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close this bookWomen in Informal Sector (Dar Es Salaam University Press, 1995, 46 p.)
View the documentLords of Poverty
View the documentInappropriate Technology

Lords of Poverty

One of the current phenomenon in the world is the great response by the international community to help women in development (Book 1985, Dines 1977). Thus, projects, programmes, consultations, workshops/seminars, conferences and even special quarter system in development, have been applied to mount pressure on various governments and local communities to take women’s issues in development seriously (Swantz 1987).

One of the areas which the international community has been assisting is the women’s informal business. That is why the international financial institutions as well as UN agencies have come out in support of women’s informal activities in the developing countries. In the process of strengthening this move, most of the international organizations have developed (created) experts in women development. These are very often sent out to developing countries either as consultants (flying consultants) or resident experts (expert expatriates) in the context of foreign aid.

Hancock (1989), analyzing the social relation between these “flying experts” or “suitcase consultants” to the local communities, has called them “The loards of poverty.” These are people who work among the poor but the gap that exists between them and the masses they are supposed to serve is so great. Their income is in six figures and tax free while that of the local people is in three figures. It is estimated that in Africa we have about 80,000 of these lords of poverty who use about 4bn dollars for their upkeep in the continent (Sunday Nation, July 29:1990:7).

Poor nations have become bureaux for the employment of either unemployed people in the developed countries or those who want to get experience in developing countries and then return home as experts of those areas where they worked. These experts display power relations and even some superiority complexes in such a way that they negate all what is said they want to achieve: to help the poor. The expatriate experts design projects and programmes according to their liking and experiences, which often times prove to be inappropriate to the local people. The so called “helpers” or “development promoters” become the lords of poverty. How good is it to come from an affluent society and try to manage and control poverty in developing countries instead of eradicating it! By the time of doing research for this paper there were more TX cars for the expatriates in Iringa and Mbeya regions who were managing poverty.

Inappropriate Technology

One develops technology instead of transfering it since there is always a strong relationship between development of technology and culture. On the past a lot of emphasis was put on the “transfer of technology” rather than on “the development of technology” in discussions about appropriate technology (Swantz 1989). We need to change the emphasis now if we want the developing countries to benefit from the technology.

The master of technology has power, and as long as most women do not possess that “mastery” they lack control of their own affairs and the development process at large (Stamp 1989: Meghji 1977). Women in the informal sector, like their colleagues in the agricultural and industrial sectors, use very inferior or outdated technologies which affect their productivity negatively. The oxenization revolution in rural agriculture is a step forward in helping women to control their productive forces.

It is said that in the informal sector, women have been “helped” with improved technology in their traditional areas. But these technologies are within the 5ks syndrome we discussed earlier. But even in this area, very often the new technology has been dependent on external suppliers and funders for sustainability. This has either been attached to foreign aid, which unfortunately works against the development of the people (Meena 1984) or has to depend on the local foreign exchange allocation system. It is estimated that about 20-30 percent of all aid sent to Africa is given under “technical assistance” which in the long run returns to the pockets of the “Lords of Poverty” (Sunday Nation July 29, 1990:7).

It is most unfortunate that some international agencies supply outdated technology to the developing countries because they are poor and they need help. As illustrated below, this does not affect the women’s projects alone but affects other areas of technological development as well. It has recently been reported that through their aid packages, the donor agencies dump outdated equipments in Third World countries. For instance about 35 percent of the laboratory equipment sent to SADCC countries are not working (Daily News November 1, 1990) either due to lack of spare parts or are outdated and the manufacturers are no longer producing them.

In the case of women’s activities in the country, one international agency sent outdated flour mill machines to Mbeya region in the late 1980s. Their experts were sent there to fix them but the machines didn’t work when tested. Blames were thrown from left and right, and peasants who knew nothing about such machines were also included in the blames. Then the same agency hired a local female engineer consultant who discovered that the machines were outdated and some of its parts were not provided. Certainly, the supplier knew about this but dumped the machines to the needy and poor women of Tanzania.

The internationalization of poverty takes many forms. Women who are the majority of the poor in the developing countries, are the target of the international assistance as said above. This is now more pronounced in Tanzania than before due to the surge of privatization and the support of informal groups in economic activities as an alternative strategy to state controlled economy which we have had for the past 18 years. My own conclusion is that by using women, we may enter into a destabilization process rather than a development process. Many of the programmes and projects designed for women’s development are remedial in nature and not developmental when informal economic activity carried out by women should be developmental. Dishing out monies in the name of assisting the poor women without relating such assistance to the miserable social conditions in which these women live is nothing but enhancing the underdevelopment process.

Babb’s (1989) book on market women in Peru offers a good example of how the economic situation of the women in the informal business has declined over the last ten years inspite of their participation in this sector. I foresee that unless the root causes that have forced Tanzanian women to be involved in the informal business sector as a strategy for survival are eliminated, funds spent on the projects and programmes of women in the informal sector, will just be wasted. Then blames will be thrown to the women again. Already some of the women’s groups involved in informal businesses in Dar es Salaam have shown some disappointing results. Research has shown that these women merely subsist and do not really make big money or get out of the poverty trap. As long as the real income at household declines every year, informal business will not improve the wellbeing of the families. Instead the financial assistance will perpetuate poverty.