Welcome to the Meaningful Blog - the blog of Meaningful Volunteer

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Honest Abe's Democracy

Abraham Lincoln
I love this post by William Easterly. It quotes Abraham Lincoln:

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy
Abraham Lincoln

Imagine if we could extend this reciprocity internationally as well.

Why not design our aid programs with assumption that we'd have to live in the states we influence?

Basket-case countries like Somalia would look radically different if we took this concept to heart.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Do I really want an Egypt-style uprising in Uganda?

Power to the Peaceful!
I liked what happened in Egypt and Tunisia.  The people rose up and overthrew dictators who have ruled for decades.  I am optimistic about their future and hope that true reform comes.

I am also very pleased to see what is happening in Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, and Yemen.

Power to the peaceful!

The oppositions parties in Uganda are promising Egypt style protests if the incumbent Yoweri Museveni wins the February 18th election to extend his twenty-five year reign.  They say they will protest only if the polls are rigged.

The polls will be rigged (by both sides).  I think that Museveni will "win".

So, according to the opposition parties, there will be an Egypt style uprising in Uganda.

There is a part of me that doesn't want this to happen.  I want Museveni to win and the people to accept it and get on with their lives.  Yes, that Museveni.

That Museveni who - according to Amnesty International - rose to power by:

  • Using child soldiers
  • Allowing his soldiers to commit hundreds of extra-judicial executions
  • Burning Houses
  • Torturing people

Amnesty International released a report in March 1989 that concluded:

Any assessment of the NRM government's human rights performance is, perhaps inevitably, less favourable after four years in power than it was in the early months. However, it is not true to say, as some critics and outside observers, that there has been a continuous slide back towards gross human rights abuse, that in some sense Uganda is fated to suffer at the hands of bad government.

Amnesty International's hope for a better Uganda proved to be well founded: Museveni is bad, but at least he is not as bad as Idi Amin.

So why would a part of me want such a man to remain in power?

Because everyone here at Meaningful Volunteer has worked so damned hard on our Ugandan programs!  And we don't need a revolution just now!

We want to build our solar-powered school!  We want to launch Mama Pamba!  We want to distribute mosquito nets as part of the Malaria Operation!  We want to educate!  And this just ain't gonna happen if a revolution unfolds.

And then I step back and a much louder piece of me says "No!".

Everyone stands to lose much in a revolution.  If the cost of true democratic rights in Uganda is me setting fire to the Meaningful Volunteer's Ugandan program, then hand me a match.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Stability or Justice. Which would you choose?

Team America.  World Police.
Stability or Justice.  Which would you choose?

This dilemma is played out all over the world.

Let's start in Liberia. The current president of Liberia - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - brings stability to her war ravaged country.  With a political nudge here and there it is conceivable that she too could be facing charges in the Hague along with her fellow Liberian Charles Taylor.

I think that stability is far more important at this stage.  Justice can wait.

Or how about northern Uganda?  Joseph Kony - the leader of the brutal LRA responsible for countless war crimes - refuses to sign a peace treaty with the Ugandan government until crimes against humanity charges against him are dropped.

What's more important here? Stability or peace?  If you ask the people on the ground in Uganda they'll also say peace, peace and more peace.  A twenty four year civil war is twenty four years too long.

Both of these situations raises interesting points about the International Criminal Court.  I think the ICC is fantastic.  No more can warlords get away with  genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.  There is a World Police.  It's not run by America and it goes by the name of the ICC.

I'm sure that there is that nagging doubt in the back of the mind for people like Kony, Taylor, Sirlief, and Bush(?) that they can't just steam-roll a group of people as the ICC is going to catch up with them eventually.

And yet in Northern Uganda especially, the ICC is actually inhibiting a peace treaty.

Interesting problems with no obvious solution.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tie Aid to Need, not Politics

Millennium Development Goals
Deary me.  Haven't we learnt from past aid failures?

The Millennium Development Goals are fantastic in that - for the very first time - they are actually tied to need.  No mention is made of politics.  Just plain old need.

The focus is on the wane.

It seems that we have learnt nothing from former geopolictial aid efforts that did little more than attempt to "Stop the Reds".

Here's a depressing stat from my adopted home of Canada:

Since 2009 Canada has pledged to spend 80 per cent of its bilateral aid on 20 'countries of focus', designated partly on the basis of ‘their alignment with Canadian foreign policy priorities.’ This includes Afghanistan, where Canadian troops are fighting, and middle-income Colombia, with whom Canada had just signed a free trade deal, while seven low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa were dropped.
Support the middle-income Colombia and drop seven poorer sub-Saharan countries?  How could this be anything other than geopolitical aid?

The Democratic Republic of Congo receives $10 per extremely poor person per year, well short of the $70 promised under the Millennium Development Goals.  Israel - the biggest recipient of US aid dollars - gets about $400 per year per citizen.

The Millennium Development Goals are inspiring and can be achieved, but only if we stand together in an act of human solidarity and forget all this political bullshit.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Empowering the Poor by Profiting Off Them

Money. Money. Money.
Development in three sentences (from the Coming Prosperity):

If solutions are known, need $$. If solutions are knowable, need evaluations. If solutions are evolving, need entrepreneurs.

This comes from the William Easterly school of thought: Aid is (mostly) bad, so let's give up on it and hand it over to the entrepreneurs, and then let the free market sort it out.

Let's look at Mama Pamba as an example.   Mama Pamba is going to be Meaningful Volunteer's third fair trade project.  Mama Pamba is a fair trade fashion label that will empower many women in the small rural parish of Buyaya in Eastern Uganda.

We're are doing it in a completely non-profit way. The only people who will benefit are the women who make the garments.

Here's the kicker though.  Might Mama Pamba be even more successful if I (for example) has a personal stake in it?  Might I work just that little bit harder to push Mama Pamba into markets so that I could personally make some money?

Furthermore, could we even sell shares in Mama Pamba to people who are socially aware?  We would have further pressure on us to succeed so as to return a profit to the shareholders?

These are not rhetorical questions.  I am interested in any feedback people have.

Needless to say, the women in Uganda would get first priority on any money earned.  We would ensure that they would first get a living wage first and then a cut of the profit.  Other stakeholders would divvy up the remaining money.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Finding the Language

Finding the language
If you ask a widow in Kenya about how many people live in her house, she'll say "None.  Only women".

Or if you ask a mother if she has any children she'll say "None.  Only two girls".

This is because the local word Luhya literally means "man".  There is no word for person.

George Orwell is right:  "[...] If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

Unless we can change the way we think and speak, we are likely to remain in the status quo.

Thanks to Kim, Colin and Caleb for the info.