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[Good Article] Don’t let unearned praises lead us down a slippery path

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    Don’t let unearned praises lead us down a slippery path
    Young Kimaro
    Daily News; Friday,September 05, 2008 @20:02

    A LAW maker recently chided donors for having heaped praises on the Third Phase Government while so much stealing was going on from right under their nose.

    Praises were indeed lavished on us as a good hostess lavishes delicacies on her guests. But … should the hostess be blamed for her guests’ indigestion from overindulgence? Should donors be blamed for our gulping down praises and feeling giddy?

    Most praises are just pleasantries and nothing more, not worth a second thought.

    “Geneva of East Africa,” so was Arusha called though heaps of garbage lines its side streets and stagnant water collects where open drains are clogged with overgrown weeds or garbage.

    "Country with most favourable investment climate in the Third World,” so we were told despite the legendary delays at our ports, tangles of red tape, unpredictable water and electricity supplies, labour force that is poorly educated and trained compared to our neighbours. Those all add up to make Tanzania anything but the “most favourable” environment to do business in.

    “Impressive achievements in fighting corruption,” though not a single mega wrong-doer has been prosecuted and put behind bars.

    So go the praises. Visiting dignitaries are full of such pleasantries. Shouldn’t take those praises to heart, and yet we do. We plaster newspaper headlines, quoting them verbatim.

    There are many reasons why a country might be showered with unearned praises. If we scratch below the surface and unearth those reasons, perhaps we could be more cool-headed in handling them.

    Praises of a country’s achievement may come from the aid worker’s wish to believe that what he is doing is making a difference. It’s a form of self-affirmation, you might say. Praises may be heaped on the country to show off his own effectiveness on the ground. If a convincing case is made to his boss and the headquarters, can sweet promotion be far behind?

    Praises too readily offered may have been triggered by an unspoken competition among donors to be on the good side of the officialdom, to be the darling of the pack.

    At times much ado is made of small achievements. That might help donor agencies to make a convincing case to their taxpayers that the money is being put to good use.

    But praises freely given are wrought with problems. “Mgema akisifiwa, tembo hulitia maji.” If a palm wine tapper is praised, the palm wine gets watered down, so goes a Kiswahili proverb.

    Praises were once heaped on Liberia in the 1950s and 1960s for being an island of stability in a continent in turmoil.

    Praises were heaped on Somalia for the quality of leadership, enlightened policies and stability that seemed rock solid. It was unique in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa, being molded of one race, one language and one culture.

    Praises were heaped on Sudan too. It was seen to be the potential breadbasket for Africa if not the world.

    But before long these and other countries that were highly praised for the promise they once held unraveled. How did that happen? Did too much praise inflate those leaders’ ego and intoxicate them with self-importance that they lost touch with reality and forgot about development?

    A donor agency official confesses that they are in constant search of success stories they could showcase. But exemplary cases are hard to come by.

    Kenya and Uganda once fit the bill. But political strife in the aftermath of recent elections in Kenya and the prospect of a fourth term presidency in Uganda make them less acceptable models for their taxpayers. Is the spotlight shifting to Tanzania, kwa bahati mbaya sana (most unfortunately)?

    These externally driven praises could, if we let it, take us down the same slippery path of disintegration where others have gone.

    Perhaps we could learn from our Mauritian friends and, like them, respond to those who praise us too readily with the likes of: You can’t mean that we are doing that great? We are barely achieving average growth for Africa. You surely don’t mean to imply that $380 is good enough for Tanzanians? Aren’t Europeans and Americans earning $40,000 a year?

    Like Mauritians we could politely “decline” to be praised, refuse to get giddy, and get on with serious business of development, undistracted and without illusion.

    ykimaro@yahoo.com

    http://dailynews.habarileo.co.tz/columnist/?id=7096
     
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