Development Consumers: An Ethnography of "The Poorest of the Poor" and International Aid in Rural Tanzania

This is a multi-site ethnographic study of the interactions between programs that intend to bring “development” to rural Africa, and the residents of Malangali division, Tanzania. It explores development through an internal examination of a European non-governmental organization, as well as a village-based ethnography of people the aid agency has defined as “the poorest of the poor.” Research was also conducted in Dublin, Ireland, about the knowledge and attitudes about charity and rural Africans of donors to and designers of aid programs. Chapters specifically examine agriculture, forestry, and water programs, as well as programs intended for women, including population control through family planning. The research shows agriculture programs to depict rural Africans as barely capable of achieving subsistence, while Malangali residents make farming and labor decisions based more upon considerations of profit than of yield. Forestry programs were designed to combat deforestation that planners asserted but never demonstrated with reference to a local ecology featuring areas of thriving miombo woodlands; even so, many male residents engaged in tree planting when they foresaw high enough potential financial benefit. The water program, which delivered water to thousands of area residents, was seen by them as a success, but was viewed as a failure by aid planners on the basis that it lacked “sustainability,” a concept that emerged in development thinking during the course of the project. Projects for women were aimed to address what planners perceived as conditions of gender oppression, but Malangali women never came to agree with the details of that analysis. Area residents accepted the presence of development programs in part because of perceptions and demonstrations of power, but then evaluated them on the basis of what they thought appropriate given their goals and experiences. The dissertation concludes that Malangali residents are sophisticated consumers of development who make choices based on their opportunities and constraints as they understand them. The clientele of development projects, however, are not “the poorest of the poor,” but rather the theorists, donors, and designers of international aid programs; international aid is therefore designed to appeal to the intellectual and emotional concerns of those groups.


    • EPFL-THESIS-215064

    Record created on 2016-01-16, modified on 2016-08-09

Related material


EPFL authors