Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bono, Angelina and the Hollywood Causes Brigade - Watch Out!

Finally a voice is being heard, speaking out against Aid to Africa, and against the trivialization of Aid through the Hollywood circuit. And this time people will listen because it is an African voice. I read with interest in the Sunday Times Magazine a few weeks ago, and again last week about the upcoming release of the book ‘Dead Aid’ by Zambian Lawyer Dambisa Moyo. Some out there in the blogosphere, like Africa Unchained also highlight the issues, and wrote THIS excellent post highlighting Moyo's point of view. Angel at Woman Honor Thyself has a pretty strong view as well... have a read!

I have been sounding off for years about everything from the pathetic Aid campaigns headed up by ‘Bono and the league of Hollywood Heros’ to the MAC AIDS fund, with spokespeople L’il Kim and Mary J. Blige, and the warm fuzzy feeling it gives girls to buy $20 fire engine red lipstick for their crazy boozy nights on the town, while still feeling like they’ve done their bit to ‘help the poor in Africa’.

All my cynicism is highly disregarded as the jaded perspective of a long term expat, and the complicated issues are glossed over by most. The truth is that Aid does not work. It is an industry that perpetuates itself with no end and no solution in sight. I am so happy that an African scholar has vocalized the issues and hasn’t been shy to point the finger at the culprits as well as looking at viable solutions for Africa – from within.

Below is an interview and an excerpt from Moyo’s interview with the New York Times:

Q: As a native of Zambia with advanced degrees in public policy and economics from Harvard and Oxford, you are about to publish an attack on Western aid to Africa and its recent glamorization by celebrities. ‘‘Dead Aid,’’ as your book is called, is particularly hard on rock stars. Have you met Bono?
A: I have, yes, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last year. It was at a party to raise money for Africans, and there were no Africans in the room, except for me.

Q: What do you think of him?
A: I’ll make a general comment about this whole dependence on “celebrities.” I object to this situation as it is right now where they have inadvertently or manipulatively become the spokespeople for the African continent.

Q: You argue in your book that Western aid to Africa has not only perpetuated poverty but also worsened it, and you are perhaps the first African to request in book form that all development aid be halted within five years.
A: Think about it this way — China has 1.3 billion people, only 300 million of whom live like us, if you will, with Western living standards. There are a billion Chinese who are living in substandard conditions. Do you know anybody who feels sorry for China? Nobody.

Q: Maybe that’s because they have so much money that we here in the U.S. are begging the Chinese for loans.
A: Forty years ago, China was poorer than many African countries. Yes, they have money today, but where did that money come from? They built that, they worked very hard to create a situation where they are not dependent on aid.

Q: What do you think has held back Africans?
A: I believe it’s largely aid. You get the corruption — historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty — and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship. You also disenfranchise African citizens, because the government is beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people.

Q: If people want to help out, what do you think they should do with their money if not make donations?
A: Microfinance. Give people jobs.

Q: You just left your longtime job as a banker for Goldman Sachs in London, where you live. What did you do there, exactly?
A: I worked in the capital markets, helping mostly emerging countries to issue bonds. That’s why I know that that works.

Q: Which countries sought your help?
A: Israel, Turkey and South Africa, primarily.

Q: Why didn’t you get a bond issue going in your native Zambia or other African countries?
A: Many politicians seem to have a lazy muscle. Issuing a bond would require that the president and the cabinet ministers go out and market their country. Why would they do that when they can just call up the World Bank and say, “Can I please have some money?”

Q: I keep reading about a new crop of African presidents who are supposedly free-market guys, including Rupiah Banda, the president of Zambia.
A: There are lots who are nominally free market, but they haven’t been aggressive about implementing those policies.

Q: What do your parents do?
A: My mother is chairman of a bank called the Indo-Zambia Bank. It’s a joint venture between Zambia and India. My father runs Integrity Foundation, an anticorruption organization.

Q: For all your belief in the potential of capitalism, the free market is now in free fall and everyone is questioning the supposed wonders of the unregulated market.
A: I wish we questioned the aid model as much as we are questioning the capitalism model. Sometimes the most generous thing you can do is just say no.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To Catch a Thief - A follow up to the Guard and the Gardener

Over the past few days I’ve read two blog entries from fellow foreigners in Ghana. Both concern the serious betrayal and incredulousness they have felt as sentimental things have been stolen from under their noses by the Ghanaians they know and trust. My close friend was also over a couple days ago and told me the same thing. The most disturbing aspect of these stories is that each person had demonstrated time and time again that they were happy to share and if asked would give the shirt off their backs for the people they share their personal space with.

The first blog entry I’m referring to was by Barb – an American married to a Ghanaian, living in Ghana with her husband and kids. The second entry was by Wes, an American secondary school student who is spending a school year in a village in Ghana.

Both people are quite open-minded and trusting.

Both have the very best of intentions in Ghana, and neither have flaunted wealth nor treated their Ghanaian families with anything less than respect and love. Yet both are finding themselves reeling at the ability of the people around them to steal and lie, straight faced, with no remorse.

Both stories are so sadly familiar to me. They reminded me of the story I posted a year and a half ago, regarding the ongoing theft of diesel from our house by our trusted gardener Eric and the guard who represented a highly respected and trusted security company. During that whole fiasco our gardener defiantly protested the accusations and insisted he was innocent. He counter accused our cook, who has since been let go.

The whole thing was sad for me. He had been someone I had a soft spot for, and I commonly gave him cash advances which we both knew would never be paid back, as well as clothes, food etc etc etc. Once he was gone the letters started. First was a letter in his broken and pleading English, asking for his job and housing back. He insisted that God would redeem him and one day we’d regret accusing him. Next came a letter from a lawyer’s office in Accra, threatening us with legal action for dismissal without cause. That we laughed off, but I took the time to write to the lawyer to explain that we had witnesses etc. and they backed off.

A few months later Eric came back with a vengeance, waiting at our gate as we left for work in the mornings and leaving letters with the (new) guard. These letters continued with the theme that he saw us as his family, as his mother and father, and that he would never have betrayed us in the way we accused him. He wrote that he had been praying every day that we would one day see the truth of his innocence and let him return.

Now in our relationship, JW is the softie at heart. One of the letters got to him and he called for Eric to come and see him. The next week Eric was back. Smiling as ever, ready and willing to help with anything, assuring us it had all been an ugly misunderstanding with the evil, jealous woman who had been our cook. He assured us God would bless us for seeing the truth and giving him this new chance.

I was skeptical, given what I’ve seen happen in Ghana, but yet I went along with it, and to this day, he is back at the job and staying in a room at the back. I still give him little presents etc.

Yet a week after his return a friend of mine who has a gardener that had filled in at my house during our months without Eric, casually mentioned that Eric had admitted to the other gardener that he had indeed been stealing the diesel, with the guard, just as we’d suspected, for over 2 years. He however told the guy he was happy we’d taken him back and wouldn’t do that again…

So where is the deterrent to stealing again? How does a Christian who references God and the bible and uses his religion as a tool, then live with the lies? Is it simply a matter of poverty?

As both Wes and Barb's stories corroborate, this is not always the case... Is it a cultural acceptance of dishonesty? Why is it ok to betray people who trust you? Where is the remorse? How can we expect anything less than corruption at a national level when this is the behaviour you find inside homes? Who is brave enough to talk about it, to confront it? To change the culture that expects and condones it?

It’s a case of honesty in Ghana – or lack there of…

Monday, February 23, 2009

Thank you for the music

I am a bit obsessed with Arabic music and food as well as Indian, so I was really looking forward to sampling both delights on last week’s impromptu trip to Dubai. As far as the music goes, I’ve had a healthy obsession for Asian music of any kind, ever since I was a WASPy kid in the suburbs of Ontario. Sunday mornings would find me entranced in front of the TV, watching shows like ‘Asian Horizons’ that would showcase Indian movies and live musical performances. The sound grated on my parents’ nerves but enthralled me from the first time. When I first heard Im Nin Alu by Ofra Haza as a teen I realized that music from the Middle East was something I loved.

It was soon mixed into numerous dance and extended mixes, and finally featured on American rap team Eric B. and Rakim's 80's hit 'Paid in Full'.

Middle Eastern music has been making it's way into mainstream pop music ever since...

Anyway, I'm sure my grouping of Israeli, Arabic and Indian music into the same category would have some people writhing at my stupidity - not to mention the political implications, but hey. I am am who I am, and in my little mind these musics are grouped together, and I love them all. There is also an undeniable history that links them...

All these years later, during the ‘courting’ year with JW, realising he had the same feeling about this music was one of those moments where you click on a deeper level. One of those - it was meant to be - feelings. I'm almost sure we are one of the only non-Arabic couples with the full discography of Amr Diab... We’ve built up quite a collection since then, and love to listen to the eery, powerful songs at full blast while driving, or on the house stereo on Saturday afternoons, with the walls shaking and no doubt the neighbors perplexed. It’s a good thing we have a big yard with high walls. Sometimes JW’s music fetish overcomes him at 1am and it’s time for stereo full blast… but I digress.

Dubai. We got the chance to hear Indian dance music because I booked us at a restaurant that promised a ‘conversion into a nightclub’ at 11pm, with the DJ playing Asian dance hits. We ate at 10pm (as most people do in Dubai) and stayed till 2am. We were the only non-Indians in the house and the house was ‘pumpin’ (as they say). It was excellent. Made me feel alive and possibly 21…

The next night was Valentines Day and we really got our fill. We stumbled upon a live Arabic band at a private party and managed to soak in about an hour of the performance before they packed it in. This was after a romantic supper in a restaurant/sports bar that featured an England-Wales rugby match (yippee – NOT), followed by a live trio of Brit girls singing pop love songs…We ended up doing the nightclub circuit, along with a few hundred others, and felt our hearts pounding to the Arabic/techno mixes. We left at 3am, only because the lights came on and the crowds were ushered out. We didn’t even embarrass ourselves the whole night… well except maybe the time I asked the DJ to play my newest obsession - Paper Planes by M.I.A. from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack –

and proceeded to punch my arms in the air, squeeze my eyese shut and nod incessantly in true comraderie… only to open my eyes near the end of the song (and my rapture), and peer around at the entire crowd, who had not known the song, and abandoned the dancefloor, and were now just looking at me with odd curiosity…

The truth is - I don’t want to get old. Actually, when it comes to music I don’t think I have the capacity. It’s one of those things in life I cling to so I can feel connected, alive, in touch with the rhythm of the world.

We got back to Ghana with a new found enthusiasm for music. I LOVE MUSIC! It gives me energy and always has the ability to make a bad day great, a down mood deep, and take me from bored to inspired. So thank you for the music Dubai. For giving it to me.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The extravagance of Free Willy - or a weekend in Dubai

Today I decided not to post another intriguing/thought provoking photo or try to come up with anything profound. I’ve realized that what that does is simply hold me back from blurting out and sharing here – for fear of not coming out with a memorable post.

I’ve been thinking that I really created this blog to share my life, and the unique perspective of living as a long term expat in Africa, and all the trials and far more tribulations that involves. Not all of it is profound. By far!

The thing is thatI haven’t been sharing most of it. From week to week I am traveling all around the world, experiencing, tasting, enjoying, and not sharing all of this! Shame on me really.

What visiting other countries does is allow a new perspective on what you have around you - the good and the bad. Even the ridiculously indulgent.

I had the opportunity last weekend to take off to Dubai for shopping, eating, exploring, dancing, shopping, did I mention shopping? The trip romantically fell over Valentine’s Day, which was coincidental, but as I was going off to meet JW, it served as a ‘dirty weekend’ too! And we tagged it on to a business trip of his, conveniently.

I’ve had a desire to see Dubai for a few years now, after hearing all about it being the shopping Mecca of the world, and considering the only shopping offering in Accra is the new (and only) mall, located in the worst possible traffic centre of the city, with only ONE exit for cars…. It can take an hour and a half to get out of the parking lot. Dubai on the other hand sounded like shopping heaven. And it was. Sort of.

Dubai, in it’s very conception and roll out, is a contrived city. It is made of oil money, extravagant dreams and the arrogance of Arabic Sheikhs. The result is an Arabic Disney World.

There were over 10 shopping malls. Each with a theme. One had the world famous ski hill right inside the mall, with a full glass enclosure so the shoppers and diners could gawk freely at the spectacle. From the outside of the mall, the building looks like a strangely stacked chute. It’s quite the gimmick. Another mall has a full Olympic size skating rink as well as a 4 storey aquarium amidst the usual stores. Everything has the wow factor. Each mall trying to ‘out Disney’ the other. And then there are the hotels. The Hotels! There were just too many to mention. All with themes and perfectly stuccoed walls. Some had Venetian copy waterways, with tourists on small boats, passing through. They had simulation ‘souks’ which were supposed to be replicas of the authentic old markets at the centre of town, trading gold etc. However, no surprise - the hotel souks were more like extravagantly expensive boutiques.

Gold is just not my thing anyway, so passing window after window of ‘over the top’ yellowy gold didn’t do much for me. I did however discover that there is one fancy jewelry shop where I practically love everything! This is very unlike me for those who know me. Having said that, despite the fact that this shop is quite upscale - like where the lady brings out the ring you are asking to look at, and places it on a little velvet mouse pad thingy… (I felt very out of place!) - the actual jewelry was funky, bright coloured, distinctive, vibrant. The store is called Frey Wille but JW has given it the name FREE WILLY which will no doubt stick. It is German but has outlets around the world. Well, some part of the world. Read - not in Africa…
The ring I chose and now sport around like a peacock, is from a collection (yes, a collection!) honouring a famous Austrian Artist called Friedensreich Hundertwasser (no, I can’t pronounce it). Here it is in all it’s glory. Little Arabic looking houses! Apparently he’s famous for the little onion top houses, which a friend told me is a Russian and not an Arabic thing, but hey, artistic license should trickle down to the end user right?

So she proceeded to show me the earrings and bangle but I almost fell over when she told us the price, so I’ve settled for my completely self indulgent and glorious Valentines Day present.

And there were other indulgences - eating, drinking, dancing... Though I couldn't help notice that absolutely everywhere around us were workers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Filipino nannies. The backbone of the whole society. Paid poorly and treated like second class beings. But the sad thing is that they come in droves, because the their opportunities back home are far worse.
The forex bureaus in the malls all have Western Union pay-in points, set up specifically for Manilla and Mumbai - to send home money "for your child's school fees" etc. With the back drop of pure opulence all around, it's a bit unsettling to say the least. There is a clear distinction between the locals, who cruise around town in long flowing white suits with the traditional headress and fancy phones/jewelry, and all the labourers who are seen at all hours of the day in dirty uniforms, walking, queueing, working in the streets, malls, restaurants, hotels... There is no denying the 'them' and 'us' attitude that prevails in Dubai.

This week it's back to the grind. Back to the hot messy reality of Accra and my real life where shopping is a weekly trip to the crazy supermarket or occasional trips to the REAL African market.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Paris would say, "That's hot"

Today's photo entry comes from a Darfur awareness campaign on a great site called Osocio. Not much needs to be said about this one either. I just appreciated the visual image and the way it throws Hollywood extravagance out there as absurd, when paired with the starving African boy...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

UNinvolved in Africa

Whenever I see a great photo or picture of any kind on the Net I download it, thinking, I'm going to write a great post one day and that will be the accompanying photograph/picture/comic etc...

Last night I almost lost my whole blog in a procedure I'll explain another time, when my nerves have calmed... But what it made me realise was that I have a great database of interesting pics and I thought I'd just post them from time to time, whether or not there's great text to accompany them.

Today's submission - a photo - probably photoshopped, on a funny site called FAIL...

It speaks for itself really.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Shimmerescent friendships

There are some friends we have that form part of our being. They define and comfort and better us in ways that our souls know best. We just float along for the ride...

One such friend wrote a poem about me that I had to share. It's excellent and defines the way we know each other. She rocks. Real friends, so few and far between, really make life worth living...

Holli seems like she is chocolate brown dotted about with silver feathers yet her heart beats poor man’s cloth

Holli seems like she is air-conditioned monster car yet her shoes are pink trotro shouting repent

Holli seems like she is red wine and chocolate martinis yet her hair is kasapreko and juice

Holli seems like she is pink and lime green yet underneath she is all the shimmeressent colors of an abalone shell

Monday, February 2, 2009

What Happens in Ghana Stays in Ghana...

It seems what happens in Ghana stays in Ghana. At least when it comes to controversial news. The global media along with hundreds of personal blogs have been extolling the virtues of Ghana and it’s democratic process. A lot has been said about how Ghana has triumphed – not only for democracy as an institution but for it’s people as a whole.

This being said, I find it quite disturbing that the international media has not bothered to poke it’s nose back into the Ghana ‘scene’ to document the current uproar over what has been called ‘an outrage’ locally – I’m referring to the exit package of ex-President Kufuor.

Just as the dust settled after the run off elections here in early January, a package for Mr. Kufuor was pushed through hastily by parliament and without any regard for the frivolity and absurdity of it all.

I found a very interesting article written locally, comparing the retirement packages of the American president and our very own Kufuor. I just had to borrow the details here:

United States (Per Capita Income: $46,000): President Bush

* US$191,000 for his pension;
* Life time secret service protection for president & spouse
* Official travel expenses with 2 members of staff
* 0 cars
* 0 houses
* No end-of-service gratuity
* Private funds for presidential library (tax exempt)
* Presidential widows receive a lifetime pension of $20,000 per year.


Ghana(Per Capita Income: $1,400): President Kufuor

* Lump-sum (thought to be worth $400,000)
* SIX fully maintained comprehensively insured, fuelled and chauffeured-driven cars to be replaced every four years. The fleet comprise of three salon cars, two cross country cars and one all-purpose vehicle.
* TWO Fully furnished residences that befit a former president at place of his choice
* 60 day overseas travel with 3 staff members each year
* 18 months consolidated salary
* Million-dollar seed money for the setting up a foundation,
* Security - 24 hours security services
* Budget for entertaining each year

It is too typical to be an outrage. Too much of this gluttony of the powerful in Africa is the status quo. Where will it stop? When will it end? Who cares enough to make the changes Africa needs?

I have noticed a plethora of new missionaries and their blogs in Ghana lately. This means there are more and more people focused on the country.

Christianity is fully entrenched here. Surely there are barely any more 'souls to win over', so what is the interest in Ghana? The truth is that it is believed to be a safe place for foreigners, yet a place you can still ‘make a difference’. A country where aid is still poured in for project after project.

Yet at the top sit the people like Kufuor, who flew around the world in his private jet to find donations, and who now at the end of his tenure, leaves with a whopping package that is tantamount to outright theft from the people of Ghana.

I have read that a leader is the reflection of his people – especially in democratic societies. Where then does that leave Ghana in this new democratic era? A shining example for Africa or a new twist on corruption, where the rich get richer and the poor simply stand by...
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