When I arrived in Maputo, I was thrown off balance by the amount of “non-governmental organisations” otherwise briefly known as NGOs scattered, not only all over the city, but throughout the country as a whole. Like a friend once put it: “Mozambique is like a lab where these people come to try out all sought of things before they take it elsewhere”. Well, it sure gives the impression that Maputo keeps a lot of people busy. These organisations actually claim to be of service to the indigenes of Mozambique, they have come all the way to make life better. As I write now, I am still overwhelmed by the enormousness of these organisations. They are everywhere and in every sector! NGOs for HIV AIDS, Maleria, Women, Children, Agriculture, Economy, Health, Food, Water, Housing, Clothing, Education, Culture etc. They consist mainly of Western “voluntary and non-voluntary” workers whose sole aim is to be the saviour of these deprived and poor people! To put it in another form, they are strong sympathisers and identifies with the plight of Mozambicans. They range from Americans to Canadians, Mexicans, Russians, French, English, Brazilians, Portuguese, Spanish, Italians, Indians, Belgians, Germans, and even South Africans – All in one country!
I have been to a few other African cities, and I am not sure Maputo is the poorest or the most ill-fated of them all, so why so many NGOs at a go? Everywhere I go, almost with any westerner I meet. When I ask “so what do you do?” he or she would be like “I work for an NGO that is responsible for…” Oh…wait a minute, maybe hence forth, I should rule out the first question and start with “so what NGO do you work for?” To be sincere, I never got down to the details of how these people really operate, but from what I saw, I could tell the situation of things:
so how come you people ride in all these expensive cars and eat in all these expensive restaurants, yet claim you guys are out there giving to the needy? What portion of the “help” are you giving? Are you really giving that portion good enough to BE help or just that one good enough to be SEEN as help? How come each time I see you in these flashy cars and flamboyant restaurants, I do not see those you claim to help? Are you keeping a better portion of the help for yourself? Are you helping yourself?
The other day, I ran into one of these young Italian NGO workers (probably in her early or mid twenty at a place called “Nucleo de Arte”, an art-association-turned-mar
ketplace for exploration of opportunities brought by foreigners, and of course where these foreigners meet their would-be Mozambican friends. The gathering happens every Sunday (amidst live band usually keeping everyone high-spirited with some awesome Mozambican tunes), even Mozambicans have nicknamed the place “our church”. Now, when I got talking to this lady, She told me she came to Maputo to work for an NGO, and now her contract is almost up, but she would like to stay on if she could find another NGO job that could pay her at least 800 Euro (in the first place, I wonder why she was calculating in euros; that is not at all the Mozambican currency!) She went on to tell me that in her CV it states that she speaks five languages amongst other things. But then I said to her “you speak all languages except for the one you really need to be qualified for a job as a voluntary worker in Mozambique; which is, at least Shangana,” This she rightly admitted. So what then is her interest in Maputo when even her CV which should be a symbol of her strong ties to her area of interest is completely out of synch with the basic requirement?
This greatly reminds me of the so-called white “liberals” continuously hammered on by Steve Biko when he wrote:
“These are the people who argue that they are not responsible for white racism and country’s ‘inhumanity to the black man’. These are the people who claim that they too feel the oppression just as acutely as the blacks and therefore should be jointly involved in the black man’s struggle for a place under the sun. In short, these are people who say they have black souls wrapped in white skin… The game at which the liberals have become masters is that of deliberate evasiveness. The question often comes up ‘what can I do?’ If you ask him to do something like stopping to use segregated facilities or dropping out of [uni]varsity to work at menial jobs like all blacks or defying and denouncing all provisions that make him privileged, you will always get the answer – ‘but that’s unrealistic!’. While this may be true, it only serves to illustrate the fact that no matter what a white man does, the colour of his skin – his passport to privilege – will always put him miles ahead of the black man.”
My point is: it is difficult – if not impossible – to get the impression that these foreigners are really in Maputo to help because true help only comes from a soul that really understands the concept and the hindrances of ‘not-having’. As we know, most Western citizens (and those from the needless class my continent) have long lost touch with that part of humanity (and many are continuously born with it as an inherent deficiency), but instead they are experts at individualism and the feeding of their fears with violent exploitation of other people’s resources.
So my aim here is to throw some light at the often under-estimated situation which is not only misleading to those numerous Mozambicans and Africans who always think ‘love is in the air’ but a serious delusion to those foreigners who believe that going to Africa to visit the “poor and the sick” is good enough to nourish their guilty souls with the pleasure of having truly helped a person even though they don’t have a clue as to what “poor and sick” means.
I will start by saying that true help comes first from the one who needs the help, because only he or she can set the parameters of his or her needs due to the personal understand of the situation at hand. Therefore it is quite realistic in this sense when we say “heaven helps those who help themselves”.
On the other hand, to help someone is not to give what you do not need. Actually in this case, it is the contrary: the other is helping you get rid of your waste! The help must not be a one-time problem solver but its values must depend on the extent at which it redefines the comfort of the helper. To help is to sacrifice, to sacrifice is to give based on conditions which are not determined by the helper but by the needy. To help is to acknowledge the common sense in sharing beyond the boundaries of profit and loss. In other words, in helping one could lose or gain, it is of no significance. The helper through helping also profits, sometimes, through the virtues and priceless values of true sharing. Therefore the helper could be said to be indirectly helping himself, this though should not come so much into consideration as the essential motive for help. When we help, it is first before anything, to relieve the other of a difficulty which we truly understand its gravity. To help only out of guilt is a selfish kind of help that finds fulfilment in the giver and not in the receiver.
I use the word “help” a lot because that is what it is: Africans like everyone else – including the westerner – need help, but they are not beggars! For the needy not to be seen as beggars, they ought to make demands according to the limits and excesses of their predicaments. And if the helper really wants to help, he will give according to their demand if he has the resource. It will not be the usual situation of “whatever you give is alright”. That is why when I see people throwing one or two-cents coin to a beggar on the street, I usually think: wouldn’t it be more noble if they don’t give at all for they are actually giving those coins they will never use…But how about giving even a euro, or maybe five or ten euro bill? Ok, that might even mean going too far, but at least something that will eat into one’s comfort no matter how little.
My sweetheart Jelka gave me a perfect example of what could be seen as the “White liberal’s” idea of “help”: for my birthday, she bought two tickets for a concert of ‘Micheal Franti and Spearhead’. Now when I saw the gift and checked up the artist, I was filled with excitement and said a cheerful “thank you”. But supposing the choosing of a concert ticket was because she is in need of concert, and wanted me to go with her, will this gift then pass for a birthday gift? NO, we might as well say it is a gift for her that got me fooled into thinking it’s a gift for me. Therefore she would have succeeded in “killing two birds with a stone”, or better put, she would have “eaten her cake and had it back”.
In my opinion that is a perfect representation of the relationship between most NGO workers and the indigenes they claim to help. They come to a city like Maputo where living conditions is a lot more favourable and free from all the constraints of logistics and administrative issues they find back home in the West; free from the purposelessness of life they contend with everyday in their so-called “first world”. They lead a care-free but happy life; they go and live wherever they want without any form of restriction but instead an absurd adoration because of the “hard currency” and that skin colour “their passport to privilege”. Yet in all this, they make this Mozambican believe they are the ones being helped. Who is helping whom? What is worse is that you see the Mozambicans sheepishly smiling and talking about “how life is good”. Sometimes I wish I could slap that smile off their faces and out of their day-dreams, for normal people with a sense of purpose do their duty in the day and indulge in rosy dreams only while resting at night!
It is sad and shameful when you see these Mozambicans run after these foreigners literally like beggars. They give too much value than deserved to these people from the west. Why? These people do not even have what it takes to survive for even a minute under the living conditions of the average Mozambicans. So if anyone should be revered, who should that be? It is a total fraud and injustice I refuse to identify with or accept and hence my bitterness.
Now, that is not to say that I was not blessed with the fortune of experiencing first hand those few foreigners whose inherent values are true and honest. The likes of Viviana, an Italian volunteer who worked for an organisation taking care of people infected with AIDS was in everywhere authentic. She worked hard and remained truly modest at all times. She mixed up honestly with the people and even lived in a small home with a family in Maputo. I heard that she paid 3000 Euros to the association from her savings in other to come to Maputo for the aid work. Unlike the majority, she had no car, and I always get the impression that she had taken her time to know the city and the people even though she had been there for only 2 months. A few times, we shared her experiences while she worked for the association. I know she is not the only one of her kind, but it suffice to say that in a every rule, there is an exception, and it is a pity that sometimes, the good grains get counted among the chaff.
My concern is that we get rid of the lids to the closet of aid deception and let some light in. Let’s call a spade what it is! Mozambicans, the most profitable help you can ever get is that which you give to yourselves by striving with all efforts to catch the rope of opportunities dangling above your heads. As for our white friends who really want to help: like a Catholic priest once asked to my hearing, “can you give until it hurts?”
To conclude this long ranting, I would say that as I think or write, I am usually tempted to cover my opinions in beautiful diplomatic clothings, I often ask myself if things are still that bad. But each time I look around me especially while in Europe I realise that what has changed in racism is just the form. It has gone off the official books and even out of fashion, but it still resides deep in the hearts of the people, I see it, I feel it and often time I witness it. So if for nothing else, this tells me that enough have not yet been said on this issue, and the tone is way too far from being mellowed. So while some people might want to accuse me of sounding like I live in the 60s, I say to them: “Go out to the streets and observe closely and you will be baffled this is 2008”.