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Balance: One year Magufuli
About the miraculous way to prosperity in Tanzania
November 2015 was a turning point in the history of Tanzania. The special thing was not that the presidential candidate promised to fight corruption but that John Pombe Magufuli, actually started tackling corruption immediately after being elected After one year, we can draw up the balance. Is Magufuli the same as most of his predecessors by mainly enriching himself and his family and revealing himself as a dictator, just like many other African presidents? Or do we see something that has never been done before and will Tanzania be one of the wealthiest states in Africa within a few years?
East African countries like Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, with growth rates of 7 percent and more are undergoing an impressing economic development. Countries like China are looking for resources and space, which they find in Africa and are making enormous investments to grab their chances. Tanzania also is hosting businesses like those of the Dutch flower growers and farmers who are well represented in Tanzania. Here they find the space and cheap labour which is not available in the Netherlands. Tanzania is altogether one of the fastest growing economies in the region. Furthermore, discoveries of oil, gas and minerals such as Helium accord Tanzania a respectable place on the economic map.
Until now, the advantage of resources such as oil, minerals, and foreign investors, not to mention huge amounts of aid funds, was doubtful for countries like Tanzania. A small corrupt upper class acquired a position through efficiently channelling resources into their Swiss bank accounts. The majority of the Tanzanian population stayed behind in their humble huts, far from the paved road, the source of water, electricity and other pleasures of a welfare society. Congo is another example of how "resources" can demolish a country causing millions of victims.
In Western eyes the Tanzanian elections in 2015 did not go as they should have. There was hardly any distinction between the party programs. The ruling party (CCM) did successfully "all what God and human rights forbid" to bend the result in its favour and freedom of press was curtailed. It should be taken into account that democracy in Tanzania is still very young. Moreover, democracy became the playing field of the immense corruption, heavily fuelled by all charities, that intervened development with "easy money". So, for Tanzania it seems to be a blessing that finally a strong man is establishing law and order. Let us judge and talk about democracy after 10 years from now, when Magufuli has to give up his second term.
Even for the ruling CCM party it was a surprise that the nominated supposedly grey compromise candidate Magufuli turned out to be a real Robin Hood after being elected. Many prominent politicians might have pulled their hair out of their heads, but soon they had no choice but to endorse the now hugely popular Magufuli. Meanwhile, as many as 96% of the population is supporting Magufuli and his measures.
The opposition after the elections
The opposition, that is mainly concentrated in the urban areas, such as around Arusha, is in a difficult package. Magufuli does mostly what they were initially standing for but in a directive manner, without consulting the opposition and any form of protest is suppressed. It would adorn Magufuli if he would argue and collaborate more with the opposition. A missed opportunity which later may lead to unrest, but, yet has little impact, partly because the Tanzanians in general do anything to avoid conflicts.
So Magufuli makes his nickname as "bulldozer" more than worthwhile. Once decisions are made there is (almost) no turning back, and what he says or thinks is done immediately. Protest is not possible or has little effect. Maybe this might be a good way to change things in a country where issues remain unresolved in long discussions and committees. In these committees, one usually remains friendly to each other, allowing changes to be frustrated mainly due to private interests.
What we have seen over the past year could be the blueprint for a scenario how to reform a banana republic to a prosperous state. Key words like accountability, competence and fighting corruption come together in Magufuli’s Swahili credo "Hapa Kazi Tu" which means as much as "And Now At Work".
One of the most striking changes is that the measurements are really focusing on saving money from excessive spending and recovering money from fraudsters and that these savings are directly spent to public projects such as the improvement of infrastructure and health care.
Unfortunately, there are also almost inevitable side effects. Press freedom and democracy are under pressure. Measures sometimes are introduced too fast, frustrating business and opportunities for more income and better education.
Let's make a list of achievements in the various fields:
Here we have witnessed various highlights over the past year which revealed various long awaited cases, that surpassed all imagination:
- More than 16,000 (!) "Ghost workers" and "ghost students with a scholarship" were detected. These were teachers and other officials who were dead since long or who never appeared at work. Or "students" not studying at all. Annually more than $ 32 million went to accounts of people who sometimes had up to 10 different accounts to capture the salaries.
- Corruption is addressed in the harbour. Highlight was an officer who appeared to own 30 houses of which one full of buckets with cash money. Also, several hundred containers were traced which were imported without paying tax and the respective companies rushed to pay their debts.
- The infamous "sitting allowance" - a reward for attending a meeting or class - responsible for about 7% of the national budget, was abolished.
- After the abolition of the sitting allowance, it became known that officials sometimes cashed triple: their salary, their sitting allowance and there income as owners or shareholders of the hotels where the meetings where being held. On average, these ancillary revenues represent more than 50% of the income of officials.
- Candy Trips of civil servants abroad were abolished.
- More than 1400 "charities" were removed because they could not prove what they did. These charities were mostly used as a cover for funds from donors or the government that were used for private purposes.
- Officials and politicians are not allowed to have double jobs that can cause conflicts of interest.
- Many contracts with the government have been revised because they mostly appeared to serve the private interests of individuals.
- Civil servants and teachers who do not have sufficient qualifications have been dismissed.
- More than 34 fraudulent judges, fraudulent directors of the PCCB (Anti-corruption Agency), NIDA (Identification Bureau), the Tanzanian 'telecoms regulator', various city councils and other organizations have been dismissed.
- Smuggling of gems, tusks and other commodities is actively fought
- Several investors and countries such as China chose to invest in Tanzania instead of their neighbours. Tanzania is chosen because its business seems getting better organized. Examples include the oil pipeline from Uganda to the ocean shore at Tanga, which was originally planned in Kenya, and the investment of China in the Tanzanian railways.
- Substandard goods are refused at the border. A whole oil tanker already returned despite an impending shortage of oil at that time. Previously, the economy suffered from products, mainly from China, of poor quality.
- It has been found that more than 30% of the Tanzanian capital accounts are abroad.
- There is a budget made available which directly goes to the villages and towns to improve the infrastructure and economy.
- Projects for rural energy and water supply have been initiated and / or strengthened.
- The goal is formulated to transform Tanzania from the current low-income agricultural country to a middle-industrial state in 2020.
- Donor Independence is elevated as being a target and the current government is less afraid of donors quitting for example because the elections were not fair. Moreover, several major donors such as the United States, returned to their initial withdrawal and have yet pledged large sums.
- Agricultural land used by investors, who do not perform enough is recovered and distributed to local farmers.
- There is a path to develop Tanzania’s own industry, for example by making import of second-hand goods more expensive.
- Free education for primary and secondary schools was set up, which has caused an enormous increase in the number of pupils.
- Schools are ordered to create enough school desks for all students and have this sorted out.
- Men who impregnate or marry schoolgirls are sentenced with 30 years of prison. The concerning girls may return, to school, unlike previously.
Health and environment
- A medical insurance has been established for everyone.
- Hospitals are encouraged to perform better and budgets of national holidays have been made available for the improvement of facilities.
- Poaching of elephants for ivory and rhino for horns are seriously addressed.
- The bureaucracy is being reorganized and made more efficient.
- An intensive inspection started investigating if employers have contracts for their employees and if hotels fulfil the necessary requirements. Previously, it was enough to pay for licenses and inspectors were willing to pocket money to turn a blind eye.
- A special court is established, in order to act quickly on corruption and fraud cases.
- A special telephone number (113) is established where corruption and fraud can be reported.
- Judges are told to increase their production (number of cases per year) by 150%.
- Traffic Agents, for years number one on all corruption lists, are no longer, or hardly any more for sale. One can continue driving or will be fined with an official receipt.
- Rights of women and children have been improved. Women have the right to ownership of land and cannot marry too young.
Budget and Taxes
Concerning taxation, it is important to realize that only a small 5% of the population, including most foreign investors were paying taxes. These taxpayers generally are super excited because they finally see that their contribution does not disappear into a black hole, but is spent for the benefit of the country. The remaining 95% is not used to pay tax and is less willing to pay. People will have to get used and understanding has to grow before paying taxes can work well and fairly.
- Tax revenues peaked. Previously, there was massive tax evasion. This is becoming increasingly difficult now.
- The tax exemption of church institutions was abolished. These were massively abused for tax exemptions, for example when importing goods.
- The collection of taxes and fees by private companies is abolished.
Not all measures appeared to be positive. The urge for a rapid change and more tax income also has adverse side effects because the plans sometimes have not been well thought through or prepared. We are now starting to see a trend in which many laws, which have a positive effect, are introduced too quickly in principle. For example, exports of raw materials, such as tomatoes, are prohibited even before there is a factory that can make tomato juice. Or import of used goods such as clothing, are heavily taxed before the first clothing factory has been built. The short-term effects are sometimes dramatic:
- Because new laws such as the Immigration Act (often retrospectively) are introduced rapidly, nobody knows (including officials) what to do and they mostly chose to do nothing, which is stalling everything.
- Some measures, such as free education, are fantastic for the rhetoric and the setting, but sometimes also lead to wild imaginations. For example, parents in rural areas were no longer willing to contribute school for the school lunch, because, after all, education would become for free.
- Due to the sudden introduction of VAT without transitional arrangements in the tourism sector, additional costs could not be charged to the clients anymore. It can also have a dramatic effect on tourism because tourists have suddenly have to pay an extra 18% to visit the already expensive wildlife parks. For entrepreneurs, this is often not too damaging because the system for the collection of VAT is not working well yet. Moreover, hotels also had to pay VAT in the past.
- Introduction of VAT on goods in transit in the port caused a drop of as much as 42% in the flow of goods.
- On top of all there is a false sentiment that foreigners "steal jobs" and "go off with the money". A new stringent immigration law which is expressing this was already introduced before the elections. Because of Magufuli’s desire for law enforcement this law turned out badly for many foreigners. For example over 5,500 Kenyan teachers were forced to leave the country because they could not get their visa or were no longer able to pay. Whereas these teachers master English very well and Tanzania copes with a nationwide shortage of more than 27,000 science and mathematics teachers.
- Some laws that were set earlier sometimes for unclear or wrong reasons are being maintained. Examples include the sale of alcoholic beverages being permitted only between 18:00 and 24:00 and companies and organizations are not permitted to have websites other than with the extension - "tz.". Another is the criminalization of homosexuality by criminality contention of 30 years in prison.
- Some measures are introduced too quickly, despite the loss to the economy and thousands of jobs. Businesses close and schools are left without teachers because visas for foreign experts and teachers are denied before local experts and teachers are trained. Second-hand goods such as clothes, inventory for schools and hospitals and cars put additional load on imports before there is a local industry. Export of wood carvings is made impossible before there is a good structure for the use of sustainable wood is in place. Volunteers are heavily charged before there are others to take over the work they were doing, etc. etc.
Is Tanzania now more attractive for investors and entrepreneurs?
The change from an agricultural country to an industrial nation might be a good idea. But is there also a good business climate that makes it possible? Undeniably the business climate improved, if only because the judges are not corrupt and therefore contracts have more value. However, apart from the lack of trained personnel, the legislation is still erratic and unpredictable. Promises and legislation can change, even retroactively today, being different without the State taking any responsibility for previous agreements and rules. You have sent a container of used goods and on the road suddenly there appears to be a new import tax of 80% on second-hand goods. There are increasingly complex and time-consuming registration procedures and many different taxes and charges, not to mention the outdated banking system checks, stamps and dysfunctional banks. All this is still discouraging entrepreneurs to invest in Tanzania, or Tanzanians to start a business because the costs and legal certainty are unpredictable and can easily get out of hand. China is investing heavily in Tanzania, but with entirely different ulterior motives. They can also afford to gamble. What makes Tanzania attractive for investors however are the many opportunities and underdeveloped sectors waiting for entrepreneurs and the expectation that the business climate will be better within some years like in Rwanda.
And what is not tackled yet
The list above is impressive and deserves respect. So much has already been addressed to in such a short period of time. It is therefore not surprising that some aspects are missing or deserve criticism. Yet we want to mention a few important things:
- The press is handled spastically. Some newspapers and radio stations have been closed and five people have been charged with insulting through Facebook. They risk a prison sentence of 3 up to 20 years. Although the press in the past was certainly not blame-free: they asked for payment in order to place an article. Magufuli, having received much credit and positive news, has only a little to fear from some minor criticism or insults.
- A number of powerful figures, including the former president, who sold the land in the past, still are walking freely around and have not (yet?) been addressed. Everyone can think his own of his, what also is happening widely.
Is the policy consistent?
Sometimes it looks like a scattershot policy of measures that have been taken quickly. For example, if you want to improve education but at the same time you are expelling 5,500 Kenyan teachers or when you want to reform the country into an industrial nation, but are annoying foreign investors and workers, who have the knowledge to make that happen, it seems to be consequent but not very consistent. It should also be noted that from the socialist past, there was always a deep distrust of anything commercial. Moreover, in the culture of Tanzania, with its emphasis on the extended family, where everything is shared, it is difficult to run a business. The frequently advertised slogan "Take but many children" certainly does not make things better.
Let's hope Magufuli, except the art of bulldozing, is also able to face the shortcomings to bend the policy, in order to make a more consistent policy.
Is Magufuli a dictator?
The opposition in Tanzania is accusing Magufuli to be a dictator, and that is not entirely unjustified, because the elections were not fair and opposing hardly is tolerated. But Magufuli’s dictatorship cannot be compared to that of the countries bordering Tanzania, where a culture of fear and own dynasties govern. As yet, in Tanzania, there are no known political prisoners – instead the prison is filled with fraudsters! Considering the earlier chaotic and paralysed society, Magufuli deserves all the credit in order to act firmly and he earns credits to violate some democratic principles.
Conclusion - the balance after 1 year
Although a pattern is appearing where a road to dictatorship is not inconceivable, the efforts Magufuli is making are deserving more than the benefit of the doubt. An important difference with others in history where it has gone wrong is that Magufuli is rather a popular president than a populist. He clearly demonstrated that his actions are real and lasting. Not only are rules being introduced and/or maintained, they are also followed-up. Tanzania is organizing and rapidly heading towards (literally and figuratively) prosperity for the majority of the population. That such a rapid development involves hick-ups and problems of transition is logical. If the extent of these problems is outweighing the advantages remain to be seen.
Concluding Magufuli’s government remains special and sustainable as far as we know now and might be an example for many other developing countries. Worthwhile to keep an eye on!
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Tanzania, April 2016
For years Tanzania was a donor darling country. During many years an enormous amount of money was invested to increase development. Unfortunately, this did not result in anything positive and in 2015 the country was totally lost in paralyzing corruption and donor dependency. How miraculous are the last 22 weeks since the new chosen president John Pombe Magufuli started his revolution.
Shortly after his start in November 2015 Magufuli earned the nickname “broom”, because of his anti-corruption drive which changed a lot in a short time. Straight from the beginning it was not only words but also actions. Different from what we were used to from earlier regime changes. Corrupt civil servants were dismissed, holiday-like trips of officials were forbidden, budget consuming “sitting allowances” (payment for joining a meeting or course) were abolished, “ghost workers” who were already dead or non-existing were finally taken out of the salary systems, workers that were not attending their work were fired, a special court for corruption was established, not payed tax was traced etc. etc. Within a month the tax revenues were doubled and, different from before, governmental offices were occupied from 8:00am to 17:00pm.
What is the case: Tanzania, being a development country IS not poor at all! Gold, oil, gas, gemstones, tourism, fertile land, it is all available. Until now however especially the corrupt 5% of the 50 million inhabitants were selling out the country and diverted the money to Swiss bank accounts, cash in buckets at their luxury homes and elsewhere.
Now, all of the sudden, it looks like that the way to a prosperous country is taken. So since almost half a year the old school corruption model bites the dust and Magufuli can count on a wide support from the Tanzanians. How miraculous is this? Let’s dive into this some deeper.
From the past, in Africa in general, but also in Tanzania, people are used to have strong, dictator-like leaders who could use their power and could at will reap the benefits. However, this had its borders. Kings who could not make enough rain were not allowed to be in charge for a long time. In the meantime kings are replaced by presidents, but what stayed is the power which is concentrated in one person.
This has different causes. In the first place various institutes like the court system are weak, which gives the president all the room to push through anything he likes. Even a law which allows the president to stay in power for more terms or to print more money, everything is possible. The first, remarkable enough, did not happen in Tanzania so far.
Secondly in Tanzania there is a kind of natural obedience to all which have a higher position or who simply are elder. Family bonds also are very tight. Those strong family bonds in Tanzania are of crucial interest. The family is the only social security since the total, or almost total absence of a safety and health structure, especially in rural areas one is on his own. So it’s mainly caused by weak institutions.
In countries such as Uganda, Rwanda and Zimbabwe this obedience is less but the power there is enforced. If you execute some opposing sounds you easily end up "two feet under". The result is power based on fear. In Tanzania this is absolutely not the case. If you raise an oppositional voice they will catch you usually in an indirect way, but physical violence is rare.
This almost absolute obedience, by fear or by nature, ensures that a leader usually only has people around him who always will agree even though his idea is very stupid. Leaders and anyone who has a dominant position also can bully people and they do so. With banks and other institutions, they leave customers in line for hours and officials and politicians can enrich themselves from public funds and bribes without being called to account. Mistakes of officials or leaders are passed on to their clients, and officials never are liable.
This type of behaviour is exacerbated by nepotism which makes people often not having the job because of their skills but by relations or bribery. As a result bosses have to gain respect in a different way than from their knowledge.
This unguided display of power and lack of accountability is further facilitated by the strong family bond. Somebody will never blame an (extended) family member even if he or she is doing wrong and they know that if you blame a person, rightly or wrongly, you have to fear the whole family of this person.
As long as everyone around you is obliging and nobody is accusing or protesting and you even get some extra for "services" it is easy to get away with it. Crime is paying off. Officials who failed, robbed things or were otherwise dysfunctional, were, until recently, just transferred as long as they were loyal to the ruling politics.
Another common phenomenon in developing countries is poverty and the poorly educated population. This means that people usually choose for a short-term solution, but also easily take decisions that ultimately are at the expense of themselves. Also in Tanzania such choices are seen on daily base.
All this leads to a, looking at it with Western eyes, somewhat strange effect that a president, whether or not legally and/or fairly elected, once he is in power can do whatever he or she wants. Until last year, for example, the former president of Tanzania, Kikwete and his family could totally rob the country, like Museveni in Uganda, Mugabe in Zimbabwe and others. But earlier with Mandela in South Africa, with Kagame in Rwanda, with Nyerere in Tanzania and now Magufuli this also seems to result in a positive change.
And so it could happen that, which has not happened in other countries since the Arabic springs or even resulted in chaos and war, now seems to be happening in Tanzania. Not a revolution from below but a tight-led change from above. This also fits more with the culture that was already there. Unmistakably the social media have a major influence because now people are also better informed than before. For example, the Tanzanian people now make fun of the old corrupt gang losing their unearned money. Money that is now used for the general welfare.
Until now these developments in Tanzania don’t get the international attention that they should be getting. Instead of this there is only attention for the “unfair” elections in Zanzibar. Perhaps this has to do with the socialistic approach of the new president, although there is absolutely no "movement" and it looks like it’s focused on the ideas and efforts of just one person. How miraculous is that? In Tanzania this is also encouraged by the good memories on the first president, Nyerere, who has done a lot for the country and still is in the hearts of the Tanzanians. Magufuli does have the full support of the majority of the population, even the majority of the opposition agrees with him.
Meanwhile, the international community is protesting against the unfair elections in Zanzibar. Although Zanzibar is a part of Tanzania, it has a special status and is plagued by an unrealistic desire for independence and is politically dominated by the Islamic-oriented CUF party.
It is good to realize that the democratic multi-party system in Africa has been catapulted by the West and is also very young in a country like Tanzania. Tanzania became independent in 1961, initially went through a period of socialism with a one-party state and only about 6 years ago, the ruling CCM party still had 95% of the votes. The last elections were in 2015 and for Western concepts also inimitable. Western monitors were especially pleased that the elections were peaceful and that everyone could vote but forgot to look at how the votes were counted. So the question is whether such a democratic system for a country like Tanzania is most appropriate.
Let's further examine the last elections: The choice was between the ruling CCM party with Magufuli or the opposition Chadema with Lowasa. This Lowasa was previously running for his candidacy for the presidency inside CCM but lost from Magufuli and then switched to the opposition. How opportunistic can you be, as a presidential candidate, but also as an opposition party?
What is also striking is that the programs of the various parties actually hardly differ. There is no such thing as progressives and conservatives, but it's more about favouritism and relationships. Although the opposition Chadema initially stressed to stand for anticorruption they chose a leader which was infected with corruption in the person of Lowasa. On the other end there was CCM, totally infected by corruption, but now suddenly with an integer, blemish-free candidate in the person of Magufuli.
It is said that Magufuli became the first man not because he was the strongest man, but because this was the right compromise: CCM just could not agree on who should now be presidential candidate. So also CCM itself did not foresee these developments.
During the elections, as in previous elections, no means were left by CCM to win. All governmental officers were directed to work for the CCM party, the opposition was not allowed to be present during the counting and the computers of the shadow counting office of the opposition were confiscated one day before the elections. So it is not surprising that CCM won with a large majority (60%). But what perhaps also for CCM itself was surprising, was how Magufuli after the elections like a Trojan horse turned into a real, and not just in words, corruption fighter with a real heart for to people.
At the same time in Zanzibar the elections were declared invalid after it appeared there was a majority for the CUF Party. A few months later the elections were repeated, the CUF withdrew for understandable reasons, and CCM gained a 94% majority.
Both elections on the mainland and in Zanzibar were not beautiful, but a blessing for Tanzania which could be more appreciated by the international community. Especially when the choice is between fair election between corrupt leaders and this unfair election with Magufuli as the winner. Do not forget that during the whole electoral process, there have been no serious disturbances. That has been different in a country like Kenya.
Last but not least the western countries should realize that they have supported dictatorships in the past with considerably less good reasons, so why suddenly act moralistic?
Some people now fear for the life of the newly chosen president Magufuli, after all he has made powerful enemies with his measurements. On the other hand, it can also turn out OK. Magufuli can count on a wide support of the population, even the people who voted for the opposition. Moreover, everyone in Tanzania does everything possible to avoid violence, even the former president who has massively robbed the country, something that everybody knows, did not meet obstacles and never dealt with an attempt on his life. Even the corrupt gang is not really a syndicate but merely a collection of opportunists who are just as easy to rob each other and it seems unlikely that they will conspire to continue their now exposed crooky activities under the eye of the now better knowing masses.
How to continue?
For the time being there seems no end to the drive and measures of Magufuli. It looks like all earlier promises, with all the hick-ups, will be realized. MPs and other governmental officers who were previously accused of corruption are now actually physically in the dock.
The next challenge will be to nail the people who are still in the ruling party and who have sold out the country earlier. One of those people is the former president, Kikwete, who mainly enriched himself shamefully through his family. Given the Tanzanian habit not to confront but to cover all in love, it is not inconceivable that these people get away with it, but ultimately will not have political power anymore. You see these people doing everything, at least verbally, to support the policy of Magufuli.
In short, if we, as a shining example, look at Rwanda, which has climbed in a few years to a the 55th place on the corruption list (of 160, 1 = least corrupt), and reached an unprecedented prosperity for an African country. There is a chance for Tanzania, currently at position 116 on the same list, just in a few years to become one of the most prosperous countries in Africa! Magufuli deserves all the support for this, from the interior, but also internationally. If, later, things are in place we can talk again about democracy and fair elections.
Tanzania, April 16, 2016
The writer of this reportage, who is living in Tanzania, prefers to stay anonymous.
[September 8, 2015 - written for Volunteer Correct]
Let me ask you. How many times have you logged onto Facebook and have you been greeted by a newly-updated profile pictureof one of your friends, volunteer-smile intact, affectionately cuddling a small, rather grubby-looking child, from an unknown African nation? Once? Twice? Too many times to recall exactly?
These are the first words of the article ‘Volunteering abroad: a game with double standards”. It was published by Ruth Taylor one year ago on the Kickstart Ghana-blog and was also highlighted on the recommendable Facebook community ‘Better Volunteering’.
Especially from our perspective, aimed at the responsibility and transparancy of organized volunteering abroad, it is essential that we know what we are talking about. We have to know what positions we take and we have to take a stand. After all, it is us who have to judge the facts, the practises and the opinions. But it’s very, very hard! There’s lots of tough talk in the public discussions on the internet about ‘voluntourism’, about the orphanages without real orphans, about attachment issues concerning working with children and about the lack of maturity and skills of the volunteers. Whichever point is made, it is made with force.
With that in mind, it really is a relief to read a story like Ruth Taylor’s, who argues in a very nuanced way about the dilemma of volunteering with children. The three articles she wrote on Kickstart Ghana’s blog are all important stuff for people to whom there is some concern about the ethics of working with children. Ruth worked as volunteer coördinator for Kickstart Ghana in 2014 and currently is working in England with Impact International, an organisation that occupies itself with the improvement of sustainability and responsibility of volunteering and critically considering of practises.
She ends the ‘game with double standards’-article with explaining 5 issues that are important for every volunteer ‘to be’ when it comes to working with children:
1. Think about what your own strengths are. Good intentions are a fantastic starting point, but unfortunately are not enough to make a difference.
2. Look closely at the organisation you are considering volunteering with. What is their track record when it comes to volunteering with children? Do they prioritise the safety and well-being of the child over everything else?
3. Focus on the impact on the child, not the impact on you. If you truly want to volunteer, your energy should be put into ensuring the programme/s you are involved in are as impactful as they can be.
4. Always consider what best practice is in your own country. Would we allow a particular action to occur, or a particular attitude to prevail in our working with children at home? If not, then you need to consider why the situation is any different in the country you are in.
5. Hold people and organisations accountable. If you come across a placement, or are involved in a project, that you think may have put children at risk, speak out about it.
Ruth also formulates another handy and useful criterium for judging an organisation beforehand. It's what she calls the '90 second rule'. If you’re able to sign in for a children’s project within just 90 seconds, you’re quite sure they did not pay enough attention to the assessment of the future volunteer. Than you know, being that volunteer: they were not really interested in your motivations, your skills, your background, your ambitions, etc. Probably they’re just interested in your financial contribution to their own company profits. You’d beter stay away.
Again: read Ruth Taylor’s stories!
But there are flies in the ointment. Taking additional features of the ‘voluntourism’-market into account, it gets a little more complicated. Firstly, 80 percent of all volunteering work is about working with children. Secondly, 80 percent of all volunteers have three characteristics: young, naive and unskilled. Thirdly, 80 percents are women. Or, taking into account the age characteristic: 80 is girl. It easily clarifies why this type of volunteering is popular, but one can conclude as well: the volunteering market will surely collapse if this product-market combination woud no longer be available.
Well, if you for argument's sake were following this line of thought, there’s only one solution: the world wouldn’t really be worse off if this volunteering market collapses. I think Ruth’s 90 seconds-test could well be a standard for all volunteers. But still there are some delicate sides to this hardliner-position. I want to mention a few themes to allow for other perspectives.
To start with a reverse comparison: imagine a volunteer from Ghana coming over to teach children on a primary school in Europe or America, without any qualification. Noone would allow him or her to do the job. However, I think it’s rather opportunistic and populist to use this comparison, because the situation between Ghana and the West differs too much and these differences are not taken into account. An example: the presence of a young, unskilled volunteer in a role as an assistant in sports and games with children, can prevent local teachers from beating the children.
I sometimes use the hypothetical statement: suppose you take as a main criterium of volunteering that the sum of the effects is never below zero – so at least as much gain as loss – there is, in the end, always an important rest gain: the volunteer comes back in the first world with a way broader mindset as in comparison to when he or she would have left the West for a long backpack trip or a beach holiday.
A second point I would like to make, is my supposition that, with the right assistance, young unskilled volunteers working with children are able to make valuable contributions, depending on specific characteristics of the organisation and the projects. Furthermore I would like to state that the problems around children getting into psychological difficulties because of attachment problems – volunteers flying in and flying out all of the time – in many cases is highly overrated. When the volunteer is the only person the child has to deal with, this would really be a problem, but in most cases there are also local people involved (‘mama’s’, teachers, etc.). I think relating to attachment it could be even better for volunteers to not commit for a long time, so attachment problems can be prevented.
Here it becomes clear where the Achilles' heel of of volunteering is positioned: with the big agencies and companies that arrange volunteer placements. These organisations send thousands of young, unskilled volunteers to children’s projects. On the websites of these organisation you can sign in on a project within 90 seconds.
Apart from these projects there are lots of children and school projects, grassroots organisations, small local NGO’s, in Asia, South America and Africa, where young volunteers can make a real contribution. I have experienced so myself while traveling in Tanzania. See below for some examples. You can also see this on the website of Kickstart Ghana. The possibilities for volunteering are all combined with a description of the requirements, but also a sound personal screening can pave the way for every well motivated volunteer. “Past teaching experience would be an advantage but is not compulsory” and with a sports project: ‘volunteers not holding a qualification but with extensive previous coaching experience will also be considered”. You have to show references though. It all sounds quite reasonable to me.
So you could say, in a nuanced way of formulating, that things are never quite as bad as they seem in much of the (online) debates about voluntourism like, for example ‘Orphanages. No’. So I’m not advocating to - for the utmost prevention of every possible harm that can be done – forbid every kind of unskilled volunteering with children. I think that would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Transparant, locally organized, private initiatives offer lots of possibilities for good screening and expectation management, beforehand, well organized assitance while on the job and also fair evalution afterwards.
Niko Winkel, September, 2015
• Volunteering Abroad with Children: a game of double standards? – Ruth Taylor
• The other Ruth Taylor articles:
o Introducing Ruth Taylor, Kickstart’s 2014 Volunteer Coordinator
o International Volunteering: a shift in thinking
• Kickstart Ghana – volunteering opportunities
• Better Volunteering
• Orphanages – not the solution
• Impact International
• Examples of organisations in Tanzania that run responsible and sustainable projects with children, in which also volunteers are involved: The Olive Branch for Children, DINKA, Sarakasi ya Vijana, Ngaleku Children Center.
[March 20, 2015]
International volunteering used to be the domain of aid agencies like the Peace Corps. But in the last 15 years, an entire multi-billion-dollar industry has cropped out to meet the demand of people — mostly young — seeking volunteer experiences overseas. This year, more than 100 thousand Canadians will travel abroad on voluntourism trips.
Here are some things to consider:
Define your purpose, match your skills, vet the organisation, research the community, ask detailed questions about your trip, consider longer stays, support local partners, don't do something the locals can do, don't volunteer at an orphanage, don't forget your priorities!!
[March 19, 2015]
It starts with the lovely cubs. But when the lions become older they are not usefull anymore. Look what happens to them then!!
[January 9, 2015]
Those are the last words of Boniface Mwangi in the short documentary you are able to watch online. This Kenyan was invited by an American university and spoke about the usefulness of volunteering. He acknowledged that he was not very positive about the United States himself: "It might be noble, everything you want to do in Africa, you might mean well. But please, help the people at home first."
Watch the documentary and article on the website of the New York Times.
Yesterday, an article was published in the Kenyan newspaper ‘Daily Nation’ in which the world’s most renowned (yet also often maligned) ‘Africa-benefactor’ was critically attacked. A new version of the famous Christmas song ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time’ was released, in which many pop stars of thirty years ago participated as well. Quite a pitiful sight, I believe: those old pop stars.
A lot of money is raised and they will probably try their best to have that money end up at the right places. Nevertheless, we never hear anything about that, and I do wonder whether the pop stars are truly interested in it. Are you too much of a cynic when you judge the meaning behind such actions? That is what writer Rasna Warah does. She argues: stop the nonsense and use that Western money of yours to cope with your own problems such as drug addictions, racism and unemployment. Stop neocolonialism!
The title of the song is, of course, a great example: Africans are generally much more religious than, for instance, Europeans. What they might not know about Christmas, is that for us, it is tradition to eat way too much food.
But to what extent are we complaining too much? You can read that in the response below the article. Read it on the website of Daily Nation.
[August 1, 2014]
That is what the employee of Projects Abroad asked me when I decided to go to Arusha for three months, in order to participate in one of this organization's "Microfinance Projects." It seemed like a good idea. Great that an organization is willing to help you with this! What a wonderful service!
Yet, by the time I had been in Arusha for 1.5 months, I became aware of the fact that I had been a bit naïve. Other volunteers did not directly take Projects Abroad up on the offer and checked the flight fees themselves. Flights appeared to be hundreds of euros cheaper than the prices Projects Abroad mentioned.
Upon investigating this further, I found out that the organization runs its own travel agency (somewhere in India). The employee responded to my complaint: "I did not tell you that you had to book with us."
Tip: when you choose for Projects Abroad, please check out the flight fees yourself!