Dialogue Of The Deaf

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BRANDT REPORT [image, unknown] Third World response

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Dialogue of the deaf
Tanzania, once the bright hope of post-colonial Africa, is now reeling under a crippling shortage of consumer goods, high inflation and bureaucratic malaise. Still, the development debate continues. Peter Marshall in Dar es Salaam eavesdrops on one public forum where the Brandt Report came under intense scrutiny.

For Tanzania the debate on the Brandt Report is not merely of academic interest but of burning importance. Despite great advances in health and education, the economy is deteriorating seriously and even threatens the stability of the regime. The terms of trade with the North have worsened drastically — oil alone takes 60 per cent of foreign exchange. Basic commodities like rice, maize, cooking oil and soap are in short supply. Unofficially, inflation is nudging 60 per cent. In response there is a vigorous bout of ‘magendo’ — black marketeering, cheating and smuggling.

As people queue impatiently in the shops there seems no end to shortages and price rises. The injustice of the present international economic order is a common theme of conversation. Almost every issue of the government paper ‘Daily News’ carries some reference to the unfair relationship between North and South which forces the country tosell agricultural commodities cheap and buy manufactured goods dear. There is also a growing sense of anger and militancy against the rich countries which disguise hard exploitation with sweet talk of aid.

It was to focus and define this feeling that Amir Jamal, the Minister of Finance, initiated a public debate on the proposals of the Brandt Report in the capital Dar es Salaam this past spring. In the packed hall of the Economic Society of Tanzania, ministers, government officials, party members, lecturers and students gathered to exchange views which were later given widespread coverage in the media. The atmosphere was tense and uncomprising.

In his opening address Amir Jamal, who served on the Brandt Commission, welcomed the report. But without the necessary political will, he warned, it would rot on the shelves like so many other UN reports on the plight of the world’s poor. The Minister for Communications and Transport agreed, but could see little sign of such political will coming from the North. ‘Real poverty’, he said, ‘can be overcome only by a massive injection of capital and transfer of resources. The UN has asked for a miserable 0.7% to be spent in foreign aid, yet the North has come up with just half that amount’. Still, he has faith in the force of moral argument. ‘I won’t despair. I hope sanity will reign within the international community as it did with the Brandt Commission.’

No one else seemed to share his optimism. One government official argued that since the gap between the North and South was widening, ‘the only thing is to look to ourselves and to create collective self-reliance in the South. Only by creating the necessary muscle can we hope to have any bargaining power’. Another drew attention to gathering nuclear clouds in the other hemisphere: ‘Maybe in 2O years the North will not be there. We must therefore build up our own capacity for development’.

The most severe criticisms, however, came from the floor. The dialogue between the North and the South was called a ‘dialogue of the deaf. There was simply no hope of winning concessions from the North, which only acted in its own interests. ‘The so-called dialogue is just a waste of time’, another student challenged, ‘one who is hungry will never have a good discussion with one whose belly is full.’

Indeed, there was a fear that the whole North-South dialogue was a deliberate cover-up ‘to cool the wrath of the poor’ with no chance of a worthwhile agreement

‘The rich have never given up their wealth voluntarily and no real compact can be made between unequals. The interest of North and South are not mutual, but utterly opposed. No agreement will ever come while the rich are riding on our backs. It is like the rider of a donkey thinking how to liberate the donkey.’

As the ‘Daily News’ headlines reported, in Tanzania the Branch Report is ‘under fire’. Nyerere and his colleagues will not be going to the October summit with great hopes. From bitter experience, the elder Third World spokesman learned aid always carries political obligations.

While the legal independence of Africa has been recognised Nyerere is keenly aware that the right to develop our countries and our continent in our own interests has not yet been conceded in practice. The habit of regarding Africa as an appendage of Western Europe has not yet been broken.’ He is against the continent becoming an arena of super-power rivalry — ‘When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers’ — and feels that the greatest threat to Africa’s freedom and prosperity comes from the West. Significantly, his country’s notable friends have been Scandinavia, China and Canada.

As a leading spokesman of the Non-Aligned Movement, President Nyerere has also urged the poor nations to fight for a new economic order. Despite the failure of Third World co-operation, particularly in his own region, he calls constantly for ‘collective self-reliance.’ In addition, he believes the South should go on the offensive. A vigorous ‘Trade Union of the Poor’ should not only negotiate with the Northern managers for a better deal but also be prepared to strike for their demands. The OPEC countries have shown the possibilities of collective action.

While organising their economic strength, Nyerere believes the Third World should push for more political power in institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. In the meantime he welcomes any measure to improve the terms of trade for his country and lessen its growing dependence. Whether it is a massive transfer of funds like a new ‘Marshall Plan,’ or the proposals of the Brandt Commission, he will consider it: ‘Let any of these be adopted and applied. They would provide a beginning.’ Beggars in this world, he knows, cannot always be choosers.

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New Internationalist issue 104 magazine cover This article is from the October 1981 issue of New Internationalist.
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