After living in Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania I have come to the conclusion that we need to have a new look on development cooperation in Africa. After analysing these societies I came to the conclusion that there are things going on in African countries which are not being seen or ignored and play a significant part in the reason why after 50 or sometimes 60 years of development cooperation people are still living in extreme poverty.

I think it is time to face reality and start looking for solutions for problems which have been ignored for so long and, in my opinion, are growing by the day. My analysis is based on my observations, conversations with people and analysis of the media. The story will basically evolve around Tanzania, where I live now for 3 years. This does not mean these are problems only existing in Tanzania. Many problems I also observed in Uganda and Rwanda (although this country is a special case due to its history). Newspapers write stories about other African countries having similar problems as the ones in Tanzania.

Up till now poverty has been seen basically as a problem of financial and material resources and lack of knowledge & skills. However, in my opinion we are overlooking something more important that needs to be solved before any of these resources can take effect and alleviate poverty. What I see around me is a traumatised society with people who are psychologically barely surviving. Without tackling this problem there will never be a poverty-free Africa. In this blog I will lead you through 1. Causes for Trauma; 2. Behaviour of People; 3. The Cause-Effect Chain; 4. Solutions.

Alex Bakara

21 June 2011

3. The Cause-Effect Chain

Let us put together what we have so far:

Causes of trauma:
  • Oppression by the Government (peace enforcement and poverty strategy)
  • Oppression by Religion
  • Oppression by Culture
  • Violence
  • Psychological, Physical and Sexual Abuse
Behaviour of people:
  • Lying
  • Jealousy
  • Discrimination
  • Feelings of Being a Victim
  • Laziness
  • Egocentrism and Egoism
  • Irresponsibility
Looking at the list of behaviour we can conclude they are all the result of the list of causes of trauma. Let us try to unravel this cause-effect chain. As you can see there are three levels of oppression: government, church/mosque and society (cultural oppression). All this oppression and control leads to the fact that people do not have a free will, own opinion, own preferences or choice. Everything is preconceived in rules, and people have to walk a path that is prescribed by others. People have the feeling they have absolutely no control over their own lives because they keep being told that the government, God or Allah determines their lives. People feel completely powerless and this leads to depression and apathy.
            People get angry at and are jealous of other people who were able to escape this depressive stage, or where never in this stage because they were never poor in the first place, and have achieved something they can only dream of. In addition, humiliating other people (discrimination) is a tool often used to make you feel better.  Due to the complete lack of efforts of the government to relieve people from the burden of extreme poverty their situation seems hopeless and never-ending. They are trapped in a vicious cycle they cannot break because they themselves have built with their culture high walls which makes an escape impossible.
            This situation is in existence for generations now as a result of the determination by all layers of oppression that women need to give birth to as many children as possible. Poverty is being transferred to the next generation and the next. The children born will have a lack of healthcare and education leading to poor health and being doomed to engage in subsistence farming. This causes enormous frustrations, anger and hatred visible in the rising amount of violence towards: women, children, minority groups, marginalised groups, suspects of crimes and adversaries in conflicts.
            The psychological, physical and sexual abuse of children combined with emotional neglect has serious consequences. First of all, consistently beating children for their opinions, views, ideas and questions has as effect that as an adult people perceive any opposition towards their comments as a personal attack. This is very visible in politics where any criticism from people on policy ends in an accusation of it being a personal attack. Many parliamentarian discussions are ending in this kind of useless battles about why this MP was attacking that MP (or the President or a minister).
            Secondly, all this violence in a child’s life ends often in a generation long spiral of violence as people have not learned to resolve their conflicts differently, or have any reference as to what is ‘normal’. Thirdly, all this violence, oppression and control feeds the feeling of being a victim. People grow the idea that the whole world is against them. Even after becoming a perpetrator the feeling that he/she is a victim persists. Fourthly, the lack of time mothers have to spend with their children leads to a lack of upbringing. Nothing is being taught, the child only receives punishments. A child needs to learn responsibility, respect others, sharing, cooperation and caring for others. If this is only taught in a negative way, children will refuse to learn or only do it under pressure. Hence, the enormous pressure from culture on adults to behave like this. Unfortunately it has never become a characteristic of people so it is only by appearance not by heart.
            Fifthly, the emotional neglect of parents has as consequence that emotionally children do not grow up. Adults are emotionally still in a child stage. When you are born you are extremely egocentric, you need to be otherwise you will not survive. You demand by screaming that the people around you feed you, clean you and pay attention to you. Till the age of 4/5 years children think they are the centre of the universe. And other people are there to fulfil their needs. It is the job of parents to teach them that this is not the case.
Parents have to teach their children that they are not the only one in the world and that there are other people with needs, wishes and feelings. By giving children positive attention and love children learn to respect others, not to hurt others and behave socially. Emotional attention also teaches children to love other people, care for other people, trust other people and make friends, meaning really connect with other people. Unfortunately this does not happen so the adult population of Tanzania behaves like 5 year old children. They are egocentric, irresponsible, asocial, are not capable of imagining what other people feel, are not capable of making friends, love and care for others or really connect with other people.
Sixthly, lying is a survival technique a child learns to please its parents. Making sure that parents only hear what they want to hear prevents punishment. Herewith, the circle is closed: the causes of trauma lead to the behaviour observed which in its turn leads to the causes, to behaviour, etc. It is a spiral which becomes longer and stronger every generation.
This analysis is by far not extensive. The effects of abuse and neglect are numerous and complicated. Symptoms vary and include continuous fear, identity crisis, lack of initiative, feeling dirty, sleep disorders, eating disorders, lack of confidence, feeling powerless, feeling less human, never feeling safe, nightmares, depression, feeling angry and being suicidal. The extend and intense of symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder varies per person and most plays out inside the heads of the victims, not observable to the outside world. Although numerous books are written about PTSD, the effect it has when a large segment of a society suffers from it is unknown to me. I fear the worst.

What is the end result of all this?
  1. A population locked up in a prison of oppression and control;
  2. A population in poverty feeling completely powerless to change anything about their situation;
  3. A society that shows all signs of a traumatised population;
  4. Women who feel worthless to such an extent it becomes almost unbeatable;
  5. A population completely filled up with anger, hatred and frustration;
  6. A population who’s only means known to them to release this anger, hatred and frustration is the use of violence;
  7. A population that not only not feels connected to each other but even hates each other;
  8. A government which is getting richer on the expense of its citizens;
  9. A government that does not show any sign of responsibility.
This is not the end of it since we have not discussed yet the fourth layer of oppression that in the past 50 years maybe unintentionally but nonetheless has reinforced the spiral, and with that has made it even more complicated to break it. We are talking about development aid. What has development aid contributed to this situation?

  1. With the help of donors the same government has been able to stay in power for 50 years and has without complications been able to execute their poverty strategy;
  2. Since NGOs are doing the work of the government (build schools and hospitals, implement health and economic programme’s) the government has been enabled to do absolutely nothing and pocket the money which was meant for these projects and programmes;
  3. Because in the world of development cooperation culture is elevated to a higher, untouchable level never to be changed, the culture of oppression, control and all harmful cultural and traditional practices have been allowed to stay in place and develop. For 50 years now ‘we’ have allowed that the rights of women and children are grossly violated every day of their lives;
  4. With all ‘our’ foreign aid ‘we’ have explicitly and implicitly told the Tanzanian people that they need ‘us’ to solve their problems and lift them out of poverty;
  5. De population has been made even more powerless than they already were, since apparently even their government is not capable of solving the problems;
  6. De citizens of Tanzania are now patiently waiting till these foreigners take their responsibility and lift them out of poverty.
Before we go to the solutions let me clarify something first. The above reasoning gives explanations as to why people behave the way they behave, these are not excuses. There is never an excuse for abuse and rape of women and children. Never. It is unacceptable behaviour. Even though you might have grown up as a victim of abuse it is your own choice to continue the spiral or stop it. Being rude, asocial, corrupt, a liar or egoist is your own choice. It does not cost anything to behave differently; being poor, as is the excuse given here for bad behaviour, is not a valid excuse.
            People are locked up in a culture they created themselves. It is they who put all this pressure on themselves; they have built this prison and maintain it. It would help if ‘we’ would stop romanticising the African culture. The African culture is not a mature culture; it is created and designed by people with an emotional level of a 5 year old. Therefore this whole culture is full of child games. Games to establish who is more important, games to establish who has more power, games to establish who has control over who, games to humiliate people. We see destructive jealousy, ostracising people, discrimination, beatings, doing what ever you want regardless the consequences, egoism, egocentrism, playing the victim. It is all childish behaviour. This is a destructive culture, not a mature culture designed to empower and develop people.

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