    Hence out of that ‘imagined chaotic bubble’ Africa that is resilient and innovatively cost conscious will arise.

    Potential headlines:

    ‘Africa survives Aid Armagedon’

    ‘Hopeful dearth!’

    ‘The scar in the world’s concious is no more’

    ‘The jungle survived’

    I think having tried ‘poverty reduction through Aid’ for half a decade, we ought to try something else even that which our ‘rational’ minds can not dare to concieve.

    Again I am only responsible for my “naive” thoughts and feelings.


  5. This blog focuses on one section of Zitto’s remarks. It may be useful to contextualize it. Zitto was speaking at a meeting where a report on whether the G8 is meeting its aid promises was launched, i.e. the central paradigm was aid giving. In his remarks Zitto acknowledges the value of aid, but then seeks to reframe the paradigm in two ways, by stating that: a) we need watchdogs and transparency not only in the G8, but also in Tanzania and other places (i.e. a backhanded way of saying dont get too carried away about Berlin, London, etc), and b) what matters is not only aid money but the ‘larger sums of local taxpayer funds’ (i.e. what Tanzanians also pay).

    In his closing paragraphs Zitto specifically puts aid in its place, so to speak:

    ” And in the long term it [openness] can generate the flow of information, ideas, trade and linkages that will enable countries like Tanzania to more and more exchange with countries like Germany on the basis of trade and business and science and culture, which are ultimately more dignifying than aid.

    So today there are two stories; both equally important. One story is about the extent to which the rich countries are delivering on their promises. The other story is about how deep transparency and watchdogs are essential to the citizens and taxpayers of Germany, Tanzania and the whole world. If we are to make a real difference, we need to tell both stories at the same time.”

    Rereading the comments above, I think there is more agreement than may first appear, just the accents differ. 1. The main driver of development in Tanzania will not be aid; it will be clear leadership, strategy, getting our act together, making stuff happen. 2. An abrupt cutting off of aid today is not the answer, and certainly wont magically deliver services, jobs or bring better governance. 3. So we need three things: a) a vision, strategy, leadership, incentives of how we move forward real development and change that will get us to a point where we don’t need aid, b) in the meantime we need to use aid towards a), and c) its crucial to have extreme transparency about both aid and taxpayer public funds so that citizens can better hold governments to account.

  6. Pingback: Zitto: For aid to be effective, the taxpayers need to know

  7. Dear Messrs Shurufu and Kabwe,

    As someone actively involved in the aid business, it is disheartening to me that a country such as Tanzania is so dependent on foreign aid for their budget. I am not familiar with the specifics of the Tanzanian case, and therefore must take the 40-50% figure as a given.

    As we talk about weaning a country off of aid dependence, I would like to make a clear distinction between direct cash transfers to the government’s budget and foreign aid delivered through NGOs or contractors. Cutting dependence on aid does not necessarily mean ending all aid or severely reducing aid. I believe is comes down to what type of aid is provided.

    The direct cash transfers from, say, the Swedish government, to the Tanzanian government mean that the operations of the Tanzanian government is directly tied to Swedish aid. This, therefore, theoretically decreases the government’s ability to independently decide priorities for the Tanzanian people. Setting these priorities should obviously fall with the democratically elected Tanzanian government. (As a side note, I believe that as it is democratically elected, Tanzania is in a different category than others in the developing world. For example, should all of the donor aid to Egypt be direct cash transfers to the government, we cannot expect them to spend it on programs that will benefit the Egyptian people, but instead on military hardware and the like). Donor funds that are spent through NGOs or contractors are a different animal.

    From my perspective, the critical part of any plan to wean a country off of aid is to begin with the direct transfers to the government. Only if the government can learn to live without aid money subsidising their budget will they be free to make more independent decisions. While many donor-recipient countries are some-what dependent for service delivery through donor-funded NGOs (such as health services), these funds are less affected by politics than direct cash transfers, which can immediately be cut off.

    As for the donor funds through NGOs and contracts, ideally these too will no longer be needed, but no country should feel “ashamed” at receiving help through these mechanisms. Setting up modern financial systems, providing technical assistance to build a sophisticated dry-port or oil refinery, or providing HIV/AID medicines are examples of assistance that few poorer countries have the ability to fund themselves. Through this type of assistance, countries like Tunisia, Turkey, and Chile have developed to a point where very little international assistance is needed. Indeed, large transfers of funds from the EU to build modern infrastructure in Portugal, Spain, Eastern Europe and even Ireland was a critical reason why those countries are much further along the development track. The critical aspect of this “technical assistance” type of aid, though, is having a deliberate plan for moving from international experts, NGOs, or private firms implementing these “technical assistance” projects to local-national experts, NGOs, or private firms.

    One of my severest criticisms of aid policy is that this “knowledge transfer” does not happen. If one looks at how China developed, it required any private investor to team with a local firm in order to transfer international skills, knowledge, and processes to build the capacity of the local firm. The plan worked. Developing countries now, however, are not learning enough from this experience. East Africa is one of the most guilty. It is disappointing that when East African countries give China unprecedented rights to their natural resources, they request loans to build a port or a road, but ask nothing in terms of serious technical knowledge or teaming with African firms. One of the most egregious examples is the 99-year leases for African farm land, leased to Chinese firms, which will likely involve importing around one million Chinese farm laborers across sub-Saharan Africa. Leaving aside unemployment, the governments are missing a tremendous opportunity to insist that African laborers work and manage these farms – with technical assistance from Chinese farmers – allowing them to improve agricultural productivity across the region

    All of this aside, what Hon. Member Kabwe, Mr. Shurufu, and others should remember is that successful examples of countries moving from developing to developed countries (the classic “Asian Tigers”, Chile, Israel, China, Turkey, Croatia, etc.) share little in common with each other except that they instituted the right economic policies to lift their populations out of poverty. No amount of international assistance will replace that.

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