The Concoction

An Ethiopian woman's musings on Africa, the world and everything in between

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        Friday, March 31, 2006
        Wasting breath on AIDS
        I love Bill Clinton. I miss listening to his eloquent speeches. I am glad he is involved in HIV/AIDS projects in poor nations. But, mandatory testing for HIV/AIDS? I’….m not too sure about that.

        Clinton is reviving an idea which was dumped two decades ago – mandatory HIV/AIDS testing. The idea was never pursued because there were concerns of stigmatizing people. It is a fact that due to the widespread of the epidemic and because millions of people died from it, there is much more awareness about the disease worldwide than two decades ago. But, I do not think that the stigma attached to the disease is gone.

        “I see stigma everywhere”

        Clinton’s idea is to start mandatory screening “in countries where there was no discrimination against people with the illness…” Let me know when you find such a country. You see, it is not the country that discriminates against HIV/AIDS victims. It is the ultra traditional uncle, the fanatic religious God mother, the unsympathetic neighbor, the mean colleague at work, the pastor at church… who discriminate. Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS is directly linked with sex – a taboo topic in countries like Ethiopia and, in a different way, in the US. Therefore, talking AIDS is talking taboo. So, where is the wisdom in exposing people by forcing them to screen for AIDS before the fundamental problems are solved? Shouldn’t we have an article in countries’ Anti-discrimination law which will protect HIV/AIDS victims?

        Take for example the US policy about distributing condoms both domestically and externally. The administration is saying “abstain all ye immoral creatures!” That is the basis of sex education in the US as well. Don’t you dare say the ‘c’ word in front of kids – oh no, you’ll go straight to hell via some detention center here on earth probably. So, if this is the mentality in the most developed and well informed nation, imagine the stigma which still exists in poor nations. My mom, an educated woman, still talks about AIDS as ‘that bad disease’.

        May be Clinton has worked this out to the tiniest detail and I’m concerned for nothing. Details including,

        - Legal protection against discrimination
        - Protecting the right for privacy
        - Regulations on patient confidentiality
        - Safety net to people in case of loss of jobs
        - I can’t think of something else.
        - Follow up help if taste proves positive.

        Undoubtedly, there is a need to reach those who are already infected and they don’t even know it. Still, I don’t think it is as simple as just finding these people, make them pop tablets and set them off back in society to carry on as if nothing happened. Does the Clinton program, for example, provide counseling for those who need it after they are told the devastating news that they are infected with the virus. Is there help for them if they lose their jobs?

        Stigma is unavoidable because HIV/AIDS has become associated with class, race and sexual orientation. In the US, for example, black women are reported to be unaware of HIV risk. Yes, I said in the US! In states like Alabama, non-white women make up 13% of the population – but make up nearly 70% of HIV infections. For black women aged 24-35, AIDS is the number one cause of death. Now, we would like to think that the US is one of the countries that doesn’t discriminate against HIV/AIDS victims. The legislation in Alabama regarding HIV/AIDS is called, surprise surprise, the Abstinence Bill. The founder of the Black AIDS Institute, Phill Wilson, says and I have every reason to believe him about stigma rather than Clinton

        “Unfortunately, because of stigma.. a lot of African-American women don’t realize they’re at risk, don’t believe that they’re at risk, or don’t want to be at risk,”

        I see brave men in Africa
        Here is a story of brave, brave enlightened South African Catholic men, who are not afraid of bending the Vatican rules to work with the reality of life. One of them is Luyanda Ngonyama. Three years of religious training and work experience with diocese and conference of bishops under his belt, he is openly advocating for condom distribution in S. Africa. His argument is that "Once you see one or two stories, these people who would have been saved had they used a condom, then you have a conflict. The reality is, people enjoy sex, even outside marriage."

        My favorite quote is “The bottom line is to be pro-life, consistently pro-life, from conception until death," said Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenberg, South Africa, perhaps the best-known Catholic advocate for condom use in South Africa. "We can't save all lives, but we can save some lives through the use of condoms."
        If you think about it, this addresses several issues – sex education, capital punishment, human rights, corruption (the type that costs people their lives) and such.

        I hope not to see dollar signs everywhere
        Somebody please tell me that there is NO pharmaceutical company behind this. Please!

        Good luck to Lesotho, the first country to start this adventurous experiment!

        Further readings

        US Aids policy: reatment rather than prevention

        Abstinence-only sex education: the challenges

        Abstinence-only sex eduation: the background and costs

        Sex education in the US: Info. by state

        A Christian view of matters
        posted by Fikirte @ 7:29 AM   1 comments Digg!
        Thursday, March 30, 2006
        Charles Taylor may soon be on an organized vacation
        BBC online
        reports that the case of Charles Taylor, former Liberian president, may be transferred from Sierra Leon to the International Crime Court (ICC) in The Hague. It is seriously going to be like going on one of those annoying organized trips where the bus driver decides when you take a coffee break, a potty break, a meal break and decides what you have to see…. It is a vacation nonetheless.

        If Milosovic could easily smuggle in medication into the detention center because security was lax and if Charles Taylor is feared to still have the power to mobilize guerilla army in Liberia, what is going to stop Taylor to continue creating havoc in West Africa from his (I am sure it is going to be) more comfortable cell in The Hauge? The main reason (the sole reason as far as I know) for the transfer is security concerns. He does not have to be in Liberia to control his guerillas, I don’t think. I am sure the Dutch guards are not going to be taken for a ride and help in faxing Taylor’s orders to kill to whoever is his replacement in Liberia. So I say to the Dutchies – Pass op hoor!

        A puzzling fact here – why are Bush and Condi Rice putting their two cents in the transfer of Taylor to The Hauge for the case to be handled by a body that they refuse to adopt? For an administration that sees everything in black and white and is proud of it too – you are either our friend or our enemy, Christian (I mean good, these days I get confused with the distinctions – my bad) or evil – I am surprised that they are sending mixed signals about the relevance of the ICC. I’m loving modern democracy – think how much Africa would benefit from it.

        Anyway, this is about Taylor. My luck of confidence in international tribunals is because of these facts.

        Fact 1. The ICC can only persecute cases from countries which ratified the treaty to establish the court.

        Fact 2. “ In May the United Nations closed its special prosecution unit investigating crimes committed during East Timor's 1999 struggle for independence from Indonesia. More than 600 cases were left pending, including an indictment of General Wiranto, the former head of the Indonesian armed forces.”

        Fact 3. The Bosnian war crimes court still had 1,000 cases pending. Well, it must be 999 now since the death of Milosovic.

        Fact 4. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), a network of 12,000 traditional community courts called gacaca was established in Rwanda to alleviate the burden on the ICTR. These local courts were charged with reviewing charges against about 63,000 people implicated in the 1994 genocide.

        Fact 5. At the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the end of 2004, the lawyers representing former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, upon his initiative, had asked to be removed from the case; the judges denied the request, and Milosevic continued to serve as his own primary counsel.

        The case may dra....g for years if Milosovic's case is an indicator. Already the Dutch are asking Sierra Leon to negotiate with the court in The Hague to ensure it has the facilities available to host the trial, i.e. available court rooms and a holding cell etc.

        Hopefully, amidst all this confusion, drama and incompetence, justice will prevail.

        Basic info about the ICC

        This is too good to try and summarize it, so here is the full text from Human Rights Watch site

        What is the ICC?
        The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a permanent international tribunal that will try individuals responsible for the most serious international crimes. One hundred and sixty countries attended a U.N.-sponsored conference in Rome in 1998 to draft a treaty for the establishment of the ICC. After 5 weeks of intense negotiations, 120 countries voted to adopt the treaty. Only seven countries voted against it (including China, Libya, Iraq, and the United States) and 21 abstained. Before the Court can be set up, 60 countries need to ratify the treaty. 139 states signed the treaty by the 31 December 2000 deadline. As of May 14, 2003, 90 countries have ratified it. The tribunal will come into force on 1 July.

        What crimes will the ICC prosecute?
        The ICC will prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, all defined in the court's treaty. The ICC will help ensure that these serious crimes, which have long been recognized by the international community, no longer go unpunished because of the unwillingness or inability of individual countries to prosecute them.

        Who can be brought to trial before the ICC?
        The ICC will have jurisdiction over crimes committed by the nationals of governments that ratify the treaty, or in the territories of governments that ratify. It can try any individual responsible for such crimes, regardless of his or her civilian or military status or official position.

        What are the rights of those accused of a crime by the ICC?
        The ICC treaty contains a detailed list of the rights that any accused person shall enjoy, including the presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, to present evidence, the right to remain silent, and the right to have charges proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

        How will national courts and the ICC work together?
        The treaty gives the ICC jurisdiction that is complementary to national jurisdictions. This 'principle of complementarity', as it is known, gives states the primary responsibility and duty to prosecute the most serious international crimes, while allowing the ICC to step in only as a last resort if the states fail to implement their duty -- that is, only if investigations and, if appropriate, prosecutions are not carried out in good faith. Bona fide efforts to discover the truth and to hold accountable those responsible for any acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes will bar the ICC from proceeding.
        At a press conference on June 12, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, while opposing the ICC, admitted that the Court's limited authority would protect US troops and officials: "We have demonstrated over the years wherever there is an allegation of abuse on the part of a soldier we have a judicial system that will deal with it very effectively," Cohen said. "As long as we have a respected judicial system then there should be some insulation factor." That is, the ICC would then be barred from proceedings against Americans.

        How is the ICC different from the International Court of Justice (World Court) and other existing international tribunals?The International Court of Justice (ICJ or World Court) is a civil tribunal that hears disputes between countries. The ICC is a criminal tribunal that will prosecute individuals. The two ad hoc war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are similar to the ICC but have limited geographical scope, while the ICC will be global in its reach. The ICC, as a permanent court, will also avoid the delay and start-up costs of creating country specific tribunals from scratch each time the need arises.

        What good can the International Criminal Court do?The ICC will help to end the impunity often enjoyed by those responsible for the most serious international human rights crimes. It will provide incentives and guidance for countries that want to prosecute such criminals in their own courts, and it will offer permanent back up in cases where countries are unwilling or unable to try these criminals themselves, because of violence, intimidation, or a lack of resources or political will.

        As noted, the ICC is not intended to replace national courts. Domestic judicial systems remain the first line of accountability in prosecuting these crimes. The ICC ensures that those who commit the most serious human rights crimes are punished even if national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. Indeed, the possibility of an ICC proceeding may encourage national prosecutions in states that would otherwise avoid bringing war criminals to trial.

        Who can join the ICC and when will it start trying cases?
        All countries of the world can ratify the ICC treaty. Members must accept the Court's jurisdiction and cooperate with the court in investigating and prosecuting crimes and enforcing penalties. The ICC will come into existence once 60 countries have ratified the treaty. Human Rights Watch anticipates that this will occur by mid-2002.

        Where will the ICC be located and who will pay for the Court?The ICC will have a permanent seat in The Hague, the Netherlands. When necessary, it may also make arrangements to sit in other countries. The countries that belong to the ICC will determine its budget and provide the necessary funding. The United Nations will also contribute funds, especially when the ICC investigates and prosecutes cases referred to it by the U.N. Security Council.

        How will the ICC and the Security Council work together?
        The Security Council may refer cases to the ICC for investigation and prosecution. The Security Council may also request the ICC to suspend investigations for 12 months at a time if it feels that ICC proceedings might interfere with the Security Council's responsibility to maintain peace and security. This arrangement makes it difficult for any one permanent Security Council member to manipulate the ICC, while permitting the Security Council to resolve any genuine conflicts of interest with the ICC.

        How politically motivated cases be avoided?
        Many safeguards exist in the ICC treaty to prevent frivolous or politically motivated cases. For example, all indictments will require confirmation by a Pre-Trial Chamber of judges, which will examine the evidence supporting the indictment before issuing it. The accused and any concerned countries will have an opportunity to challenge the indictment during confirmation hearings before the Pre-Trial Chamber. In addition, any investigation initiated by the Prosecutor will first have to be approved by the Pre-Trial Chamber.

        Prosecutors and judges will all undergo rigorous scrutiny before they are elected and appointed to the Court. The treaty establishes strict criteria for the selection of the prosecutor and the judges, requiring experts whose reputation, moral character and independence are beyond reproach. They will be prohibited from any activity during their term in office that might jeopardize their independence, and can be excused from particular cases if there is any question of partiality. Ultimately, in the unlikely event that they abuse their powers, they can be impeached.

        States that join the ICC will nominate persons to be elected as judges and prosecutor. Only those eligible to hold high judicial office in their own country can be nominated as judges of the ICC.

        What happens if a country does not ratify the treaty?
        Countries that fail to ratify the ICC treaty will be prohibited from participating in the nomination of the Court's judges and prosecutor. They will also lose the privilege of contributing to decisions about the budget and administrative operations.
        posted by Fikirte @ 12:17 PM   0 comments Digg!
        Wednesday, March 29, 2006
        Who is the pot and who is the kettle?

        Last month, I was thinking of writing about the lessons that the general public in the US can learn from Kenyans. I was impressed by the fact that Kenyans hit the streets of Nairobi protesting against corruption while demonstrations were BANNED. And their aim was to force the Vice President of Kenya to resign following the allegations of his involvement in sleaze.

        I was also impressed by the whistle blower, John Githongo – the former anti-corruption chief and before that head of the local Transparency Agency. I admire his integrity and courage to do the right thing against the backdrop of possible danger in messing with the powerful. The result of his brave act is to live in exile. Still, he did what he had to do.

        Now what is not settling well with me is the tone of William Bellamy’s, the US ambassador to Kenya, lecture on doing more about corruption.

        "The US government is not satisfied with the efforts made in fighting corruption."

        No kidding?

        Your Excellency, on a scale of minus ten to ten (minus ten being ‘depressed and in fetal position sucking my thumb’ and ten – ‘on the roof with joy doing the chicken dance singing I Got Chills’), where is your satisfaction level regarding the ex-Chief of Staff’s meddling with scientific reports on global warming so that his ‘real’ employers, the American Petroleum Association, will continue to screw earth and living organisms therein? How about your VP’s company being the biggest contractor in Iraq? How about…?

        Commenting on the recent action taken against corruption cases, the US ambassador to Kenya, Mr. William Bellamy, said there was still more work to be done in dealing with the problem."

        You think?

        Your Excellency, can you share some examples of ‘work done in the US’ to solve the problem of corruption so that Kenya could learn from your country’s great experience? I tried to find out myself, but your government’s website talk about corruption of others only. I am asking, Y.E., because all Kenyans achieved were sending the whistle blower to exile, force three ministers to resign, expose the VP and put pressure on him, protest while demonstrations were banned, threaten their freedom to speak, and send their press ablaze.

        "Mr Bellamy said the US would continue its military co-operation with Kenya on both land and air for the benefit of the two countries' armed forces.

        I beg your pardon?

        Y.E, thank you for changing the subject from corruption to co-operation. The first was beginning to depress me. However, I must tell you that the latter is one gigantic rotten carrot ever.

        There is no denying that corruption is huge in Africa, it is hurting the poor even more and it is one of the main reasons why foreign aid is not doing much in the continet, yadi yadi ya. Nonetheless, it goes down really hard being lectured by the US.
        posted by Fikirte @ 3:30 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Tuesday, March 28, 2006
        New hope for Ethiopian Israelis?
        As Israel prepares to elect a new government, my wishes to the thousands of Bete Israelis Ethiopian Jews). I hope the next Israeli leader will improve their situation. According to BBC online, about 80,000 Falashas "remain one of the poorest sections of Israeli society."

        About Bete Israels

        Class and race in Judaism
        History of Bete Israelis
        Bete Israel - the way to the Ark of Covenant?
        A book on Ethiopian Jews
        Live and Become - a movie
        posted by Fikirte @ 3:32 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Monday, March 27, 2006
        GM sorghum for hungry Africans
        A team of African scientists is tweaking sorghum in Iowa to come up with a drought-resistant variety to help drought victims in Africa. If successful, the crop is supposed to help 300 million people who rely on sorghum as a food source.

        The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the first paragraph of this article was "I hope this would turn out to be less confusing and controversial than genetically modified soy." I really do hope that it will be safe for the millions of people in Africa. Still, I could not help googling what the fuss was about GM soy.

        The first site I read started the article mentioning an Iowa soy company which is netting $14 billion per year from soy sales, and the hype about the health benefits of soy. Then the article delves, rather unceremoneusly, into the discussion of suspecious dealings by the companies which monopolize the production of genetically modified soy are also the biggest producers of herbicides such as glyphosate. Monsanto is such company along with Dupont and Eli Lily which produce glyphosate. Dupont, by the way, is the company that is talked about in The Constant Gardener. The point that this article is making, very strongly, is that apart from being toxic (and being allowed to poison freely by the US and Europe)glyphosate is destroying less-herbicide-resistant plants and crops. Actually, it really sounds like the Nile perch that the British dropped in Lake Victoria which drove other fish to the documentary Darwin's Nightmare. The bigger issue is labelling. Monsanto can brag about the health benefits of soy, but is not obliged to say which foods contain soy let alone glyphosate.

        Then I found this site by Dr. Joseph Mercola, who sells health books. In his site, he talks about the FDA's (Food and Drug Administration)internal division regarding the effects of soy on health, which GM soy producers deny. Dr. Mercola also focuses on labelling.

        To make matters worse it is now legal in the US to label any kind of soy (GM or otherwise) as beneficial for reducing heart disease risk, but illegal to label it as genetically modified. God Bless America - land of the "fee".
        The new labeling arrangements follow a petition submitted to the FDA by the American Soybean Association (ASA), whose corporate partners include the following biotechnology/agro-chemical companies - American Cyanamid, Bayer, Dow, Du Pont, Monsanto, Novartis and Zeneca (

        Wanton Know Info tells us what the danger of GM soy is: "The new genes allow the crops to survive applications of herbicide, create their own pesticide, or both". It also reminds us of the difficulties of monitoring and the effects of fiddling with plant genes has on humans.

        The FAO seems to choose to ignore the political factor of transparency out of the equation, and eager to expand GMO production especially in developing countries. While aware of the complications of the issues surrounding the safety of GMOs, FAO (naively?)believes that "the international community needs to ensure that GM crops make an optimal contribution to world food security, to food safety and food quality, and to sustainability, and that they remain available to the public at large."

        There is also a Russian view which is against GM soy, and they offer scientific proof how harmful it can be. I really do not know what they would benefit if the US' GM soy goes off the market. However, in their experiments, rats die and there are underweight births... because of GM soy. CBS' Stephen Strauss is cautious of endorsing the Russian findgs because it has not been backed by other scientists and media which typically would have grabbed this and run with it, did not mention it and the report was published online (instead of a medical journal, I guess.

        There is obviously an information gap regarding GM soy. To me the significance of all this is that if, with all the technology and wealth, the US cannot or is not willing give clear information to its citizens, what chance do 300 million poor African people have in finding the truth. Again, my hope is GM sorghum is not going to pose threats and confusion like GM soy has. I also hope that the African scientists would be able to come up with more credible and clear information about GM sorghum.

        I much prefer the Norwegian approach to crops. They are building a vault, nicknamed 'doomsday vault' which is designed to serve as a seed bank in case the world's seed are wiped out due to natural or manmade causes. (Link from
        swampcottage_archive.html). Perhaps the Doomsday Vault can be modified and re-named Droughtsday Vault, and used to store grains which can be used in time of drought in Africa. If sperm can be stored, I am sure so can grain.

        Background information about sorghum
        posted by Fikirte @ 11:12 PM   0 comments Digg!
        A prize for a female blogger
        Bagdad Burning, a blog by a woman has been longlisted for BBC Four's Samuel Johnson Prize for non-finction. The blogger is amongst 19 contestants.

        I find this interesting though. The BBC has the article in both its Entertainment and Technology sections. Is it because it is not yet clear what blogging is about or is it a human error. If it is the first, may be online news has to have a new section called Rantings & Ravings. But, in all seriousness, I wish Riverbend the best of lucks.

        Is she talking about Ethiopia?

        Riverbend's March 18th post simply entitled Three years... discusses the development of events three years after the US invasion of Iraq. These paragraphs however could have been about Ethiopia.

        The real fear is the mentality of so many people lately- the rift that seems to have worked it’s way through the very heart of the country, dividing people. It’s disheartening to talk to acquaintances- sophisticated, civilized people-and hear how Sunnis are like this, and Shia are like that… To watch people pick up their things to move to “Sunni neighborhoods” or “Shia neighborhoods”. How did this happen?

        I read constantly analyses mostly written by foreigners or Iraqis who’ve been abroad for decades talking about how there was always a divide between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq (which, ironically, only becomes apparent when you're not actually living amongst Iraqis they claim)… but how under a dictator, nobody saw it or nobody wanted to see it. That is simply not true- if there was a divide, it was between the fanatics on both ends. The extreme Shia and extreme Sunnis. Most people simply didn’t go around making friends or socializing with neighbors based on their sect. People didn't care- you could ask that question, but everyone would look at you like you were silly and rude.

        The thing most worrisome about the situation now, is that discrimination based on sect has become so commonplace. For the average educated Iraqi in Baghdad, there is still scorn for all the Sunni/Shia talk. Sadly though, people are being pushed into claiming to be this or that because political parties are promoting it with every speech and every newspaper- the whole ‘us’ / ‘them’. We read constantly about how ‘We Sunnis should unite with our Shia brothers…’ or how ‘We Shia should forgive our Sunni brothers…’ (note how us Sunni and Shia sisters don’t really fit into either equation at this point). Politicians and religious figures seem to forget at the end of the day that we’re all simply Iraqis.

        And what role are the occupiers playing in all of this? It’s very convenient for them, I believe. It’s all very good if Iraqis are abducting and killing each other- then they can be the neutral foreign party trying to promote peace and understanding between people who, up until the occupation, were very peaceful and understanding.

        Three years after the war, and we’ve managed to move backwards in a visible way, and in a not so visible way

        Riverbend, I hope your fourth year will be much better than the first three.
        posted by Fikirte @ 8:41 PM   0 comments Digg!
        Friday, March 24, 2006
        Missing money from the Global Fund
        Today is World TB Day. TB, together with HIV/AIDS and malaria, claims 6 million lives a year mostly in developing countries. Therefore, it is important to have a special day for it to raise awareness to the problem and in theory find lasting solutions. Some countries had organized special events to, hopefully, achieve these goals.

        Unfortunately, Uganda has some concocted accounting to worry about to join in the celebrations. Assistants to the Ugandan Health Ministers cannot balance the books for the money that the Ministry received from the Global Fund.
        The fund was established in response to the acute financial needs to combat the three evils (not the Bush axis of evils – the three killer diseases). The Ugandan Ministry of Health is facing Enron-like book-cooking scandals. This is what PETER NYANZI & JUDE LUGGYA had to say about it.

        THE personal assistants to Health Ministers Jim Muhwezi and Mike Mukula yesterday failed to defend the accountability they submitted for the millions of Global Fund cash they received on behalf of their bosses. The aides yesterday appeared before the commission of inquiry into the alleged mismanagement of the Global Fund against Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, after the ministers said they were better placed to answer questions about the accountability.

        Forged receipts and funds an accounted for are common in this cases. However, the surprising fact of this story is that money was “borrowed” from the Global Fund for Jim Muhwezi (one of the Ministers) to campaign for 21 days in South and West Africa on behalf of a certain Dr. Omasawa who was eying the regional director position at the World Health Organization. Who would blame me for wondering what kind of governance mechanisms the Fund has in place? Okay, Muhwezi’s excuse to travel for 21 days was that he was “visiting projects funded with Global Fund’s money.” Ring, ring…! Anybody listening the warning bells? What confuses me is the word borrow” if it is for project evaluation. Back in 2002, Oxfam was urging “for seven pillars” to be in place to make the fund work properly and efficiently. Amongst the ‘seven pillars” is “A transparent system of allocation to ensure equitable service delivery.”

        The Commission which is investigating the case sounds as if they are on top of this. This is the type of gross selfishness that hurts millions of people and Africa’s reputation. As Chinua Akukwe, professor of Global Health at the George Washington Uni. argues governance is one of the ten challenges for Africa regarding development in 2006. Corruption is one of the items on Dr. Caleb Rossiter’s list why grand development plans are not going to succeed without tackling:

        •dictatorships and the provision of weapons and training to them by the West and now China in return for military cooperation, minerals, and markets;

        •the ethnic civil wars that result from undemocratic rule, and the massive migration from these conflicts and poorer regions in general toward pockets of growth;

        •corruption in both donor and recipient governments, including the tying of aid to purchases from the donor’s economy, such as development consultants and military hardware;

        •the natural brain drain of talented and trained personnel from the low and inconsistently-paid civil service to higher-paying foreign aid projects such as AIDS clinics, to cities, and to the developed countries;

        •the resistance by developed nations to refining, packaging, and retailing by poor countries, which keeps them in their colonial roles as producers of raw materials with deteriorating terms of trade;

        •the inability of their governments, as a result, to generate foreign currencies for the small but crucial imports needed to sustain foreign aid projects, and to generate sufficient domestic growth to produce the tax revenues needed to keep colleges, schools, and clinics staffed and open, rather than on strike or functioning minimally;

        •the foreign aid “transfer problem,” which occurs when a flood of external demand for local currency for aid projects inflates the currency and depresses exports and growth; and the unavoidable dislocation of entire generations during the transition from traditional rural production to a modern urban economy.
        posted by Fikirte @ 5:02 PM   2 comments Digg!
        An African Lesson for American Women
        Zambia is facing two elections in December 2006 – presidential and national council elections. Power is up for grabs amongst the 17 parties – in theory at least because since 1964, the country has been going through interesting varieties of democracy. According to the Africa Election Database, Zambia has made a full circle going from “emerging democracy” to one party state then a multiparty transition to full democracy and back to “emerging democracy”.

        Now women are saying enough with this none-sense and mobilizing rural women to be active participants of political life in Zambia. A women organization, Women for Change (WfC) is urging rural women to vote for women candidates in the upcoming polls. Their brave and bold argument is that educated or not, women are better managers and it is time that they take charge of political decisions.

        There are a few lessons for the US from all this. First, there are 17 parties to choose from in Zambia, while the US offers only an ass and an elephant. Second, given the lo…ng history of American women in politics, it is a surprise that there has never been a woman president. It is actually more fascinating to learn that although American women earned the right to vote in 1920, their involvement in politics was minimal until 1984. It is admirable what American women achieved, but I think it is time to crank up the momentum. I do not see the reason why there are no women presidential candidates in every election. A lot is at steak for American women, which I think will take a woman to deal with. For example, the maternity leave in the US is shameful and it seems that women have accepted the situation. The Baby Center states in as-a-matter-of-factl tone that “maternity leave is not common in the US”. Excuse me? May I ask why not?

        Women in the US are supposed to mix and match a combination of excuses to keep their jobs after child birth because there is no guaranteed paid maternity leave. Not surprisingly, because lobbyist and crooks are abound, that decision is left for companies. This put the US in the same category as Lesotho, Papua New Guninea and Swaziland, reported the Washington Post. Depending on the generosity of her company, a woman might get six weeks paid off leave. Otherwise, a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do. Take maternity, short term disability, paid and unpaid vacation, sick leave, unpaid family leave and I do not know what else. But why go through that trouble? Why can’t there be a law that says give the poor woman a break and give her 3 months off? Women in Ethiopia get that so it is not a fantacy. I am not even going to touch Sweden because I will turn green with jealousy.

        The much needed support for women long after the hormones settle is also dismal in the US. Child care is ridiculously expensive, few companies offer meaningful subsidized child care, and a woman’s career suffers most of the time when kids get sick. According to the US Office of Personnel Management, “ leave for the care of a sick spouse, child, or parent often are either unavailable or unpaid.

        And yet, there are ‘experts’ like Linda Hirshman , who wage verbal war on educated, professional women who decide to stay at home. Hirshman found out some statistics about 54% of educated women do not work anymore, and she argues that they are hurting themselves, their children and others. Boo hoo! Just by applying common sense, one can reach the conclusion that it is difficult for women to take days off every time their children are sick. What is that going to do for a woman's career and nerves? Other Western countries (except Australia) have got this right, and they do a much better job the US in retaining their women in jobs. For example, a Belgian health insurance company provides a wonderful service to its clients. It has a list of nurses and professional nannies, who are available to take care of sick children of clients. So, when my daughter was sick every other week (almost), I did not have to make up excuses to my boss because my insurance company would send me either a nurse or a babysitter (depending on the severity of my daughter’s illness). May be there is a clue here for either an already existing insurance company or a new one. An insurance company only for women and children, and as one of the enlighted services it provides professional babysitting for its clients.

        Now the US should take lessons from the above examples, and women should organize themselves like the Zambian NGO. Educated or not educated is not the question. To demand or not to demand, that is the question.

        It is a shame I did not think of this post last March 8 for women’s day, but better late than never.
        posted by Fikirte @ 6:10 AM   2 comments Digg!
        Tuesday, March 21, 2006
        Do you say Happy Water Day?

        March 22nd is World Water Day. This year’s theme for the 13th international Water Day observance is Water and Culture. UNESCO sounds upbeat about this because

        The theme 'Water and Culture' of WWD 2006 draws attention to the fact that there are as many ways of viewing, using, and celebrating water as there are cultural traditions across the world. Sacred, water is at the heart of many religions and is used in different rites and ceremonies. Fascinating and ephemeral, water has been represented in art for centuries - in music, painting, writing, cinema - and it is an essential factor in many scientific endeavours as well.

        This is all too well to make water sacred for a day and all that, but it is unfortunate that the most important world wide water culture is totally overlooked - the culture of fetching water. This is an unfortunate waste of opportunities to acknowledge the laborious and time consuming task that millions of women and girls are burdened with. From South Africa to Indonesia, it is a woman’s or a girl’s job to fetch water. Fetching water is one of the main reasons why girls cannot attend schools regularly. It is one of the reasons why a woman’s daily working hour somewhere in Africa is as long as 17 hours because she has to walk up to three hours a day to fetch water. http:James Workman tells us that

        …fetching water is not something men do unless they are alone.” At which point the man has daily incentives to pay a lobola to purchase his daughter as his lover, wife, mother of his children and, of course, as his cook and water fetcher which is included in that bride price of up to ten cows (which chug 50 liters a day and compete with the women for water access).

        Regrettably, such World Days come and go without really addressing some fundamental issues of the forgotten children of society. Global conferences also come and go with some position paper which really does not mean much. Big shots fly around the globe to participate in such events while the problems in the field remain unchallenged.

        In 2002, for example, there was a conference on water and sustainable development in Africa – regional stakeholder’s conference on priority setting. Although there were ‘gender ambassadors’ representing two African countries in this conference in Accra, Ghana, the meeting did not consider water and gender issues important enough for sustainable development to give it a time slot in the main program. So what is a sustainable water program without gender issues?

        Gender and Water Alliance was talking about “…a unified African voice and position on water based on a consensus of water ‘stakeholders’” in that meeting. I will bet anything that the millions of women who are too busy fetching water to organize and have their ‘consensus’ on water be heard are not included in the ‘stakeholders’ list. Then, who are the stakeholders? According to Gender and Water Alliance, they are “…under the guidance of the African Development Bank, representatives from more than 20 regional and international organizations dealing with water in Africa…. What a waste!
        The Water Day was an initiative that grew out of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. It would be great if a new initiative grows out of the 2006 Water Day – World Toilet Day. If observing water day is not going to help women and girls in poor nations, at least start a new initiative that would. World Toilet Day.

        The other reason for poor school attendance by girls is lack of toilets in schools. Especially for girls in their puberty, it is particularly challenging to go to a toilet-less school while they are menstruating. It is definitely not sexy for donor organizations to brag about building toilets instead of installing water pumps for example, but according to BBC’s calculation, “investments in sanitation can bring a 14-fold return.” This is not only for girls, but in general because “443 million schooldays are lost each year from diarrhoeal disease.”

        It is sad that every time there is a global event such as the World Water Day, it is mostly men in suits who run the show and make the decisions. It would be wonderful to invite a woman from each poor continent to tell her real story, and ask the participants of the meeting ‘What the hell do you know about water problems and efficient use?” I have a dream!
        posted by Fikirte @ 11:37 PM   2 comments Digg!
        Monday, March 20, 2006
        Extreme weekend: Between Parramore and Bay Hill

        It was an extreme weekend by all measures. Saturday, I was shooting a fundraising film in the ghetto of ghettos of Orlando. On Sunday, I was watching Tiger Woods elegantly working the Bay Hill golf course (it does not matter if he lost. He was still the most elegant on the field). Parramore and Bay Hill are the really extreme places of Orlando.

        The extremity of Parramore’s destitution and Bay Hill’s affluence is too much to reconcile in my head. The children of Parramore were very happy to hang out with us as we were stammering and blushing in front of the camera to try and tell their stories. The community center is the main hang out for kids and their families. At least they can use the play ground for free and be on our camera before going to their overly crowded homes with windows patched up with plywood.

        Darryl is a six year old, who looks like a malnourished three year old. He is, even without a measurement, obviously under weight. I had to help him with spelling (for the film), and it was so sad to see that he could not write his last name let alone other words. He apparently goes to one of the states failing schools, and he does not get much help at home either. Parramore is full of kids in a similar situation, and it is truly difficulty to imagine that that part of town is in the US.

        Our crew had to pack up camera equipment back in the car three times looking for a safer place to shoot the film. We jokingly, but still nervously were saying “Let us get out of here before the uzi comes out”. In comparison, at Bay Hill there were not even cell phones in site. The invitation clearly said “No cell phones, cameras, videos, radios, walkie-takies…” let alone a harmful instrument. And people abided by that. What a difference!

        Although the whole golf tournament was for charity, I wonder how many people there knew where Parramore is and the poverty, drug, crime, prostitution, illiteracy it represents. If only health care were not run as charity in the US, imagine what $9.7 million raised at the Bay Hill Invitational this year could have done for the Darryls of Parramore. Unfortunately, while I am eyeing that amount of money wishing it was for charity organizations like mine who work in Parramore, there is a grand plan being cooked up for the area. So my struggle with grand development plans follows me from Ethiopia to the US via Europe. Some things never change.
        posted by Fikirte @ 6:05 PM   1 comments Digg!
        Thursday, March 16, 2006
        Can the aid industry be reformed?
        How to read this post

        While editing the following, I realized that I often use quotation marks for commonly used terms. It is because I do not for a second trust terms like foreign aid, non-profit organizations… The reason is:

        . Foreign aid is a necessary tool for domestic politics.
        . There is no such thing as non-profit organization otherwise such organizations would have been bankrupt and extinct long time ago.
        . Aid ‘experts’ has been a commonly used cliché for a long time now.
        . I do not see how anybody can give themselves a time frame to ‘make poverty history’.

        What started this

        Now, some background facts quickly so that I can go straight to my ranting about the poverty and development business under the aid industry.

        1. East Africa is facing drought and millions of people need food aid.
        2. Ethiopia is of course amongst the affected countries in the horn.
        3. Hunger and famine are not new in Ethiopia, but what’s alarming is the frequency in which they are occurring.
        4. Since the 1973 famine, which made Ethiopia internationally famous, aid agencies and Western countries have been at it to help Ethiopia feed itself, help her reduce poverty and set her off on the road to development.
        5. Ethiopia has very little to show for it.
        6. Several types of ‘medicines’ by countless ‘doctors’ have been prescribed for the many symptoms of the poverty disease.
        7. The old symptoms are still at large, there are new ones and nature is still not cooperating. So, Ethiopia is still sick from poverty.
        8. Finally, the country is ensured against nature.

        And I’m sitting here behind my computer screen thinking, is the end of the illness approaching? Then, I remind my hopeful self that it’s pretty much like home insurance and the construction code in Florida. The construction code is still a joke (although Hurricanes Andrew and Charlie in 2004 finally forced whoever is responsible for enforcing such codes to make some changes), and if you make claims against other house threatening factors such as flooding, termites and flimsy roofs that blow away when somebody sneezes, your premium goes up. Changing states is not even going to help. Your claims stick with you like a criminal record.

        More symptoms of a failing industry

        Because I am well informed, as of 6 hours ago, about how home insurance in Florida works (a good-hearted lady at the insurance company told me to think about even reporting let alone making claims…), I am feeling confused about this insurance against drought business. I read and re-read several documents online, and I still do not see how it is going to work. This time the WFP paid on behalf of Ethiopia. Who is going to pay next time and the time after that and after that…? Is there any point to all this - is it going to significantly reduce the food crisis? Is this another way of saying that we have accepted that there is no alternative for the food crisis in Ethiopia? Is it the latest buzz in ‘making poverty history’ because the previous cocktail of medicines did not work – food aid, food aid mixed with development, development with women, participatory development, structural adjustment, liberal economy, civil society (do not even get me started on this one which I think is the vaguest of all) in development, now insurance against drought.

        My personal conclusion is that the grand plans of poverty alleviation and development have failed, but the industry behind these plans has become a monster which is hard to restructure let alone get rid of. It is hard because partly there is a lot of money and interest involved in countries which sponsor the industry as well as in aid recipient countries, and partly because of collective ignorance about the motives of global welfare-ism. I was very surprised to still (in 2006) read that there is detachment between what is needed in poor countries and what NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are offering to alleviate poverty. I was surprised because I was out of the aid loop for six years, and all that anxiety about what I might have been missing was for nothing. Aparently, everything is as I had known it for the past 16 years. Exactly the same. When people in Ethiopia need some basic medical equipment as Andrew Heavens’ of Meskel Square points out, Bono envisages internet connection for them… Although I admire the commitment of Western artists to help the poor in some remote continent, the sad fact is that development is still not run professionally though we have noticed time and again that just good will is not enough.

        Old news, new media?

        It was also amusing to read (in 2006) that donor countries have personal interests to satisfy via development aid. The fact that this is still news is news to me. The danger of dwelling on these old issues is that it prevents us from focusing on the failure of the whole ‘making poverty history’ and development plans. Therefore, finding alternative solutions is indefinitely postponed.

        M of Thinker’s Room is spot on in his Get Real: Poverty Eradication 101 piece. The US, for example, would buy corn from its heavily government subsidized farmers, use US transport companies to move the corn and US NGOs to distribute it on the field… Neither such self-serving involvements in “foreign aid” nor disguising it under the pretext of pure humanitarian, compassionate, unselfish intentions is new. One of the major factors for the birth of the Marshall Plan in 1947 was precisely that – pour American tax payers money into Europe, but Europe has to buy stuff and services from America only… However, when George Marshall, the then Secretary of State, delivered his famous speech at Harvard University he (I’m sure) did not blink when he said “Our policy is directed not against any country [i.e. Russia] or doctrine [i.e. communism] but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.” However, twisted the truth was, the speech still made it as one of the top 100 American speeches.

        Despite all that, the Marshall Plan helped Europe back on its feet. Some progressed slower than others, but they progressed nonetheless. Jeffry Turcker argues that it was not the aid that helped European economy, rather it is free market. What the Marshall Plan provided was a psychological help. The billion dollar question here is, why did Europe manage to pull itself up much quicker with the help of ‘foreign aid’ or "expensive therapy", and Africa is still where it is despite decades of ‘foreign aid’? Simple! Europe had the manpower to rebuild the continent, and Africa does not. Europe did not have such corrupt governments, which stifle development and Africa does. America has not closed its doors for European goods like current trade policies do to African goods and services. I think that is it. Unless, the corruption illness is cured in Africa, development and the dream of “making poverty history” are not going to see the light of day. The aid industry will continue prescribing different medications, and the illness will still be there.

        The crux of the matter

        The same issues that we are lamenting about regarding Africa and the foreign aid saga were pretty much the issues surrounding the Marshall Plan in 1947. It was used to gain domestic political control, distract the general public from larger issues, according to Jeffry Tucker, to benefit large corporations which were on the government side, enforce US hegemony and strategic geographic placing of the US to keep Russian communism from expanding in Europe, basically anything but purely willingness to fighting “…hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos” out of the goodness of the US government. Still, it helped Europe. I really do not care much for the argument around what type of help it was. The fact is, it did help. Of course, there might be certain side-effects. Every medicine has a side effect.

        The ranting is obscuring my point, I think. My point is that we have to think of corruption and lack of manpower in Africa as one of the major obstacles for development. Corruption comes in different shapes and sizes. It varies from simple swindling money to creating complex networks of thieves to using aid money to buy weapons and kill… The current mechanisms are obviously not working. Therefore, it is time for a radical alternative. Unfortunately, the alternatives that have been prescribed are addressing the wrong issues. The alternative needed now should address corruption from local government bureaucrats somewhere in the country of Africa to corporations behind each donor country. Simply changing the development agents from missionaries to volunteers to ‘development experts’ to civil society (whoever that may be) to singers and actors is not going to solve the problem. More money I (really) believe is not the answer either. There seem to be renewed commitment to come together globally and electronically (like the ONE campaign)to put poverty back in the global agenda and raise awareness… Poverty has never been off the agenda otherwise we would have been seeing T.V. images of thousands of aid workers striking because their industry has shut down and they are out of work like steel workers in some state of the US. Awareness about poverty has not dwindled either. Rather, it is the interest that is understandably dying. Who would blame anybody who is getting tired of hearing the same miserable story for the past half a century?

        A re-starting point

        I have bashed enough so I think I’m now expected to suggest some solutions. Therefore, here are my alternative wishes for TED to replace the ones it has rejected.

        A global poverty awareness campaign

        But, the campaign is not going to deafen people reiterating how poor some nations are, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa… It is going to focus on educating people why such nations stay poor, and how the authorities who collect people’s taxes did not really care looking at the underlying causes of poverty. People then would be well informed and, if there is the will, influence the way the aid industry operates on their behalf.

        This campaign should also teach people what poverty means in different contexts. To this day, I do not understand how the UNDP development index decides what the poverty line should be for every body. ‘Living on a dollar a day” is the common tear jerking line I hear these days. A dollar is 9 Birr (the Ethiopian currency) and there are millions of people who would settle for half of that to not feel poor. When I was doing a research on poverty and alternative development in Western Ethiopia, I was interviewing people who were labeled poor therefore were accepting aid from the NGO I was doing the research for. I basically wanted them to define poverty and development for me because my fellow classmates back in The Netherlands and I were having a hard time defining them (what does that tell you?) I was blown and humbled by the definitions I got and my favourite one 11 years on is by a woman who said “Poverty is when I lose all my limbs and my sight and I become totally dependant on others, and development is when my neighbour helps me up when I fall.” Is that deep or what? I am sure it has lost some of its beauty because it was translated from her language (Oromigna) to mine (Amharic) and now to English. This, I feel is important because it will help stop playing with emotions to raise more money in the name of poverty.

        The concept of raising awareness for fair trade is going to be a dodgy one, but I will say it anyway because there isn’t really much to be lost. It is dodgy because it is asking people to choose between what is fair against the interest of one of their own in favour of some poor person somewhere far away. Still, it is worth taking a shot.

        We have witnessed campaigns against companies from shoe makers to pharmaceutical companies, which gave birth to corporate social responsibility. Some things have been achieved globally, and I think it is time to turn the heat on the aid industry to have similar achievements. I am not advocating for a blind bashing against everybody. Collect the facts and show the weak links. I do not subscribe to the notion that every Westerner who goes to Africa to help is a culprit. I was fortunate to have worked in the industry both in Ethiopia (the ‘expert’ receiving end) and Belgium (‘expert’ and policy providing end). The collective ignorance I was talking about earlier also applies to volunteers who sincerely wish to make the world a better place. I also do not buy the argument that without working against African poverty, these expatriates would have been nobody in their own countries…

        Forming an independent program and finance auditing body

        I am envisioning a group of experts in a wide range of fields advising Western governments, donors, local governments and NGOs. Amongst the lessons that the aid industry can learn from other industries – commonly differentiated from the first with the confusing label ‘for profit’ as if there is such a thing as ‘non-profit’ – is that there is a reason why others invest millions in consultancy work. If this consultancy group consists of people from different backgrounds and countries, and if it is structured in such a way that decisions are democratically reached, I do not see why corruption cannot be avoided.

        This consultancy group will:

        - evaluate big project proposals thereby putting an end to programs that have no direct relation to poverty alleviation and sustainable development. There are thousands of such examples ranging from providing thousands of Somali nomad children in Ethiopia with chalk boards and teaching them the English alphabet and the song Kumbaya My Lord to building state-of-the-art health care facility in an area where there is no reliable water supply… Real retarded projects have been implemented and they will continue to be implemented because somebody is benefiting from all these seemingly stupid ideas and/or the stupidity well and truely reigns in the aid industry.

        - It has to make sure that the programs are what the people who are supposed to benefit from them can run on their own. In other words no super fancy stuff. This is not a new concept, but it still is waiting to become a reality. If delivering medicine in some remote area is a problem then ask a local what is needed. You will be amazed how sometimes the simplest solutions such as using a mule or a couple of bicycles are more effective than a gigantic Land Cruiser, which no one knows how to fix when it breaks.

        - It has to be a sort of advisor for local communities on looking for alternative ways of bringing income. It is mind boggling how 80% of Ethiopians are still dependent on subsistent farming – generations after generations. And for what? Is it impossible to help them develop other skills and establish alternative (I am big on alternatives, I know) income generating means?

        Lessons NOT learnt

        Here I would like to go back to Andrew Heavens' crucial question as why nobody else except Ethan Zuckerman said anything about TED rejecting Bono’s wish because it is symptomatic of the way in which the whole aid industry is operating. Working for three years in an association of NGOs in Ethiopia, I had not once heard a report on bad project planning and management. Not once. And I was an information officer therefore I would have heard it directly or indirectly. So, I question who is out there helping the aid industry accountable for its mistakes, idiosyncrasies, cock up, bluffing...?

        I would like to propose the following. As an initial stage, create a forum for past, present and prospective aid workers to share their experiences anonymously. If we compile enough stories, the next step will be to decide and influence public opinion and policy on aid. Only when the aid industry is treated like all other industries – close scrutiny, public pressure to drop bad practices and improve performance, is it possible to reform it. So, here is a blog site called Post Card from Abyss where people can share stories of big and small mistakes made and lessons learnt or not. Give me a moment to tweak it and get it up and running. If there is already compiled information somewhere out there, forget this project and let us see how we can use such data to influence policy. I hope this helps a little.

        Relevant links
        Marshall Plan
        Drought insurance
        Drought in East Africa
        2015 - End of poverty
        Old paper on foreign aid for development
        posted by Fikirte @ 10:07 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Friday, March 10, 2006
        A tip for anti-poverty campaigners: if the rich won’t see the poor, bring the poor to the rich.
        There is a huge lesson that the US can learn from Argentina in making poverty more visible by letting poor people hang out in affluent areas. Raul Castells, whom BBC online calls a radical activist, has opened a soup kitchen in the richest part of Buenos Aires where the poor can enjoy free meals while checking out the rich across the street. The general idea is summarized on a board above the small building of the soup kitchen: “we are fighting for an Argentina in which the dogs of the rich don't eat better than the children of the poor". How brave is that?

        I know that people in the US generously give to charities several times a year although “charity” includes giving to Boys and Girl Scouts, neighborhood beautification, lover of stray dogs and other non-poverty related causes. However, I feel that the real magnitude of poverty in America is somewhat abstract to most. Even to those who are a pay check away from poverty see poverty in the context of the “Third World”. “This is the USA and this should happen in those countries in the Third World” was a common comment by victims of Hurricane Katrina who six months on still have very little help. I totally understand their frustration, which by the way must have come from the disconnect between the expression “the greatest country in the world” and the reality for the majority of the poor in the affected places like New Orleans. The greatest nation has to learn to take care of the poor.

        That takes me to the next overrated saying that everybody has a choice in the US. True and false. It is true because this is one country where anybody can make it big at least financially and materially if they work hard. It is at the same time false because there are those who don’t have the resources to even explore what choices they have. Therefore, I argue, until my veins pop, that this expression is taken out of context – historical, political, racial, social, economic whatever else… context. The expression is, if anything, inhumane, uncompassionate (whether conservative or liberal) and un-Christian (85% of Americans are Christians so this counts as well) because it is really saying “I won’t help you because you can’t help yourself.” Where is the love? I’m not mindlessly picking on the US, but it’s just because compared to the rest of ‘the most affluent nations’ America has for example the most poor children – one in four, to be precise. And to make things worst, government funding for the poor is being cut left right and center. So where is the compassion?

        It would have been nice to have a Raul Castells in Orlando when a few years ago the City was trying to sweep away all the poor on the streets of down town to one corner because they are an eye-sore and they deter businesses from investing in down town of The City Beautiful. Sweeping such issues under the carpet won’t make the problem go away. Sooner or later somebody would lift the carpet or accidentally trip on the carpet, and we find that whatever we stashed under there has either multiplied or rotted or both, making it more difficult to clean up. Accidental is used here both literally and in the same way that my kids use it: I lifted my hand and I “accidentally put it” on – adult translation, “hit” - my sister.

        Actually, there is also a lesson from Ethiopia here. Ethiopia has not recovered from trying to hide the 1973 famine. Not because we are still faced with famine, but because of the political events that took place after Jonathan Dimbleby exposed the famine to the world. Although he was satisfied that famine was not going to be hush hush in Ethiopia any longer, he still doubted about the effect that had on the country’s political life. He called it “the biggest ‘but’ of my life”. I still wonder where Ethiopia would have been politically and economically had Haile Selassie dealt with the famine differently. I wish we were able to turn the clock back like Harry Potter and Hermani did in the Prison of Azkaban to fix past mess. Now I’m going back to bed and mentally travel through my past to fix my own mess.

        Interesting articles:
        Understanding poverty in the US
        Poverty not top of the list for Americans
        Poor kids in the US
        Just get married, and you shall be rich
        Get real with poverty in the US
        Poverty exposed by Gulf Hurricanes of 2005
        posted by Fikirte @ 5:42 AM   1 comments Digg!
        Wednesday, March 08, 2006
        Honoring African Women
        This was such a neat idea of Sokari to honor African women today - International Women's Day. Thank you.

        I was in no mood nor in a positive frame of mind to say anything worthwhile. So, I thought I would take time off from it all and read a book. The beauty of working from! I picked up Kurt Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday, Wanda June because it was a skinny book and because it was the first book I saw lying around… In the first paragraph of the first page there is a sentence that reads…

        During the Second World War [Vonnegut] served in Europe and, as a prisoner of war in Germany, he witnessed the destruction of Dresden… It was from this profoundly disturbing experience that his most celebrated novel, Slaughterhouse – Five, arose – a novel which lifted him into the front rank of contemporary American novelists.

        This inspired me to participate in honoring of African women, and I sure am glad I didn’t miss this opportunity because of my own petty miseries. Therefore, I would like to honor all those African women who haven’t and will not write their stories arising from their “…profoundly disturbing experience”. This is in honor of African women who try to pick up the pieces after bloody wars, and provide some sort of stability to their children. This is for the African mothers who are feeding their children first although they are starving themselves. This is for the millions of African women refugees who walk bare foot with their children clinging to them for miles on end in search of a safer place for their families. Here is for the African mothers who are struggling to feed their children if only every other day. Here is for the African mothers who are keeping Africa together the best they can while they are not only witnesses (like Vonnegut) of wars, genocide, hunger, rape, starvation, illiteracy, diseases, poverty, degradation and violence, but are the victims as well. I am honored to be in the same category of female specie as you. May your daughters see much better days!!!
        posted by Fikirte @ 4:49 PM   1 comments Digg!
        Sunday, March 05, 2006
        All that glitters is not clean
        There is clean gold. There is dirty gold. And, it is a matter of life and death that people know about it. Read about it here, then take some action.
        posted by Fikirte @ 10:54 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Friday, March 03, 2006
        More comments until I find new topics...
        I invited my good friend Dr. David Wickstead to comment on cooperation as the foundation of societal development and civilization, and here is what he said...

        No surprise there. Civilisation started when we were able to grow surplus crops and allow some people to do non food collecting activities for the benefit of society - I'll get you some food if you build me a house, or play me some music or paint a picture.

        But recently with capitalism and materialism becoming (especially in the West, but
        envied in the rest of the world) accepted as the "right way" to do things we have celebrated the individual succeeding and obtaining material wealth - inevitably at the expense of others. Looking after those who can't contribute material wealth to your society is a mark of civilisation but is too costly for those who want to maximise their own wealth and material possessions. For good cooperation (and a civilised society) each individual or group has to be prepared to give up their position of power and share it equally with others. This goes for relationships between men and women where men have held more power than women for too long, it goes for business partnerships and it goes for international power politics. There will always be unrest while the US perceives itself and is perceived as having more power than any other nation. Unequal partnerships do not result in good co-operaton but coercion,
        and the weaker partner feeling used and abused - hardly the mark of civilisation.

        Then he got carried away and said this about freedom of speech...

        Republishing cartoons: you would never have published unless you'd seen people getting upset. That the cartoons had been published is not free speech, but intimidation. Given the news of the deaths that have ensued because of the publication, republication is akin to incitement to hatred or even murder. That is a murder as well as a moral crime. It smacks to me of the action of a bully.... but bullies intimidate usually because they are frightened and I am sure that "the West" is frightened of Islam because it doesn't know or understand it enough. We are afraid of the unknown. We don't know enough about Islam to be confidant that the suicide bomber is alien to most Muslims’ understanding of what is morally right.

        We in the West cherish "free speech" and "democracy" as the most important things that make us civilised and criticise other nations for not adopting our versions of them. We have the luxury of wealth to do this. If you take Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs free speech comes after water, food, shelter, security, love. In fact at the top of Maslow's pyramid is self actualisation - and we in the West would probably say that that meant individual success, material wealth and the freedom to say whatever you want whatever the consequences for others....but what about making yourself equal to others so true co-opration can take place and civilisation is achieved.

        Phew. Thanks, Dave. Come back to my blog site every time you need to vent. By the way, making you write these comments was my retaliation against you for not prescribing any medication for my headaches 13 years ago, and making me drink water instead . Sweet revenge!
        posted by Fikirte @ 7:02 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Thursday, March 02, 2006
        I say look to South Africa
        This is going to sound a bit like Marcus Garvey's 1927 "Look to Africa..." sermon. Still, I say to Sub-Saharan Africa, look to South Africa and be inspired. Be very inspired!

        South Africa still has a lot of mess to clean up. However, it must be doing something right and/or clever for it to be considered an important partner of the European Union. The EU's 25 nations are this close to giving South Africa equal trade partnership status as the US, Russia, China and the other biggies. It now has "preferred partnership" with the EU. Whatever "preferred partnership" is, I really don't mind. It sure must be better than nothing, and it sounds intimate enough.

        The development boss of the EU, Louis Michel - the man to impress - is now convinced that Africa is geo-strategically of importance to Europe. Well nothing in life is free! And, he is happy to announce that African countries do not have to deal with individual donors and the European Commission, and.... for developement dealings. Better late than never, and better one gigantic monster than several little ones! If you get tempted to ask whether partnership with the West is a good thing for Africa... I would like to answer that with an Ethiopian saying before you even ask. Either be born of a rich family or make aquaintances with the rich, goes the saying. No options there with globalization and all.

        So again I say to Sub-Saharan Africa, Look to South Africa, where a nation shall be crowned for the day of equal partnership with the West is near.

        You can read the full report here.

        And while you're at it...
        Tsotsi - a South African Oscar nominated movie
        Background info. on South Africa
        See South Africa
        Oprah has said go to South Africa
        posted by Fikirte @ 5:38 PM   3 comments Digg!
        A passionate comment about corruption.
        This was in my comment box under Easier times ahead for the corrupt in Africa, but I decided to post it because it makes me look as if I know what I'm talking about....

        If I start a blog on the corruption of African leaders it will be longer than the Nile River.

        In Kenya, a country in which most people live on a dollar a day, the Parliament has just voted for their members of Parliament (please tell me there is a conflict there) for an allowance of $656.00 per day or close thereto when they travel to the US. The allowance is higher depending on what country they travel to. In most of these cases they are traveling to meetings with donors to ask for more aid or a waiver of the current foreign debt. By the way this is in addition to a $4000.00 per month salary for non-cabinet ministers. Other perks include a cook, (otherwise known as a chef), a nanny or two depending on how many kids they have and a driver, all paid for by the State.

        What these same characters spend in two days on gas for their expensive cars paid for by tax payers' money is enough to educate all the kids in elementary school for eight years. The two day seminar was on money management. [Go figure!] There is no end to their folly.

        This sad tale reminds me of an alcoholic. If his mother continues to give him money and cancel his debts she becomes an ENABLER. The World Bank, IMF, OXFAM, the UN and many other international agencies make half-hearted threats to the government to toe the line in respect of corruption. The line is toed for two miles and all is forgiven or famine breaks out and all is forgotten.

        Why do they do this, you wonder? Simple answer, because they created the fork in the road and with promises of economic freedom enticed Kenya to attempt the impossible. That is partly what caused the country to split asunder. In the 80's they peddled Structural Adjustment Programs as the blueprint for development and solution to all political ills. Ten years later, Oops!Wrong number...IMF and WB's theories were different, truly a fork in the road. Kenya followed both and the rest is history. I said before that the graduate student gets his degree whether his dissertation derails a nation or not.

        I agree that logically if the politicians built the country's wealth up first it would sustain their greed. Instead of milking the cow while they give it the best feed so it can multiply and fill the place with lots of grade cows so that if they steal one or two they go unnoticed, they try to drink the milk and eat the beef from the same cow, at the same time. They are then surprised when they are caught with the blood of the one and only cow on their hands.

        It is time for change. Oops! Change came by way of the elections of 2002 but again, sometimes the more we change the more we mean the same thing...(Animal Farm: George Orwell).

        It is a zoo out there!
        posted by Fikirte @ 8:33 AM   0 comments Digg!
        The face of VAW

        Kamilat - victim of acid burning The face of VAW - violence against women. It should and can be stopped with enough commitment. Helping one woman at a time is a start.
        Go to the blog
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