Thursday, September 30, 2010

Essays From South Sudan

I happened to be in the midst of six months stint in South Sudan. I finally had a chance to write and reflect on this place.

The Rights of a Man
(By Thuwein Makamba)

A man wakes up in the morning, facing the daunting task of providing for his family; making sure there is food on the table for his children, and that the roof of his Tukul is not leaking when they go to sleep at night. The main means of income for this gentleman is subsidence farming, cultivating round potatoes (famously called Irish Potatoes here). His wife is making her contribution by buying and selling small items at the local market, with the little one on her back at all times. She has four children despite having been pregnant six times. Their three year old son, who has paralytic polio, is playing at home. His brother is four years old with a bloated stomach indicating some sort of malnutrition. Their sister, who is twelve, is the head of the family whenever her parents venture out to find a living. She cooks, feeds, and baths her siblings without ever complaining. In the evening, she is helping out with alcohol sales of the family business. She is also enrolled in nearby primary school in Standard four, but she is incapable of reading and performing basic math. There are not enough motivated teachers in her school, and her class takes place under the mango tree that makes it difficult to learn especially now that it’s the rainy season.

When malaria strikes, which seems to happen on regular basis, (I came down with malaria twice within my first two months here), the man takes his sick one to a nearby health center. This is usually a woman’s job, but on this occasion his wife is attending a funeral of the death of her newly born nephew who succumbed to neonatal tetanus. The health center, which is one structure with four different rooms, was constructed by an American NGO and has a big sign at the entrance that reads; “A Gift from The American People”. Although its only 10 am, the health center is closed. The man decides to wait, while his 3 year old is getting more lethargic. Around 11 am the health worker in charge shows up. He makes a point to let everybody know that he hasn’t received his salary since election time (March, 2010) and he also has a family to feed. The center was designed to have twelve health staff members, but he is the only one who showed up. As clinician in charge, he completed a nine month training that anointed him to be a competent healthcare provider in this village. He attended to the three year old with disregard to the highly promoted WHO’s IMCI guidelines, despite attending refresher training on IMCI provided by an NGO operating in this area. There is neither a microscope nor a microscopist here. A rapid diagnosis test is used; ParaCheck is the brand of choice—despite ample evidence of false positives from the Paracheck brand. the clinician doesn’t know any better. The three year old is diagnosed with malaria, and the man is compelled to ride his bicycle for three hours to buy his son malaria medications. The free medications at the health center arrived with only three months left on the expiration date. This is the place where they dump their drugs. A man then spends his hard earned 4 dollars and 42 cents to buy a dose of Switzerland imported Coartem. Hoping this time around his son’s malaria will never come back again. Hope is the only thing that he has going for him, he cannot afford to have that taken away.

This man, not knowingly— has been at the center stage of a global debate that has included Bono, Bill & Belinda Gates, Ban Ki Moon, and every other expert in between. He is the star of the blockbuster film called MDGs. This man has been a consistent force behind the recession proof of a billion dollar NGO industry. A lot of ground has been covered in the effort to reduce the burden of extreme poverty experienced by this man. But it is far from being enough and sustainable. The debate has been shifted from the needs of a man, towards how much money can be raised for this man. And the blame has been placed on those rich countries that do not commit enough money to help this man. The truest blame should be placed on those rich countries that implement policies that obstruct a man from improving his income. The very nature of life caters to those who are most adaptive to the conditions on the planet and these persons will prosper. That is why we have antibiotic resistant bacteria. It is a very normal process for poor people to suffer at unequal capacity, and die in unequal amounts compared to their “fittest” counterparts. For folks in the business of reducing the burden of extreme poverty experienced by the man, they need to understand that poverty elimination is rather an unnatural process. We are going against the norm, against the order of nature. However, through innovations, the right incentives, sacrifices, and a little bit of luck—mankind has been able to accomplish many unnatural feats. Reducing the burden of poverty is not impossible, but we have been employing dismal efforts that are unable to match the task at hand.

With the current global efforts, infant mortality rate is to be reduced and free education provided—but the man is not involved in how he can make those remarkable accomplishments sustainable. And that is through revenue generations to help paying the costs of these services. i.e an increased income. The current efforts are heavily directed towards lobbying rich countries to contribute more monetary aid. Instead, this energy should be placed on pressuring them to stop flooding poor countries with subsidized products that effectively destroy the local markets and drive a man further into poverty. OXFAM have reported that eliminating US cotton subsidies would improve the welfare of over one million West African households. But trade issues were barely mentioned in the MDG summit that just ended.

The debate in development assistance for health has been between programmatic vs. health system strengthening approach, but it doesn’t go far enough to speculate on the contribution of a man towards making either of those approaches sustainable. A man is to be given what is perceived to be his needs, and nothing more. The NGOs operating on the ground are obsessed with reporting indicators to the donors to showcase their remarkable performance; they almost forget that numbers are meaningless without the everlasting sustainable impact to this man. The recent obsession with achieving the MDGs (especially 4 and 5) has pushed noble professionals to come up with incredible innovations to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates. From Conditional Cash Transfers, Voucher Schemes, and other demand induced interventions, these ideas are being experimented throughout the poverty arena. The notion that in response to the stimulated demand, the quality of health systems in the tropics will improve and sustain themselves at this high level is a fallacy. But the goal here is wrongly assigned towards achieving MDGs instead of equipping a man with the tools to create wealth for his family.

A man doesn’t need free healthcare, all a man wants is to work and provide for his family—the only thing he wishes to change is his income, which has to match the work he puts into. Unregulated globalization has placed a large barrier towards making this a reality. Today, more income is going to rich countries from the poor ones, and anti-poverty advocates continue to bring a knife into a gun fight. It is time to realize the momentous task ahead and coordinate the efforts accordingly.

I’m meeting up with a man at a local bar; we are watching a football game between Arsenal vs. Liverpool. We have paid 10 cents each to watch this game run on a Chinese imported generator, powered by imported Diesel from who knows where, on an expensive South African DSTV. Sipping his Coca Cola quietly, a devout Christian and an avid Liverpool fan; a man is truly a global citizen but the leaders of the globalized world have tied him with invisible chains that rendered it impossible for him and his family to get out of extreme poverty.


Pius said...

Whoa Thuwein...



January Makamba said...

Great stuff my brother! Really great stuff! Keep it up.

Pattoo said...

interesting story, pretty enlightening too..good work mpwa, keep it up!

Anonymous said...

A great story, but again this is the problem, many people in this part of the world are facing with similar conditions, not alone in Sudan but also in Tanzania, but they are only subjected to a different conditions, such as poor salaries for public sectors workers, luck of a good education, luck of professional assistance and education on agricultural and small business sectors, which again impending the people income, that would cause all sorts of the problems in their daily life, just like the man on your story, and similarly, the people infected with diseases which can easily be treated(no good healthcare system in place), but go on uncheck, and literally left for the people who bear the brunt to sort themselves out, in such an extremely difficult conditions, but at the same time, can easily be avoided.

You mentioned on your story, the people on that part of the world, depend on irish potatoes as a means of food, Funny enough, Ireland is one of the country in the west, would feel proud of that, what I am saying is that, the only agricultural and natural germ they have in that country is Potatoes, they do have them in abundance and come with varieties of colour and taste, but they are simply Potatoes. They have intelligently capitalise on them over the years, economists would say adding value to the product, in comparison to us(Africa), we are failing to do just that, we simply can’t believe on our sustainable agricultural sectors, which we have done for many years, we can’t stand on our own feet, with such wealth of agricultural products in our store.

Going back to Ireland story, I tell you what, If you shut them down today from outside world, they have nothing but their potatoes to eat and a little bit of salmon, but how do majority of people live such a good and sustainable life, which we would envy for, on this part of the world, with such limited resources? a simple answer to that is, they rely heavily on investments from other countries to create jobs for its citizens, in conjunction with their agricultural and fishing sectors, they even export beef to Libya, while we have them in abundance in Rural areas, but failing to support those people with technical knowhow and scientific advice on capitalisation of their cattle, by creating special industry that would allow their business to flourish.

Ireland also rely on one thing good Governance and policy that heavily work on how best to collect REVENUE without jeopardizing their inhabitants lifestyle , they trace every single penny that is received through Revenue authority and give it back to the Nation through budgeting, it is SIMPLY FISCAL responsible created with such TRANSPARENCY and openness(with simple publicized equation what we earn, and where we spend into). They put mechanism in place that would allow investors to poor onto the country, cutting off red tapes, bureaucracy, and retaining sustainable revenue through taxes, and thats simply how they get the revenue to run the country, it is just simple as that, and the politicians are only fighting on who is the best MANAGER, and that’s how it should be, and never be a one man shows or personal contest, which is pretty much the problem with African countries, if he/she dies the whole country is on CHAOS, and they are still perfecting it.

Continue Reading.....

Anonymous said...

On that Country (ireland).
1. Every Child is given a good quality early education and primary education, from age 3-4, Free Nursery school, from the age of 4-6 Free Junior and Senior infants schools, learning how to be independent, reading, writing, instilling confidence and make conversation with others, if it happen the children is handicapped, that child is given a personal tutors and goes to special schools, and statistically they tend to do well than the normal schools.

2. Every child is entitled to child benefit every month, not less in our money 280,000TzShs, the children have their own monthly earnings to assist on paying off their essential expense, and every single year they are given a cheque of 400,000Tzshs to buy books and uniform just for that year.

3.Once they finish schools they are entitled to free University and College educations through Grants.

4. Free Medical and Income support for unemployed, who are paid not less than 200,000Tzshs per week, a job support scheme that put people back to work through re-education, training and so on and so forth.

5.All old people after the age of retirement are given state pensions, assistance in paying their house bills, assistance on heating bills and so no so forth.

6. All disabled people are being taken care of,

7. Building new roads, new houses, and other infrastructure to keep these investors counted for on almost every single budget.

and the lists can go and on, but the simple facts remain static, they have good mechanism which keep tracks all of these and what they rely on, in financing all these, which we would call luxuries on our standard.

Continue Reading...

Anonymous said...

While looking back on our continent, such as country like Tanzania.
There a lot of sources of Revenue for this country in particular, if maintained, nurtured, taking of, and simply not to be IGNORED.
1. Bandari(toka enzi ya ukoloni, thats a mockery), if expanded and managed properly, again cutting off the red tapes, all the land locked countries would depend on us not just for common goods, but their lifeline as well, once you create that system in place and assurance, then you bound to make money, a lot of it. Netherlands sees its potential on transportation and bandari, just by looking at its itself on Geographical location in Europe, and now it became its biggest HUB of goods, for the rest of the Europe, and its economy mainly depend on just that, whatever you look at it, on which in turn it flourish other industries in that respect.
2. Transportation, is a good source of revenue, again the same can be said here.
3. The control of Agricultural sectors and its industries by indigenous people, assistance for modern agricultural technique, it would be a such a good source of income, especially now, the WORLD food source is dwindling, we can easily capitalize on that, particularly on ORGANIC FARMING, which we know best, why not EXPANDING, bring in technical agricultural experts who are willing to help us on that, we have not only potatoes in case of IRISH, but also abundance of citrus fruits, cereals and other agricultural products. why not giving the importance, they deserves, these are pure JEWELS, we are failing miserably in nurturing them and ignoring its importance especially from this century onwards. A lot money to make out of it.

4.Fishing industries, why not expanding it, create fish industries that would allow to attract the market outside world, creating smooth channels for exportation and expanding the local market, I am sick and tired seeing madau since the day I was a child, those days should long be gone by now, a government should have clear mandate not only collecting revenue, but providing a proper fishing tools for these farmers, assisted with mikopo through local banks, thats the only way out to improve peoples life. STOP DHARAU and IGNORING on industry and START VALUING ITS POTENTIALS.

5. Mineral resources, why not processing it here, instead of exporting oh well raw materials, again ADDING VALUE TO THE PRODUCT, enforcing the investors who are already in, to build industries here and not on their countries, creating more jobs, and revenue income for this country.
6. Why not investing on Green Energy, such as SOLAR Pannels, creating industries here, and do our own export in this continent and beyond, the potential is there, we need to start exploring it, clearing for investors to come in and creating jobs for this industry.
7. Why not convincing the Pharmaceuticals industries to invest here in creating industries that would manufacture and supplying our own Malaria medicine, vaccine and other diseases that ravage this continent.
But first we need to cut on business of politics, and make it insignificant to what matters most to us, in other words, we need to value our life, we need to create a culture that, would become natural in political platform that would value fundamentals of any citizen, rather than politicians themselves.
Secondly, we should emphasize on INFRASTRUCTURE, INFRASTRUCTURE, INFRASTRUCTURE, and this is the key to come out of poverty ladder and climbing on prosperity ladder, those infrastructure, it can be IT infrastructure on our government institutes or private sectors, or commonly roads, bandari, educational institutes and so on so forth, it pays off for the chinese, india and other developing countries, and similarly should pay off for us.

salama said...

Whoa! Thuwein, an interesting read.

If I may, add to anon who mentioned about the big pharmaceutical companies investing in Africa... need to do it with good intent of helping the world's poorest and not for their own profit. lots of medical work can be performed here to make it cheaper and easy for millions who suffer from chronic diseases. You can check out the work of JAY KEASLING,(and other scientists) a chemical engineer @ U.C Berkley who's trying to make synthetic biology a force of change by building a tool kit in order to produce tons of drugs at a lower cost. With his first target being malaria, Keasling's trying to make it possible for the poorest to benefit and big companies NOT, to make profit.(out of wanyonge)
If Ideas like this one and other constructive ones can be performed in Africa, will help save lots of lives.
Now, how to create and apply solutions in order to solve major issues facing us, is another project. And this's why we need some fresh blood i.e the januarys, and all of you, young people to face and work on these issues with some of resources we have right now. All we need is confidence within ourselves, cause
We're victims of our own societies

Kaka said...

Kaka, what a profound piece.An outstanding report

Nathan Chiume said...


This piece deserves to be on the New York Times Column. Outstanding my brother! I will make sure this is read by people who I know are involved with Sahel issues.

mnkadebe said...

You write;"This man has been a consistent force behind the recession proof of a billion dollar NGO industry."
I say:can you tell us how you got there...who paid your travel expenses and wages,an NGO? Be honest.If so, you would be a hypocrite:mnafiki.

But generally, though the analysis is coherent, you miss the big picture, which is policy, by our leaders. Parties like your fathers CCM, and governments advised by the likes of your brother, are the prime advocates of more aid. No doubt foreign aid has been responsible for educating multitudes of the children of CCM elites,who then go on to work overseas for NGOs and play the "Africa is a victim card",when they come from political dynasties!

Tunahitaji mageuzi nchini...we need change in our country.

Thuwein said...

I work in a humanitarian industry, I don't understand the hypocrisy of pointing out their flaws. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't criticize the NGO industry without having a front seat on their operations.

I actually agree with you that foreign aid has been used as a tool for the West to maintain their elites. It can be Mubarak, Kagame, or whoever. Advocating for more aid like "my father's party" is not wrong, if they can use it in a more egalitarian way. And we can agree that bad policies will not save us. And that is both, globally and locally.

Good intentions are good intentions regardless if they are from the elitist like myself or from the commons like yourself. The idea that folks who are from "political dynasties" do not care for public policy and lack a sense of suffering is deeply flawed. And you shouldn't be encouraging that.

One more thing, I'm not playing an African victim card. The coherent piece that you read advocate for a more sovereign Africa more than anything.