Since the beginning of last week I have been in Morogoro at the CCT Women Training Centre to facilitate a workshop on Household Economic Planning and Management. The workshop participants’ are 40 including 26 women and 14 men. Most women participants are from the rural areas in different regions including Shinyanga, Mwanza, Geita, Kigoma, and Morogoro. Other participants are from Arusha and Dodoma. The training participants have different socio-economic backgrounds. Education levels, for example, range from a degree level to standard 7. With such a group, Mama Mkwizu (the lead facilitator) and I decided to deploy adult learning methodologies such as participatory approach, sharing of real-life experiences among other adult learning pedagogical techniques.
In respect to the above, we allowed long discussions on issues and encouraged participants to share their experiences. We ended up learning more than we taught. These people especially the women from rural areas have rich experiences, knowledge and ways to deal with daily challenges that life in rural Tanzania can bring. I cannot be grateful enough for this wonderful experience to learn in a way that I’d never imagined. From 2008 to 2012 I had an opportunity to teach various modules at one of the best Universities in the world – the University of Nottingham, which attracts best students in the UK and from all over the world. Before any class at Nottingham, I used to put several hours of preparation that involved reading and critical analysis of all the readings and the lecturers. I carefully planned and organized my seminars to ensure that I cover the planned lesson of 50 minutes. It was an enriching academic experience in a perfect environment. I thank the School of Politics and International Relations for giving such a great opportunity. I used to learn a lot from extremely bright and exposed students of Nottingham. However, the experience of facilitating a workshop to rural women of Tanzania with standard seven-education level has been so fulfilling to a no comparison level. I have discovered problems patterning rural populations and in particular women. There is so much exploitation to poor people. The system does not allow them to keep even the little they have. Can you imagine some “microfinance” companies that give loans to women in rural areas take about 48% interest? By any standard that is the highest level of exploitation as these women basically slave for those companies as they end up selling everything they have to serve their “masters”. To cut the stories short, I can only that the insights I gain from listening and talking to these women is something that I can never get in any development literature. These are the issues that you don’t find anywhere. The only way to find them is to listen to the poor.
At one session I spoke to participants about the importance of storing enough food for the whole year and food security. I had carried with me a letter that my dad had written to people of Hai District on the importance of storing enough food for the whole year. The letter included calculations on how much food is needed for each member of the family for the whole year. So I used the information from the letter and encouraged discussions on the matter. I loved that discussion because the participants were very critical to the amounts of food estimated and thought that due to cultural differences and consequent eating behaviors the amount in the letter won’t be enough for all tribes. Well, the discussion continued and I told them about the story of Ruth in the Bible. This was to encourage those with no land and very poor to gather the remains after harvests. One of the women stood up and testified that’s what she does every year and she gets three to four bags of maize every time she does it. The story of Ruth in the Bible became so vivid to me…interesting enough this woman is a widow just like the way Ruth was. We have to love widows and take care of them.
Well, since I finished my PhD and started working at BUMACO Ltd, I have had grace to visit many places in Tanzania. Due to the nature of my work, most of these places I visit are rural and poor. The poverty is devastating. As a result I have been worried and disturbed by high poverty levels in the villages of Tanzania. I share my concerns with friends and my co-workers. But mostly I do talk to my dad about it. He is really my hero. He is always there to listen to my complaints, concerns, and ideas about how to deal with rural poverty. I trust him more than any other man under the sun and so I follow his advice and always convinced by his thinking line. Well, so the other day as we were talking over the phone and as usual I was pouring out all my excitements, lows and ups and update him about the workshop, telling him how the women and men in the workshop are actively participating and how we worked with each participant to develop their family vision and mission statements. My dad, who is a champion of vision, mission, and goals (he loves those and when we were young he encouraged us to develop them every new year) was very excited and knew exactly where to hit me saying “…that way you are directly countering rural poverty”…wow!! Indeed, that’s was the best complement I have had this year.
By that, I am in no way saying that I am wiping rural poverty in Tanzania. I’d be mad to utter such a statement…but I believe in doing the little that I can because of my belief that the little things will incrementally sum up to a significant change. The late Prof. Wangare Mathai favorite tale of the ‘hummingbird’ should encourage us all to do the little that we can towards changing the shameful poverty situation in rural Tanzania.
Having said that, we have to be careful on our motives and methods of doing it. Often we think that “we know a lot” and that “we are ‘saving’ the poor people” but actually we don’t know anything, they are the experts of poverty and they know how to solve it. What rural people need is empowerment and an ear to listen to their ideas. These people are the power and resources we need in the fight against poverty. They have lived in it and survived so they know it more than us. After having many unsuccessful interventions, the World Bank got wiser and went one step further to listen to the poor people. The Bank then commissioned a study known as the ‘Voices of the Poor’ that interviewed poor people in 66 developing countries. This study has helped the Bank in designing new projects especially by bringing faith groups closer as most interviewees told them that they trust faith leaders and institutions more than governments or other institutions. Now, it’s really annoying seeing young Tanzanian “elites” discussing issues to do with rural poverty in Tanzania from cities without a thorough understanding and critical analysis of the rural poverty. They think or are convinced that they know. This is ‘urban bias’ as my friend Emmanuel Tayari would call it. I would rather someone keep quiet than speaking about rural poverty from cities without any tangible effort to interact with and learn from the rural population who feel poverty in their daily life. We need to ask poor poor for their opinion and not guess solutions. Due to lack of proper understanding and honest/objective interactions with poor people, the ‘urban bias’ discussion is often superficial and do not lead to any sustainable change.
The recent #SimTax issue in Tanzania is a classic example of ‘urban bias’ voices. To begin with I must admit that I was impressed and grateful for all Tanzanians who strongly voiced out their opposition against the tax. This was an excellent civil action. It was done mostly through social media. An online forum known as ChangeTanzania put forth a petition against the tax and it accumulated thousands of signatures. I myself signed the petition as I believed that the tax is unfair and a double-taxation. I attempted to critically analyze the tax by trying to understand the thinking behind such a decision but couldn’t find any convincing answer. So I signed the petition. However, throughout the debates, which I mostly followed on twitter, one thought kept hitting my brain- the superficiality of the debate. The forum’s twitter account and other Tanzanians ‘twitterstars’ were busy opposing the tax using rural poverty as justification…probably that was because the supporters of the tax argued that the revenue that will be earned will go to develop rural areas. Whether that is true or not, I am not going to that debate. But what I want to show here is the superficiality of ‘urban bias’ through this example. Most of the debates were in English, which is not our first language. That on itself was a sufficient factor to exclude the very people the debaters were using to justify their arguments. Second I don’t think people went to the rural Tanzania to get the data of the percentage of rural population with mobile phones? (at least I didn’t see that), third, did we bother to hear what the rural people’s view were? forth, fifth etc etc…. In fact, the introduction of SimTax in the budget was a manifestation of structural weaknesses that are sustaining poverty in rural Tanzania. If we fight SimTax only is like cutting a leaf of a poisonous tree while leaving its roots alive. The whole budget making process in Tanzania needs to be revisited. Citizens should be encouraged to participate in the process. This can be done through the local authorities structures and other forums such as civil societies and faith institutions. Rural people should be incorporated in the making of budgets if we want to change their situations. I kept thinking that we had better put similar efforts in discussing the draft constitution (Rasimu), a document that is most likely going to inform our national institutions and systems in the next 50 years or so. But we often go and do what is easy… we don’t want our hands dirty! Or do we?
Well, development partners have formulated different approaches to ensure inclusion in development interventions. Such include Rural Participatory Approach, Participatory Learning Approach, O&OD (Opportunity and Obstacles in Development), and Political Economy Analysis among others. These are a big step towards involving rural populations in designing development intervention, but they are often too technical, political, and expensive to carry out that they often do not work.
This entry is a call for us all to get bold and …directly tackle rural poverty in Tanzania together with the very people we want to ‘help’.