LETHAL AID: THE ILLUSION OF SOCIALISM AND SELF RELIANCE IN TANZANIA. 1997.Severine M. Rugumamu. Trenton, NJ: African World Press. 256 pp. $69.95 hardcover.©
Lethal Aid is an important contribution to the study of development assistance and, in particular, the resultant failures and pernicious side-effects of this assistance. Using the experience of Tanzania, an East African nation that historically has languished at the bottom of world economic development tables, Severine Rugumamu contends that aid must be understood within the geo-political context. Rugumamu presents four main arguments: first, "foreign aid cannot be understood outside of the global political context"; second, the aid regime began not as long-term aid to the south, but rather as short-term aid to post-war Europe; third, the Cold War created not only security needs and a concomitant competition for allies, but a related competition to assert the supremacy of economic systems; fourth, recipients of aid, hardly innocents, had ambitions of their own in accepting assistance (pp.7-10). The net effect, however, according to Rugumamu, was a culture of dependence that "eroded the self-confidence, creativity and pride of the citizens and the leaders and, in the process, saw donors usurp the role of managing national development policy" (p.10).
This usurpation comprises the first facet of lethality that Rugumamu's title alludes to. Lethal Aid draws from structural power theory which asserts that power relations in the international system are based on a hierarchy which is sub-divided into the powerful and rich and the weak and poor, and secondly that the inequalities and asymmetries of power are necessary conditions for control (p.26). In turn, this leads to three observations by Rugumamu: first, aid politics are governed by the differentials in power among actors; second, foreign aid is, and has been, a major tool of statecraft used by actors to advance their (and not necessarily the recipients') interests; and third, aid recipients are not pawns in a game, but retain agency and rationality as they pursue domestic interests (pp. 87-88). It is this conjunction of donor motivations for control, particularly during the Cold War, and the need on the part of domestic elites for resources with which to bolster their positions, that rendered aid "lethal".
The state of Tanzania emerged from independence institutionally and organizationally weak and, in particular, short of skilled manpower (p.96). This shortage meant that the government was unable to independently analyze sectoral needs and oftentimes need assessments were carried out by ill-informed donors. On top of this, past experiences with the conditionalities of bilateral aid laid plain the real costs of accepting assistance (p.121). Realizing the weakness of the state and its relative powerlessness, Tanzania adopted the Arusha Declaration as a statement of Tanzania's national philosophy. The movement it engendered, known as Ujamaa, was based on socialism and self-reliance. Alhough well-meant, subsequent implementation decisions that proved disastrous in tandem with economic crises left Tanzania poorer than before and more dependent on aid. The net result was that Tanzania was less able to resist the more pernicious effects of the aid regime at the same time as it was increasingly dependent upon it. The effect, according to Rugumamu, was an inexorable vitiation of the Tanzanian capacity to shape and direct development within its borders (p.200).
Turning to empirical evidence, Rugumamu
uses cases studies to underscore this vitiation and to show how development
projects were virtually removed from national oversight and run almost
exclusively by donors. Looking at projects sponsored by the Norwegian,
Danish, and Swedish international development organizations, he paints
a vivid picture of good intentions gone awry.
Rugumamu's second example, the Sokoine University of Agriculture, funded by Denmark, was meant to provide training in livestock methods and animal husbandry practices appropriate for Tanzania. Yet from the outset, the Danish experts held sway due to a lack of local participation in planning the college and the related lack of local experts who could translate Tanzanian livestock practices into appropriate curricula (p.232). The result was an ill-fitting adaptation of Danish curriculum to local conditions that never fully worked and took tremendous resources to sustain.
As in Mbegani, Sokoine was dominated
by donors until assistance was phased out, at which time the government
found itself with a school that had never met its intended role and
was too expensive to sustain intact (p.244).
Rugumanu concludes that the only viable way for Tanzania, and other states in similar predicaments, to avoid the slow erosion of national sovereignty is by turning to a strategy of self-reliance (p.277). As Rugumamu demonstrates, aid dependence slowly erodes national capabilities to govern and rule and undermines moral authority. States that wish to avoid this diminution have the option to delink and pursue a self-reliance strategy. He argues that this may already be happening by default.
Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) comprises just 1.5 percent of world trade (p.270). Even though the self-reliance strategy was a flop in Tanzania, Rugumamu argues, this should not dissuade us from the intrinsic merits of the strategy (p.269). If dependent states want to avoid or lessen the toxic effects of the international aid regime, Rugumamu's book provides an object lesson on some of the mistakes to avoid. For scholars of East Africa and development administration, Lethal Aid is a noteworthy treatment of the historical, political, and economic aspects of development and how it has so often failed to deliver on its promises.