Global Economy

IMF in Tanzania

By Chris Slosser


On January 31, 1997 the Tanzanian government announced the release of 10,000 civil servants in accordance with conditions tied to a November 1996 IMF loan of U.S.$234 million. The loan was expected to be followed by about U.S.$1 billion to Tanzania from various donors by the end of 1997.

In return for the money (and what country could turn down such cash) Tanzania was forced to sell its fiscal soul. It has committed to liberalization and "economic order," fighting inflation and turning the budget into a surplus by, among others, slashing social spending.

Focusing on GDP and tenths of percentage points of budgetary growth has left out of any financial formula the country’s people.

The public sector lay-off came after Tanzania had already handed out 65,000 pink slips since 1994. Another 70,000 jobs were declared redundant last February, leaving a rather eerie foreshadowing of things to come.

An already feeble health care system faces the knife. By 1992 Tanzania reduced its health budget from 7 percent in the 1970s to 6 percent. This 1 percent was too much to sustain services once offered for free. At Mount Meru Hospital, in Arusha, Tanzania’s third largest city, two, sometimes three patients share beds to meet the bed shortage.

New user pay schemes mean patients pay for surgical gloves, blades, sutures, sterilizing liquids, etc. If patients can’t afford sterilizing liquid, for example, medical procedures continue without it.

Patients who can’t afford drugs don’t bother. Some pay for as much as they can hoping that maybe half a dose will be a cure. Others forego the cost of a doctor’s visit, diagnose themselves, and buy any drugs they figure they need directly from a local pharmacist.

Teachers at Arusha’s government schools haven’t been paid in seven months. After defaulting on rent payments many have been kicked out of their homes. Others don’t bother going to classes. Classes of 40 kids remain unattended and untaught all day. A passing grade is now between 20 and 30 percent—students who weren’t taught had no way of passing government exams; so the government made it easier to pass. Teachers who do show up make money by bribing students for extra help after school. Others earn their living selling tests and exams to students.

Students are starting to abandon the classroom. Kids aged seven sell peanuts, newspapers, candies—whatever they can get—on the streets. When asked why they’re not in school, they cite the latest boost in school fees designed to off-set disappearing government funding. Many parents can’t afford the fees when added to costs of books and uniforms so it’s a different type of education, one of survival, for their kids.

Once proud, state-run post-secondary schools training future farmers throughout East Africa haven’t had 1995 budgets approved by Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, which says it has no money. The schools run at less than half their enrollment capacity and offer a fraction of the curriculum when funded. Meanwhile, in the country’s multi-million dollar flower industry, European owners receive World Bank "development" loans to meet start-up and operating costs. They enjoy a five year tax holiday designed, quite successfully, to woo foreign investors.

At the same time new taxes on Tanzania’s poor appear everywhere. UMALE, an Arushan carpenters’ cooperative, struggles to survive as taxes add 40 percent to the cost of their products. The carpenters flip a coin between pricing their wares far above any affordable level or attaching a price that doesn’t cover costs.

Through it all Tanzania becomes "a success." In 1996 the country was ranked second poorest in the world. But already, by April 1997, the World Bank magnanimously bumped it up two notches to fourth poorest. That’s development, World Bank/IMF style.     

Chris Slosser is a journalist from Toronto, Canada.


Race, Class,<R>& Gender

Submissive Asian Women?

By Sonia Shah

Wouldn’t it be great, if you were a white male college grad, to go to the mystical ancient East and fall in lust with an exotic, demure Asian woman? At no cost? It would be just fabulous, according to Utne Reader’s John Winzenburg ("The Geopolitics of Desire: What’s the Real Cost of Free Sex in Asia").

But "unfortunately," you just can’t do it anymore. Asia has become "modern" and thus—being so ancient and unable to evolve to changing ways—there’s a "moral vacuum" in which "few rules remain." (I guess the Taliban hasn’t heard.) One would think a moral vacuum would be the right spot for an Eastern woman to shed traditions and liaison with a white college grad. But one would be wrong. In fact, writes Winzenburg, the moral vacuum means that there is "less need to bother with traditional role playing," which is, of course, what our white college grad is looking to exploit. The problem is what Winzenburg calls "the underside of Asia’s dramatic economic growth"—i.e., Asian women are "now well educated and empowered as consumers." They are "spinning their own webs" and "promiscuity is running rampant."

The devoted, exotic, submissive Asian woman is a thing of the past. Woe to college grads everywhere. Well, not so fast. You can still order a mail-order bride from Asia, with minimal cost to you, and she can be returned within 90 days if she doesn’t meet her "customer’s approval." Or, if you aren’t ready for a real face-to-face encounter with the Ancient East, you can always surf the net: there are at least a dozen web sites for those suffering from what Winzenburg calls "The Oriental Girl Fixation Syndrome."

These include: Jgirls Inc., Soopa Fresh Asian Hotties, Asian Delight, Absolute Asian, Over 250 Free Pics of Hot Asian Honeys, Asian Divas, Asiaphile!, AAA Foreign Brides, The Best Asian Clubs, Allstar Cuties from China, Doc’s Asia Page, Best of the Orient, and How to Meet and Understand Asian Women ("Do you like Asian girls? Welcome to the club. Men across America are coming to know what men in Hawaii have known for decades: Asian women are special! From their silky black hair to their lithe, toned bodies and delicate features, Asian women are #1 in my book...") which offers a manual on how to get Asian women into bed.

If your tastes don’t run to the small and yellow, don’t worry. Those Asian women are still around to help you out. For one thing, they sure are good cheap workers and the recent financial crisis in Asia will surely help make your next computer purchase easier on your wallet. Crafty smugglers are illegally importing young Filipina nurses so they can take care of your aged and infirm for less than $5/hour (NYT 1/14/98). South Asian maids will keep your house clean and your kids fed for basically no money at all, provided you make sure to keep their passports out of reach (Village Voice, 10/7/97). For you breeding types, if you can’t really be bothered going through with pregnancy and early child care, you can always adopt a Chinese baby, and if you are enterprising, like Vogue magazine’s Tama Janowitz, you might be able to lure a Chinese seamstress from Chinatown to nanny the kid. (Poor Tama, she assumed that since Asians were living 20 to a room and working in sweatshops for a few bucks a day, she could easily find someone to watch her Chinese baby for a pittance. She ended up with a Chinese mathematician instead. But thankfully, Pyahlien doesn’t speak much English so Tama doesn’t have to talk to her. —"Help Wanted" Vogue, November 1997).

It is a shame, with all these nifty services, that Asian men and their assorted buddies keep killing Asian women off. The 100 million women "missing" from the world due to female infanticide are mostly from Asia. In Massachusetts, Asian women are six times more likely to be killed by domestic violence as other women.

It’s true, though, that sometimes they are "more trouble than they are worth." As Robert I. Freidman made clear in his Nation cover story on "India’s Shame," all that free sex is creating a major health crisis. Those prostitutes are dirty. And poor. Those disgusting Indian men disembowel and castrate people and stick chilis up women’s vaginas. (Bob didn’t hear about Winzenburg’s "moral vacuum" theory either; according to him urban Bombay is a "conservative, patriarchal Hindu society obsessed with caste and racial purity.") Not only are they all dying in droves, but you could get sick if you go near them (The Nation, 4/18/96).

Unfortunately, none of these issues of race and gender came up in Clinton’s first "national conversation on race."

"Is there an Asian American who wants to be heard?" Clinton asked. Well, I guess not. (At least, none the New York Times considered worth quoting.) As Adolph Reed Jr. pointed out in The Progressive (December 1997), what we need isn’t more babble about race—which inevitably devolves into remarks about racial attitudes, such as "when I see a black man coming down the street, I may be a little bit scared" (NYT, 12/4/97)—but better jobs, a safety net, and an end to neo-imperialist foreign policy. For Asian women, in Asia and here, that means, not suprisingly, doing the work ourselves.

And so we are. Asian Immigrant Women Advocates in California is successfully organizing Asian women concentrated in the garment industry. Workers Awaaz is organizing South Asian domestic workers in New York City—to the outrage of South Asian elites and their allies in the non-profit sector. The National Labor Committee, among others, is organizing solidarity with young Chinese women working for Nike (and other U.S.-based shoe companies) for as little as 16 cents an hour.

The movement to organize Asian women workers still doesn’t constitute a mass movement, which is partially why articles such as Winzenburg’s are uncritically presented in ostensibly progressive publications such as Utne Reader. But the time is ripe. The imminent re-colonization of the "Asian Tigers" and the resultant "bone-carving pain" of IMF and World Bank bailouts (NYT, 12/4/97) will take their heavy toll on Asian workers. With Uncle Sam’s fist around Asia’s neck, more Asian workers are bound to reach U.S. shores. Most likely, they will join the nearly two-thirds of Asian Americans who are foreign born and mostly segregated into low-wage markets such as sweatshop labor. Or they will start the much-touted Asian family businesses, in which entire families work "from six in the morning to midnight," and over half of which don’t even pay their employees. The growing Asian American feminist and labor movement is well poised to channel these workers’ inevitable hardship. The devoted, submissive Asian woman is a thing of the past? Well, maybe so.             

Sonia Shah is a freelance writer and the editor of Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire (South End Press, 1997).