Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The end of first quarter

Now that I completed my first quarter at university yesterday (as in I finally handed in my final paper one hour after deadline, oops), the relief has been lifted off my shoulders and I can catch up on my sleep. Hopefully, second quarter will see that I prepare for my papers a little earlier so that I have more time for editing. It was a good paper writing bender despite the lack of exercise and sight of daylight.

My last paper was a study on Mozambique’s education policies as it relates to recent announcements of full debt cancellation by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and the African Development Fund (AdF). The debt cancellation program is called the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative and the three organizations have collectively selected … countries for eliminating their debt on yearly basis given that they maintain strict economic controls on their inflation, and budget deficits, prepare sustainable poverty reduction plans and a public expenditure management system. So for Mozambique, as of January 2006, the IMF and AdF wrote off $154 million USD of debt. This means that the funds formerly used for debt can go towards essential services such as the health care system and education. It is the breakthrough that organizations such as Make Poverty History and Jubilee South have all been campaigning for just this past year.
There are, of course, the disadvantages to this system. There is very little country or community consultation to many of the poverty plans and policies implemented in the country. The last word is always from the international institutions, mostly made up of representatives who have not been democratically elected. The whole meaning of democracy is lost when international powers can make decisions not determined by the people who are most affected. Secondly, governments must follow strict laws of an open market which does not allow countries to protect their own local industries. In the news, you’ll hear about industrialized countries that hold subsidies and tariffs on their own industries so that they can sell product to the global markets at below the commodity value. Where is the fairness when poor nations are forced to have no such government protection and try to compete with undercut prices from Canada, US, and Europe? In terms of education, there is the chance that IMF pressure will insist a more efficient management system without providing the resources for teachers and students to enhance their learning. On top of this, the government is working towards universal education for all. For example, teachers are unfairly evaluated for performance and paid accordingly when they are overworked (triple shifts), hold an average 60 children per class, poor classroom conditions, and very few teaching resources (textbooks, pencils, training, etc). Teachers forced to meet unreasonable demands with low wages undermines the quality of education. The promise of eliminating external debt will be one of the factors to eradicate poverty but even this can be impeded by conditions of international financial institutions.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Medicine in South Africa

I have been feeling fairly ill since I came back from the Wild Coast and now starting to recover. This morning I took a nice stroll on the beach with the sun rising over the pink sky and blue ocean. It appears like the swell is setting in for the winter so it's time to find me a shorty wetsuit for surf. The knee is less swollen today and can also eliminate the limp from my walking. I wanted to point out the insane difference between generic medicine and brand name perscriptions. I had gone to a 24 pharmacist that asked whether I wanted the generic Cipro and I said of course. The price of the brand name was 3 times that of the generic medication. Ridiculous! It's also blows me away how generics in HIV/AIDs medication is so difficult to allow into South Africa even though a health crisis is happening right on the ground. Big Pharma has much strength to allow these drugs to come through to South Africa as much as it does to create barriers from its entrance. Afterall, once they allow one country to have ARVs (HIV medication) into the country with ease, then Big Pharma will also need let all the other countries be assisted from this deadly virus, and knock a bit off profits as it actually needs to compete (no more monopoly for you). Who would want this to happen...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Facing the Truth

Yesterday I attended a talk by Shannon Walsh from McGill University, Education, presented by the Centre for Civil Society. Shannon has been doing an ethnographic study on youth and the use of video. She used youth from Khayelitsha (township area) to develop a project about AIDS in their lives using the production of a documentary. She states that video was "transformed into a tool "for activist, pedagogical research and social change". She also saw the shift of power dynamics when conducting research. Instead of the orthodox foreign "privilege" researcher asking the questions, the students from an underprivileged area (township) were responsible in conducting the surveys in private elite high schools and township schools. It is a way of "researching up" or looking at research conducted by the actual participants. At the end she found the group gaining confidence and creating a documentary to share with their community. I wish Shannon all the luck with her research.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Umtentu, Transkei (Wild Coast), South Africa

Finally at the beach, Umtentu
Originally uploaded by make_change.
Happy Easter to you all! I just came back from a trip in to an area in South Africa called the South Coast in the Eastern Cape called the Transkei. They call the Transkei the Wild Coast and its roads and remoteness proves to be just as wild as it states. On the Friday night, we stayed at a backpackers called Uma Valley Lodge. The lodge is run by Bernice, a woman with four dogs and a rustic, hippy type of hostel. The next day we left Port Edward, bought food at the local grocery store, then drove 3 1/2 hours through the unpaved roads to Umtentu. The drive is not for the faint at heart. The tracks ran up and down through the gorge's rocky and muddy trails. While you drive through the trails, you will find several empty soccer fields (soccer posts made with 3 wood sticks) and then schools powered by solar panels. The drive also had kids running out the the car yelling "sweets! sweets!" or pounding rocks in the large pot holes through the route. At the end of the drive you arrive at Umtentu and a lodge hiding in the bush overlooking the ocean, gorge and the marine-protected esturary. There was only the four of us and three hikers at the huts where we stayed. The next morning was beautiful and sunny so up the gorge we went on canoes. I have never paddled between two massive gorges before with the sound of baboons and kingfisher birds chirping away. Only downside was when I slammed my knee on the rock while I was jumping into the river to swim and the knee is bruised for the rest of the trip. I have some kind of bacteria that is making my stomach churn so I'm on the antibiotic Cipro to fend it off. Click on the photo to see a few other shots from the Transkei.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Typing away about Mozambique

Not the most exciting weekend as it was mainly composed of me sitting in front of my laptop either reading journal articles I had downloaded or highlighting photocopies from other pile of paper. I'm still trying to finish the first of my 20+ page papers on post-colonialism in Mozambique from 1975-1982. Why you ask? Well, I suppose if I want to work in the country I should probably understand a bit about its history. It would probably be a bit ethnocentric to just take my assumptions from a Lonely Planet guidebook. It's been an interesting read though and found out more about Africa than I knew. from 1956-1965, 32 African states had gained independence from European colonial powers. Some of those tried to adopt a socialist form of government where decision making was based on consensus and community. In Mozambique, however, historical causes such as ethnic conflict, separation by the Portuguese armies, hiding from forced labour, had made many people to live in dispersed 3-4 household groupings all throughout the country. So Mozambique had less of the typical village or community type structure than other African states.

This weekend had been mainly overcast. Apparently, this is how it feels when the autumn comes about. On Friday, I did go for a long walk on the beach passed this decrepit whaling station and collected 30+ kare shells on the beach. These are those smooth shells that people put on their hemp necklace. I couldn't believe how many were in front of me. Back to work...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ben Cashdan - White Gold

This week had a chance to view a short documentary called White Gold produced by Johannesburg's Ben Cashdan. This film was about the exploitation of the Lesotho Highlands and the dams being produced to provide water to cities in South Africa. It displays the project according to its devastating effects to the environment, the displacement of indigenous people and the benefits only filtering to the rich. The other issue is the poor maintenance of the water pipes leading to South Africa as they have leaks all the way down to the cities. He's got other great docs on water privatization and apartheid. See if you can get your hands on it.

Africa's development

Today was my last day of class for this first quarter and I am left with one week to complete my two essays. Today's class had an engaging debate about Africa's development and whether "concessionary" corporations will continue to help or impede the growth of this continent. Some tough questions were brought up on about the bargaining power of this transnational corporations and if nations can use their negotiating power to make sound decisions and partnerships with these companies and see the benefits reek to the people. In my opinion, it seems that this negotiating power has much to do with understanding the strategies of business and obtaining this information and knowledge. If Africa is looking to see a capitalist society with an African elite, then maybe investment should be placed in nurturing the business leaders who believe in this culture. However, once we see these business leaders become government, there is also a need to nurture an active civil society who will be willing to fight for democracy, accountability and transparency from the government and see the state act in the interests of better lifes for communities. But what can be done now while we watch our universities and technical schools create this base of educated individuals? Do you sit in the sidelines and watch business exploit opportunities of cheap labour and tax avoidance? I suppose it can come down to a socially responsible business as well as a socially responsible person. I suppose leaders can grow to understand their power to help others will have greater intrinsic values versus the power of profit. I'm still on the fence about that. But individuals can also become socially responsible by seeing their value as shareholders for some of these companies that supposedly are pressured by their shareholders to produce bigger dividends. Choosing to invest and use the services of socially responsible companies and encouraging others to do the same can be the start. If you like some street action, try to look further and show interest into why social movements and protests are increasing all around the world and gasp, participate in one yourself. Again, I've made it here to South Africa to not just sit on the sidelines but take a small step in a better direction, and you, as caring optimistic individuals, will also take strives to see the small changes you can make in your own lives.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Weekend Move

Nothing to special to report for the weekend except that the move was successful and I'm very happy with the ceiling fan and clean tub in the new place. It's an interesting place with the landlady living in the basement of the house with her crazy white dog, her grandson living at the top of the house, and next door, another "granny flat" with some older woman. This type of housing complex seems to be very common all over the Bluff especially now that real estate & development is up 200% in South Africa. There is construction happening everywhere. I still have a small window view of the sea from my desk but otherwise my glass sliding doors face into the grassy patch that connects all three buildings. I had a small walk around the Bluff and found this elementary school with this gorgeous view of Durban and its industrial harbour. This morning I woke up at 6:30am and had a drive down to town at Addington beach (sandy break) and had some lovely rolling sets come with a beautiful sunny sky. Good way to start the morning.