The Concoction

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

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        Wednesday, May 31, 2006
        When terror becomes the norm
        The human brain or heart (or which ever organ is responsible for this) is an amazing thing. It truly gets tougher when the going gets tough. It becomes so tough that it starts distorting external information and processes it in such a way that we start believing that a dangerous situation is normal.

        Last week, I read this article about a young Somali guy describing the civil war there as "becoming normal". You have to take it as normal to survive it. This article made me think about growing up in Ethiopia under Mengistu’s cruel rule.

        There was nothing normal about Mengistu or our lives – now looking back. We were told where to do food shopping, what to wear, what to watch on TV, what books to read, which part and version of world history to learn, where to work, what time to go home and on and on and on… It was all normal and even funny.

        My siblings and I were too young to be directly affected by the Red Terror. We still did not miss the "action" though because teenagers and college students in my neighborhood chose our house as a place to hang out at when the local police came looking for any congregation of young people, which was forbidden by law. They disburse from their political meetings and some of them would run into our house while my parents were away and start playing table tennis. It was very irresponsible of them to use us, but we survived it.

        The police would barge into our compound to see what was going on, and always leave after telling us off for being bourgeois for owning table tennis stuff. Little did they know that the table was made by our carpenter neighbor and had an uneven surface which caused that annoyingly bouncy ball to fly all over the place when it hit a dent at a certain angle. Even that became normal and we became good at anticipating where the ball was going to fly to, hit it back and still score a point. What the hell was so bourgeois about that?

        On one hand they showed us on TV Russian bourgeois living in mansions wearing mink coats… as Saturday night movie night, and on the other hand they equated my family with the filthy rich in pre-communist Russia just because we had an uneven surfaced table for tennis. Very confusing.

        At high school, the fun level went to a higher level. My parents were pretty frazzled by then because all of us reached an interesting age for the local police to hunt us down. I remember having Social Studies classes, which the Ministry of Education should have called socialism studies because all I was taught was Marxism-Leninism stuff. Ironically, the Social Studies class came right after our Moral Studies, which was all about the Bible. In retrospect, it is a wonder how our Social studies teacher managed to get up every morning to come to our school to teach that dreary stuff with us screaming our insults at Marx, Engles and Lenin, and mocking socialism. It is a bigger wonder how we did not get in trouble with the government.

        Now it is interesting to think back about the habits we developed as a family to stay safe. The simplest thing as a knock on the gate after dark (it gets dark around 6:45pm) initiates the following drill. A quick head count to see who has not come home yet, if all family members are there, boys go up the roof (you never know when they come to draft you for military service), mom checks the outside light (if it is not on somebody is going to jail on charges of assisting anti-revolutionary groups to sabotage the revolution hiding in the dark – such paranoia), girls sit tight pretending to be cool, but the eyes always gave away deep fears, and dad opens the gate. Only once every two/three years, it was an unwanted visitor (a local police making noise about the stupidest shit ever). Still, every knock was treated the same. Every time. The nightly shootings were music to our ears. It was the knock that would get us. How strange. In fact, the shooting-free nights used to cause a lot of speculation. Why is it quiet tonight? I wonder why the local police are not drunk and shooting aimlessly? May be they are in a meeting for something big...

        Then we went to college and automatically became prime suspects for anti-revolutionary ideas and activities. To be honest, we were interested in what college students are interested in and revolutionary stuff was just a source of gut-busting jokes. We were jealous that our seniors were taken in the most rural areas to build houses and develop Ethiopia.

        The only thing my peers got was to wear that hideous Korean- influenced uniform and march in front of Mengistu celebrating the anniversary of the revolution. We had fun making tight mini-skirts and mini jackets with gigantic shoulder pads and argue that we were wearing the revolutionary uniform (if they were too cheap to provide the uniforms, then we had the right to start a fashion competition.) To this day I wonder what possessed us to break the line and start screaming and running just when we passed Mengistu during the march. We were supposed to do all the military style marching, turn to the right and salute him, then look straight ahead and keep on marching. It went completely wrong and we were told how mad he was with us… We thought it was funny. We were high with excitement that we walked all the way back to the University – still laughing and screaming. When I got home that afternoon, my mom was disappointed that they skipped the University marching on the live broadcast on TV. When I told her what we did, she was initially laughing then it suddenly hit her. We might get arrested for that. She started spiting one order after the other – don’t go to the Uni for a week, ask so and so’s father who’s connected if he heard any rumors, go to your Godmother’s house for a week…. Nothing happened to us. Nothing! Unbelievable.

        Now looking back, I wonder how all my peers and siblings did not turn into revolutionary freaks after growing up on nothing but revolutionary crap. Media, books, the national curriculum, entertainment, schools – everything that was supposed to shape our knowledge and consciousness was totally controlled by Mengistu’s government. And yet, we bought none of it. Do people have a built-in mechanism to filter out propaganda bullshit? I don’t know.
        posted by Fikirte @ 10:11 AM   1 comments Digg!
        Thursday, May 25, 2006
        International research competition

        The International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank Group and the Financial Times announce the first annual international private sector development
        research competition.

        The competition entitled "Business and Development: The private path to
        is now inviting high quality research papers on role of
        private sector in emerging markets.

        Several awards totaling up to US$90,000 will be granted. The first
        prize carries an award of $30,000.

        Terms and conditions
        Online submission form

        Good luck ya'll!
        posted by Fikirte @ 8:57 PM   0 comments Digg!
        P.S. To Gordon Brown

        In my original post to you, I said that I don’t want any vague and dodgy items in the financial reports of African governments and companies which do business with them. Here are some examples from the US that I don’t want repeated in Africa.

        p.p.s (To my anonymous reader who gets upset when I link to other sites and ask my readers' opinions) Please send me your subscription code and I will refund you, in full, because this one is all about the link. Again. Can't please every one now, can I?
        posted by Fikirte @ 12:07 PM   0 comments Digg!
        Wednesday, May 24, 2006
        Live Webcast discussion with Dr. Amartya Sen
        Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, a professor at Harvard, held a discussion session at Eugene Black Auditorium in Washington DC on his recent book "Identity and Violence: The illusion of Destiny". Dr. Sen challenges "the reductionist view that people of the world can be partitioned into civilizational categories that reinforce our differences, [and] draws on history, economics science, literature and offers a vision of a world that can be made to move toward peace as firmly as it has spiraled in recent years toward violence and war."

        The World Bank with B-SPAN organized a webcast for members of Development Gateway. I managed to login 30 minutes into Dr. Sen's presentation, but I at least followed the Q&A session.

        Here are some of the comments that I find interesting.

        Open dialogue and freedom of speech are crucial in helping narrow cultural gaps. This I find particularly significant at a time where blog sites are being blocked and bloggers are detained. It is frustrating to have ones hopes high for a country only to witness it regress rapidly by denying its citizens one of the basic rights - freedom of speech.

        While addressing the issue of mono/multi culturalism, Dr. Sen used the comparison between Great Britain and the US. In GB, people from common wealth countries can vote while in the use non-Americans with permanent residence permit cannot. He also mentioned that the GB social security system is less discriminatory (documents are available in major non-English languages for example.)

        There was a question by a guy from the World Bank about people who have not been exposed to globalization of identities. He was going on about people in the auditorium having been exposed to global identity because they travel blah blah blah. I was sitting behind my computer screen (with my hungry kids begging for snack) thinking the Bank is so out of it so detached from it all and operating in a bubble. He went on saying that perhaps not being exposed to global identity is the salvation to such people - more blah blah blah.

        Dr. Sen's answer was very satisfying. He said that such an elitist way of thinking that the majority of people in the world will not understand the magnitude of globalization is misleading. He gave examples of ordinary people in ancient history understanding exactly what globalization was then. He also mentioned that anti-globalization campaigners - the largest global movement today - is mostly kept alive by ordinary people.

        A Canadian professor who lives in the US raised the issue of "self-segregation" in the US. She wondered how far society has come after the civil rights movement of the 70s considering that neighborhoods, schools and collages are still segregated. Unfortunately, Dr. Sen wanted to talk to the Professor afterwards over coffee leaving me hanging there. The World Bank should have explained to him that the whole thing is being broadcast live online, and he has to give some sort of answer to satisfy those who are not physically with him. I told you the World Bank is out of it. Dr. Sen said something along the lines of the US has its weaknesses and strengths like any other country. Ok, Doc I didn't starve my children to hear this as an answer because that much I figured out on my own.

        This was my first live online thing to 'participate' in and I felt more privileged than those who were sitting in the auditorium (until the children started begging for food and Dr. Sen kept on saying he would like to discuss something further over wine and coffee). I don't have to turn around and see the person who's speaking for example because I have a bird's eye view on my screen. I can pick my nose and nobody could see - ok I'm being silly now.

        Dr. Sen’s other books include "On Ethics and Economics", "Development as Freedom" and "The Argumentative Indian"

        I was excited to see what the pros say about civilization after my blasting of the notions of being developed and civilized, and how we are not that different from each other. I also tried to argue (I was just making fun then, but now that a Nobel Laureate is saying it, I’m trying to sound serious) that we can challenge culturally based perceived norms with the help of science.

        It was a shame that I missed 30 minutes of Dr. Sen's presentation and I felt the Q&A session was a bit dry and blah. But at least I experienced a live online broadcast.
        posted by Fikirte @ 7:18 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Tuesday, May 23, 2006
        This is to Gordon Brown
        According to the Financial Times, you are going to demand that "developing countries and the companies that do business there should disclose the amount of money paid in taxes to government coffers to help curb corruption."

        Atta, boy!

        From the onset I am going to forward my own demands for your demand (in case you are a blog junkie and end up at my blogsite)

        1. I want this demand to be followed up with some serious action after the meeting.
        2. I really don’t want to see the following words in any documents dealing with the transparency demand
        - not legally binding
        - voluntary
        - non-mandatory
        - exceptions
        - by the year 20XX

        3. I want to see a list of consequences for those who cannot meet the demand.
        4. I want corruption and transparency to be defined by Transparency International, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, will add as I think of others.
        5. I want to see a binding document that will help Transparency International reclaim stolen money from Africa safely deposited western banks.
        6. Extended and unjustified trips, family members tagging along on business trips, any expense under a vague item such as miscellaneous and gratuity should be punishable by law.

        Thank you Mr. Brown, come back and read more of my future demands.
        posted by Fikirte @ 7:33 AM   1 comments Digg!
        Africa's new sponsors
        I found this article after I posted the last rant on China and Africa. I guess the message of this post should be (which is really spelling out the same massage from the last post) there is no need looking for faults of each country that is starting a relationship with Africa because every country has some dirt tacked away somewhere. It is not helpful either to be paranoid about the benefit that these countries may get out of Africa because they are there first for their own interest. Let's also not get paranoid about a second wave of colonization.... The only thing I'm paranoid about is our leaders.
        posted by Fikirte @ 7:09 AM   0 comments Digg!
        China – again!
        Black River Eagle at Jewels in the Junglehas asked me to return to the topic of China in Africa. I can oblige now. My first post on the topic, East-West pull on Africa, was about the contradictions of international aid for Africa. While I was reading different online news and analysis on the Sino-Afro intensifying love affair, one thought that persisted was how good a mixture of Sino-West international aid policy would have benefited Africa.

        Good things from China
        China is not afraid of investing in what the West has been shying away from or deliberately ignoring. China is not intimidated by railways, power stations, free trade, debt cancellation, bridges and roads. These are infrastructures and policies that Africa desperately needs. In short, China goes way beyond band aid treatment to address poverty in Africa.

        Worrying things from China
        I still find China’s disregard for human rights both domestically and internationally worrying. However, I do not hold China personally accountable for human rights violations in Africa. At the end of the day, it is African leaders who should be responsible for the people of Africa and should be held accountable for the mess they create. Still, it would help if China dangles the carrot slightly out of reach every time African leaders violet human rights if anything out of humanity to the people of Africa.

        The line between China and some Western countries is very fine and at times non-existent regarding human rights. The US has some troubling human rights records as well even though it is good at wagging its fingers at other countries. I am sure it was embarrassing for the US to be voted off the UN Human Rights Commission in 2003. It is continuing ignoring human rights violations by continuing to support governments which clearly violet human rights. The US is looking away while human rights are clearly violated in Ethiopia because it is an ally in the war against terrorism (via Meskel Square) The Swiss and other Western European banks happily stash away money stolen from African poor people.

        This does not mean that China’s renewed love affair with Africa, given its own human rights records, should not worry us. It is just a matter of choosing a lesser evil.

        How about India? May be Africa should turn to India – the oldest democracy, understands the aftermath of colonization, should have empathy about the complexity of ethnic diversity, is huge on education and can provide affordable medicine. If anything both China and India should inspire Africa to come up with its own type of development. Now is the time to do it while the African Commission is staging a meeting on development to "discuss how to put development into practise." Screeeeeetch! Excuse us for the technical difficulties over the last five decades, folks. We’re starting all over again!
        posted by Fikirte @ 7:04 AM   1 comments Digg!
        Monday, May 22, 2006
        Why isn’t a woman safe? Part II

        This is a follow up of my previous post on domestic violence.

        Why doesn’t the woman leave?

        I am embarrassed to admit that I asked this question several times before the training session opened my eyes. There are obvious and subtle reasons why a woman either stays or goes right back into a violent relationship. Before the details though, keep in mind this interesting fact. In the majority of the cases, it takes a woman up to seven times to finally get out of an abusive relationship.

        Who cares?
        I could feel myself sliding down in my chair with embarrassment when a battered woman in one of the training videos said "Who cares why I stayed? Why don't people ask why he beats me up repeatedly?" How very true! If you think about it, the question "why does the woman stay" insinuates that she is partly to blame while there should be absolutely no excuse that justifies abuse.

        Too much to risk
        Women stay in a relationship for three main reasons fear, hope and love. They are afraid that they may lose financial support, their children and respect from friends and families. They also fear that the violence would be worse and unfortunately, statistics supports their fear.

        How the situation gets even more complex when children are involved is anybody’s guess. What is alarming, however, is the fact that there is little coordination between the agencies that deal with domestic violence. An abuser can accuse the abused woman of neglecting or abusing children, and the Department of Children and Families will come knocking at the door to yank the kids out of the house. This is regardless of a report or two filed against the man for domestic violence. In some cases, women have even been told to put their house in order or else they might lose their children (while they are the battered in the relationship.

        A one-man-campaign
        At the heart of domestic violence lies the lust for power and control. It is more tiring to witness the campaign of a batterer than to watch politicians battling it out before elections. It really is. The lies, manipulation, accusation, maliciousness, mind games etc come after a batterer makes sure that his victim is isolated, completely hooked on him or whatever he uses as a bait and after he learns the weaknesses and strengths of his victim. Imagine the amount of time and energy required for this campaign.

        Apparently, most women could trace back the red flags that they saw earlier on when their batterer started the campaign. However, many choose to ignore the flags and the abuse escalates over time. Often, battery follows the subtlest psychological control – you’re not going out dressed like that, I called you and you don’t pick up your phone, where were you, why do you always have to see your friends, it's your fault that I'm jealous, I'm jealous because I love you... endless crap.

        In good hands
        I am very happy for battered women who end up at this organization for help. It is the most open non-profit organization that I have seen. They truly stick to their mission and are a shining example of what real charity/community service should be. I have seen how most NGOs conduct their businesses both in Ethiopia and in Europe. Working for networks and associations of NGOs has been particularly useful to learn about hundreds of these organizations. This is FYI of course in case you’re wondering who the hell I am to make such comparisons. This organization is all about helping women to grow carrots and no sticks. You are a battered woman first then everything else. If you are battered, you get help. It is as simple as that. You are a drug addict, you get help for battery. You are a lesbian, you get help for battery. You are an illegal immigrant, you get help for battery. You have gone back to your batterer for the ampteenth time, you get help as a battered woman. You have an attitude problem, you get help for battery. You are horizontally challenged (I’m obviously running out of examples), you get help for battery. During the training, one of the two things that was hammered into trainees was leave your prejudices at home. What a great principle to live by.

        The other thing that impressed me was the thoroughness of this organization. They studied how the Battered Women Movement started, placed it in a historical context, follow its progress and continue to work towards more improvements, sees the problem of women battery in a larger social context and design training/awareness sessions to influence the macho social framework. What started as a simple temporary shelter for battered women 25 years ago is now a successful advocacy and lobbying body. The metamorphosis came from the realization that there is no need just putting band aid on these women, give them a break for eight weeks and send them off back, most probably, to the batterer. People’s attitude about women, women’s attitude about themselves, the relationship between a man and a woman, the law, attitudes and knowledge of law enforcement agents, medical doctors, young children about domestic violence – all that needs to be updated. The organization does just that by giving training on domestic violence to law enforcement agents, businesses and medical people. It also provide information (I dare not say train them in case I hurt their egos) to law makers to have better laws to protect women.

        Training youth in their schools about date violence is my personal favorite. What a great way to nip violence in the bud.

        The power of language
        I used to think that sexist language is only bad because it is degrading to women… It is actually dangerous because it subtly messes up our frame of reference. For example, calling a tank top "wife beater" may seem harmless even funny. But surly it is going to make you go "hmmm, I wonder if he beats up his wife?" next time you see a guy in a tank top. What this does is that the careless and casual use of words such as "wife beater" makes it sound that it is normal for a wife to be beaten and it stereotypes people. It totally shifts our focus from Mr. Smooth who’s sharply dressed in designer clothes who is the actual wife beater to the poor sod who wears tank tops and dirty jeans, but rubs his wife’s feet every night. Even for battered women to realize that they are being battered is hard because of the stereotype of a "wife beater".

        In this organization battered woman are called survivors – not victims, not clients, not beneficiaries. Survivors. It follows the organization’s philosophy for empowerment-based advocacy. Remember that battery is used for power and control. Through the campaign of violence, the batterer has been eroding the woman’s self-esteem and power to rationalize. It will not help an awful lot if the organization she is fleeing to also treats her as a victim and tells her what to do. She has survived her domestic violence therefore she is more qualified about it than an advocate or a doctor or a policeman.

        Lessons for NGOs in Africa
        1. Go beyond treating signs and dare to challenge the status quo. If 85% of Ethiopians are subsistence farmers and are poor fundamentally because of bad land policy, work towards a better policy. Don’t just build an abattoir when they need animal feed. If corruption is the main reason why a country is poor, then God help you battling it out with powerful government officials.
        2. See yourself as a facilitator not a dictator.
        3. Leave people alone if they don’t want to convert to Christianity or if they want to walk around butt naked. It’s all good in its own cultural context.
        4. Recruit people on the basis of a comprehensive training and exam (passing grade above 75% please) on the histories and cultures of each country, region and village, the main reasons for poverty, how the people managed to survive, what worked and did not work in the past…
        5. You cannot fix somebody else’s problems. Get over it already!

        I wonder if Jeff Sachs and Bono would write an entirely different book on ending poverty if they receive this training. I wonder.

        If you are inspired to take action against domestic violence (I can sleep better tonight), Amnesty International has a website where you can learn more about it and help.

        Stay safe, help someone stay safe and don't ignore the red flags.
        posted by Fikirte @ 5:28 PM   0 comments Digg!
        Wednesday, May 17, 2006
        Apples and peaches

        Can we compare the two? Read this article and this one, and you let me know.
        posted by Fikirte @ 10:13 PM   0 comments Digg!
        Sunday, May 14, 2006
        Why is a woman still not safe in her home?
        You know how you listen to a song, you even sing along, but the words carry very little meaning to you? Tracy Chapman’s Why? and Behind the Wall were like that for me until last weekend. When Tracy sings about the policemen saying "they can't interfere with domestic affairs", of course I thought the bastards! But that was it.

        Because there are only about 2% of battered men, I will just write about women. Just a word of warning.

        The biggest Aha! moment
        Last weekend, I was in this super emotionally charged, superbly organized and highly enlightening training program to become an advocate for battered women and their children. I assumed that the training was going to be mostly about how to be sensitive to the women who come to the shelter, the procedures of helping them settle in their temporary home and help them with some information. I was very wrong.

        Over a period of three days, I learnt how to see the bigger picture (I thought I was good at that) and connect the smallest dots. The training was about the history of the Battered Women Movement (in the US), its historical context within other social movements such as the Civil Rights and Anti-Rape Movements; how painstakingly S…L...O...W the legal changes are to protect women; this s…l…o…w legal change put in a larger social structure, i.e. patriarchal; the economic, social and psychological factors of domestic violence; myths about battery; learning how to protect oneself both legally and emotionally when becoming an advocate. I tell ya, my brain was overflowing with information and the emotional turmoil was a bit too much.

        I came out of the training session really wondering about a nation calling itself "developed" which is often even confused with being "civilized". If "civilized" is defined as "bring from a savage or ignorant condition to a higher one (by giving education in methods of government, moral teaching, etc.)" – Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English, then there still is a lot of civilization to be achieved in most "developed" nations.

        Personally, the categorization of nations as developed and developing is over rated and I even see the danger it pauses in areas like gender issues. It is dangerous because it gives this false sense of achievement and leaves very little room for improvement. It is even used politically. How often have we heard Bush using "the greatest nation" rhetoric which often sounds like "just be grateful and shut up" if you read between the lines?

        Just two other examples why I think it is a dangerous frame of mind all across. Have you noticed Oprah commenting – repeatedly – "if you are a woman born in the US, you are lucky!" whenever she presents a program about, for instance, the Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia or the multiple burdens of women in war torn African countries? And yet, one in three women is a victim of domestic violence throughout the world. One in three! Then you wonder where the luck is in that? It is so easy to feel lucky living in the US than Darfur, but for all the money, education, information available in the US I would expect the 1:3 ration stand at 1:1000. Even then it is one too many.

        Another example is a personal account last weekend. Men deliberately infecting their female partners with sexually transmitted diseases in domestic violence was one fact that was mentioned, and I pointed out that it sounded like a tactic used in African civil wars. The person I was talking to said the obvious "I'm so glad I'm having my daughter here (the US)." Don't forget the 1:3 ratio now and we just got done learning that men batterers in the US, like their counterparts in Darfur, use infecting their partners, as a technique to control women. Still, the Darfur-US comparison hardly resonates with most Americans because economically there is no comparison between the two. The "we are much better off" feeling is obviously taken out of context here. I argue that people should have been much, much better off in the US. You wouldn't think that the US for example is second from the bottom of developed countries in its infant survival rates via Swamp CottageIn short, we should question what we are told (even expressions like you can't compare apples with peaches – oh yes you can! And, you'll be surprised how similar they are.)

        Staggering facts

        A nameless assault
        Apparently, until the 1970’s the act of beating a woman by a male partner had no name. If it does not have a name, then the perpetrator cannot be accused of a nameless assault. Now this violence has different names such as domestic violence, family violence, intimate partner violence, wife beating, conjugal violence, spouse abuse, marital assault, gender violence… Battery is defined as violence and abuse.

        Slow progress
        It wasn’t until 1994 - 14 years after the Battered Women Movement started – that the violence against women act was included in the law. Different states are currently at different stages with the progress of a more protective law. Finally, domestic violence is a felony not just misdemeanor in Florida as of a few weeks ago.

        I was loudly wondering how people who work in the organization I am about to start volunteering in can handle the frustration. In this type of business it is the small victories that make people keep on doing what they are doing, I was told. I shall remember that when I go to my first day of on-the-job-training tomorrow and through out my time with this organization.

        An alarming ratio
        I cannot get over the one-in-three ratio. At the beginning of the training session we were asked what we know about domestic violence and battered women, and I naively said that I don’t know anybody who even knows somebody who is battered… It was shocking to hear the one-in-three ratio and to find out later that out of the 13 female participants, 10 were survivors of battery.

        Calculated abuse
        Now that the law to protect woman is slowly improving, batters are also changing their tactics. Inflicting physical pain or injury in such a way that it does not leave a mark is becoming common in physical abuse. The law requires physical evidence or witnesses to charge a batterer with violence. The sad fact is that if a woman is strangled and she scratches her attacker in a panic, she goes to jail because the scratch marks are visible. How unfair is that?

        Oh no, not I
        In the same fashion that Katrina victims and spectators were saying that the hit areas looked like a "third world country", affluent and educated women often do not see themselves as "battered women". In the video that was used in the training, an educated woman living in an affluent suburbia said that she did not see herself as a battered woman although her husband had started beating her and locking her up in a room because a battered woman was supposed to be "an uneducated woman with milliards of babies and on welfare". The problem with such strong myths is that it blinds people from correctly assessing their situation and seeking a solution. Battery occurs across all educational, economic, cultural and racial divides. The statistics is also pretty much the same for these categories.

        For better or worse
        This training session left me wondering about even marriage. Statistics shows that marriage worsens violence - if the couple has had a violent relationship prior to marriage, that is. The reason for that is fascinating. It has to do with the sense of ownership that marriage gives men, and even changing the woman’s maiden name is a factor. If you think about it, it is the most retarded concept for the woman to change her name and take on her husband’s name. You have to excuse me here for I am from a culture where the woman keeps her name for better or worse.

        If rape is used as a weapon in a marriage, the likelihood of the woman being killed is a staggering 50-90%.

        Give me the sticks and stones anytime
        Verbal abuse is often not considered as battering. An overwhelming majority of battered women say that more than the physical abuse including rape, the verbal abuse has a lasting and detrimental effect. So, whoever came up with the saying "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words don’t hurt me"?

        To be continued…
        Why doesn’t the woman leave? What is a campaign of violence? What are the red flags? Why am I blown away by this organization? How can every language set us up for a disaster?
        posted by Fikirte @ 7:48 PM   2 comments Digg!
        Tuesday, May 09, 2006
        A spade is a spade
        Perhaps an Ethiopian doing charity work in the US sounds like the paradox of the century, but here I am involved in yet another charity work. This time in the US (the last times being in Ethiopia and Brussels).

        My next post will go into some disturbing details of what I have found out during a training session to become an advocate against domestic violence. But, this post is a sort of prelude to that and a general observation about the differences in charity/development work in Africa and the US.

        I find the contradictions in the concept of being "developed" and the difference in the use of language used in "developed" and "developing" nations when defining the same approaches very fascinating.

        Let us put things in perspective
        According to US News, there are more than 800,000 charity organizations in the US. Based on the fact that there are more than 20 charity organizations working in Parramore, a tiny area in the center of Orlando, Florida, is an indication that the majority of these 800,000 charity organizations operate in the US. I know charity organizations are very diverse in the US and some obscure ones are lumped up with serious ones, according to my definition of obscure and serious. You don’t expect me to have equal regard for an organization for sun gazers and another one working with battered women, do you?

        In 1992, the US adopted a foreign aid policy of "working more closely with NGOs in situations where governments are widely seen as corrupt." Previous arguments in favor of NGOs included inefficiency and inability of governments as well. In light of this, one cannot help wondering why there should be more than 800,000 charity organizations in the US. Does the corruption and inability argument apply to the US government? Or is there another explanation why charity organizations should pick up the pieces in areas such as mental health outreach programs, battered women, youth drug and alcohol prevention and control, pollution, environmental protection, housing, education…? Doesn't this indicate the government's failure in providing basic services to its citizens? It seems that American's prefer to give as little as possible to the government through taxes and support charities to do the real work.

        Personally, the shocker came before I got involved in charity work in the US and when I got a fund raising call from the local police department asking for contributions to buy - please hold on to something that can support you - bullet proof vests. I couldn't help asking the nice gentleman on the phone, 'shouldn't that be the government's responsibility?" And the reply was an even more surprising, "the government is stretched thin…" So am I, buddy. So am I.

        I hope that was just a scam. Honestly.

        Africa’s dependence on aid is widely criticized, lamented and resented. However, now that I have some degree of insider’s scoop on charity work in the US, I don’t see that much of a difference between the US and Africa. There would have been more gaping social differences in the US had it not been for strong charity organizations working in a wide range of areas.

        So let's call a spade a spade and cut the crap, please!

        The politics of language
        Remember all the fuss about whether it is politically correct to say tribal vs ethnic (tribe has the connotation of backwardness…), beneficiaries vs participants (beneficiary depicts dependency whereas participant is more empowering ["sounding", I shall add])? In the same fashion, the same humanitarian work is development when it is in Africa and charity in the US.

        Youth programs in Africa, for example, are very similar to programs in the US. Both focus on providing alternative life styles to disadvantaged/at risk youth, develop the skills of the youth to help them function in society, teach them socially acceptable behaviors etc. Still, it gets a different name when it crosses the waters and land in a different continent.

        Another example, I know this has nothing to do with charity work directly but I just can’t resist mentioning it here, is the loaded word lobbying. What is known as lobbying in the US is called bribery and corruption in Africa.

        What comes after being "developed"?
        The main reason for the linguistics disparity is rooted in the notion of development as a goal rather than a process. Rich countries are commonly called "developed" countries. They are supposed to be already there (where ever that is) and they are done with it (what ever that is). So, you would assume that there is nothing else that they are supposed to do once they gained the "developed" status. The little annoying social problems that just won’t go away are supposed to be addressed by charities. What this does in the US is that it justifies poverty, inequality and discrimination under the pretext that "people have a choice" to improve their situation. It shifts responsibilities from the government directly to the disadvantaged. It also paints this picture of the disadvantaged as pathetic losers who just sit on their lazy arse waiting for a handout.

        Development in contrast to charity is for poor nations. It will be highly confusing and self-defeating if the US talks about development programs because they are already "developed". Do you see the self-trap that rich countries put for themselves? Now, I’m feeling very proud of being a citizen of a developing country. At least it sounds as if it is moving, growing, changing, adopting to new socio-economic and political changes. I wish, I wish…

        When you analyze "development" in this way, you can’t help asking what next after being "developed"? In best case scenario – regressing and in worse case, decaying. Regressing is better because at least it leaves room to go back and fix things and move forward (and perhaps refuse to be "developed" – yeah right!) Development is seen as if it’s a human body that goes through conception, birth, childhood, youth, maturity and old age. So next is death for the developed?

        In all seriousness though, when you hear facts such as it is only in 1994 that domestic violence is added in the US law and only a few weeks ago Florida has made it a felony - not just a misdemeanor - to batter a woman in a domestic violence, the question what does being "developed" mean becomes more than just annoying. It becomes disturbing.
        posted by Fikirte @ 12:12 PM   2 comments Digg!
        Thursday, May 04, 2006
        East-West pull on Africa
        Photo credit: Africa Business
        Two news items which show the contradictions of international foreign aid prompted this post. First, BBC reported that the Dutch suspended aid to Kenya because they can’t bare the corruption in Kenya. Then, The Seattle Times tells us that China’s Hu was visiting Kenya and openly said that China is not going to meddle with Africa’s internal affairs.

        In our dealings with African countries, we follow the principle of noninterference in other countries' internal affairs," Hu said. "We stand ready to develop a new type of partnership featuring political mutual trust.

        There you have it!

        To win China’s approval however, African countries should slightly meddle with China’s internal affair and deny the sovereignty of Taiwan.

        In exchange, Kibaki promised to adhere to perhaps the most critical diplomatic plank in Chinese foreign policy — the "one China" principle, not recognizing the sovereignty of the island of Taiwan. No oil has been discovered in Kenya, but by agreeing to explore in six locations in northwest Kenya and in the Indian Ocean, China signaled both its hunger for new energy sources and its willingness to invest in areas of Africa that Western interests have largely ignored.

        How twisted!

        Aid ain’t free – get over it!
        Long blogs ago, I said that aid has never been free. And it will never be. Therefore, we shouldn’t waste time even thinking, let alone write, about China's benefit from Africa… Of course! The benefits are not just raw materials and a good dumping ground for cheap Chinese stuff, but also politically. China is gathering the support of most African countries to have more political leverage internationally - within the UN, for example.

        What we should concentrate on is what can be done with our own leaders! If African leaders were half way decent and if the political environment in the continent were conducive, aid would have improved a thing or two in Africa. Alas, we have corrupt, greedy, uncaring dictator monsters. Why should Hu care about Kenyans if Kibaki doesn’t?

        A sigh of relief
        Since John Githongo exposed the corruption within the Kenyan government, Kibaki’s government has been scrambling to clear its name. Desperate Kibaki even sought some divine intervention for the problem.

        Now he can sleep better because he can safely forget about good governance and human rights altogether.

        Most of Africa has greeted China's rising involvement as a welcome alternative to the United States and former colonial powers in Western Europe. In recent years, many Africans have come to resent conditions often placed on Western foreign aid, including adherence to good governance and human-rights practices.

        Worrying signs
        Although Chinese involvement in Africa is centuries old, the worrying fact is that the current fast paced Afro-China affair is going to sniffle out the battle for good governance and human rights – the keys to African development. With no outside pressure for good governance and human rights – yes, I am convinced that our politicians are not capable of self-rule – the type of development coming from China is going to be a few factories here, a few roads there, some fancy bridge in the middle of nowhere and African elite educated in Chinese.

        Chris Meliville and Olly Owen at Open Democracy must know something that I don’t to at least be enthusiastic about the “south-south cooperation” to say that it “may be more efficient and less wasteful than the west’s grand gestures – but it is no less self-interested.” My own emphasis, and rightfully so.

        This is not the first time for “south-south cooperation”. During the cold war, communist governments poured millions in Africa and all that was wasted. If sponsoring wars, keeping the poor poor(er), fueling corruption and killing the economy is not wasteful, then I don’t know what is.

        Are we, by the way, going to see Cold War style East – West pull on Africa? Oh boy! Perhaps it can be called the Warm War because China-America relationship is cosier than it was during the Cold War and this one is all about money.

        Blog posts on Afro-China affair
        Global Voices Online: African bloggers responded to the rise of China in Africa
        Jewels in the Jungle: China in Africa: The CNOOC Nigerian Oil Deal
        Coming Anarchy: Handicapped by values: the West vs China in Africa
        posted by Fikirte @ 12:12 PM   4 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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