An interview with Godifri Mutindi.
Working overseas in development can often create some rather sticky situations. One such situation occurs when there is a considerable gap in pay between foreign NGO staff and local workers. Very little is known about the true effects of this gap, both in terms of relationships between foreign and local staff, and on the effectiveness of programs. This week on whydev.org, we have a special interview with Godifri Mutindi, a development consultant who grew up and studied in Zimbabwe. His opinion on the subject is both raw and insightful.
Godifri, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions on this topic. What is your professional background and what is your particular interest in aid and development?
I trained as a secondary school teacher and taught for 12 years in Zimbabwe. I am concluding my Masters of Business Administration with a South African university. In Mozambique I worked as a teacher of English Language and then for an international NGO.
I am interested in bringing positive change to developing countries which are victims of several historical injustices – cruel chiefs, mercantile capitalism, slavery, colonialism, destructive and bloody liberation struggles, civil wars (in some countries), dictatorships, coups (in some), corruption and the list is endless. I believe that despite all these challenges, especially Africa has a very promising future. And the countries which bring ‘aid’ and ‘peace’ planted these conflicts in the first place and are coming to do business.
In this post on How Matters, you stated that “ large gaps between the locals and the expatriate conditions of service, even for people with the same qualifications” constitutues a form of corruption. Can you please expand on that point?
When a person’s hiring criterion or their conditions of service do not depend on competence, but on their country of origin, I submit this is corruption. It is the same issue we have in developing countries of leaders employing their party supporters or tribes. And usually, they bring non-Blacks to developing countries (nothing racial here).
Do you think that gaps in conditions, such as salary, between expatriate staff and local staff contribute to creating a divide between these staff members? If so, what is the effect of this divide?
There is obviously frustration from local staff, who may be of equal or higher qualifications or performance. There is also animosity that the development partners appear as seeking to create equality and human rights, but they actually further the difference.
Developed countries have a responsibility to and legal obligation to help the developing countries, for our poverty and problems are directly related to slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. We are not campaigning for people to sit and relax but it should not be presented as if we are beggars.
On a wider scale, do you think that the gap in conditions can actually lead to less effective delivery of aid? If so, how so?
It can not be exactly like that. The Western people are intelligent and at a higher level that developing countries. They actually budget for these issues, like the USAID’s Buy America, in which they create their home industries through buying a certain percentage of goods from the US. But on performance yes, there is a negative point. These people will be earning big money and other perks and the local people will be sweating. This, unfortunately, is the reality.
And Western countries, as always, continue shifting goal posts. They easily manipulate international law and recuse themselves of the commitments they signed some years ago (Denmark and the Netherlands have pulled out of education despite developing countries being very far from reaching Millennium Development Goals).
Poverty is a multi-million dollar business which they do not want to end.
What practical steps do you suggest that NGOs take to close this gap? For example, do you advocate that they pay expatriate staff less, and local staff more?
This issue needs serious research as there are serious issues and many stakeholders are interested. What is the reason of paying local staff in local currency when the budget is in US$, for example? I have never been to a country where it is illegal to pay people adequately. Development work is short term, by nature, and very risky.
We recently posted an article about the divide between expatriate staff and local staff and how language can help shape that divide. For example, white people who work abroad are only ever known as expats, whereas people going the other way are usually called migrants. What are your thoughts on the matter?
It is part of the same plot.
For many young people in this field, leaving behind their home countries can be a daunting task. Often there is pressure from various sources to earn a decent wage, and costs such as mortgages that have to be taken into account. What advice do you have for people in this situation?
Younger and middle aged people should take the chance and learn out there. There are opportunities which one can get and it is good to get the experience from there, rather than only the text book. Even if they do not physically return, they contribute towards their countries’ development in ideas and resources.
What other advice do you have for young people working in developing countries?
It’s good to invest in one’s country’s human development. It is part of nationalism, Pan-Africanism or solidarity with the former oppressed people all over the world.
So there you have it. A complex issue that needs further research. We’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments. Do you agree with Godifri? Is there a better way forward? Drop us a line.