Food aid, donors and the disempowerment of Africans

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THERE is a song by Mbira DzeNharira in which the main singer says, “Muzukuru woye, sadza ramunoona iri, taidya rezviyo…”
It is more of a lament by a grandmother to her grandchild saying in the old days there was plenty of food.
Sadza was made from zviyo, millet and mapfunde.
There was so much game meat that they could dry some of it.
Meat was in abundance.
The soloist in the mbira song is remembering times of plenty, or the years of maguta.
During the precolonial days, such a time of abundant food was a result of massive harvests.
Then, what happened?
Our history of food insecurity goes back to the time when Cecil John Rhodes’ British South Africa Company seized land and cattle in 1890, forcing people off the land and shooting them.
By 1923, the colonialists had taken control of one sixth of the land in Rhodesia. This land was prime fertile land where rainfall was abundant.
The company demarcated African land, relegating Africans into reserves or Tribal Trust Lands which were less fertile.
In the north, the land was infested with tsetse flies and in most areas people became overcrowded living on poor unproductive soil.
Our tragic colonial history shows that the white population comprised three percent of the population and yet they controlled 75 percent of the economically viable land.
Meanwhile the 97 percent black Africans controlled only 23 percent of poor overcrowded and drought prone land.
The company then took African cattle forcing Africans to work on the farms that had been pegged out by settlers, demanding tax in cash for hut tax, cattle, dog and even bicycle tax thus forcing the people to work under a slave like system called chibharo.
We fought for the right to our land.
Just after independence, in the 1980’s, Zimbabwe became the basket of Southern Africa.
Donors did not bring food hand outs.
Many partnerships were formed with other Western countries.
There were scholarships to study in Cuba, Soviet Union, China, Japan, UK, Germany, America, Australia and everywhere.
Aid poured into the country.
This country had aid in the form of skills from teachers, doctors, agricultural workers, engineers and many others.
Although the price of fertilisers and other agricultural inputs rose and the land shortage remained, people still worked hard and there was plenty of food.
Most of the food eaten in this country was grown in the rural areas.
On the white owned farms, they grew maize for cattle, as they had always done. White farmers exported massive quantities of tobacco because Zimbabwe has one of the best climates and soil for growing tobacco in the whole world.
The government Agricultural Rural Development Authority farms (ARDA) produced surplus food.
The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) silos were full of maize, from Mutoko to Karoi and right across the country.
That was the time when this country was called the bread-basket of Southern Africa.
If we then roll the clock forward past Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAPs) to the Land Reform Programme, to sanctions, to the high inflation and to 2008, we find that Zimbabwe moved from being a country of food self sufficiency to a country regarded by Westerners with a mixture of pity and dislike.
Part of Western pity included massive aid to Zimbabwe.
Where does this aid go?
In her book, Dr Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian economist, who wrote the book called Dead Aid, writes about, ‘Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa’.
Dambisa gives the example of Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, a suburb of Nairobi with a population of one million people living in, “a sea of aluminium and cardboard shacks that forgotten families call home.
“The idea of a slum conjures up an image of children playing amidst piles of garbage, with no running water and the rank, rife stench of sewage.
“Kibera does not disappoint.”
Dambisa then says Kibera stands within a short distance from the headquarters of the United Nations Agency for Human Settlements which has an annual budget of millions of dollars and has a mandate to, “promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.”
At the same time Kibera is in Kenya, a country with one of the highest ratios of development workers per capita.
The aid workers are paid huge salaries.
So, what are they doing there?
But, why travel so far to Kenya and not look at our own situation here in Zimbabwe?
Development assistance through food handouts has been nothing, but a band aid.
It forced us to become dependent.
One sad sight about aid is the boreholes that lie dormant and in total disrepair in many parts of Zimbabwe.
There was a lack of consultation and training of the people.
In addition, the donors did not talk to each other to avoid duplicating the failures of the last donor.
Each donor comes to the community with his or her own agenda.
The development of ‘a trust model’ is one of the most pressing issues for the aid workers.
Maintaining trust has required these donors to spend a large percentage of their funds on basing expatriate workers in-country and making frequent visits from head office.
This is unsustainable and wasteful.
There are many questions to be asked about these aid workers living in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
How do you solve poverty when you are always sitting in a big air conditioned car or an office, flying on planes to conferences and staying in expensive hotels?
How do you solve poverty when you come here as a white expatriate with no knowledge of Shona and no understanding of the culture?
This is what the Wall St journal says about the aid, “It is an insidious culture that has left Africa more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment.”
Dambisa Moyo goes on to say that aid has increased the risk of civil conflict and disharmony, causing an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster.
In its current form, aid is not working.
It promotes disempowerment.
And it causes dependency on food handouts.
We need to develop a new strategy that places emphasis on African entrepreneurship and markets over an aid system that preaches only food hand-outs.

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