Sunday, December 28, 2008

Home for Christmas

Here I am back in Calgary for Christmas.   Indeed its a good feeling to be home to relax and visit everyone...and to look in the fridge and find such items as smoked salmon, pumpkin pie and eggnog. 

Yes - Mom is happy, and yes - thats whip cream on that pie.

My surprise was made possible because I have extended my contract with EWB up to March 2010, which means I am back in Canada for a month to visit everyone and to attend the EWB National Conference in January.

Spencer - This guy showed up while I was away.

Cariann - way taller than the last time I saw her.

Can't say that I feel any reverse culture shock.  Mostly things are exactly how I remember them from 11 months ago.  I can say I've noticed the fast internet, the good roads, the over packaged food and  the amount of clutter in peoples homes.  We just have stuff everywhere....

Some entertainment if anyones looking 

A video from some volunteers in Western Africa

A video from us in Southern Africa

Sunday, December 21, 2008

So This Is Christmas (in Rural Zambia)

December 20th 

I am sitting on a bus heading south through the copper-belt of Zambia.  My arm is swollen from a bee sting, I just finished 5 delicious bananas that I bought through the  window of the bus at the last village - and under my seat I have 2 pineapples which cost me 20 cents each.  Under the seat of the old lady sitting across from me there are 2 chickens sitting in a plastic bag.  No, they're not frozen chickens, they're actually alive and this is fairly common because power (and hence refrigeration) are scarce, so the best way to keep your meat from spoiling is by keeping it alive.  It seems this lady is travelling with her grandchildren and they are sharing a bottle of coca-cola.

In the seat behind her, there are three people, a baby, a mother and another lady who seems to be another grandmother.  They look so happy that its giving me that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.  ( Grandma swings baby's hands and creates a smile, later baby cries and mom makes funny noises to try and distract her)  I can only guess that they are travelling to visit some family back in their home town/village.  And I can only guess that those two overwhelmed looking chickens are going to be Christmas dinner for a lucky family.


Further to the front of the bus, there is a gentlemen taking honey to the city of Kitwe.  I asked him and he says he bought it from farmers in Mwinilunga and he is pretty sure he can sell all 400kg of it at a handsome profit tomorrow.  This is a good sign because it means the farmers have multiple buyers.


The man sitting beside me is a mail man, and two times a week he takes the bus 300km to the provincial capital to drop off all the outgoing mail and collect the incoming mail.

My New Home


This past month I've been staying at my new place in Kabanda - which is a compound in the same town as the honey factory.  Its been great to finally have my own place and to learn more of the local language and more about the people.  (the majority of the people here belong to the Lunda tribe)  For half of the month the town was without power, and it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference for me because my new house doesn’t use power - we have charcoal for cooking and candles for light.

 The open door is to my room - check out the nice glass window!

I live with a family of 5 children.  The father is Mr. Matulu, he is one of the workers at Forest Fruits.  The mother works at a small restaurant - which requires her to work from 7am - 9pm every day, including half a day on Sunday. 


Last week I went to plant maize with the firstborn son and some other relatives.  Mostly though we saw a lot of women in working in the fields - and do they ever have big biceps!


I still have blisters from this day.

Roy is on the right - he loves music too much.



My neighbours are Mr. Matulu's sisters, one of which owns a small bakery.  Stellah has two children, her husband died ten years ago and she has managed to make a good living by selling her baked goods.  She has even managed to build a second house which she rents out for extra income.  I'm working with her on ways in which she can differentiate from the other bakers in town so she can increase her sales.





As my shirt gets sticky from sweat, and I watch the lush green countryside pass by, I find it hard to imagine Christmas back home.  I officially feel disconnected.  Here, Christmas is unnoticeable, there is no Christmas music and no special "gift giving" advertisements.  On Christmas day the average family will go to church and maybe save up a bit of money to buy some beef or a chicken, so they can then make a nice meal to celebrate.


Please dont forget to give a little to my campaign to support my work here through Engineers Without Borders.  Seriously, whats an extra $20 on your credit card?

Click Here to Help me 

I wish a merry Christmas to everyone back home.  I miss you all.

Random Photo from last week - this bee is busy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

An Enabling Environment

A short note about the place I live - where nothing can be taken for granted.  I've been warned not to post a blog that is like a rant, but its just too interesting to layout some of the challenges I'm seeing here.

In this past week, since returning from Kabompo, here is a list of some of the things that you would think would be available in a town of 20,000 - but unfortunately are not.

The town runs on a diesel generator which costs about $.40/kWhr to supply electricity, yet the government owned supplier charges just $.03/kWhr - so we have anywhere from 1 to 5 hours of power per day.

The town needs power to run its water supply, and so we get about 2 hours a day where there is water in the taps.  

Construction Supplies
May not be so dire, but seriously, something as simple as a welding rod, a cutting disk - or as simple as a screw - you can't find them here.

The main phone provider was down for two days.

There are days when you cant find a drop of gasoline. (even at $2.50 per litre)

Health Care
I had to travel over 30km to get some medicine.  The government hospital which is a short walk away only employs 2 doctors and stocks medicine for Malaria and diahrea, but little else.

There hasn't been any cash at the bank now for two days.  Imagine!

All things considered, its still pretty good.  We can get vegetables and fruits are so plentiful they are rotting on the ground...and there is chlorine so we can treat the water, and there are trees so we can cook the vegetables.

And of course, the people are great - and the motorbikes almost never break down, and cell phones usually work, and ya...things arent all that bad.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Letting Go

A trip to Kabompo

For whatever reason, it was decided that I should go to Kabompo with our buyer Chiko.  The part that makes sense is we want to buy more honey, so we're hoping to find it there.  The part that doesn't make perfect sense, is why am I going...

Either way, I found myself catching a lift in a nice NGO sponsored SUV, sipping on Coca-cola and chewing on some biscuits while watching 250 km of landscape unfold bofore me.

Chiko was suppose to follow me on the motorbike, but he was held up so I had the day to myself.  What a weird feeling, I didn't have my laptop, I actually didn't even have my bag since it was dropped off at his sisters place and I couldn't get a hold of her.  So it was just me and my phone and a little bit of cash...oh ya, and an amazing little town in the middle of nowhere africa.  

The Kabompo River

This River is apparently the second deepest in Africa, when engineers came to put a bridge, they weren't able to put any columns, so it had to suspend all the way from one bank to the other.

Chiko arrived on Monday and I got to meet his friend, 'sister' Jean.  She is the sweetest person and was sure to take care of us much the way my mother would appreciate it, reminding both of us to brush our teeth, don't drive too fast, make sure you have enough water....and on and on.

The best part about small town Africa is that you get to walk around at night and not worry about it.  For most of my time so far, I've been stuck in Lusaka where its not advisable to walk around after 8pm.  On our walk that night we were treated to a very stary night that was highlighted with a crescent moon sitting exactly between jupiter and venus.

The Motorbike

My skills on the motorbike are just so-so.  I can go about 80 km/hr on a perfectly paved road.  On the side road, maybe 50 km/hr, and on sand - lets just say its something I'm working on.  

Tuesday we set off and I quickly discovered the sensation of flying on a motorbike.  The logic is perfect, when I explained to Chiko that I dont like going over 50 - he says "you dont feel the bumps if you go fast" - and he was totally right.  Next test, sand.  Deep sand on a narrow pathway.  He let me try for about 10 minutes, but I was way too slow.  We switched, and before I knew it, we were going 80 km/hr on this tiny little path and we were litterally floating on sand.  The back tire would swing left and right and Chiko negotiated the path the way he's been doing for 6 years.  
The feeling was totally liberating.  It felt like a thrill ride that lasted for 30 km.  My life actually felt completely out of my control, and once I accepted that, it was a nice feeling.  The air became fresher, the sky looked bluer and the trees looked taller.

Needless to say, I found out why everyone says a little prayer and does the sign-of-the-cross before getting on the bike with Chiko.

An Option

The next day, the beekeepers we were going to visit were located on the other side of the river, and we had to drive about 80 km just to cross the river using the bridge.  Then we went about 30 km into the bush.  On the way back, Chiko told me there was a boat that could save us this 80 km stretch.  He said last time they tried it, they fell in before even pushing he vowed to never do it again.  However, we were told by one other guy that he took his motorbike over successfully, so there we were trying.

Here goes.

Now this river looks innocent enough, and these guys take people across all the time, but let me tell you...there are hippoes and crocodiles in this river, and if the bike drops in there is about a 0% chance we'd ever get it back.  Whatever the logic is here, we decided to go for it.  

And 2 minutes later, for just $1, there we were on the other side, dry, safe, and still with 80km worth of fuel in the tank.

Back Home

I'm now back in Mwinilunga, after riding through a lightening storm at crazy speeds on the back of Chiko's motorbike for 3 hours, the blood in my veins is still jostling around as if I were still on the bike.  It reminds me of the way I felt after water skiing in BC.  Not sure if mom would approve of all this, but thats the way things work around here.  We would travel a distance of150 km or more, just to speak to a beekeeper for 20 minutes.  Imagine if we could just call them instead!

Time to get back to office work again.  The cash is heading out into the field, and the honey is coming in.

Chiko gives a thumbs up before setting off into the bush.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Moving Around

So I have been very movious as of late.

(still not sure if its a real word, but people here use it often - and I guess that makes it real.  A movious person is a person who moves around a lot)

All the EWB volunteers in Southern Africa met in Dedza, Malawi.

There are 8 new volunteers since I arrived, so all of a sudden I'm not the new guy on the block.  Not sure how I feel about it since it still feels like I am just settling in and as I look ahead to how much I want to get done in the next 5 months, I realize I have to start working more efficiently.

Nothing too dramatic to report at the moment, I hope to have a post in 1 week about my new living situation.

My trip to Malawi

When you get on a bus here, the bus driver will tell you "we leave at 06 hours", but what he really means is the earlies we'll leave is 06 hours.  In fact, what happens is the bus doesn't leave until its full.  Needless to say, after spending the night watching the american elections with some other volunteers we got to spend 3 hours waiting to actually start our 15 hour journey to Malawi.  Luckily, fellow EWB'r - Ashley Raeside, had her handy mp3 player which also has a radio.  So I sat and listened to history in the making, as John McCain gave his concession speach and new president elect, Mr. Barrack Obama gave his speach, I sat on this bus and felt my skin tingle .... as if maybe there is hope, maybe we can make things better, and maybe the government of the United States will take actions that will actualy lead to peace in the world.  

(Not two weeks later I found out Zambia is heading for a serious recession as it closes down its copper mines because of the global recession and falling copper prices)

My view from the bus as I listened to history in the making.

In Eastern Zambia, cotton is the major cash crop.   

I could speak for hours on the complexity of how a business can be good or bad for the small-holder farmers of Zambia, but instead, I'll just say that a company like Dunavant has a lot of potential to do good, yet, because of the lack of competition and transparency, I have to say that Zambia would probably be a lot better off without this particular company.

A very nice town in Eastern Zambia, Chipata

Yes, Obama is popular here.

On my way back to Mwinilunga, I am spending a few days working in Lusaka, which is nice.  Imagine a place where you can just go buy cheese and icecream!  Better fill up on the good stuff since I know it'll be a long time before I see those goodies again.

The guys in front of yet another truck that has been overhauled.

Turns out, transportation is by far our biggest cost at Forest Fruits.  Its becoming painfully obvious as we try to buy honey and the trucks are all down.  Meanwhile the competition is 'stealing' our honey from our beekeepers.  Oh ya, and this isn't just regular competion, this competition is funded by donors from Europe.   Of course the donors dont really know what there money is being used for, and therefore have no idea of the affect this is having on the ground.  The survival of the company is in jeopardy.  Some might say this is no big deal, as long as the farmers are able to keep selling their honey...isn't that whats important?  YES.  But what happens when the donor money stops, lets just say, hypothetically, there is a global recession and all of a sudden this particular donor decides not to fund 'rural empowerment' in Zambia, then the farmers cant sell their honey because they caused Forest Fruits to go out of business.  Now imagine, hypothetically, that the donors didnt bother in the first place, voila, Forest Fruits is still functioning and the farmers can still sell their honey.

Its not quite so cut and dry, but this is really happenning, and peoples livelihoods really are at stake.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Kicking and Screaming

Kicking and Screaming

These are the two words that come to mind when I think about doing business in rural Zambia. Note the caveat, RURAL. I’m talking about a place that is 1000 km from the capital city, and this capital city is another 2500 km from the nearest ocean port. Business in the city on the other hand seems rather easy, there is a huge lack of competition – however this too is slowly changing as deals are struck with China and India.

A few months ago my boss decided this year Forest Fruits was going on a training safari. The team designed a 14 day trip which would cover over 1000km and would allow us to visit all 6000 of our beekeepers. The purpose was to get feedback from the beekeepers on what the company could do better.

3 weeks ago, it was time to suit up and head to the bush. This included purchasing some 600 cups, plates and some giant pots for cooking. Sure enough the vehicle was highly overloaded, it overheated, was leaking a ton of oil and started making new sounds as if to reject the large load we put on top of it.

Never-the-less, we reached our destination and organized the team of 10 who would make up the travelling crew. A big part of the plan we had designed was around food. I have fed 2000 people cheese before, but feeding 6000 people a hot meal in the bush was another story. The plan was to buy vegetables and cows in the villages, we would slaughter the animals and bring a freezer with us to store the meat since it would have to last more than 1 day. Animal #1 & 2 were already cut and put into the freezer before leaving, but what a terrible smell! We set off into the bush in true Zambian fashion – by push starting the truck.

Despite the heavy downpour while trying to set up our tents, things were looking up when we reached our first camp site, ‘the rapids’. It was beautiful, the water was perfect for bathing and even though we didn’t have cell phone reception, this place did have power so we could plug in our freezer.

The first meeting was very exciting, the beekeepers showed up singing and I was anxious to see what they would say about the company.

So these beekeepers are the people everyone hears about when World Vision or Oxfam talks about statistics where people live on less than a dollar a day. Imagine how resourceful you would have to be if all you had was $300 a year to live on? They want loans, they want a higher price for their honey and they want to feel sure that the company will be on time this year to buy their honey.

We spoke to the principal of the school in Salujinga and he said he has just two teachers for the 300 kids. I was at least impressed to see solar panels…although I’m not sure how this helped learning when there are just 2 teachers?

This meeting had 280 beekeepers show up.

Mr. Dan Ball having fun doing a demonstration.

Here I am trying to help in the kitchen.

Here are the real pro's at work.  

I took shelter from the rain with these kids, they would run out and eat the hail.

If you look closely you can see the route we travelled is highlighted in yellow.

After a while a pattern emerged and the days started rolling by.  Some meetings would have 80 people, some would have 280.

More 'Kicking and Screaming'

The roads 

As I moved with the honey team we travelled about 1300 kilometers on roads which connect the far remote corners of Zambia to the rest of the world.  In Canada, these 'roads' would be considered unpassable, long forgotten pathways.  Meanwhile, for the thousands of beekeepers and their communities, it is their sole connection to the outside world.  

We got stuck in one of the sandy planes. (it's a lot like getting stuck in deep snow)

Here we are navigating through the bush.

C’est moi - at another spot we had to get out of the vehicle – this time we had to go off-road..

All in all it was a great couple of weeks.  The weather here is perfect, low of 15 for great sleeping and highs of 30. 


A perfect waterfall beside our campsite.

I definitely enjoyed bathing in this lagoon.  Paradise.

This is part of the mission station we stayed at for a day off.

The reason behind it all, the Mbambe (Beekeeper)


This old guy (mwanta) is about 80 years old and still has a lot of fight in him.  The beekeepers walk for miles through thick bush to harvest honey, they risk falling from a tree, they get stung countless times, and then they have to carry it back. 

I saw a lot of good things on my tour; smiling faces, waterfalls, forward thinking and teamwork.  And I saw a lot of things that concern me; 12 year-old girls breastfeeding, disappearing forests and terrible roads.

The best we can do is work with them to create a sustainable business.  There may be a lot of kicking and screaming in the process of getting it going, and maybe there is a special set of skills required, but isn’t that the same for any business anywhere?  If it was easy, it would've been done before.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Training Safari

Well, I'm off to the bush for two weeks on a training safari. I'll be camping with 10 other people from the Forest Fruits crew and we hope to meet and discuss issues with all 6000 beekeepers.

Sure is nice to be out of the city again. The air is clean, the birds are singing and there is no power at night. (or in the day most of the time)

Thursday, September 4, 2008


So I realize that I haven't been the most vocal person in the last two months. Maybe no one really noticed anyway because the dog-days of summer are just wiping your conscience free of the concept of time?

Either way, I feel compelled to write something. So what happens if I don't have anything to write. Let’s just have a glass of gin and juice, pick a cool word and let the writing times roll.

Gin and Juice - check.

Cool word...hmmm, how about Earth.

C'est tres cool, everyone loves the Earth.

Here we go. A few of you may have known that I spent 4 years working with my Dad, I took care of Springbank Cheese in Calgary. It was a great time, and all the while I kept my ear to the ground for what was happening around the world -

In January 2006, I fulfilled my two year resignation plan and headed to Quebec. My heart wasn't in it anymore, and not just the company, but development also. I didn't know if poverty alleviation was what I wanted to focus on.

Off I went to Quebec, completely directionless. All I knew was that my soft side wanted to help people, because that made me happy. My logical side wanted to prevent the extinction of the human race. Sure, maybe I'm a bit drastic, but I think I see some large indications that good ol' mankind was heading in the wrong direction. My first instinct wasn't to become a monk, it was to change peoples minds about consumerism. I read a few books and watched every TEDTalk I could -

After all that, consumerism still bothered me...but wait a minute, isn't there something called supply and demand? So if you want to live a consumeristic lifestyle, you'll just have to pay for it. As the Earth's supply goes down, the price will go up. (even for things which should be fundamental human rights, such as chocolate, cheese, HONEY, and beer)

Problem solved.

So what is the real problem?

There is an irreversible component. If you believe that driving your car causes global warming, and that this could trigger an ice-age or at least economic hardships, then hippity hoppity, lets stop driving our cars or at least reduce the greenhouse gases associated with it.

So maybe I believe in global warming to be man made, or maybe its caused by solar flares on the sun...either way, there are millions of people and enough money behind solving that issue. Plus, it's possible that one technical discovery could actually solve all the worlds energy problems AND global warming concerns. And it could happen almost overnight, something like....nano-solar?

What else could the real problem bee? What else is irreversible?

Pollution, species extinction, war?

It was interesting to see that the Nobel Peace Prize was won by a guy who started a Bank which helped extremely poor people get a fair price for the business they ran. Nobel peace prize and Banking, hmm, but where is the link? Peace and Poverty, Poverty and Peace. How are they related?

Turns out, the whole globalization thing is a fairly new phenomenon. Back before the advent of the airplane, the world never had to think as a whole. In fact, there are only two reasons to consider the people in a different part of the world.

1. WAR


Either you worried about them attacking, or you worried about the cost of those things which can't be produced locally, hence you needed to trade for them.

So there you have it. WAR and TRADE, now if TRADE is related to wealth, and WAR is obviously related to peace...then it becomes clear that Peace and Poverty must be related. (ok, I'll leave it to the Nobel Prize folk for explaining in detail, maybe its not perfectly clear)

Either way, the conclusion is that More TRADE = less WAR.


Less Poverty = more Peace.

My decision was to work towards less poverty via more trade. The trade doesn't need to be international per se, but the further away the customer the more peace it promotes. The underlying reason why more trade creates more wealth is because it causes specialization which effectively leads to more efficiency. Instead of owning my own land, planting my own crops, watering, cropping, storing and cooking my own food, I can divide up these jobs and choose to do what I do best. Maybe storing is my specialty. If I work with 50 people, the sum of our output can be triple what we could do individually. This is REAL wealth, there aren't even complicated outside forces to dispute it. With specialization comes technology, the more time you spend doing one repeated task, the more you can benefit from a tool which can help you do that one thing.

Engineers Without Borders - Promoting human development through access to technology.

Indeed a shameless plug for EWB, but maybe there is something to it?

Whatever the Logic, the work I'm doing feels right, so maybe I'm really just following a feeling.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Around The Yard

So around the yard also means around the factory.

Laure-Eloise convinced me that I should put some more pictures up.

The guys stirring the honey before we 'process' it.

Unloading the new machine for bottling the honey.

A (yellow) flower.

Me on a Sunday afternoon.

I have a few ideas rolling around that I hope to share on my next post, coming soon. The weather in Lusaka has changed dramatically in the last 3 weeks, we now get +30 during the day and the low at night hardly requires a blanket. The hot season is upon us.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Honey Team

his is what its all about...

well ok, maybe it was just nice to have a lot of friends around. This last week I was lucky enough to attend the Zambian Agriculture and Commercial Show, which was amazing. There were a lot of development organizations, but also a lot of businesses.
Rogers checks out a 30 ton trailer

We got tired of walking around so went to have a few beers and watch the marching band from the bar.
This Wednesday & Thursday we had our Year Plan Meeting for Forest Fruits at a lodge 50km out of town. The meeting itself was amazing, I was asked to facilitate (which was a good experience) and it was really good to see what everyones ideas were. I think we all left the meeting with enthusiasm and now we have a vision to work towards for the next 12 months.

Vision, ideas, sharing... those are all great, but for sure the best part was seeing everyone again. I have spent just 5 weeks up in Mwinilunga, but while I was there I made friends with the management team and now I realize just how much I missed them. I took some pictures during the breaks and now I'd like to introduce...

The Honey Team

starting with Evans - he was the one who saved me from the red ants

Chiko - knows all 6000 beekeepers and is a madman on the motorbike

Alice - holds down the fort and keeps us from starving.

Matimba - a real sucker for new gadgets (zen being the latest)

Womba - still giving it 100% at 8 months pregnant!
Mr. Jalata - he is just too nice

???? - is this guy ever going to cut that hair. ..

Chris - my pushup buddy who's trying to shift some belly weight into muscle mass

Dan Ball - busy eating and eating before his wife (Barb) returns from Canada

So ya, no picture of Barb, she should be enjoying her time in Algonquin park right about now.

--Insert picture here--

Barb - the mom/nurse to the bunch who keeps us in good health.

We got to see lions, giraffes, elephants, zibras and gazelles all in one hour!

And then before we knew it our 2 days were up.

A great team, a great place and an exciting year to come.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What is Development to me?

"You have a great placement"

This is what my friend Hans told me after spending a couple of days at my place since he was temporarily homeless in Lusaka because the house he was living in was sold and his landlord inconveniently forgot to inform him.

The word placement shocked me. I really don't think of it as a 'placement', to me its become my life, and I have to agree, I have a great life.

Why am I here?

I'm here because I care and I feel I have something to contribute to development. (and the thought of returning to Canada to engage in a job that doesn't directly contribute... sorta frightens me)

What is development to me?

Not exactly sure, but if I start with the basics - I feel that everyone wants friends, health, knowledge and a decent income. (friends are plentiful, so I figure its about having a job, healthcare & education) Problem is that not everyone has access to these, nor do they have the power to gain access.

So this results in two fundamental things. 1 - power, 2 - ability to get power. Since you can get number 1 if you have number 2, then I guess even more fundamentally, development is allowing people the ability to get power.

What gives you power? Of course this depends on the situation. It could be your wealth, or it could be your age, gender, education, language, good looks (or other characteristics like strength, athleticism, musical talent, etc), your nationality, race, religion, location, caste or even your friends. In Canada the amount by which any of these can empower a person is different than it is in Zambia. Race, religion and age in Canada mean relatively little compared to what they mean in Zambia. Many of these are things you are born with, others you can obtain, but to obtain them you often need to have access to health care, education or a good job. Back to square one.

Wealth is the usually the easiest to translate into power regardless of the situation.

(As an aside - I feel healthcare and education are critical to a good life and the basic levels are very much the role of government. But if your government isn’t capable of providing this, then development projects should fill this gap.)

A solution that actually works?

There are a few organizations here that are funded by Canadians/westerners and are hoping to address the issue of income generation. The magical formula which has worked in the past, goes something like this. Paul and his wife Samantha are farmers that live in a village, they have 2 hectares of land to grow corn, peanuts and vegetables along with a few chickens and cows. They don't have access to health care or good education for their kids, plus they have no savings. But, life is actually pretty good right now, there is food, shelter and you can hear laughter coming from the kids playing outside. This is the case until someone gets sick or there is a drought or a flood. They have very little capital to deal with problems.

Now for the magical part: all you have to do is introduce them to someone who wants to buy something they are producing, this will allow them to save some money (aka. connect them to a market). Or introduce them to someone selling seeds or fertilizer or vet services so they can produce more to save some money (aka. access to better inputs). Or even better, have Paul and Samantha create a cooperative with all their neighbours so they can save money by bulking their inputs or crops to save on transportation costs.

My impression is that there are hundreds of organizations across Africa trying to do one of or all of these things.

It is a bit like a dating service, the organization searches for sellers and looks for buyers and then introduces the two. Of course its not so simple, they also have to facilitate the process and remove some of the risk that exists on both sides so that in the event that it doesn't work out, they haven't actually made things worse. And to make it even more difficult, the organization is on a contract with a donor who has given just enough money to get it right in 2 or 3 seasons.

A common problem is that the organization ends up not only facilitating these relationships, they actually become an integral part of the the role of the telephone, without them, the buyer and seller don't communicate and so after 3 years with some successes, the donor feels good and the org. is happy but if you check in a year or two later you find that the relationships fell apart and it was all for not. Another common problem is the org. becomes the transportation from the field to town, which again is a critical function. Either way, there is pressure from the donor for results, and there is pressure to 'buy-down' the risks to the farmers, so the org. ends up stepping in and becoming part of the relationship and the whole thing becomes unsustainable.

1 year after the project ends, Samantha and Paul are no better off and the org. is out looking for more funding to start another project. Oh ya, and the donor feels good because they were told that the results were good.

Donor => pretty happy (seems to be good results, don't need to give any more money)
Org. => sorta happy (they had good paying jobs for 3 years)
Farmers => hardly happy (lot of effort into changing lives, few benefits seen)

Is there a way all three stakeholders can be really happy?


What can be sustainable?

It's only a theory, but I think more organizations should just accept that they will become part of the relationship and they should try to make money doing it. If they aren't able to make money at it, then how do they expect a business to make money at it? Whether its transportation, personal contacts, food processing, access to inputs...whatever it is, an organization that employs educated people and is able to invest some money in the activity, is much better suited to turn a profit than a business that is already strapped for time, labour and investment capital. If the organization is successful, they can use the profits for funding a new project or they can streamline the operation and put it up for sale, and maybe even one of the employees will see that they can make a living from it?

If a profit can be made, then everyone is really happy.


If not, then something different should be done, but at least there are no false impressions about sustainability.

The current system is blind, no one knows how to measure success accurately and therefore it makes learning very difficult.

Where I fit

My partner organization is called Forest Fruits. It is a private enterprise which provides training, inputs, transportation, communication, processing, exporting and soon bottling. As a whole, it is profitable and therefore sustainable. It is buying from 6000 farmers who earn about $1 a day and just maybe the extra income allows them to save up a little for their future.

In essence, the 6000 farmers use to have no choice in where to sell there goods. Now, every year, Forest Fruits shows up and offers to buy their products. ie. A business now wants what they have, and to me, this is empowerment.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Kickin it by the Lake

A couple weeks ago, I was pealed away from my work here in the capital city (Lusaka) to go on a 10 day excursion involving 2 countries, 20 Candians and 2 EWB retreats. After regretting the idea of being away from work for such a long time, I quickly got over it when we arrived at our destination on Lake Malawi.

The restaurant on Senga Bay is an old house without a roof!

A picture of the restaurant from 'outside'.

The EWB Longterm Volunteer Crew.

So then it was back to Zambia for the short term volunteer retreat. I thought there was no way it could get any better than Senga Bay in Malawi, but I was proven wrong. The location is right on a point that juts out into Lake Kariba, and is part of a town called Siavonga. The owner is an architect of some sort and has built a house for his wife and three kids which looks a bit like a castle. They run a children's inspirational camp here and is a development project.

The owner's house at the camp in Siavonga.

The fire pit sits right on the point and is beside an Amarula fruit tree.

Looking out at Lake Kariba from our "meeting room" in Siavonga.

Up and coming is the potential that I'll have a work visa in my hands within a week, and this Sunday me and some EWB folk will be having dinner with Ian Smillie.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The New Truck

Just three weeks later and our new-used truck is looking good.

Our Mechanics proudly stand beside their work.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Photo for Mom

I was speaking with my Mom on the phone and said I'd send her a photo of what it looked like at the very moment. Turns out there was a nice sunset.

World Order

I am heading to Malawi for a week and I am pushing to get some things accomplished before I go.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe run-off election due to take place tomorrow, June 27, 2008, yet the winner of the first round of elections has pulled out due to the level of violence in the country, I read this article and it really made me think twice about the 'World Order' that the west seems to be pushing for. How does someone like Mugabe view the efforts?

Is it a matter of suffering a bit now for a good future, or is it idealism that will never bare fruition?


Africa's unjust deserts; The world has spent billions in its attempt to punish those who have perpetrated horrendous crimes against their fellow Africans. But is this effort paying off? Globe and Mail correspondent Stephanie Nolen finds that not only is international justice a Catch-22, prompting unwanted leaders to cling to power, the redress it offers isn't even what the people really want

The Globe and Mail
Sat 14 Jun 2008
Page: F1
Section: Focus
Byline: Stephanie Nolen

JOHANNESBURG -- the first, electric days after Robert Mugabe lost the opening round of Zimbabwe's presidential election, it seemed as though he might simply accept defeat and step down. His family and closest advisers were telling him that, after 28 years in office, it was time to go. He opened secret negotiations with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on a deal that would guarantee his party a share of power, provide him with a peaceful retirement and, crucially, make him immune to prosecution for crimes committed during his long and troubled tenure.
The MDC was amenable, and a tentative optimism took hold of Zimbabwe. But then, six days after the March 29 vote, Mr. Mugabe emerged from a long meeting with his "politburo" in Harare, vowing to fight a run-off election and saying he'd soon be sworn in for a sixth straight term.
Call it the Charles Taylor Effect.
Over the next few weeks, the story of Mr. Mugabe's about-face gradually emerged: Stunned and embittered at his loss, he had been prepared to go, but those around him - in particular, the five generals known as "the securocrats" who oversee the armed forces, the prison service and the police - refused to let him.
"The Old Man is staying," a senior member of his ZANU-PF party told The Globe and Mail, "because I'm not ending up in The Hague."
Once again, the long arm of international law had reached into the heart of an African conflict and extinguished the possibility of a quick and peaceful resolution. Zimbabwe provides the latest evidence that a concept heralded as a way to bring justice to ordinary Africans, but driven by a largely Western- based hunger for prosecution, can instead prolong their misery. Mr. Mugabe might have been offered a deal, guaranteed by South African President Thabo Mbeki. But the men and women who had carried out his orders during a decade-long campaign of abuse against his perceived opponents (including executions, mass forced displacements and withholding food aid to the starving) had no faith that they would not end up being prosecuted.
And with good reason. I have satellite TV, the ZANU-PF boss said. I have seen Charles Taylor on trial. And it's not going to be me.
Mr. Taylor, one of the modern era's truly notorious figures, presided over a civil war in Liberia in which boy soldiers were deliberately addicted to drugs and sent (often tricked out in wild wigs and wedding dresses) to rape, pillage and murder, even members of their own families. From his seat in Monrovia, Mr. Taylor not only laid waste to Liberia, he visited his personal brand of devastation on much of West Africa, sending his forces into Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast in search of diamond and timber riches to salt away in his European bank accounts.
In 2003, painstaking efforts to broker peace in Liberia were under way when a special court set up by the United Nations to try war crimes in Sierra Leone indicted Mr. Taylor for crimes against humanity because of his role in that country's brutal civil war.
The peace process recovered, barely, and eventually Mr. Taylor accepted a deal, brokered by Mr. Mbeki and other African heavyweights: He got retirement in a villa by the sea in Nigeria, and Liberia got peace. The country voted in Africa's first female head of state, donor money poured in and, while people remained outrageously poor, it was a time of greater promise than any living Liberian could recall.
That was all well and good, except that Mr. Taylor's continuing freedom flew in the face of efforts to bring a new era of accountability to Africa, under the banner of "international justice."
Liberia's new President, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, pleaded with the world to leave Mr. Taylor alone, fearing his arrest would reignite the civil war. But she came under heavy pressure from the United States, as did the Nigerians who finally arrested Mr. Taylor in 2006 as he was trying to flee, and shipped him to Sierra Leone to stand trial. With his appearance in Freetown - a moment so stunning, so unprecedented in Africa, that people stood six deep on rooftops to watch his vehicle roll by - the era of international justice really began. Before long, he was transferred to The Hague, purportedly for security reasons, although many saw it as an admission that the West was really behind the trial. Mr. Taylor, who stole billions from Liberia, claimed destitution, so hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to provide him with a skilled defence. No more impunity, cried the human-rights activists: There will be justice for victims.
Lost in the hullabaloo were quieter voices warning that trying Mr. Taylor - and breaking the promise of asylum he was given - just might not be the best thing for Africa.
"I kept making this point," says Peter Kagwanja, who now heads the Africa Polity Institute, a think tank in Nairobi, but was working for a major human- rights organization when Mr. Taylor was arrested.
He says he was the sole African in the debate and, no coincidence, the only one who argued that "it is right in principle to punish Taylor and to find a way of getting Taylor to pay, because allowing him to go scot-free builds the culture of impunity. But I said, 'Let them get Taylor the hell out, let him rest comfortably in Nigeria where they can be in charge of him - let Liberia have peace.' "I said, 'Whatever you do in Liberia has direct implications for Zimbabwe.' Because we knew even then Mugabe was paving his way out. If the promises given to Taylor were broken and he ended up in The Hague ... now you trace the unravelling of Zimbabwe to the contravention of those promises."

The world's first experiment with international justice was the Nuremberg trials in the late 1940s. The end of the Cold War made it possible to talk about regional, and then international, courts, and by the mid-1990s the concept was discussed most often in the context of Africa. It was intended as a system that would punish the worst atrocities - those that transgressed universal ideas of human rights; it would act where individual governments could not or would not, and it would end the sense of impunity that seemed to allow the most savage crimes to be committed in Africa, in one country after another, by leaders who were never called to account.
After the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the international community, which had stood by and watched as 800,000 people were hacked to death in 90 days, stepped forward and offered up a United Nations criminal tribunal for the alleged perpetrators, housed in a vast, air-conditioned building, all blond wood and high-tech gizmos. Twelve years and an estimated $1.2-billion later, it has obtained 25 convictions. The Rwandan tribunal established some important precedents: For the first time, rapists were found guilty of a war crime; suspects were arrested abroad and returned to Africa to face trial; members of the clergy were convicted for any roles they had played.
But almost from the start, it was also clear that the tribunal would be considered a failure - or, at best, not considered at all - by those most affected: Rwandans. The court sits two days' drive away in Tanzania; for the first seven years, it neither made its judgments available in Kinyarwandan, the language of Rwandans, nor did any outreach with them. It was achingly slow and outrageously expensive and few Rwandans polled saw it as justice for what was done.
Nevertheless, the tribunal (and the simultaneous international tribunal for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia) led to a hybrid "special court," half UN and half local, which indicted a dozen leaders of Sierra Leone rebel groups who prosecutors argued bore command responsibility for atrocities in the civil war.
Then, in 2002, came the International Criminal Court (ICC), a permanent tribunal based in The Hague, created by a treaty ratified by 106 countries (the U.S. is the notable resister) and given a mandate to try cases involving war crimes and genocide. All 12 of the people it has indicted so far are African. Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a Congolese rebel leader accused of recruiting child soldiers, was to appear in the ICC's first trial on June 23, but this week his case was postponed a third time.
The ICC is working on cases in five African countries, and its proponents say high-profile trials will build true protection for human rights. Until now, countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia have had "a culture of low expectations: The ones who are powerful will get away with whatever they want," says Corinne Dufka, a former investigator for Sierra Leone's special court who now monitors that country and Liberia for Human Rights Watch.
"That has practical implications for democracy. People also expect impunity for corruption. ... In Sierra Leone, the efficacy of the special court in helping to establish the rule of law, which is the bedrock for a peaceful society, is very hard to judge - and won't be judged by the indictment or acquittal of 10 people. It's much longer-term." That may be true - but Ms. Dufka, while hugely respected for her knowledge of the conflict, is an American, and a remarkable number of those who support the court and other forms of international justice are also outsiders. In Africa, critics are more common: They accuse the ICC and other international-justice initiatives of derailing prospects for peace in some of the more intractable conflicts, deepening the gulf between states such as Sudan and the West, and being highly political and subject to a Western agenda. Perhaps most gravely, they say, the courts have done little or nothing at all for victims.
"I'm not putting a price tag on justice, but whose justice is this?" asks John Caulker, who heads an organization called the Forum for Conscience in Freetown. "In whose interest do we have the ICC? I should not be saying this, as a human-rights advocate, but when I put on my Sierra Leonean hat, I have to ask: Is this justice to please the international community or to meet the needs of ordinary Sierra Leoneans?" He runs reconciliation programs in which he meets thousands of people who suffered horribly but know they will never receive redress: " 'Yes,' these people say, 'the court is trying those of greatest responsibility, but every day in the road, I have to live with the person who did all the things to me.' "

The young man who "did things" to Kadiatu Fofanah may still live nearby, but, mercifully, she says, she would not recognize him. Late one night in January, 1999, when the brutal Revolutionary United Front (RUF) seized Freetown, a rebel soldier who she believes was no more than a teenager burst into the room where she was hiding with her children. He shoved the kids out of the way and used a machete to cut off both of her legs at mid- thigh. Incredibly, she survived the night, and in the morning, neighbours took her to the hospital, where medics gave her the little morphine they had left and stitched over what remained of her legs.
She now lives with her husband and nine children in a little yellow bungalow an hour outside Freetown. The house is part of an "amputee village" erected by a Norwegian aid group - a suburban idyll on he grimmest of foundations. She survives by selling candy to passersby and begging every Friday in the capital.
In 2002, even as the war-crimes tribunal was setting up shop, Sierra Leone launched a truth and reconciliation commission to try to establish the root causes of the war and promote healing. Ms. Fofanah was one of the first to testify - she wanted to hear as much as she could about those who had led the boy who maimed her.
She also used to listen to the proceedings of the special court on the radio, but soon gave up in frustration. She understands that the court has a larger purpose - to enforce the idea of accountability - and will prosecute nine or 10 ringleaders while the country's peace deal gives all other offenders amnesty. "They are trying these ones to make the others become afraid."
However, she adds bluntly, "That is good for them, but not for me. We amputees have been told to forgive and forget to sustain the peace. But what makes me forget is having something to eat and my kids going to school - so they can ... bring me something to survive. That's what would allow me to forget."
Ms. Fofanah sees the elaborate court building (like some Frank Gehry knockoff plunked into a rubbish-choked city) and its parking lot jammed with SUVs. She hears that the trials have cost $150-million thus far and sees in newspaper photographs that the accused have gained weight and smart wardrobes while in jail.
"They should have spent money on all of us, taken care of us, and then run a special court," she says, shifting in her wheelchair, a gesture of discomfort she repeats all day long. "Then things would have been good for the country."

International justice is a disappointment in Sierra Leone, but many people in war-ravaged northern Uganda describe it as a complete disaster.
In 2005, the ICC issued its first-ever indictments, against Joseph Kony and four of his senior commanders in the Lord's Resistance Army. Since he began his rebel movement more than 20 years ago, Mr. Kony, a self-styled prophet, has ordered the abduction of tens of thousands of children and terrorized them into fighting a savage 21-year war.
Ostensibly, he seeks to oust the government, but rather than fight Ugandan soldiers, he attacks his own people.
The ICC began to investigate just as mediator Betty Bigombe, who had spent years of building trust on both sides, was negotiating a truce and persuading the combatants to talk. With the announcement of the investigation, the LRA immediately withdrew from peace talks. Just like the securocrat in Zimbabwe, Mr. Kony told Ms. Bigombe he would never end up in The Hague.
The court had been invited to Uganda by its President, Yoweri Museveni, and agreed to step in even though it has a mandate to act only when a local justice system can't or won't, and Uganda's is quite robust. But Mr. Museveni was only a half-hearted supporter of the peace process, and with this move - which even proponents of international justice such as Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch call a "shrewd" use of the court - he wound up with ample excuse to continue military offensives against the LRA.
Later that year, a peace agreement in Sudan cost the rebels their haven there, and soon there was another window of opportunity for a ceasefire. Lengthy negotiations culminated in a deal that was to be signed two months ago. But once again, the indictments got in the way. "The ICC has made it impossible for Joseph Kony and any of his commanders who think they are going to be imminently indicted to come out," says specialist Erin Baines, an expert on Uganda and transitional justice with the Liu Centre for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia.
Indictments can be suspended, and last year Mr. Museveni - under pressure for having called in the court - asked it to do so, but prosecutor Luis Moreno- Ocampo refused. Peace negotiators were trying to offer Mr. Kony a judicial process in Uganda instead, which could include traditional truth-telling and reconciliation rituals, but he reportedly was certain he would be handed over to the ICC - that Charles Taylor Effect again.
And so today, Prof. Baines says, Mr. Kony is out rearming his forces and abducting new child soldiers. He now operates in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, which, with Uganda, are the only countries whose governments have invited in the ICC. As a result, she says, "you have these rebel leaders saying, 'We have nothing else to do except band together and find new ways of fuelling our movements.' "
Matthew Brubacher, a Uganda-based analyst with the ICC, says he understands the concern, but there is no proof the indictments are anything but an excuse for Mr. Kony to dodge a peace deal. "The fact is that the court is not a political institution; we can take matters of security into consideration in terms of victims and witnesses, but our overall decision making is determined by the crimes and the responsibilities of the perpetrators.
"If the court becomes embroiled in political matters" - such as its impact on a peace process - "then we lose our independence."
For the more than one million Ugandans living in wretched refugee camps because of the war, this sort of debate is an absurd luxury. When people survey the civilians of northern Uganda, those who have lived through the war for more than a generation, justice barely registers as a priority. They want peace. Prosecution is also fine - until it starts getting in the way.
When nearly 3,000 Ugandans were polled by the International Centre for Transitional Justice last year, they listed their top priorities as peace, health care, education for their children and the ability to farm their land. A mere 3 per cent chose justice. Asked what should be done with those responsible for major human-rights abuses, more than half said they wanted "forgiveness, reconciliation, or reintegration for LRA leaders." Just 22 per cent said they wanted them tried, and, if convicted, sent to prison. Asked if they favoured peace with amnesty or peace with trials, 80 per cent of respondents chose peace with amnesty.
"What constitutes justice for people is not necessarily prosecution," says Moses Okello, a Kampala-based expert in international human-rights law. "Of course, people want some accountability done, but in northern Uganda it plays out like this: 'You killed my father, or you abducted me and I lost the chance to go to school, I can't get a job, I'm basically a basket case - it does not make sense for government to take you away to jail. If we work something out locally, there will be compensation for what I went through.'
"We're not saying that accountability is not important, but it can also take the form of taking responsibility for the livelihood of the families of the aggrieved."
Although institutions such as the ICC see justice as a civic or political affair, Mr. Okello, who heads a program on transitional justice and is from northern Uganda, says many Africans see it as a social and economic issue, a perspective he considers equally valid.
But Tim Allen, a professor of development studies at the London School of Economics who has studied northern Uganda for decades, argues that implicit in this argument is the abhorrent idea that somehow northern Ugandans are less deserving of having their human rights defended. "Using 'traditional justice' risks implying that ... northern Ugandans need their own special justice measures, because they are not yet ready for modern ones," he wrote recently in defence of the court.
For Prof. Baines, however, all of this debate misses the underlying point. "There are two different languages and even when people are trying to attempt to listen to victims and ask what want for justice, they ask, 'Is it trials or truth commissions?' instead of really trying to understand how they might be defining justice in really different ways. Maybe justice is 'I want to bury my dead and move on,' or, 'Honestly, I want to forget.' "
Corinne Dufka, the veteran investigator into Sierra Leone's war, says that ideas of justice imposed from outside may not always be consistent with local ones, but she "can live with" some paternalism. "Most Sierra Leoneans I ask say that [RUF leader] Foday Sankoh should have been tortured and hung, that the rebels should have had their limbs amputated - if you go just by what people say, the bar would be set pretty low. One man's paternalism is another man's entrenchment of basic human rights. Dismembering Foday Sankoh is not okay."

If the ICC's first steps in Uganda were awkward, the warrants issued since have done little to improve its reputation.
Last month, human-rights groups heralded the arrest in Belgium of Jean-Paul Bemba, a former rebel leader and vicepresident in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as a sign that, in Mr. Dicker's words, "no one is above the law."
But supporters of Mr. Bemba, who is to stand trial before the ICC for abuses committed in neighbouring Central African Republic, staged angry demonstrations in Kinshasa, arguing that, if he is a suspect, so is DRC President Joseph Kabila. Others warned that his arrest represents a serious threat to the Congo's fragile peace.
"It's a risk to stability," says Mr. Kagwanja of the Nairobi think tank. "Bemba is a key player; he and Kabila could talk, and they're arresting him when the eastern part of country is already in flames - they are setting so many fires."
But the ICC depends on the government to be able to operate in DRC, he notes, so it is unlikely to move against Mr. Kabila or anyone in his administration. Similarly, both Ugandan President Museveni and Rwandan leader Paul Kagame have been implicated in the atrocities committed by their armies in eastern Congo. "They have indicted those who were politically easy to get, not necessarily the most responsible," Prof. Baines says.
By its very existence, she argues, the ICC risks entrenching dictators. "They all know they cannot leave power: Museveni cannot leave. He's just as guilty for crimes committed in Congo. Where's he going to go?" Two years ago, he pushed through an amendment to Uganda's constitution ensuring he could run repeatedly for office again. "Where's Kabila going to go? ... There's the moral high ground and then there's reality."
Yet, at the same time, it is impossible to evaluate the ICC and other international attempts to bring justice on the basis of what hasn't happened - which warlords did not abduct children, or send their armies into diamond fields - because the courts now exist and could indict such people.
And without prosecution, what's left?
Deal-making, say critics of the rigidity of international justice: some shade of grey.
William Schabas, a Canadian legal expert who sat on Sierra Leone's truth and reconciliation commission, says the courts can't see past a "knee-jerk, mechanistic" definition of justice. He recalls hearing a group of visiting activists in South Africa recently remark with satisfaction that "what happened in South Africa in the early 1990s would never be allowed to happen now."
They were referring to South Africa's decision to grant amnesty to former apartheid-era officials and liberation fighters who had committed abuses, in exchange for full disclosure before its truth and reconciliation hearings. Prof. Schabas, who now runs a human-rights centre at the National University of Ireland, was astounded.
"I said, 'What happened in South Africa in the early 1990s was the best thing to happen in my lifetime.' " The activists, he says, ignored the fact the amnesty allowed a transition from a vicious, intractable conflict to a peaceful, democratic, remarkably functional state.
And South Africa is not alone. People such as Mr. Dicker of Human Rights Watch contend that accountability is required for a true and durable peace. But there are countries across Africa, such as Namibia and Mozambique, that have built strong democratic institutions and the rule of law without revisiting atrocities during their civil wars.

Outside Freetown, in the yellow bungalow next door to Kadiatu Fofanah, Sosie Sawaneh does his best to raise his nine children; at 65, he struggles to work a small field since the RUF amputated his left arm in 1999. He was a witness for the prosecution at the trial of the RUF leaders and, although he bemoans his reduced circumstances, he admires the special court, which he says "has done great work for the country."
"If they were not around, somebody would kill another person and believe they would go free," he says. "Because the special court came and tried some of these people, others are now afraid - and that is a great thing for the country. "
In the eastern Congo, one side effect of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo's arrest and pending trial is that it is now widely understood that recruiting children to fight is illegal. Although in the short term that means rebel leaders now hide their underage fighters when child- protection authorities come to their camps, it may discourage the practice in the long term.
But Mr. Kagwanja suspects that these are slim victories. "Africans don't trust the court - it is a Western court that might be doing its duty, but it is undermining the process of stabilizing the continent from decades of chaos."
Ask Zimbabweans what they think of the Charles Taylor Effect, he says. They want Robert Mugabe gone, and if that takes a seaside villa and a gentle retirement, if it takes a blanket amnesty for his henchmen, fine. "If the devil has to exist somewhere, let him be" - just get him out of Zimbabwe.

Stephanie Nolen is The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent, based in Johannesburg.