Friday, February 23, 2007

News from East Africa

River flooded 6 days ago
Originally uploaded by make_change.
Mozambique Cyclone : Wow, I have been following the news mainly from the prior flooding taking place. The flooding came from the release of the dam. Today, I learn about the cyclone. I hope that the prior evacuation had helped to keep the displaced from what could have been disastrous. Read more...

Nairobi: Headlines: "Death of a Gangster"

The last month, the national newspapers have been posting photos of the recently gunned down in Nairobi. After two Americans and a prominant AIDs doctor shocked the international community, steps were taken to oust the crime wave. Apparently this criminal has been causing trouble in his community for a long time charged for 11 murders and many other robberies. Only since high profile individuals had been caught in the killing spree have steps been taken to find individuals like Simon Matheri. However, had the high profile murders not taken place, would the killings continue on in this small neighborhood in Athi River? This is the case for many other neighborhoods of the poor who suffer insecurity and crime in their areas where they have reported activity to the police but do not have the international coverage.


The web is a powerful place. I had bought a mac computer because of the ease of its editing software for video, software that I had become fairly familiar with during my time at undergrad setting up UBC TV on campus. We were circuit one and streamed video on sports events through out campus. At that time, we were revolutionary, in having the ability to broadcast the largest intramural program in Canada. Now, I logged onto the UBC TV website and they have caught on with the blaze of videoblogging and show videos created by their team and UBC students. Amazing stuff.

Another revolution. Editing software is expensive. But NGO-in-a-box has gathered all the different Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) so that people can edit and produce video basically for free with their own equipment! Social activism on video is existing and videobloggers on forums like EngageMedia are showing others what is happening on the field in terms of activism. Blown away.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Canadian Senate drills CIDA's poor work in Africa

Wow, this report states that CIDA has not made a difference in the last 40 years and that the whole institution should be disbanded. The Senate had interviews with hundreds of Canadians and Africans on the state of development in Africa and CIDA's work in the field and found that 80% of CIDA staff are in Ottawa, not in the developing country. The recommendation is to reverse this trend and see 80% of staff in Africa and have an Africa-located office. I like that prospect... especially since the people living in Africa are part of the process and more likely to experience the struggles of the people here.

As I have been a CIDA intern in the past, I think that there are certain benefits of sending Canadians abroad to work in the field and actually have a better glimpse of the true nature of development.

They also recommended more economic development projects instead of social welfare programmes... unsure where I stand on this but I suppose if Canada supports economic growth, they assume that the growth will immediately go to social programs - um, bad assumption, especially where civil society and governance is still extremely weak. As much as I support economic development, there still needs to be integration of social policy in order to see that education and health are driving priorities for the countries.

What a wonderful time to re-examine CIDA's work and see how more effective change can take place.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The restaurant below!

I finally had the chance to try out a new restaurant called Slims Restaurant. Now, I know you folks back in Vancouver get the impression of some cheap french fries and even cheaper beverages... but unfortunately, Slims (Nairobi) this is not the case. I entered in my flip flops and noticed, at around 6:30pm, the clientele were apres business folks in suits. Very nice central bar and booth seating on the side and well placed dining setting. Impressed! I sat with my friend Veronique and we ordered the guacamole and chips for a starter then one steak for her and one grilled tilapia for me. We chatted all about life and her getting back to conduct her research in Sudan (boy, have I been brought to another light about the conflict in Sudan!) and other things happening in and around Nairobi. The tilapia was excellent and not sure exactly how they were able to scale the fish and leave no bones! Nice herby type sauce. The crowd started to fill in a bit two hours later of Kenyans and a table of a few foreigners. Nice to try a new place once in a while.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I have been busy typing away at this literature review trying to tie all the amazing ideas and thoughts which can accumulate from this study into some kind of concrete plan. I just read this Working Paper from MIT - Department of Economics called "the Economic lives of the poor" by Banerjee and Duflo, which look at 13 countries and their Living Standard Measurement Surveys (LSMS). These surveys tell you what a person spends their money on in a month, what is their income, where they live and other demographics. They looked particularly at the bottom 10% of the population of these countries and saw that the poor did have gaps in their budget for things like entertainment, alcohol, and other non-needed food items. The problem is having a reliable place to save and psychologically commit to the future when their lives were in many times, such an unstable and insecure state. I should be able to get some great ideas from this paper.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Catherine & I at Lake Naivasha

"if you pray for rain, plan for a thunderstorm..." - I just heard this on the BBC Africa this morning on my walk to work... I love how I have a little FM radio on my cell phone. It's actually keeping me up to date with the world news and the interesting debates and opinions. Like last night, they were asking people about Senator Obama and his presidential bid - while the commentators kept pushing for this media-generated, "can he represent African-Americans", the people phoning in kept telling them that it has nothing to do with race and in fact, it's just exciting to have a new face interested in taking leadership in America. By the way, the Kenyans LOVE Obama because his father was Kenyan-born and word on the street say that the Luo tribe (where his father was from) are attaching 'Obama' to the name of their children. Wicked.

There was also BBC debates on the Dixie Chicks and how they just won 5 Grammy awards even after the media exploited their words against Bush and the war and making it seem like the state of Texas was completely against them. Then these callers were saying how it was unfair that the media did not show the Texans who actually were completely against the war and supported the anti-war messages by the Dixie Chicks. I love the BBC Africa radio station, so great!

This last week has been eventful; went to Lake Naivasha for a staff retreat that focused on "stregthening institutional capacity" and noticed themes of integrating montioring and evaluation of programs are still taking a back-burner for many projects when it is always brought up in terms of importance. The lake was nice with hippos in the back and deer wandering the grassy fields. The hotel was incredible with a gym, tennis courts and delicious buffets.

On the weekend, I tried out an Ethiopean restaurant which was very tasty and not too expensive. I also took an afternoon to go to the nearby Nairobi National Park. The park was not too busy but didn't see too many animals. Lots of giraffes and butterflies but the grass was so high and trees so green and lush from the rains. It made it impossible to follow an animal once they entered the dense bush. Midway through the trip, the rain started to fall and our 9 passenger van slipped and slid through the wet soil. It was madness; we didn't get out until 7pm at night (6:30pm was the closing time). Mental note: go to NNP only at winter.

On Sunday, I went with my Japanese neighbor and her 1 year old son to this massive outdoor mall called the Village market. Nice shops but very pricey and nothing that I could really say I wanted to take back as presents except for some of their cool handmade glasses shaped like elephants for $10 USD. The really interesting part was the diversity of people entering the mall. It is this middle to upper class group with their families from all around the world just enjoying the patio atmosphere on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the international food court. That was nice to see.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Who questions the World Bank?

The Bretton Woods Project is fantastic and brave at pointing out the substantial flaws in development research conducted by the World Bank. Evidence come up "technically flawed" and "inconsistent" and many delivered and written only to complement an agenda set up by the institution. Many of the researchers are pressured to not offend their policies or partners and will choose Western researchers who believe in the same objectives they do. The major flaws of the World Bank is that their research is not peer-reviewed like most academic journals and they are unlikely to be conducted by developing country researchers. Other aspects outside of income are rarely conducted in order to truly understand a country's economic and developmental climate.

It is good to question where information has been retrieved and try to understand the flaws because at the end of the day, important policies are passed due to bad research which does not help the country in development.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

International Development Week

Being here in Nairobi, I haven't experience too many events involving International Development Week in Canada... however, I'm not too sure how many Canadians are even aware of the week and will be participating in the events an International Development Week. Well, I hope that I will be proven wrong and see Canadians at least try to learn more about the world around us through one of the organized events hosted by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) or trying to look up on the web different development initiatives taking place every day on the other side of the world or even in your own backyard.

I try to follow as closely as possible the different funded programmes that come through town like the Global Aids campaign or organizations setting up the marketing for selling and distributing mosquito nets to the country. It's great to see these programmes happening but it is also important to be critical about these programmes and looking to see that their plans attempt to be local (local staff and local materials) and self-sustainable. The other important aspect is to see that people try to evaluate their successes or challenges and look for ways of improvement vs. just securing funding. Development is not just a donation; it's ensuring that people grow out of poverty through their own decisions and choices and that we try to support their decisions by helping them influence government or look for ways of access to their very dire needs.

Staff Retreat to Lake Naivasha

Today, I'll be leaving at around 10am for our staff retreat to Lake Naivasha. It is a few hours outside of Nairobi into the central Rift Valley. Apparently it is an area where many of the local Maasai people live and the lake is one of Kenya's fresh water lakes. The Rift Valley has recently had cases of "fevers" where the cattle are catching some kind of mozzy bite and meat needs to be treated carefully. Eeee. We are staying at a nice place called Naivasha Simba Lodge which looks really nice and it's in front of the lake. However, we'll see how much time we'll have enjoying the scenery as most of the time will be spent at meetings on personnel people from Ottawa and workshops right until we leave at 4:00pm the next day. Until then...

Monday, February 05, 2007

BOP - Bottom of the Pyramid Marketing!

While here, I am trying to understand how businesses are able to service the poor and it appears that emerging literature on this massive market of 80% of the world's population will soon be seen in a new light. Harvard University had this new article come out on the concept of "bottom of the pyramid" and is one of many universities researching on how companies can look at the emerging economies and develop the right products or services to serve their needs.

The Junction in Nairobi

I moved into the new place yesterday and I'll soon post some photos of the pad. It's really great and there is a small balcony where you can stare out onto the busy main road. There is some kind of church across the way so there were loads of vehicles parked all over. I went over to one of the local malls called the Junction and finally exposed myself to Nairobi coffee at the Java House. This outdoor patio in front of the parking lot was packed with people local and non-local all enjoying a Sunday brunch. I had myself a beef burrito with guacamole and beans - not bad! The coffee is pretty good too with a whole selection that any real coffee shop should host. It is incredible but there is certainly a demand for this type of coffee shop in Nairobi with the mix of expatriates and locals reaching the middle class income level. Attached is a massive Nakumatt for groceries as well as other little clothing shops and the Kazuri beads shop. Great place if you want to be out of the city and need a piece of "home"...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

One month in Nairobi - check!

Well, it's been a month and a month which has definitely flown by. Today, I went for a walk around the city and still discovering all kinds of hole in the wall restaurants with brilliant soups (Chinese chicken and spinach) and fresh mango juice. I don't know why I keep waiting for the right time to check out either Java House or Normans - their two big coffeehouses... I'm afraid that I'll be disappointed coming from Vancouver, the coffee village. I now notice that there are cybercafes (big and small) EVERYWHERE in this city and 1 minute costs about 10cents. It's amazing that such infrastructure completely exists here, and it's fairly fast. I have been skype-ing from my office and from a small 6-computer cybercafe across the street from the hostel. It's been great!

Also found a great little bookshop, Book Villa near the pretigious Stanley Hotel which lets you either be a member and borrow books all year for a fee or buy a book and once you return it, you can buy another book for half price. Such a great idea! I also noticed how entreprenuerial people are here. I meet taxi drivers running small food stands on the side of the road. People selling newspapers at every corner (and lots of people read the newspapers in Nairobi), lots of suits during the week heading to their job for the week. Amazing stuff.

It must be my week because a co-worker has offered me her spare bedroom to stay there for my remaining 3 months in Nairobi. She has a great furnished apartment on the 4th floor about 7-10 minute walk to the office. So I'll actually get to cook if I want to or order food in. That's all for now... have a great weekend.