The Reality: Africa's poorest need a lot more than just a good gig

The message hasn't reached the people it was meant to help. Raymond Whitaker reports from Quelimane, Mozambique
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The Independent Online

Bidju Madeira, 18, in white candystriped top and tight jeans, looked like any teenager in Hyde Park, Philadelphia, Paris, Berlin or Rome yesterday. But we are in Quelimane, Mozambique's poverty-stricken fourth city. Does she know the meaning of the white band on my wrist, or its message: "Make Poverty History"?

"No, I've never seen anything like that," she says. "I've heard of Pink Floyd and Bryan Adams, but I had no idea about any concerts."

The millions in the mainly white audiences at "the world's largest gig" yesterday, must have imagined that Africa was getting the message: that the world cared. If only Africa had known.

In Mozambique, where poverty is anything but history, the concerts were not shown on public television, apart from a clip on the news showing Bob Geldof and Tony Blair. A little-publicised concert on Friday in the slums of Maputo, the capital, was the extent of participation. Only a handful of wealthy subscribers to a South African satellite channel were able to see anything of the performances.

But people in Quelimane did know of the importance of the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in a few days' time. "If they hear from rock stars that they should think more about helping us, that would be a good thing," says Geraldo Simoes, a 28-year-old student.

Quelimane, capital of the impoverished Zambezia province, has little work apart from a prawn farm and some fishing. "I've never heard of the G8, because I don't have a radio," says Helena Alfredo, a 64-year-old widow, "but what we need is more investment, especially in the kind of small enterprise which might give me a job. I could earn some money to help myself, instead of having to rely on my son."

But if life in Paris, Philadelphia or Tokyo seems like a distant dream in Quelimane, the dingy port appears equally tempting in Morrumbala, a district centre 120 miles inland. Here Joao Guillerme, 15, known as "Mafaite", was looking forward to his Saturday, though not because of Live8. It is the only day he gets to play football with his friends; the rest of the week he is too busy trying to support his three brothers and four sisters.

"Mondays and Tuesdays are the toughest," says Mafaite outside his mud and thatch hut on the fringes of Morrumbala. "I get up at 6am, go to school for an hour's physical education, then work in the market selling bicycle parts before going back to school in the afternoon." He makes about 30,000 meticas (about 83p) a day.

Mafaite's youngest brother, who is blind, was barely a year old when their parents died in 2001. The presumption is that they had Aids, but as Morrumbala district has only two doctors for more than 300,000 people and no testing facilities for HIV/Aids, no one knows for sure. "Our father was coughing before he died, our mother as well," says the teenager. "Maybe it was TB. It was hard to explain to the others."

A voluntary committee set up by Save the Children gives the family some help, but there is not enough money for all the children to go to school. Although Mozambique is 171st out of 177 countries on the World Bank's poverty index, pupils have to pay for books and uniforms. "I strive every day, but I don't make enough to support them," Mafaite says.

Did he know that the leaders of the rich nations were about to meet to decide how to help Africa? "No, I didn't, but I would tell them that we need food, clothes, school materials, a proper house."

Even in the midst of such poverty, however, there are degrees of wretchedness. Mafaite wears plastic sandals, though they are splitting, and the yard around his home is neatly swept. On the other side of Morrumbala, where foraging pigs and chickens swarm among the unkempt huts, 16-year-old Caterina Tose seems overwhelmed. "I am the only one in my school without shoes," she says.

Staring at the ground, speaking in monosyllables, Caterina describes how she and her 13-year-old sister Fatima gather firewood to sell in the market, and pound maize into flour for other families, to bring in money for themselves and eight other children. They are all grandchildren of Salima Juliasse, about 65, who has lost seven of her eight children, and is watching her youngest daughter Madalena waste away.

Save the Children is helping, but even if Madalena does not have Aids, the family cannot afford medical treatment. Children under five, pregnant women and the elderly do not have to pay for medicines, but everyone else does. Although the family would probably qualify for an official "poverty certificate", which would entitle them to free basic services, obtaining one requires other paperwork for which they have to pay. Salima holds Madalena's two-year-old son Paulo: soon, like his nine cousins, he too will be an orphan.

Caterina says she has heard about a meeting of world leaders, though she does not know anything about Britain, where they are gathering. "What would I ask them for? You can see we need everything," she says.

Most of the people dancing to U2 in London or the Pet Shop Boys in Moscow would have children like Mafaite and Caterina in mind as they urge the G8 summit to increase aid by $50bn (£28bn) this year. But Steve Morgan, Save the Children's director in Mozambique, says: "It's hard to bring aid money down to the level of the family."

How much of the extra funding agreed in Gleneagles will get down to the grass roots? Only what is left over after dictators have replenished their fleets of Mercedes, built themselves another palace or two and kept their armed forces happy with new weaponry, according to cynics. The aid industry - and it is an industry - retorts that this is a stereotype.

According to experts, the problem is now the opposite. In response to the legitimate desire of donors to know where their money is going, Africa's low-paid and poorly trained civil servants find themselves swamped by accountability criteria and demands for reports and assessments. Each agency has its own way of doing things, and insists that beneficiaries fit in. "Some attach so many strings, and make so many demands of local bodies with no experience of handling budgets, that a lot of money sits in Maputo, waiting to be disbursed," says Mr Morgan.

"Only 7 per cent of Kenya's budget is from donors, but Treasury officials spend more time accounting for it than the 93 per cent it raises from its own citizens," says Martin Kimani, an Africa expert at Exclusive Analysis, a London-based consultancy. In Mozambique foreign aid, which totalled $700m last year, accounts for 15 per cent of GDP and half of government spending, though Mr Morgan says much progress has been made among the 1,000 donor agencies in streamlining the bureaucracy they demand of the Maputo government.

But the money comes in at the top. Like the lines of pylons that march across the countryside between Quelimane and Morrumbala, spanning villages where the only light comes from cooking fires, it can be hard to find evidence of any benefit reaching the bottom levels of society - apart from the roads themselves, funded by the EU, World Vision and other agencies.

In Megaze, a village 25 miles from Morrumbala, reached by a road winding through huge granite outcrops, Berto Nunes Malabo invited us into his office. It seemed he was joking: the administration building is a concrete shell spattered with pigeon droppings, and ragged holes for where the doors and windows should be. But Mr Malabo leads us to an upstairs verandah, where his desk was the only item of furniture. "I can't sit inside, because the roof leaks," he says.

On the wall behind him, next to another hole, is a portrait of Armando Emilio Guebuza, who became Mozambique's first new president in 18 years last December. The former Portuguese colony's abandonment of Marxism and acceptance of democracy has made it a favourite among donors, who praise its relative transparency and lack of corruption. That includes Britain, which also backed Mozambique's entry into the Commonwealth, despite the lack of historical links.

Donors hold up Mozambique as an example of how aid can bring results, pointing out that economic growth has averaged 8 per cent a year for the past decade. But when you start from a pitifully low base, percentage growth rates do not add up to much. And in Megaze district, where Mr Malabo is responsible for 20,638 people, according to the 1997 census, there is next to nothing to show for it.

His administration building was wrecked in the 16-year civil war, stirred up by apartheid-era South Africa, which followed the war of independence from Portugal. The fighting ended in 1992, but more recently Zambezia province has been hit by floods, then drought.

"We have immense problems," says Mr Malabo. "We are only three kilometres from the Malawi border, in a transit zone, that has a high rate of HIV/Aids. We are in a river valley, which means malaria is widespread. Children suffer from malnutrition and anaemia. There are many orphans.

"We do receive funds from central government, which is going into a new administration building and rehabilitating roads, but the new local school was built by a private charity."

Asked what he would seek from the Gleneagles meeting, his requests are simple. "Could you just give us roofing materials for four schools, because when it rains the kids have to stay away," he says. "We need more money for mosquito nets, to stop small kids getting malaria. I could mention the water supply too, but those are the main priorities.

"My message for the leaders of the rich countries? Don't forget Mozambique, in particular Megaze."

Confronted by such problems, the response of many donors is to go for grand aims and big solutions. There are fashions in the aid world and the latest, Mr Morgan complains, is for "disease-specific" charities set up to fight Aids, for example. "That approach often means a fancy building in the capital and lots of spending on consultants," he says.

In Megaze and Morrumbala, Save the Children is painstakingly creating a network of voluntary committees who can identify the orphans and vulnerable children in their community. They also know better than outsiders what help is needed - sometimes just an adult to accompany them to school, or a bit of money for exercise books. "When people are on the edge, the smallest problem can cause them to drop out of school and never return," said Luisa Camorima, a project officer with the agency.

The approach could not be more grass-roots, and sometimes progress must appear slower than watching grass grow. But it can be more effective and sustainable than the expensive projects. It also helps to strengthen "civil society" - another mantra in the aid debate, reflecting the correct belief that civic groups will handle aid better than remote and often corrupt officials.

Much hope is being placed in civil society to bridge the gap between those who need help most and the well-intentioned, in Gleneagles or wherever, who would like to provide it. Bob Geldof's famous advice - "Just give us your focking money" - is no longer considered adequate.

"People say, 'We've been chucking money at this for years, why hasn't it got any better?,'" says Martin Kirk, Save the Children's political adviser in London. "It is partly that they don't hear the good news, but it is also true that bad aid can drive out good. Agencies which measure their success by the amounts they have disbursed, rather than the results they have achieved, make life difficult for those who insist on tougher standards."

Mr Kirk's view is that as long as a country is democratic, it should be the best judge of what it needs. But there are degrees of democracy, and Mozambique shows the problems of depending on civil society. Although the country has renounced Marxism, it remains centralised and fond of revolutionary rhetoric like "Viva the Youth of Mozambique" - the words on a banner strung across a main street in Maputo.

Local officials have little money to spend or discretion in how to spend it; they do not even have a say in who is appointed to their staff. People, too, have been schooled to wait for the government to decide, though Save the Children's committees show that when they are encouraged, they take to the responsibility with enthusiasm.

Critics such as Mr Kimani would argue that they are simply exchanging one form of dependency for another. "Aid enables governments to live beyond their means," he said. "They are not responsible to their own people; aid gives them a let-out."

It should be added that aid can be a let-out for rich countries as well - it is often easier to throw money at the developing world than take action on fairer trade, another of the "Make Poverty History" campaign's demands.

Trade policy is now such a mess that the EU's recent action to slash sugar subsidies, while praiseworthy in theory, would be a disaster for Mozambique, which was allowed to sell some of its sugar in Europe at inflated prices. Some compensatory aid will probably be forthcoming to make up for the disruption, but it is unlikely to cover the shortfall.

All these arguments are raging well above the heads of people like Domingo Juinda, a grey-bearded elder who leads one of Save the Children's volunteer committees. At a meeting under a tree in Chifungo, his village, he put his case with modest eloquence.

"Here we have children who we have lifted from the mud to a rock, and enabled them to stay clean," says Mr Juinda. "We should continue to help them, because one day when you come back, we won't need to talk any more about orphans and vulnerable children. Don't let them fall back in the mud."

In Quelimane Ms Madeira, beneath her forest of braids, has a similar thought. "If music can encourage people to help us to think more for ourselves, work hard and be responsible for our own development, that is good," she says. "Africa wants to stand on its own two feet. Just give us a start."

Stories of Hope

Sweet buzz of success for the honey man

Joel Akaki and his wife, a dressmaker, have four children and live on a small farm. Joel's disability, caused by polio, made work hard to find. A visit to a local beekeeping demonstration by the UK-based charity Africa Now transformed his and his family's fortunes. Joel had traditional hives but they were nothing like the new wooden slatted ones he could lease. Now keeping bees takes him only half an hour every fortnight, and his wife is sewing beesuits (for beekeepers that is) at a healthy profit. Better still, there is a fair trade price paid for all Joel's honey thanks to Africa Now's link to Honey Care, a private company that sells his honey in Kenyan supermarkets, where it is reportedly flying off the shelves. Joel's standing in the community has soared, and he and his wife have earned widespread respect for their hard work and success, making them role models for other small farmers.

Milk turns out to be a cash cow

Mrs Dube runs a small-scale farm and is one of the pioneers of the Nharira Dairy Project. Her day starts at 5am when she supervises the milking of her dairy cows, keeping an eye on milk records, hygiene and animal health. She delivers milk to the Dairy Centre, which is about 18km away and where she carries out her duties as treasurer.

Her afternoon at home is spent on office work before she supervises the milking and another delivery to the Dairy Centre. Today, thanks to support by Africa Now, the Nharira Dairy Project produces four different types of milk products and has revenue of £72,000 per year. Mrs Dube says: "Africa Now's involvement has increased our income and reduced our losses. We thank them for giving us knowledge and financial assistance."

Nharira has been a source of inspiration to many small-scale dairy co-operatives in Zimbabwe, and lessons learnt here are being incorporated into the development of other centres. The local Dairy Associations are bringing communities closer together.

Sex workers helped to learn a new trade

Margaret Chanda lives in Zambia and, out of desperation - she lives in dire poverty and has to provide for her children - thought that her only viable option was to become a sex worker at the border crossing for truck drivers at Chirundu. There she contracted HIV.

The relief and development agency World Vision got involved with Margaret through its Cross Border Initiative. This essentially means that the agency's workers spend time at the crossing, trying to persuade the truck drivers not to encourage prostitution or, at the very least, ensuring that both the sex workers and the drivers use condoms as protection against sexually transmitted diseases. World Vision also runs a programme aimed specifically at sex workers in the area, which allows these women to learn a new trade. Margaret took up World Vision's offer, moved away from the border crossing and enrolled herself in the charity's programme. It is known as Sanduka - which means transformation. Very recently, Margaret graduated from the programme and has now managed to set up her own tie-dyeing business.