It's one of the great development mantras: give someone a fish, and they'll eat for a day; teach someone to fish, and they'll eat for the rest of their life. But it unfortunately completely misses the point.

It implies that all that's missing is knowledge and skills. Swazis know how to fish. They know how to build power stations and hospitals, how to perform cutting-edge surgery, how to manage complex organisations. Working in government here, I've come across droves of educated, talented and driven people. It's just that they usually don't have much of a say in the way things are run.

And this, to me, is the fundamental problem of the 'international development' industry. We are constantly, desperately trying to find technical solutions to problems that are, essentially, political. You don't just need to know how to fish. You need access to the river, you need a voice in how the fishery is managed, and you need to know that your fish won't be taken off you the second you've landed it.

In development, politics is the elephant in the room, the unwanted guest we try to pretend isn't there. We fund training for tens of thousands of African public servants each year, but most return to positions where they don't have the power or the influence to really change anything. We fly out highly paid agricultural consultants, fund irrigation projects and experiment with land-ownership schemes; but we refuse to address the core political problem of massive subsidies to European and US farmers that crush African agriculture.

We shouldn't stop teaching people to fish. But we shouldn't fool ourselves that this alone will solve anything. We won't get anywhere until we also tackle the hairy political issues that lie at the heart of social and economic development.

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