Thursday, August 23, 2007


*** I posted three times today, so make sure to read them all to get the full effect of Russ ***

So, some folks that work here but live off campus had a bbq for the staff at their compound. Since lots of people were going and the cook wasn't going to cook, I figured I might as well go. I couldn't help but think that proved to be a questionable move on my part. We all know (if you don't, trust me, we all do) how well I do at parties and things like that.

But, I spoke at length with a couple of gentlemen who are in various and sundry ways fairly involved with development and reconstruction efforts here. A lot of information to think about and process, but a couple things particularly stood out to me.

First, the cronyism that seems to be rampant in this culture does hamper the development efforts here. Local people frequently get jobs based on connections, not necessarily on ability. You may say, "Well, it's like that in the States," but it's not nearly as prevalent there as it sounds like it is here.

Secondly, with the fundamental cultural differences between here and the States, it is highly necessary that the people that plan and run projects are people that are on the ground. It was the opinion of several of the gentlemen that one major problem is that projects are not scaled appropriately for the country. One of them said that some of the major aid agencies won't look at projects under 1 million dollars. Well, when you're talking about a rural electrification project here, 1 million dollars goes a long way, and a project on that scale doesn't have the success probability that 20 $50,000 projects would.

Thirdly, the brain drain from the country is a huge problem. The higher educational institutes that are here seem to lack the ability to assist the country in a bootstrapping fashion to move and improve the economy.

Fourthly, the situation is getting better, but since the country had minimal infrastructure to begin with, the last 30 years have destroyed even that, and there is no 'golden age' for the citizenry to look back at to aspire to. And while their is an entrepreneurial spirit here, the cultural demands of connections, the apparent corruption, all of these work together to hamper development efforts.

This was about a 30 minute conversation at a party that I was at for an hour and a half. It made standing around looking lost the other hour that much more palpable.

I have my own thoughts to add to the general ideas expressed above.

I've only been in-country for two weeks, but I note that one of the problems is that the people seem to be short-sighted. Examples like the fair shopkeeper discussed in a previous post don't appear to be frequent. Many of the people are still in short-term survival mode. While I intellectually understand that 30 years of war is difficult to overcome, but it is necessary to look ahead for better things to happen on a rapid scale. And people don't seem to be doing that. Some of the economic and business decisions these gentlemen spoke of sound a poor note about an endemic world view that is concerned with my situation, right here in the present. And it's a catch 22, because for people to be able to see that, they need their worldview changed. And for their worldview to change, the development has to occur. But when the attitudes of the people who are in the position to affect that development is colored by that same world view, it takes a lot for positive development to occur.

Ok, rantings of a 23 year old computer nerd who has no political science or economic training. But seriously, some of the locals have to take ownership in the situation, and decide to bootstrap this country into a sustainable economic system, not one propped up with aid money and foreign intervention. One that is a partner in a regional or global economy, not a participant. It is happening. But so much cultural, political, and core value changes must be affected, it can't happen all at once. This is a darkened land, but one which must begin to see the light. Even if it's just a little bit at a time, some is better than none.

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