This week's programme is presented by Fiona Ledger.
Tony Blair described it as a scar on the conscience of the world. He was talking about Africa, parts of which have been beset by poverty, corruption, disease and armed conflict. Today Sub-Saharan Africa is the poorest region in the world. For years the richest countries have provided aid, but how effective has aid been? Does it lead to dependence and corruption? The Big Question: Should Africa be left alone?
There is no doubt that aid is important in disaster relief, but if given long-term, does aid make African countries more dependent, and does it stop them from finding their own path to development? Let's take the case of Tanzania, a poor but stable country that has gone from a centrally controlled economy in the 60s and 70s to a free and entrepreneurial economy today. Tanzania is among the countries that receive most foreign aid on the continent.
If you ask an average Tanzanian about the need of aid and its benefits, they'll say: "Yes, we need the money". The young generation has big aspirations and is keen to have more contact with the West.
"Everyday we see stories in the papers that the government and politicians want investors to come into the country", says Tanzanian journalist Adam Lusekelo. "Things have vastly changed". Now, there are more smart developments in Dar es Salaam with shopping centres and condos mostly used by the expat donor society in Tanzania.
"Billions of dollars have been pumped down in this system", says Lusekelo, "I don't see anything of it. If you go out of Dar es Salaam, you see the real poverty. There's nothing in the hinterland".
The farmers in the country believe Tanzania should carry on getting aid, but they doubt the ability of their government to use the money wisely.
Leo Lwekamwa, a qualified veterinarian, part-time farmer and leader of the small Tanzanian Labour Party, compares the debt-poverty reduction strategy aid given to Africa with the Marshall Plan, when the US pumped billions of dollars into Europe to help rebuild the continent after World War 2. "The Marshall Plan worked because the European leaders had values. The difference is that our leaders don't have values".
For some people, aid distorts people's thinking and behaviour. Ugandan MP Norbert Mao, chairman of the Great Lakes Parliamentary Forum on Peace, of which Tanzania is a member, believes that aid has a tendency to promote a culture that is fundamentally self-serving.
"We're members of Parliament - we can afford our own lunch"
"Occasionally I call a friend and say: 'Hey, let's meet and brainstorm about the domestic law'. And then somebody comes up with a brilliant idea: 'Why don't we write a project proposal and give it to one of the donor agencies so we can hold a seminar'. And I say: 'Can't we just meet? We're members of Parliament, we can afford our own lunch".
"We now have what I call a 'donorcentric' mindset. Everything must have a funder", he finishes.
But some things in a country's infrastructure can only be improved with outside expertise. Take the water system for example, which needs modern expertise. For many locals, the Dar Es Salaam water supply is not reliable. Water pipe bursts are common place and people have to pay 500 shillings (US$ 0.50) per bucket of water to drink, cook and wash.
But US$ 140 million have been put into Tanzania's water system by, among others, the World Bank and the African Development Bank. "There has been some improvement in the system", says Cliff Stone, chief executive officer of City Water, a private consortium that oversees water supplies.
"We've recently increased the pressure of the water in the pipes, which pushes more water into the distribution network. Unfortunately, this also increases the risk of water pipe bursts."
The British government is one of the biggest donors to Tanzania. But this money doesn't go to any organisation or infra-structural project - it goes straight to the Tanzanian government in what is called budget support. According to critics, this promotes corruption in government.
"The positive reasons for budget support is that it reaffirms the British commitment to the Tanzanian government and its policy", says David Stanton, Tanzanian boss of DFID, Britain's Department for International Development.
"About corruption, we want to support the government in its own efforts to strengthen public financial management and reduce opportunities for it."
So, does he think Africa should be left alone?
"I do think in a globalised world all countries depend on one another. We're operating in global markets and we can't pretend that we can continue to live on islands as we were. And I look forward to a time when Tanzania is less aid dependent and we'll be able to say as donors that we've supported the transition of Tanzania from a dependent country to an economically independent one."
This edition of The Big Question was first broadcast on 22nd January 2005
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