Soldiers present the colors during an Independence Day celebration at the US embassy in Tanzania. (Courtesy of Wikimedia.)
This is the second of several blog posts written from Dar es Salaam and Morogoro, Tanzania. I’m visiting Tanzania thanks to CARE USA, which has paid for my trip with the help of a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its purpose, for me at least, is to explore one country’s need for humanitarian aid and development assistance and to examine America’s political will and commitment to deliver on its promises.
It’s evident, even after a couple of days in Tanzania, that there’s an enormous gap between what the country needs to develop and what aid it’s likely to get. Unless something changes in Washington, and in a few other capitals around the world, the best-case future for Tanzania is a prolonged struggle to develop itself lasting many, many decades, and the worst case is stagnation exacerbated by the ravages of droughts, floods and storms that arise from the effects of climate change.
Despite successes here and there, and there are some, humanitarian and development aid from the United States is not up to the task.
That’s the depressing conclusion from a visit to the US embassy in Dar es Salaam this morning, where Ambassador Alfonso Lenhardt and his team of aides from the US Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the State Department’s Feed the Future program and others outlined the shape of the American contribution, so far, to Tanzania’s economic and development struggle.
Things are getting better, Ambassador Lenhardt told The Nation. “We see it every day, in the lives of the people being saved,” he says. “I’m pleased, and I’ll be a little emotional, or sobby, about it, but I’m pleased to be part of it.”
Unfortunately, whether because of his own personal inclination or because of marching orders from Washington—and probably both—the ambassador is placing far too many of his aid-and-development eggs in the basket of the profit-seeking, self-interested private sector, i.e., American corporations. Nearly every time I pressed him on what the United States could or should do to meet the challenges here, Ambassador Lenhardt fell back onto the argument that the private sector can do it. In fact, they can’t.
Not that Lenhardt is against the idea of Washington adding more money to its foreign aid budget. (That budget, which has been trending downwards for several decades, reportedly stands at just 0.17 percent of the US GNP, far short of the reputed goal for members of the developed world, namely, 0.7 percent, or four times greater than it is currently.) If the White House and Congress decide to up the ante, says Lenhardt, he’s all for it having more money sent his way. “If it came here to Dar es Salaam, we’ll put it use,” he says.
Until then, one of his main activities is trying to persuade American firms to invest in Tanzania’s economy. So far, they’re not buying. And it’s no wonder: With a crumbling infrastructure, unreliable water and electric power supplies, a clogged port, a workforce whose education levels are far, far below the needs of twenty-first-century technology and whose health and social welfare level is poor, who’d want to invest in Tanzania in search of a profit? “If they have to choose between building a plant in Vietnam, where the power and water supply is generally reliable, or Tanzania, where it isn’t, is it a surprise that they’d choose Vietnam?” says a US official here, privately.