Go forward by going back

Seeking a better understanding.

Archive for July 2009

It’s Institutions.

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Obama (and his speechwriters) have been reading their North, Rodrik and Greif:

Across Africa, we’ve seen countless examples of people taking control of their destiny and making change from the bottom up…

Now, make no mistake: History is on the side of these brave Africans, not with those who use coups or change constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.

…The people of Africa are ready to claim that future….With strong institutions and a strong will, I know that Africans can live their dreams in Nairobi and Lagos, Kigali, Kinshasa, Harare, and right here in Accra.

His reference to trade links with the US, however, were weak.

Written by Niall

July 11, 2009 at 7:01 pm

After the Rain

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That’s the english translation of the Xhosa song, Nomvula, from  Freshlyground (see previous post).

It’s the best song that I have on constant repeat these days.

Listen and watch on YouTube.

Written by Niall

July 6, 2009 at 9:56 am

MDG RIP?

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Damning words from Bill Easterly:

The United Nations today issued its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report 2009. To make a long story short, the accompanying press release says:

The assessment, launched today by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Geneva, warns that, despite many successes, overall progress has been too slow for most of the targets to be met by 2015.

Let’s face it: it’s over. The MDGs will not be met…

The MDGs warrant a world of merit for ambition and for providing a set of goals that the development community can target. However, the inability to . Development, expecially at the micro-level is not linear. Every project or program faces stops and starts, right turns and left. However, like the peak on the horizon everyone will reach it at a different time, following their own path. The development community can provide a better map and, maybe giving a lift to some countries, but to set a global expectation for achieving a goal in unison is to set expectations with ambition, not lucidity.

Easterly’s point about the lack of ownership over the MDGs is vivid.

WHO is to blame for missing the MDGs? Advocates enthusiastically advertised that 189 leaders signed the Millennium Declaration in 2000, but that was actually a sign of weakness rather than strength. Does an agreement have teeth when EVERYONE agrees – including many oppressive governments who had no more interest in alleviating poverty than in promoting Brussels sprouts? And if the agreement is broken, how can you find WHO is to blame, when 189 leaders (not to mention dozens of international organizations and NGOs) are COLLECTIVELY responsible?

I am optimistic that, in many settings, the combination of more stable governments, promotion of trade, and learning through development project experimentation ARE leading to an improved groath and development trajectory in poor countries.

Easterly doesn’t not want to give up on development just because the MDGs might not be met in all parts of the world. It would be a shame if this were to happen. But measuring of our work in development on grand plans and ambitious goals should not be the arbitor of success or failure.

Written by Niall

July 6, 2009 at 9:28 am

License to drive

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Going to any motor vehicle authority, I am reminded of Tolstoy’s opening line to Ana Karenina: “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

My trip to the Malawi Road Traffic Authority on Monday of last week was no exception. What follows is a user’s guide to obtaining a license in Malawi.

I was instructed by a police office that after being in Malawi for three months, I was required to obtain a Malawi drivers’ license. Monday, I finally decided to end my streak of procrastination and dive into the bureaucracy of registering myself as an officially licensed driver.

  1. Arrive at the Road traffic authority as early as possible. ( I arrived at 8:20am)
  2. Go to the door labeled “1 Application room / 5 Driving license collection”, where you are immediately told to go to Window #3.
  3. Proceed to Window #3 and ask for an application. Don’t worry if it says “Learner’s License Application”…I was told that the form itself doesn’t matter.
  4. Enter Door #2. Oops…”Test going on!” you are warned by the attendant.
  5. Wait.
  6. Ok, Door #2 open now, go in and submit your application.
  7. After submitting your application, you are told to go to the un-marked door at the end of the corridor for “scanning and printing”. DO NOT CONFUSE THIS ROOM WITH THE ROOM LABELED “6 Photograph, Fingerprint and Scanning”
  8. Wait in line to be digitally fingerprinted (all 10 fingers) and photographed.
  9. Once your biometrics are in the database, proceed to “4 Cashier office, card receiving and Enquiries.” Don’t be afraid make physical contact with others as you protect your place in line waiting to pay MK 5270. (NB: never go to this room with an “Enquiry”…As with most of the signs, you are bound to go wrong if you trust their advertised services.)
  10. With your payment receipt in hand, return to Door #2 and submit all paper work.
  11. Obtain your temporary license at wait for “one to two months” for the permanent card.

The experience was a mixture of technology and speed at times, chaos and misdirection at others. All said, I can’t say that the entire experience was entirely more frustrating that what I have undergone in the United States.

Written by Niall

July 5, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Africa, Malawi

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Soul Power

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This documentary looks awesome:

Zaire ’74 almost didn’t happen. The festival was “a fool’s mission” from the start, said Stewart Levine…When Mr. Levine heard about the boxing match in Zaire, he said by telephone from Los Angeles, “it just hit me — how about a music festival?”

…The government of Zaire subsidized the boxing match; Zaire’s dictator,Mobutu Sese Seko, wanted to burnish his country’s image. But Zaire would not finance the festival. So Mr. Levine rounded up backing from bankers in Liberia…

…With contacts at ABC, Mr. Levine said, he prevailed on the sportscaster Howard Cosell to hold back for 24 hours the news that the fight had been postponed, lest the American musicians stay home. He was also lucky, he said, that it was Rosh Hashanah, and many of the performers’ managers were observing the holiday.

…Many of the performers and Mr. Ali himself are shown as starry-eyed about Africa. Mr. Withers, who was well-traveled after nine years in the Navy, was more levelheaded. “I felt like a very privileged person in an unprivileged setting,” he said. “This Mobutu guy, this dictator — that didn’t cheer me up, the disparity in the wealth. There seemed to be a large gap between the chosen people that were around him and everybody else.”

Seems like a must see.

Written by Niall

July 5, 2009 at 11:02 am