I’m sitting on the front porch of my little house on Themi Hill. Far in the distance I can see stunning Mt Meru shining above the city – a view I will enjoy for the coming ten months. One week ago I moved to Arusha in northern Tanzania to work for Germany’s state-held development agency “Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit” better known by its acronym GIZ.
The local units consults the East African Community during its integration process. A great opportunity to kick-off a career in international development you might think. And yes, you’re right – the project is incredibly promising and already after one week I feel that I will massively profit from this long internship. Nevertheless, even looking at this beautiful scenery spread out in front of me I can’t lose an uneasy feeling deep inside of me.
Let me step back six years:
Right after high-school, I decided to do some good old volunteering in a children’s home in South Africa for a year. Half-way through our time we had the chance to listen to a representative of the GIZ office in Pretoria (let’s call him Jake) talking about careers in their little club. This was my first contact with the weird world of development. Having so much fun living in South Africa but also being enthralled by the country’s complex history I soaked up everything Jake said. He told us that they need people with ‘degrees in some solid fields’, so I started studying Economics. What timing! The crisis humiliated the discipline and crushed my motivation to go ahead in the field. I looked into alternatives and switched to Maastricht’s lefty-green-alternative Liberal Arts College, the UCM. A great program that I can only recommend to anybody interested in a holistic undergraduate education. This move also signified the beginning of me doubting that I should see Jake as a role-model.
I started picking courses outside Economics, studying critical theory, learning about the concept of neo-colonialism and getting to understand that there are some shocking problems in the industry. Many times I heard that everything the West does to ‘help’ the Global South is pure neoliberalism, patriarchal and on average causes more harm than it does good to the partner countries.
Now, I’m really up for the ‘practice what you preach’-approach to living your life and usually hate the type of people that were part of the Marxism Society in College only to become an investment banker a few years later. Yet, here I am sitting in Arusha going back to work tomorrow in a field that I have often condemned in my academic papers. GIZ might not be the worst of them all, but already after one week I have had some prejudices confirmed: power struggles with the ministry, end-of-the-year spending spree (Mittelabflussdruck as the Germans call it…) or the expensive workshop that seems to interest only 3 of 30 invited local partners.
So why am I here anyway in the Geneva of Africa – as one of the expats called it – if I’m just whining about it?
Maybe because I wanted to see for myself, maybe because development cooperation is what I know best and maybe because I simply think that my specific project is obviously an exception. I am convinced that regional integration is in fact a good way forward for East Africa and believe that the GIZ team does a good job of fostering that process. This is probably what everybody in this game thinks about their own work, allowing the bigger picture to vanish quickly as you get sucked into your career. The uneasy feeling hasn’t left me yet and I remain deeply undecided. Am I studying the enemy or turning into a hypocrite that might continue to sit on Themi Hill and pretend to unite East Africa?