Since the New Year, I’ve spent quite a few evenings talking with young Tanzanian men about… well… lot’s of stuff. Initially, I was the instigator for most of issues we discussed: Why do so many of the students drop out before completing secondary school? Why aren’t people in the city taking advantage of urban farming? Why are so many people here late for meetings?
What did I learn? For one, foreign aid and international development experts definitely did NOT construct their theories in collaboration with Tanzanian students.
According to these young men, Tanzanians drop out of school because they don’t understand the value of investing in education. They are averse to urban gardening because… well… gardening is a rural activity; Tanzanians don’t like to complicate things by changing them. And as for the pervasive tardiness in their country: Tanzanians are just generally lazy, and they don’t care much about the time.
Don’t these guys know anything about development? What about all the research on child labor, which has shown how poor parents are forced to choose between paying for books, uniforms, and transportation versus recruiting their children – mostly girls – into income-generating activities? What about the inflexible municipal planning laws and severe space constraints that prevent urban farmers from building profitable gardens? And how are people supposed to get to a meeting on time when the roads are completely jammed with cars, all fighting to get through the chaotic highway intersection that should have received a traffic-control system fifteen years ago?
Sadly, the perspectives adopted by these young men – which place the blame for the Global South’s problems squarely in the hands of of “the uneducated masses” – prevail around the world.