Tanzania, take two

Nairobi airport, 7am, after an overnight flight but little sleep.

Squinting through tired eyes at the departures board, I realise – with a mild sense of panic – that my flight is the only one without a departure gate listed next to it. Cancelled. No reason given.

Panic levels increasing, I’m told the next flight to Mwanza wouldn’t be until tomorrow. Tomorrow! The only thing running through my mind is that I do not have the wherewithall to spend the night in Nairobi by myself.

Luckily, I’m put on another flight, leaving in an hour or so, to Kilimanjaro. From there, I ‘should’ be able to get another flight to Mwanza. I’m assured that my hold bag will follow me to Kilimanjaro, and then again to Mwanza. I want to believe this, I really do, but my sleep-deprived self does not trust in the unlikely so easily.

But if you are ever re-routed through Kilimanjaro, do not fear. It is possibly the most beautiful airport in the world. Like some luxurious beach-side hut; wooden decking and courtyard cafés, brightly-coloured cushions and trees growing through the roof. Flying in, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro peaks majestically through the clouds. (And my hold bag did follow me all the way.)

I’ve been back in Buswelu for about ten days now. Despite some big changes since my last visit six months ago, it feels like I never left. It’s incredible how much difference a little rain can make. Luscious green plants and trees are everywhere you look and the corn plants tower over six feet. It makes the place seem more prosperous, healthy and full of life.

We are enjoying trying the little cafés that seemed to have cropped up around the village since last time. We’re making a habit out of sampling each one on our walk back from site at lunchtime. At 35 degrees, we’re usually gasping for a cold soda in one of the cafés.



When I tell people that I’m going to Tanzania, the usual response is something along the lines of: “Oh, but it’s alright there, isn’t it?”, hinting to the fact that it hasn’t endured as many natural disasters or drawn-out conflicts as other African nations.

This is partially true. Since independence in 1964 – when Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form one country – Tanzania has faired rather well and avoided many of the catastrophes that have plagued its neighbours. This can be partially attributed to Tanzania’s first President, Jules Nyerere.

President Nyerere based his social and development policies on the concept of Ujamaa, a KiSwahili word meaning extended family or family-hood. It is most commonly distinguished by the notion that a person becomes a person through the people or the community. Nyerere emphasised the need for an African model of development in his blueprint, the 1967 Arusha Declaration – today known as Tanzania’s most prominent declaration of African socialism.

“It is stupid to rely on money as the major instrument of development when we know only too well that our country is poor. It is equally stupid, indeed it is even more stupid, for us to imagine that we shall rid ourselves of our poverty through financial assistance rather than our own financial resources… Firstly, we shall not get the money. There is no country in the world which is prepared to give us gifts or loans, or establish industries, to the extent that we would be able to achieve all our development targets… And even if all the prosperous nations were willing to help the needy countries, the assistance would still not suffice.”

Nyerere was a popular president and his leadership attracted worldwide respect for his consistent emphasis on ethical principles as the basis of practical policies. And Tanzania made great strides in vital areas of social development under his governance:

  • Infant mortality decreased from 138 per 1000 live births in 1965, to 110 in 1985
  • Life expectancy at birth rose from 37 in 1960 to 52 in 1984
  • Primary school enrolment was raised from 25% in 1960 to 72% in 1985, despite the rapidly increasing population
  • Adult literacy rose from 17% in 1960 to 63% by 1975, and continued to rise.

But like all political policies, Ujamaa was not perfect and cracks began to form. The oil crisis of the 1970s, the collapse of export commodity prices and the onset of war with Uganda in 1978 to overcome dictator Idi Amin all starved Tanzania of valuable resources, leading to two consecutive droughts.  By 1985, after failing to lift Tanzania out of its poor economic state, President Nyerere resigned voluntarily.

And today, while Tanzania may seem peaceful, luscious and bountiful, social and economic figures identify a nation in desperate need of development and growth. According to the UN:

  • Life expectancy average 58.25 years
  • There are 11 hospital beds per 10,000 people
  • 82.4% of the population live on less than a dollar a day
  • At the last count in 2002, there were an estimated 822 physicians across the entire country. As of 2009, there are 43.7 million people living in Tanzania. That’s roughly one doctor to over 53,000 people, give or take.

Fortunately, Tanzania is one of those countries that completely captures your heart and there are dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of organisations and social entrepreneurs working tirelessly to turn these figures around.

Forever Angels Baby Home is located in Bwiru, near Mwanza airport on the outskirts of the city. It was set up by British ex-pat, Amy Hathaway, and provides a loving and safe home for children under the age of five who were abandoned or whose parents cannot look after them. Forever Angels aims to reunite the children with their parents or close relatives or find suitable adoptive families.

The Mwanza Rural Housing Programme (MRHP) trains people from all over the region to make high-quality bricks out of agricultural residues, such as rice husks. These bricks are then used to built sturdy, permanent homes in an area where most families must re-build their houses of mud and sticks every year. After the initial training and support given by MRHP, most brick-makers go on to establish their own independent brick-making enterprises.

And lastly, Tanzaid, established by Victoria Randell, manages Kuleana Street Children Centre, a transitional home for children coming off the streets. The centre has a team of social workers providing regular counselling to each child before they return to their communities. Children are given the time and care to help them deal with traumatic experiences, talk about their family situations and think about their future. Life skills sessions are also provided covering subjects such as rights, responsibilities, behaviour, choices, hygiene, future options, drugs, sexual health and HIV awareness.

When I visit Tanzania in January, as well as spending time with the amazing kids at Upendo Children’s Home, I’m hoping to go out and visit these amazing projects and organisations, and others like them. If my internet connection holds out, I’ll report it all back here. Stay tuned.

Development data challenge

The Development Data Challenge is a two-day event organised by the International Aid Transparency Initiative, an organisation which strives for global development data to be made public, as quickly and as easily as possible. In recent years, more and more of this development data has been made available, so the idea of the weekend was to interrogate it to answer questions about global development, and then present findings in interesting ways.

I’m not an international development expert, nor can I do fancy things with HTML or coding, but I have a decent interest in both areas so I thought I might as well go along (the event was free!) and if anything, it would be a fantastic opportunity to network.

In the weeks leading up to the event, people submitted questions they wanted to be answered. These ranged from; “What is the average salary of an ex-pat aid worker compared to that of a local aid worker?” and “How much aid money is lost in admin processes?” to “How reliable is this data?” There were about 70 questions in total so our first task was to whittle these down to a select the most interesting, and then choose the ones we thought we could tackle in groups, with the data we knew (or other people knew) were available.

During the discussion, one attendee brought up the question of the extent of media influence on aid donations after natural disasters. Does more news coverage increase donations? Or does the fact that more people are donating money increase news coverage? Or are other factors involved, such as the number of people affected by the disaster?

I touched on this age-old question during my MA programme, and I know studies have been done to assess the quantity and quality of press coverage of natural disasters. There is even a theory about it. But how does this affect aid donations? And what about broadcast news? Those are questions I wanted to answer.

It took my group (which grew steadily across the weekend) quite a while to work out just how we were going to answer this question, where we were going to find the information, and how we were going to include everything we wanted to. In the end, we decided to cover five big natural disasters of the last ten years: the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2010 Pakistan floods, the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and the 2011 East Africa drought.

Then came the tricky part; finding comparable data on the amount of aid donations for each disaster and working out the total number of people affected. This took a huge chunk of our time and I can’t even remember the processes we went through, but eventually, we found the financial data through the Financial Tracking Service and relied on official reports from aid organisations, such as the Red Cross, for the total number of people affected.

For me, this exercise confirmed some things while disproving others. I thought that the more a natural disaster was televised, the more money would be donated – regardless of the number of people affected. The Pakistan Floods case study proved this, but the Japanese earthquake and tsunami did not. (Then again, the Japanese government was telling people not to give them any money.)

And there are so many other factors that contribute to why media organisations cover what they do – see the Galtung & Ruge theory – and why people donate to some causes and not to others – see Susan D. Moeller.

Most importantly, I think my group really started something that groups at future hack days can continue with. I’m glad we had something to show for our hard work (at around 3pm on Sunday when we were still trying to find financial data, it looked like we might not have anything to present!) and as I thought, I had many interesting conversations and met some fascinating people.

April Fool’s in the news

This morning I woke up to a report on BBC Radio 4 describing how pensioners may soon be expected to prove a certain level of fitness in order to claim their pension. One suggestion was to install treadmills in post offices around the country – elderly people would have to walk for three or four minutes on the treadmill before they would be allowed to pick up their pension.

The report then included some vox pops. Young people seemed to be fully supportive of this idea. One girl said that if police officers have to prove their fitness, then elderly people should too. Another said something along the lines of: “Old people have worked hard for their pension so they should make sure they stick around long enough to enjoy it.”

In my still-sleepy state, I thought: “Are these people mad?!” My own grandparents are relatively fit for their age but many older people struggle with health problems. And besides, why should they prove their fitness to claim money they’ve worked their whole lives for?!

And then I looked at my phone and saw the date: April 1st. Good one, Radio 4.

While April Fool’s Day has long been an opportunity for people to play pranks on each other, media organisations have also taken on the tradition and, over the years, have produced some rather humorous reports.

Today, the Guardian has an article about Downing Street calling in Shaun Ryder, lead singer of the Happy Mondays, to be a special advisor on social class, and to help banish ‘Pasty-gate’ by launching a T-shirt campaign entitled ‘We’re all eating this together’. The newspaper also conveniently has a photo gallery of celebrities wearing a range of t-shirts from the campaign (with apologies to Sport Relief 2012).

But maybe the best is the 1957 report by Panorama, which told us that an unusually mild winter had resulted in a bumper spaghetti harvest on the Swiss-Italian border, and the disappearance of the spaghetti weevil. The video sparked a barrage of questions to the BBC, with viewers asking how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. The BBC replied: “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato juice and hope for the best.” Apparently, only a select few journalists at the BBC knew about this package before it went on air. And no doubt the voice of Richard Dimbleby gave viewers a confusing sense of authority. It seems totally ridiculous now, but would you have believed it at the time?

So, while the rest of the year may seem all doom and gloom. April Fool’s is a great opportunity for journalists to show their humorous side. I just hope other people get the joke!