Friday, September 22, 2006

I've mentioned many times before that this is an a...

I've mentioned many times before that this is an aid city. Nearly every car on Rumbek roads belongs to an international aid agency. The UN and its many sub-organizations (e.g. WFP, UNICEF, UNHCR, FAO, UNDP etc.) IRC, ARC, Save the Children, Malteaser, the list is exhaustive, are all working here. The UN, particularly WFP, literally funded nearly every major project in this town; the air strip, the construction of the roads, food for training and work programs etc. This creates a pseudo reality of society and dangerous dependence. Although, I work in the so called development field I often question the idea of development and it usefulness. That may seem bizarre to some people, but what is the alternative to the current practice of development assistance. It is our human duty to try to help each other, and right now this is the only model we have so I am working within that framework.

I wonder what will happen here after the aid agencies have left. This was the topic of a coversation I recently had with one of my co-workers who is from Rumbek. I posed the question; "what do you think Rumbek will be like once all of these international aid agencies have left." He gave me the most incredulous look, as if the idea of Rumbek without these organizations is not even a possibility. I had to inform him that all of the organizations will probably not leave, but their presence with be significantly reduced. Some agencies are working on their exit strategies even now. My advice to him was to get what he can now in terms of skills and knowledge and to be creative about ways to support himself.
The aid society that has been created here is not sustainable. A huge part of the local economy here is to support running development programs and providing services to international expatriate staff. The INGOs have their living compounds that have maids, drivers, grounds-keepers, cooks, translators, logistics people, vehicle mechanics, engineers, security guards and other positions that I am not aware of. I would guess that about 70% of income generating activities here are linked in some way to the implementation of development programs sponsored by international aid agencies. That is frightening if we look at what that will mean for the economy in 5 years at the time of the referendum for independence. I invite you all to read Michael Maren's, The Road to Hell. The book goes into these issues of dependence and international aid and how it has harmed societies, destroyed lifestyles and even fueled conflicts. The intention is not to cause any harm, being here I can clearly see the truth in the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Is that biblical? Well if any of us had the answers to all of these complex questions in life the world as we know it would not exist, so for now our efforts must be to address these kinds of issues in the best manner we can.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

I had a lightbulb moment (well actually two). I wa...

I had a lightbulb moment (well actually two). I was talking to one of the WFP employees who is from South Sudan but has been living in the United States. He is one of the very few people here I believe that has some understanding of my background and perspective. I told him about some of my skirmishes around here. Well he told me that if he were to go into some neighborhoods in the United States, he would be subjected to the same kind of treatment. And he is right. He would not be welcomed in a small town with no ethnic diversity -at least not without someone who is from there. He could be accused of trying to intergrate the place, and since cross burning is not so popular anymore there might be swastikas and racial slurs spray painted on the property where he stayed and he would be subjected to various forms of harassment. Being an outsider and an African could make him a kind of target. Many Americans do not experience diversity in their own communities, and without a doubt are suffering from a lack of exposure to the world community. So essentially, anytime one moves around from country to country, depending on social realities, the community's level of openess to foreigners and a host of other factors, there is a chance that some people just won't like you. Hmmm.
My second epiphany is that over years of living in inner-city ghettoes I have developed a fighting spirit and confrontational tendencies. I, however, try to keep those characteristics in check and use them only when issues of justice arise. The problem with a fighting spirit and confrontational tendencies is when you are immersed in a population that has been in conflict for most of the last 50 years and they possess those same characteristics. They clash. So who would have guessed; I am like the Dinka Agar. This would be interesting research; ( I am sure it has been done and proven). Does being raised in urban ghettoes in the United States produce the same social chracteristics of people who have lived in protracted conflict in non-industrialized societies? So now I am thinking I should feel right at home here.