Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

The question of whether international development programmes should aim to strengthen civil society is a tricky one to answer in Ethiopia.  Organisations are allowed to engage in civil society strengthening activities as long as they raise the funds for their organisations from domestic sources.  This limits the ability of foreign governments to influence these policy spheres.  After all, what sovereign country wants to have foreign values imposed on it?  The flipside is that if civil society is ignored by the government, no local efforts to strengthen it may take place at all, and civil society may decay. 

Another important issue regarding development programmes is whether non-governmental organisations should be compelled to limit the percentage of their budgets spent on administrative costs.  Limiting administrative expenditures means that Ngos cannot fill their offices with redundant staff being paid good salaries.  But what constitutes administration?  Is the cost of a teacher conducting a workshop on learner-centred pedagogy considered administrative?  Interpreting ‘administrative’ to mean anything that is not tangible has the potential to limit efforts to improve Ethiopian civil society.

The second phase of the CAFOD/SCIAF/TROCAIRE Joint Ethiopia Office (CST–JEP) Civil Society Programme was initiated in October 2009, and targeted ten Civil Society Organisations. The goal of the programme was to promote the effective representation of Ethiopian citizens through active participation and engagement in civil society networks.  In turn, the programme aimed to facilitate dialogue with government in formulating policy.  CST-JEP intended to achieve this by building capacity within the ten partner organizations.  This three year programme was aimed at institutionalising accountability and transparency in the ten targeted organisations, promoting linkages among them, harmonising and coordinating their national and regional networks, and developing constructive and sustainable relations with government.

One of the major challenges of governance in Ethiopia is achieving downward accountability, with authorities and institutions held accountable to citizens and communities, rather than simply towing the party line.  Institutionalised downward accountability will ensure a more effective and transparent local government that is responsive to citizens.  Civil society organizations should be catalysts in empowering communities and proactively engaging all levels of government.  The cumulative effect of this will be a more inclusive, participatory and sustainable development process.  Yet Civil Society Organisations have difficulty making progress in their efforts on this front due to a relatively recent governmental proclamation which has altered the regulatory environment in which they operate.

The Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) enacted by the Government of Ethiopia in early 2009 has created a fundamental change in the legal and institutional setup for operating Civil Society Organisations, by classifying them into categories based on their source of funding, and by limiting their activities based on those funding sources.  The goal of the proclamation is to limit the influence of foreign-funded agencies and to empower locally-funded ones. The proclamation established the Charities and Societies Agency (ChSA) and granted the institution wide-ranging discretionary powers governing the activities of Civil Society Organisations.  Uncertainty surrounding the status of foreign-funded institutions has been compounded as regional governments work to adapt their regulatory policies to match the demands of the CSP.

Foreign assistance in fields such as drought recovery and sustainable livelihoods are welcome, but Article 2 of the Proclamation has identified several “no-go areas” for organisations that receive more than 10% of their funding from foreign sources.  The list of prohibited areas includes a broad range of issues: human rights, justice and women’s rights. For Civil Society Organisations to engage in activities related to these areas, they need to register as an Ethiopian Society or Charity, and raise at least 90% of their operating budget from Ethiopian sources.  This entrenches the sovereignty of the Ethiopian government in formulating policy within these areas.  It also means that Civil Society Organisations registered with the Charities and Societies Agency that receive more than 10% of their budget from international sources are barred from engaging in activities promoting human rights, justice, and women’s rights.

Facilitating trust building and positively communicating with all levels of government are the keys to strengthening Ethiopian civil society. Civil Society Organisations need to cultivate constructive engagement with the government and learn how to creatively link advocacy and policy dialogue with service delivery interventions implemented at the local level.  The support should focus on internal governance; constituency building; local fund raising and income generation; evidence-based research; and practical skills on lobbying and policy dialogue.  Only this way can long–term sustainability be ensured and Ethiopian civil society’s dependency on foreign funding be reduced.

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CAFOD/SCIAF/Trocaire Joint Ethiopia Office Trade team summary brochure:

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There are still drought-affected areas in Ethiopia.  Drought-affected areas these days are not widespread, and do not receive much media attention or assistance.  Here is a summary of the Drought Recovery Programme funded by the CAFOD/SCIAF/Trocaire Joint Ethiopia Office.

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Eliminating public urination would undoubtedly improve the flow of traffic through Ethiopia’s urban centres.  Driving through the streets of Addis Ababa can be treacherous enough, and obstacles abound.  Poor pedestrian infrastructure means that there are many areas of the city without sidewalks, and people are often forced to walk on the road.  Dogs are running around.  Donkeys get in the way.  Herds of sheep have to be moved from one side of the road to the other.  There are so many things to avoid on the roads here.  How can the flow of traffic be improved?  Building sidewalks throughout an entire city would be expensive.  The livestock are not going anywhere.  One inexpensive way to reduce traffic congestion is to ban public urination.  The men who decide that the middle of a roundabout is a good place to take a piss are slowing cars down.  Two lane roundabouts become one lane.  Lane changes in the middle of roundabouts to avoid public pissers cause delays.  Putting an end to this pissing practice will speed up any commuter’s journey home.  But there must be other reasons to put a stop to public urination.  Women are not usually the ones partaking.  Could the Ethiopian male’s fondness for peeing on the street be connected to gender inequality? 

Ethiopia ranks low on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index.  It is 174th out of 187 ranked countries.  There are all sorts of reasons why women in this country have a difficult time.  Reasons cited by the UN Gender Inequality Index include poor education, poor access to health professionals during pregnancy, and low participation in the labour market.  There is no doubt that all of these factors contribute to the hardship endured by Ethiopia’s women, and they must be addressed.  Policymakers have been trying to improve Ethiopia’s gender inequality for decades.  The Canadian International Development Agency treats gender as a cross-cutting theme that runs through all of its development projects.  Yet in the Gender Inequality Index Ethiopia ranks two places below Afghanistan…not exactly a country noted for progressive gender policies.  Despite the failure of policymakers’ best minds over the years to improve the lot of women in Ethiopia, I will throw my hat into the ring with a policy proposal designed to promote gender equality in Ethiopia.  It will be a nation-wide social engineering project, with ramifications for Ethiopians living in all corners of the country.  The policy will force a societal change of behavior.  In addition to improving Ethiopia’s gender equality ranking, it will improve the flow of traffic in large urban centres, and improve hygiene in the country.  All of this can be accomplished with a policy that is a mere three words long:  Banning public urination.

Plenty of cultural behaviors around the world have changed over time to reflect shifting societal norms.  Feet are no longer bound in China.  Women in Canada do not think twice about getting a job outside of the home.  Drinking and driving is now taboo in most of the western world.  Men who whip out their willies on crowded streets and start peeing against walls or in bushes as people walk past are doing more than simply relieving themselves.  They are communicating their gender’s dominance:  I am a man, so I can do this.  Women do not urinate in public.  Women are expected to dress conservatively and keep a low profile.  They receive lewd comments if their heads are uncovered or their knees are exposed, never mind them hiking up their skirts to take a leak at the side of the road.  Banning public urination will force men to stop and think:  Why is it ok for men to pee in public but not women?  Where do the women pee?  Maybe I should find out and pee somewhere similar. 

I must admit that peeing outdoors under the stars while camping is relaxing.  But what stops me from pulling over on the side of a crowded street, or in the middle of a roundabout for a piss is not simply shyness, but more civility and consideration.  I think that it would make people uncomfortable if I started urinating against the side of a building on a busy street in Toronto.  And I think that it would make the women in Toronto feel more uncomfortable than the men there.  I think a national campaign to get men to stop peeing in the streets is a good starting point for raising Ethiopia’s ranking on the United Nations’ Gender Inequality Index, particularly if it is accompanied by a public awareness campaign to educate people that the ban is taking place as part of an effort to treat women with more respect.

Getting people in Canada to stop driving after drinking alcohol involved banning the practice through legislation, but the ban was accompanied by an education campaign meant to educate the public about why the practice was deemed unacceptable.  TV ads and billboards taught the public about why drinking and driving was dangerous.  A similar public awareness campaign would have to go with the ban on public urination.  Women don’t pee in public, so why should men?  It is not the catchiest slogan, but I’m sure that as the campaign evolves, more memorable slogans can be written.  Ads to convince men to stop peeing in public could branch out into messages reminding men to treat women with respect.  They could get men to stop and think about how their behavior affects women.  ‘Shocking’ posters portraying women urinating on the streets could make men realize what it looks like when they do it.  Another option is to use national role models to deliver the message.   Long distance running is a popular sport in Ethiopia, and with the Olympics beginning next week, the sport will be brought into the spotlight.  A TV commercial with a prominent Ethiopian runner taking a break from a race to pee next to the track could have an impact on the urination practice:  ‘We are in a race against time to improve the lives of women in our country.  Don’t lose the race by pissing on the side of the road,’ could go the narrative over the TV ad. 

A ban on public urination with a public information campaign would have the added effect of improving hygiene in Ethiopian cities.  The smell of sewage would decrease.  The prevalence of pests would be lowered.  Stains on city walls could be cleaned up.  All of this could lead to a stronger civil society.  Citizens must consider what kind of city they want to live in.  Surely the practice of public urination has its roots in rural living.  Peeing outside while living on a small-scale farm does not have much impact on neighbours, but living in a city requires different practices.  Parisians still have a penchant for public pissing, and the city’s mayor tried to curb the practice by building sloping walls in Paris parks that sprayed piss back onto the culprits.  Expensive projects like this may not work in Ethiopia, but cutting down on the public urination would make for a cleaner environment.  “Give us toilets and we will use them!” will say people (men) upset by the ban on public urination.  They have a point, and providing public latrines should be a long term goal for city governments in Ethiopia.  But these naysayers should start by simply ask a woman where she pees.  It is not enough to simply say that the reason one pisses in public is because of a lack of public toilet facilities if 50% of the public is finding somewhere else to pee.

Sun Yat Sen believed that competent governance of bodily functions is a prerequisite for competent governance.  China has made great strides over the past few decades to convince citizens to stop peeing, hacking up phlegm, and spitting in public.  On my last visit to China in 2003, people in restaurants there were still spitting on restaurant floors and butting out cigarettes in uneaten food on the table.  But the government there has reportedly stepped up efforts to encourage people to wait in lines and stop spitting in public.  If people are going to live in cities, it is important to have respect for one’s fellow citizens.  China is responsible for many Ethiopian infrastructure projects.  It needs to share its social engineering tactics, as well:  Stop pissing on the street because you gross out and intimidate women.  Stop and think about why it is ok for men to piss on the street but not women. 

So there you have it:  a simple policy that I predict will have a positive impact on Ethiopia’s ranking in the Gender Inequality Index,  AND improve the flow of traffic.   I’ll just wait for CIDA to call for project proposals on how to simultaneously raise the status of women and improve traffic flow.

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Pangs of uneasiness creep into my mind with this post.  Mindful of the fact that what I post on this blog stays in the digital universe, I do not want to sound negative because my spirits are high.  And the blog is meant to offer stories of hope and success.  It has the potential to dispel some of the negative imagery of Ethiopia that is manipulated and used by organisations such as World Vision to pull at the heart strings of people in order to move them to donate money.  I am also concerned about worrying my family.  Such is the consequence of 21st century technology.  It was a different time when Amundsen was trying to reach the South Pole.  He had no blog, but notes about treks such as his have value.  I do not mean to compare living in Asaita to trekking to the South Pole.  But a story is a story, and there are things that need to be recorded whether they are glossy or not.  The simple fact is that Asaita can be hostile, and World Vision seems like a good place to start recounting it.

In April 2011 there was an incident at the local high school.  A teacher made a student stop reading the Koran so that she could concentrate on her studies.  The student body rioted later that day as news of this blasphemy spread.  They marched down the road to the World Vision office and sacked it.  Taking control of the World Vision compound for a few days, the students took out their anger to the anti-Islamic slight on the Christian missionaries in town. The army moved in to restore order and evicted the teens.  World Vision has now withdrawn from the area.  Their smashed up compound lies abandoned at the edge of town.  The soldiers that remained for a few months afterwards guarding the ransacked offices are no longer present, and no one is much interested in it anymore.  Perhaps North Americans will notice a decline in television ad campaigns using children covered in flies to push emotional buttons.  The undercurrent of hostility here is not an organised anti-Western hostility as much as a ‘wild west’, lawless hostility, and it has manifested itself on a personal level on a few occasions.

It is well-noted in written material about Ethiopia that foreigners can expect to hear shouts of ‘you, you, you’.  And they do shout it here a lot.  Sometimes I find myself arriving home without having heard it once, and I feel like it has been a peaceful day.  ‘You, you, you’  does not have the same harsh ring to it in Amharic, I am told.  It is simply a way to try to get someone’s attention.  Sometimes people get excited about seeing a foreign visitor.  It must be noted though, that ‘you, you, you’ makes up only about 70% of the calls.  The other 30% (anecdotal stats only) is made up of ‘fuck you, fuck you, fuck you’.  I will not try to put a stat on the percentage of people who say this that actually understand what they are saying, but some do, as evidenced by the events of the day below.

On February 29th I was walking along a pathway to my home from the College when some children around 11 years old started shouting from a distance the typical ‘you you you’ that one hears everyday in Ethiopia.  I do not respond to every ‘you you you’ because I wouldn’t get home very quickly if I did.  They were also shouting ‘football, football, money, money’.  Groups demanding money or gear are not uncommon, so I just ignored them.  The shouts then changed to ‘motherfucker, motherfucker’.  Now, this is the second time that someone here called me that whilst walking down the street, and that is in addition to the periodic cries of ‘fuck you’.   I found it comforting to think that the kids didn’t really know what they were saying and I just ignored them.  But then these football demanding kids switched from ‘you you…football…money’ to ‘motherfucker, fuck you’ because they weren’t getting the attention that they craved.  They seemed to be perfectly aware of what they were saying.  Their comprehension of upping the rudeness of their language seemed evident in the stones that they started throwing at me whilst calling me ‘motherfucker’.   I ducked for cover, and danger was quickly averted.

This incident was the second day in a row that a child had thrown a stone at me.  The day before’s had been a feeble attempt of one stone made by a younger child that would not have produced much damage. But the stones thrown by the kids wanting a football weren’t that small and weren’t that far off target.

Then I made it an entire week without anyone throwing anything at me until March 8th.  Walking across the football pitch on the road connecting my home to the main road I came across an old man.  He reacted to me the same way I see locals react to the many wild dogs here.  He glared at me, and keeping his eyes fixed on me bent down to gather a stone.  I backed off.  He did not pursue me.  But he looked about as happy to see me as he would have a rabid dog.  I do not know if I appeared threatening to him, or if he was just reacting instinctively to an outsider.  He was not a friendly man.  I guess my streak of not having anything thrown at me is technically continuing because this old fellow didn’t actually release his missile.

So, I have sent descriptions of these events to the VSO Ethiopia office so that they know if I return to the capital bloody and concussed that I will not have simply been unlucky.  Well, I guess I will have been unlucky, but that it also fits into an emerging pattern here.  It is a pattern that has been ongoing since before my time, but it is not one that has been documented.  The good old internet does it again. It must be important to note patterns of hostility here.  And putting in the public sphere will at least leave a trail.

That is my story.  A lot of my wonderfully friendly Ethiopian colleagues feel badly about these challenges.  There are a lot of good people here.

May 2012

Saturday morning here.  I was just walking back from the coffee shop.  Some kids were yelling at me and throwing stones at me.  I have stopped bothering to document the number of times that this has happened here because it is a regular occurrence.

However, a few seconds later a rock the size of a baseball whizzed past my head.  I turned around and there was no one there.  I turned to keep walking and another rock of the same size came past my ear so close that I could feel the wind off of it.  I turned around and there was a lady picking up another rock to throw at me.  Some local people yelled at her and she ran away.  I feel rather lucky to have escaped unharmed.   This lady was in full attack mode.  If there hadn’t been anyone around it looked as if she would have continued her attack.  As it was, she skulked around the other side of the building she was hiding behind and tried to approach from a different angle.  ‘chigger alle’ said the man who came to stand next to me, ‘she has a problem.’  No kidding.


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The first order of business with VSO Ethiopia has been to create an Action Plan that outlines my role with the organisation for the year ahead.  Basically it is an opportunity to write the job that I plan on doing, and I have tried to be realistic and diligent in writing it.

The centrepiece of my project is achieving 10 general objectives.  Each objective has a more comprehensive explanation of action that will be taken to achieve the aim.

handing over the keys to the toilet

Objective 3 is ‘Promoting inclusive education and diversity in the educational sector of the Afar Region’.  The most glaring lack of diversity in Ethiopia’s post-secondary education institutions is in gender representation.  In fact, girls are grossly underrepresented at all levels of Ethiopia’s education system except for early primary.  There are many reasons for this:  work, marriage, and financial strain are few worthy of mention.  Another reason is the lack of toilets for female students.  The argument goes that adolescent girls are unlikely to attend school without having a toilet to use.

VSO Ethiopia has facilitated the building of girls’ toilet at Sinble Elementary School in Asaita, Ethiopia.  Last week my fellow volunteer Peter and I attended the ‘key ceremony’ for the girls’ toilet and the key was handed over from the contractor to the school officials.

The girls present at the ceremony expressed their happiness at having a new toilet to use.

Focus Group discussion at Sinble

Our visit also furthered achieving Objective 6 – ‘Building Community Relationships’.  Handing over the keys in front of the toilet are teachers from the school, the principal and vice principal, as well as an official from the local woreda office.  A woreda is a district in Ethiopia.  Building a professional relationship with people in the community is to be accomplished through visits to local institutions, observing the learning conditions and giving these people and institutions a voice which they would otherwise not have.

The Sinble Elementary School that received a new girls’ toilet is housed in a fairly new building.  Windows do not last long in this town.  They are not really needed as the prevent what small amounts of breeze are around from getting into the classroom, but the glass shards that are left over do not look very safe for the students.

The new school does look like a more modern facility than what was there previously.  The old schoolhouse may have had better ventilation than the new, but there is no electricity in this building and the teaching and learning resources are sparse.

former classroom at Sinble

Another planned action for completing a needs assessment of education institutions in the local region is to hold focus group discussions, and the visit to Sinble  School provided the first opportunity to do this.  Prior to the ceremony handing over the keys to the school administration we gathered with some female students at the College to hear firsthand how pleased they were to have a toilet block for themselves.  The arrival of a new toilet block meant the end of a 200m walk to some bushes at the edge of the campus.  As girls get older they get more and more reluctant to come to school under these conditions.

My contribution to the discussion was the insistence that universal female literacy is a prerequisite for development and that having half of a country’s population undereducated and underemployed is not doing anyone much good.  I encouraged them to continue studying and expressed my hope that they graduate from high school and contribute to Ethiopia’s development.  Peter explained VSO Ethiopia’s role in the project and did an excellent job promoting the organisation.

The male students at the school had noticeably more confidence (at least these ones did).

Sinble students eager to pose for a photo

Another project that is underway here falls under the Objective for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the Ethiopian education sector.  Girls are underrepresented in Ethiopian post-secondary education, and in an effort to help female Afar high school students to pass the university entrance examinations, VSO Ethiopia s arranged to fund extra tutoring sessions for the female students at the high school.

Mohammed Humphries High School

Monitoring this project provided another opportunity to visit a local institution.

The high school is in better shape than the elementary school.  The facilities in the classroom were simply desks, chairs and a blackboard, but it was a classic classroom from a bygone era.  The medium of instruction in Ethiopian high schools is English, and the students are expected to take all of their classes in this language.

old school English teaching

I sat in on an English lesson.  Since part of my mandate here is to promote student-centred pedagogy, it was a little painful to watch the teacher turn around and write two pages of a grammar textbook onto the blackboard and then to read it over with the students.  But on the other hand, the teacher is teaching to a test, and the objective is to give the girls at the high school an opportunity to get into university.

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bedtime in Afar

New things have to be worked into my routine whilst living here in Asaita.  My house is made of concrete.  It looks modern enough next to the adobe houses that the majority of houses here are made of, but the problem is that concrete houses release their heat at night.  And there’s plenty of heat to be released.  The simplest solution to this is to sleep outside, so every night I get help setting my bed up outside.  There has been a cool desert breeze blowing in the evening since I got here and it’s been really comfortable sleeping outside, but I have to sleep under a treated mosquito net to prevent malaria.  Here’s a picture of my bed set-up.

Every morning comes a 4:30am wake-up call from the local mosques.  They have loudspeakers installed around the neighbourhood.  There are two mosques that work in unison and create a wild stereo effect of morning prayers.  The ones that come on at 4:30 only last about 10 minutes.  Then a half hour later it starts again for about 20 minutes.  Then the prayers stop for another half hour and then they start again for 30 minutes.  By the time 6am rolls around there have been three rounds of prayers and action in the compound where I live has begun.

An important part of my new morning routine is remembering to take my doxycycline.  The doxy is my malaria medication, and I have to take it every day.  I made the mistake of taking it on an empty stomach once.  I nearly puked on the walk to work.  Now I pop it in my breast pocket and have it with my breakfast at school.  I prefer having ‘ful’ for breakfast at school to making porridge at home.  The main reason is that it’s a delicious bean paste cooked with onions.  People dip fresh bread into the ful, and it comes with a nice strong cup of Ethiopian coffee.  The other reason is that having breakfast is a chance to socialise with my colleagues at the college.

It seems natural to assume that this breakfast is served in some sort of cafeteria, but alas the College has no cafeteria (the College does not have any toilets).  Breakfast is cooked in the guardhouse at the front gate.  We sit on benches in front of the guardhouse and use simple chairs as tables.  I think that it must be a little side business for the guard.  His cooking is quite popular.

This is how my days begin.  It’s a tasty, caffeine-heavy routine that gets me out of bed early and fills my belly with beans and antibiotics that will kill the little parasites that come with mosquito bites in these parts.  At least Medicin san Frontiers got rid of the cholera outbreak that took place here two years ago!

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