Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ohooo! Who Do You Think You Are!

So...Jeffrey Sachs is working with the Minister of Health of Tanzania, as I learned on The Twitter. If I was a good little African I would be grateful, awed, and other adjectives that highlight the import of his endeavor.


Instead, here's what I have to say about it*: 

"Alright, thanks to Abdu Simba there is a real jump-off point here. And I quote: "Millenium villages vs Vijiji vya Ujamaa. One inspired by' very bad' capitalist, the other by revered socialist, both with the same contents in the petri dish...!"
Indeed, sir. Both are the impositions of egotistical men with rigid ideological approaches who meant well and but did tangible harm.  

But here's the rub: Nyerere is dead. His politics is dead. We don't do the reverence thing anymore in Tanzania and that's a damn good reason to resist it's resurgence. But mister Sachs is still playing savior. Africa is the last place on earth where this kind of thing is supposed to be tolerated. Well, I say nay. Like the celebrities aren't plague enough!

Truth be told, there is probably a lot of good to the one million health workers initiative. We need em, yes we do. But this is Jeffrey Sachs we're talking about. When a wicked witch offers you an apple, make her eat it first. Let him socialize the American health system, then I'll believe him.

For all that they claim to be social scientists, economists hate real humans. They invented Rational Man in the nineteen-who-cares-hundreds and have been thinking of us as widgets ever since. Poverty is a "thing" they can "fix" without delving into the complexities of the social fabric. I say them nay. Sachs and his ilk don't fix social problems, they tweak systems with all the confidence of rich people who understand mathematics, and care not for the sticky problems of encountering hearts and minds. 

We're finally moving away from the limitations of the industrial age and it's thinking patterns. Yes, it is early days. Still no reason to welcome the Sachs of the world to Tanzania. Nyerere was a man of his time and he did what he did. And then he had the good grace to exit, stage left. Sachs is a man from the era of Save The African (or whichever non-American his eye lands on) From Herself. I say him nay. Not until he Gets Us. 

Philanthropy is a tricky thing. I live in a poor country where I witness feats of generosity that humble me on a daily basis. This is a land in which people know what it means to give, to take care of others, just as much as we know how to steal and cheat and everything else we do. What we need to get where we want to go is good government, not Jeffrey Sachs.

If The Sachs was approaching this from a place of humanity, from the humility of sharing this planet with us, I might have been less venomous about the whole endeavor. But I fear that he is not. 

I am a local woman of no import and he's a Harvard bigwig with the weight of western approval behind him. And yet, I fear not to tell him: nay. Let him come here, eat ugali na dagaa, get a jigger or two. Listen to some music, see a child through our education system. Let him exit his sanitized theoretical bubble and talk about Tanzanians as kin, not "the poor" upon whom he thrusts his well-financed favors. 

Then, nitamkaribisha. In the meantime, I will accept that I might be wrong. I often am after all, just like Jeffrey."
*part of the problem, I think, is that nobody kicks the Jeffrey Sachs of the world in the ass as often as they need it. Especially not 'grateful little poor people.' Here's to fixin' that. 


  1. So I am guessing you won't be running for president of the Jeffrey Sachs Fan Club :-)

    Now, I am curious, is there something specific he did or you don't like his kind of people in general?

  2. @Dr. Bob: the man himself is probably a perfectly flawed and appreciable human being. puts his pants on one leg at a time, loves his children, et cetera. but the neoclassical economics are not to be borne, certainly not by me. he's got a history, one that i know you can research and make your own conclusions about. my opinion is that in general, economists are a plague upon mankind who have been trained to think they are more useful than they really are. and the neoclassicals are especially virulent little buggers. specifically: tanzania does not need saviors of the JS kind. let him take care of his own peeps.


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