Sunday, December 28, 2008

Good place to drink beer #2

At Virunga Lodge on a hill between Lake Bulera and Virunga National Park in early December.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Muzungu's burden

Having finished a long overdue reading of William Easterly's book, White Man's Burden a couple of months ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the book: Easterly's articles (e.g. Can the West Save Africa, Dismal Science) tend to be a rather excessively pessimistic deconstruction of the failings of modern development aid; in this book Easterly goes much further in proposing ways in which we can move forward in solving the problems of the poor.

The central argument is one of Planners versus Searchers. Easterly's Planners are the proponents of the classical top-down development aid. This is particularly prevalent in the large bi-lateral and multi-lateral donor organisations. The Searchers are grass-roots implementers who try out and search for techniques and projects that work. Many grass-roots NGOs can be described as Searchers. Reform of development aid according to Easterly should involve a shift of power from Planners to Searchers. Easterly also tackles a range of other development issues such as accountability, recipient country participation and military intervention.

White Man's Burden is often seen as the antithesis to Jeffrey Sachs' book, End of Poverty. This comparison hardly does Easterly justice. The End of Poverty is a mostly anecdotal account with very little hard data to back up the core theses of the book. White Man's Burden bases its arguments on historical data, and uses anecdotal evidence only to complement, illustrate and occasionally complete when statistical data is insufficient. By comparison, I found The End of Poverty a weak and sloppy work that borders on populism.

I do however find one important weakness in the argument of White Man's Burden. Whilst results-oriented Searchers may indeed be able to offer direct solutions to straightforward problems such as school enrollment and mosquito bed nets, it is unlikely that more long-term projects such as private sector development or vocational training will work in the same way. Long-term projects tend to require people who can afford to worry less about immediate results. There is a balance to be struck.

This is an excellent book and an entertaining read.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I just figured out that German citizens don't actually need a visa to the US. Yay. There is however an Electronic System of Travel Authorisation (currently voluntary) which includes some great questions such as:

Are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities?

That started me thinking about any immoral activities that it could be fun to engage in whilst in the US. Is self-idolatry immoral?

Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide?

Yes, Boris and I have been covertly trying to collect information on your ingenious political system in order to replicate it in the Congo.

Have you ever detained, retained or withheld custody of a child from a U.S. citizen... ?

I assume this means its ok if I detained a child from a citizen of another country?

Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude...?

I had to look up "turpitude". The first thing Wikipedia comes up with is that is is a legal term used in the Visa Waiver forms without proper explanation.

Am I morally turpit? Leave your opinions in the comments.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

French, Rwandans, Germans and judiciaries

Foreword: In the interests of German solidarity with the Government of Rwanda the author would like to express his solidarity with Rwandese dislike of all things French (except for French cuisine, a couple of nice French people I know and funny accents), and asks that his German passport not be held against him.

Back in 2006 Paul Kagame and other top Rwandan officials were indicted by a French judge for the shooting down of the former president's plane in 1994. This was a major trigger of the Rwandan genocide, but there is little evidence and many suspects in the case. The Rwandans responded by kicking all French organisations out of the country.

Under EU cooperation agreements, EU member countries are required to carry out arrest warrants of other member states. This, Germany did for one Rwandan official, Ms Kabuye, Chief of Protocol for the President, traveling through the country. This afternoon there were spontaneous government-ordered protests in the centre of Kigali and in front of the German embassy. (UPDATE 12/11: And the German embassador was asked to leave.)

On the arrest, the BBC writes:

Ms Kabuye has visited the country before but under German law could not be arrested as she was part of an official delegation. "Rwanda has been made aware on several recent occasions that if Ms Kabuye returned to Germany she would be arrested," said [a German] diplomat.

Al Jazeera quotes the Rwandan Information Minister who confirms :

Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda's information minister, said that Kabuye was not surprised at being arrested on arrival in Frankfurt.

And in the Rwandan pro-government New Times:

[Foreign affairs minister Rosemary Museminali] said that prior to her travel, the German government had warned Kabuye that she risked being arrested...

Seems clear. But then the Rwandan New Times quotes the Foreign Affairs Minister:

“We emphasised in the note that Kabuye ... was performing diplomatic duties and therefore the Germany authorities wouldn’t have arrested her...” said [Foreign Affairs Minister Museminali.


And to finish, who can explain how the whole "indictment -> arrest -> trial -> verdict" thing works?

"We have always been surprised that people can take these bogus indictments seriously. How can you condemn someone before even bothering to hear their side of the story?” [Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama] wondered. (New Times)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

100th post

I started this blog 2 and a half years and 3 countries ago and I still don't know what it is for. Here is a selection of the best posts based on hits, comments and my personal favorites:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Nobody cares what I think

Here is a graphic (taken from FiveThirtyEight) that today makes me feel better about the world. According to the site, Barack Obama has a 90.7% probability of winning the election (Win Percentage) based on several current polls and current trends.

Not being a US voter, of course I don't get to vote. I feel strangely cheated, as I think I would do a better job of it than approximately 46.6% of US citizens. I feel that it should be in countries' interests to invite me to vote in their national elections to improve the quality of the outcome. Please send invitations via my profile in the right column of this page.

More seriously, I ask whether there isn't a case to be made for US "protectorates" like Afghanistan and Iraq to have a voice in who will run their domestic security and reconstruction projects. This doesn't necessary have to be by involvement in presidential elections, but perhaps of a ratification by direct suffrage of nominated American representatives in their country. By extension, should citizens in developing countries, whose social services are funded by foreign donor governments, not be allowed to hold those governments to account. Should they not be allowed to chose who their donors are, if they have such a huge influence on the development of their country? Just imagine a news announcement like: "In Rwanda on Saturday, a new World Bank country representative has been elected by the people of Rwanda. The incumbent, Victoria Kwakwa, confirmed that she would accept the election result and called on her supporters to peacefully accept the decision."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Panorama 10 to 2

This is a panorama of almost all of Kigali. Filmed at the bar Panorama 10 to 2 in Nyamirambo, Kigali.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Rwandan Parliament

The parliamentary elections in Rwanda were concluded on the 18th September with the RPF (ruling party) being declared the winner with 79% of the vote . The importance of legislature elections in Rwanda is minimal however, due to the all-powerful strength of the presidency and executive.

The European Election Observer Mission described the elections as relatively fair, peaceful and transparent. Congratulations to the government of Rwanda. Their preliminary statement is here. The only major objection they seemed to have was the absence of any opposition parties. Details, details ...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Stuff White People Like

I found this blog some time ago, and I still think it is one of the funniest things I've found on the web to-date. For a sample, have a look at this entry:

Suff White People Like: Comparing People to Hitler
Comparing people to Hitler is an easy way for white people to get a strong point across ... Everyone knows who Adolf Hitler was. And everyone knows that Hitler was very, very bad. ... No matter what your gut reaction may be at that point, do not disagree with that white person. Otherwise, well, you love Hitler.
It’s also critical that you avoid the fatal mistake of getting creative and comparing people you don’t like to other evil dictators, such as Joseph Stalin or Fidel Castro. With few exceptions, white people are actually fond of almost any dictator not named Hitler, ... oppressive dictators share a passion for many of the things white people love- such as universal health care, conspiracy theories, caring about poor people while being filthy rich, and cool hats. ...

The blog is a perfect parody of the Western liberal middle class. And I recognise myself in there all too often. :)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Project Description

There are several reasons why I write very little about my actual job here in Rwanda on this blog. However, now find an up-dated description of the project that I am coordinating online :

[Project] Title: Private Sector Participation in Micro-hydro Power supply for Rural Development

Per capita energy consumption in Rwanda is one of the lowest in the world. Less than five percent of the population has access to electric power, with less than one percent in rural areas. ... the project will provide technical and business expertise to support the creation ... of ... [private sector] energy providers. ...

7,000 households, up to 350 small businesses, and institutions providing social services in six municipalities will be connected to local power grids. Six small enterprises are given support for the installation of small hydro power plants for electricity generation.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Freebird in Rwanda

A spontaneous music video by J. Filmed in the North of Rwanda somewhere between Gisenyi and Ruhengeri.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


A World Politics Review article, gives some interesting and very balanced perspectives on the huge support for Kagame and the Rwandan government. It starts:

The West and its development industry have serially backed a series of African leaders as exemplars for the continent, only to see them come to resemble the autocrats they previously opposed. Yet neither the diplomats nor the donors can refrain from anointing new visionaries.

Indeed there has never been a shortage of stupid white people to meddle in the politics of other countries.

The current favorite is Rwandan President Paul Kagame, admired for his prudent political and economic management after the 1994 genocide. ... Without security, Kagame says, there can be no development. Kinzer believes Rwandans deeply appreciate this emphasis on societal rights such as raising the standard of living and guaranteed personal safety. Out of fear of another genocide, their preference must not be dismissed.

This is a view I can only confirm from conversations with Rwandans here. Of course, it doesn't apply to everyone. There are unfortunately still many Rwandans that would like to see the collapse of the present system.

However, the problem is that Kagame has blurred the line between legitimate social control and repression.


[New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer says,] "[Rwandans] have little interest in politics or ideology," Kinzer writes. "They are happy that President Kagame has centralized so much power in his own hands and are not fearful that he is becoming a dictator."

True. But the conclusion of the article is poignant both for the attitude of Rwandans and the West:

Such enthusiasm for a leader with a mixed record is misguided. Experience, based upon the previous rises and staggering falls of Western-anointed visionaries, dictates that Kagame should be viewed with skepticism. Praise, however, will be merited if his development plan is actually realized.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Word of the Day: Mittelabflussproblem

Mittelabflussproblem (n.) - From German. Literally meaning "the problem of fund disbursal". Could also be transliterated as "means drainage problem". This describes the problem faced by almost all development agencies in which project expenditure is always less than maximum project expenditure. This creates a problem for the project, because if it fails to meet expenditure targets, this will result in one or both of the following:

  1. The donor will assume that if the money is not spent, the work is not done, and therefore contractual obligations are not being fulfilled.
  2. The donor will assume that if the money is not spent, it has over-allocated the budget and will cut the amount of funding available in future years.

The development project will attempt to reach the (usually impossible) target of 100% of the maximum available budget being disbursed by implementing one or more of the following actions:

  1. Buying additional office equipment or project vehicles that may or may not be useful for future years.
  2. Assigning a consultancy contract for a study that is interesting, if unessential.
  3. Less careful spending on existing activities.
  4. Better budgetary planning.

An alternative definition of "Mittelabflussproblem" proposed here is : The problem of focusing on on fund disbursal rather than on project impact.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Aid effectiveness

I have written a few times about the problems and the (in)effectiveness of development aid. An interesting study the World Bank's Private Sector Development Blog pointed me to an interesting new study by on the subject. The study looks at the impact of aid from oil-rich muslim countries to poorer majority muslim countries. The results are interesting because they isolate the effect of aid from the selectiveness of Western donors: the tendency to support only the poorest or the tendency to support countries that are already growing fast.

The conclusion is:

The petro-aid was largely consumed, nearly all in imports. It did not lead to a measurable increase in growth, prices, or an appreciation of the exchange rate. Imported goods during the aid surge shifted away from capital goods and towards non-capital goods, and aid crowded out domestic savings. A significant share of the aid fled the country in unaccounted transactions.

The study was done by E. Werker et al. is available here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

More demolition and expropriation

As an addendum to my previous post on the demolition of Poor Kiyovu, I should add that the Kigali City Council's remodelling of the central residential district, Kiyovu, also extends to small shop owners in the richer part of the quarter. Kiosks all over Kigali are a huge employment generator, a place for late-night shopping and also serve as informal bars. The New Times writes in its article, "Demolished kiosk owners drag KCC to court":

[One kiosk owner ] said that he bought the kiosk through KCC [Kigali City Council] during the reign of Theoneste Mutsindashyaka. He quoted ... the contract he has with city authorities which states that the kiosks should not be interfered with before a period of five years.

Needless to say the five year period has not yet elapsed.

[The shop owner] says that he recently received a letter from city authorities informing him that he had been relocated to an area which is far from the city.

The closing statement of the article is a disturbing insight into the mind of Kigali administrators. More evictions, more demolitions, until Kigali is the squeaky-clean showcase that the government wants it to be :

[The city council inspector] said the council is currently developing detailed plans to reduce slums in various areas in the city and that the new plan is designed to make the city a major commercial and service centre in the East African community, as well as making it environmentally friendly.

... and Kigali will be SO pretty!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Poor Kiyovu

The City of Kigali has decided that poor people don't belong in the central residential district, Kiyovu. The area known as "Poor Kiyovu", to differentiate it from "Rich Kiyovu", has now been almost completely bulldozed. The displaced residents will be compensated according to a government valuation of their land. The government is presumably trying to make way for new urban developments. It is turning the heart of the city into a reserve for the rich and destroying its social and cultural diversity. Poor Kiyovu used to look something like this (from another part of Kigali):

It now looks like this:

The New Times quotes the Mayor of Kigali who says that the city had no choice to move these people, because they are poor:

Since July last year, we made it clear that we are going to shift these people from Kiyovu because of the unfavorable conditions under which they were living.

Even the pro-government New Times reports on the views of the unhappy residents:

Some of the evicted residents who were relocated have reportedly refused to accept the money and terms offered to them by the City Council and are crying foul about the whole procedure. ... Many claim that they were not given ample time to prepare for the shifting and are not happy with the amount being given to them as compensation for their premises and where they have been relocated.

Last week, I spoke to my friend, K. (name changed), a musician who lived in Poor Kiyovu. The government valued K's house. K disagreed about the price, refused the payment and had another expert come to value the house. The second valuation was higher. One day, K's house was gone. It was demolished while he was away, he had not received any payment at all and he lost food and possessions in the house as it was demolished. He is still arguing with the MVK, the city mayoral office. The mayor responds to the New Times :

"If these people had accepted to go where they were relocated, then they would not be suffering and in any case the expropriation act does not say that we have to transport food to the eviction site"

If only the pesky poor people would do as they are told.

It seems that the government wishes to engineer a city in which Kigali residents and delicate-stomached foreigners will no longer have to suffer vulgar displays of poverty in the city centre.

Its a loss for the city. These people were a major part of the life of the city centre. A much better strategy would have been for the city to have improved the property rights laws and infrastructure in poor Kiyovu to promote its development. Shame on the City of Kigali.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Big Concrete Thingy

(It's a sediment separator of a micro-hydro power plant belonging to the Rwandese company, REPRO.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Moto Polo

Over much beer and boredom, some friends of mine came up with moto polo. It is basically similar to Polo on horseback, only on the back of motorcycle taxis. The rest is documented in this video...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

2 years in Rwanda

On the 8th July it had been exactly 2 years since I arrived in Rwanda, so I think a short retrospective is in order.

It took me a long time to settle in here. When I arrived the culture, the political system and the country were opaque and almost impossible to understand. After about 6 months I felt that I at least understood how the "machinery" of the Rwandan government, society and economy worked. It took about a year for me to feel at ease with the people and come to love the country.

Rwanda is a unique place. From a state of collective trauma, the country is helping itself to emerge as an efficient and confident state. The post-genocide phase was a success. But as much as Rwanda inspires hope, it also causes dismay. There is little self-criticism, little open debate of the country's problems and much self-denial. The post-genocide phase was indeed a success, but the next phase in the country's development is overdue. Rwandans needs to accept that like any other country, Rwanda has problems; Like any other country, Rwanda has corrupt politicians; Like any other country, Rwanda's justice system is flawed; Like any other country, Rwanda has problems with racism; Like any other country, Rwanda has disadvantaged minorities, be they social, sexual or ethnic. Rwanda needs to match its political and economic courage, with social courage.

What luck for Rwanda that it has a small but growing number of hard working, well-educated and forward-thinking people. How unfortunate that the Rwandese culture is so unwelcoming to outsiders. It is easy to judge when a Rwandese begins to trust you: he/she will tell you the problems that every Rwandese knows his country has, his real opinion about the government, the real view about the genocide, will stop lying about minor personal facts, and if he/she really trusts you, you may just be invited to there home one day. Unfortunately, that kind of trust is rarely there. But perhaps, that is simply because it needs to be earned first.

Rwanda is certainly one of the most beautiful, fascinating and unusual countries that I will ever live in. I hope it realises its potential.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Why 'Peak Oil' is not a problem

I would like to thank Jessie for alerting me to an important consequence of high oil prices.

In Kigali a litre of petrol retails at 892 Francs per litre. A bottle of Primus beer retails at 450 Francs for 0.72 litres, making it cost 625 Francs per litre.

A 0.65 litre bottle of M├╝tzig (my preferred Rwandese beer) unfortunately still costs the equivalent of 1077 Francs per litre. Therefore, I expect the fuel price to rise a little further.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


It is with growing disgust that I read articles on recent developments in Ethiopia, whether it is regarding the famine, the war in Somalia or national politics.

A recent article by IPS comments on the recently rigged "elections" in the country. It describes elections dominated by fraud, intimidation and even killings.

Nonetheless the country receives huge amounts of military and financial support from the US in its war in Somalia (source: BBC). The justification is the war against Islamists. The result is that Ethiopia has overthrown the first government in decades that had a chance of stabilising the country. Famine, violence and civil war have followed. The country continues to meddle in a country in which it is hated and held responsible for many wars and deaths.

But the greatest tragedy is that Ethiopia, a regional military and economic power, is once again letting its people starve in a famine that could easily have been averted. And their reponse to the famine: is to ask the West to solve it.

The West finances Ethiopia's wars, support her dictatorship and feeds her people. Alas, its a well known story in Africa. Some things never change.

And because humour is the only way to stay sane in our age, I have added a poll on this issue to the top of the right column of this blog.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Opinion polls in Rwanda

Today, on the Rwandan daily newspaper "New Times" homepage there is a poll on the education sector:

How do you rate Rwanda’s education sector?
Doing well
Don’t know

We in Rwanda welcome constructive criticism.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Word of the Day: donor state

donor state (n.) – A donor state is one in which development aid plays such an important role in the national economy and state budget, that donors wield significant influence in the nations politics and economy. Symptoms of a donor state include large proportions of foreigners working in and for government ministries, a tendency to promote government programmes over private sector development, a high production of “sector studies”, high inflation and/or high interest rates, an impotent banking sector and a weak private sector. Countries that could currently be described as donor states include Rwanda, Afghanistan, (South) Sudan, Chad and many others. The long-term success of these countries' economies depends on their developing into independant economies and institutions before their dependence becomes institutionalised and permanent. Such quasi-permanent donor states are particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Word of the Day: poverty tourist

poverty tourist (n.) – Not to be confused with a development tourist (who works in development), a poverty tourist is one who comes on a holiday to a development country to see how terribly poor the poor are, and how wonderfully helpful the development industry is. Some poverty tourism can definitely be classified as a cultural exchange and has merit for both the tourist and the visited community. However, the exposure to poverty and development is generally too short and superficial to communicate the complexities of poverty and development. Poverty tourism is often coupled with donations by the tourist which increase the degree to which he/she identify with the visited development projects. These projects can range from meaningful training and employment generation projects to useless showcase do-good initiatives.

Anyone interested in coming to Rwanda for poverty tourism can look at New Dawn Associates who, despite my reservations, do appear to be doing some good work.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stephen keeps it real (video)

My friend and former work colleague, Stephen Forder, explaining global warming on the South African youth-oriented show, "Keeping it Real". Nicely done, Stephen.

The original post is on his website,

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Not a dictatorship

The (pro-government) New Times drew my attention to this recent story of Bonaventure Bizumuremyi. The following is taken from United Press International:

The UMUCO newspaper may be suspended for a year ... In a lengthy article in the current issue [the managing editor] Mr. Bizumuremyi wrote that like the Nazi leader - who was first held in great regard - only to be revered years later, President Kagame was also having his last days as the darling of the west. ... However, according to Prosecution, Mr. Bizumuremyi has no case to answer because the Ethics Committee is yet to hand them the dossier.

The paper has been suspended, despite no charges being pressed by the ethics committee? And this is even the official goverment position.

The article goes on:

Meanwhile, Mr. Bizumuremyi has not been seem since Monday raising speculation that he may be in detention, neither did he attend the Committee summon. His phone is also off and staff at the newspaper says they have not heard from him for days.

Compare that to the Amnesty International Report of 2007 which also mentions Mr Bizumuremyi:

Bonaventure Bizumuremyi, the news editor of Umuco, reportedly had his home in Kigali ransacked in January by four men armed with clubs and knives. Before this attack, Umuco had criticized the ruling party for ineptitude and for allegedly controlling the judiciary.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Development tourism revisited

My short cynical post on "Development Tourism" seems to have stimulated some discussion on other blogs, most notably in a post of a certain Chris Blattman. In particular though, I like the follow-up post in response to the discussion in which Chris says...

"Several people pointed out, rightly I think, that Westerners who spend even two weeks on a development project can give back, just not right away. Later it life, these people may give more time, thought, and money to important causes and decisions as a result. That is excellent, and important.

In that case, however, perhaps we should call these trips what they are: thoughtful and caring, but experiential, not charitable.

I think what makes me uncomfortable is the tendency (for some) to frame or advertise short visits and contributions as a way to give back, or (worse still) to 'save' someone else. ... Saving, I would argue, is an impossible and ultimately harmful aim."

My sentiments entirely. Nicely put.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Word of the Day: donor-dumping

donor-dumping (n.) - This is when a donor or development agency introduces products below the market price in competition with local businesses. Due to their financial resources, donors are able to out-compete local businesses and force them out of the market. Examples of products that are commonly “donor-dumped” on developing markets are: EU/US clothes donations, EU/US food aid, policy consultancy services, financial services and UNIDO infrastructure projects. Donor-dumping is widespread amongst all development aid organisations. In simpler, grass-roots development initiatives, donor-dumping tends to be directly visible in the form of goods or services sold at dumping prices. In more complex development projects, such as grants for infrastructure, donor-dumping can only be seen in the indirect effect on the price of services delivered by the subsidised infrastructure.

Donor-dumping not only leads to competition with local businesses. In cases where subsidies go to social infrastructure such as health centres and hospitals, donor-dumping can also lead to unfair competition with state-run infrastructure. In a heavily donor-funded state, this leads to a parallel state-system run by donor/NGO funding and management structures.

Almost all donor-funded projects have activities which can be classified as donor-dumping. This is a result or poor project design and the Mittelabflussproblem (the use of cash disbursement as the main success indicator for development projects).

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Under control

A couple of weeks ago, the side rear view mirrors on both sides of my car were stolen. My car was parked in the centre of town just outside the Kigali city administration and opposite the restaurant of a friend of mine.

has an extremely low crime rate, especially in the built-up areas. This is basically because in a small police state with a high population density, it is easy to completely control and know most things that happen. Occasionally though, someone will get away with a minor theft. But that doesn’t mean that the crime wasn’t noticed…

So how does one handle the rear view mirror situation in Kigali? Well first, I ask the owner of the restaurant to ask his cooks whether they can’t buy the mirrors straight back from the thieves at a discount. Normally, this would work, as everyone knows everyone. After a few days however, it seems that the thief was not a friend of the locals. A little surprised I try my second option: I phone the car garage. They ask me where and when my mirrors were stolen. Two days later, they magically have my mirrors waiting for me at the garage. I buy them back at 25 dollars a piece.

I some strange way, everything seems to be under control here, and even petty crime has a clear system.

Of course, a controlled and ordered state is not necessarily a stable one. That is an entirely different debate.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Word of the Day: development tourist

Development tourist (n.) – An intern or short-term employee on a contract of up to 1 year, who wants to “experience the developing world” and “help out”, and who will afterwards leave the country, leave Africa and/or even leave development aid work altogether. By some estimates, development tourists make up over one third of the white population of Rwanda.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Word of the Day: Donorbabble

Donorbabble (n.) - Language used by organisations working for or with the donor industry to make their work look clever. A typical example of donorbabble would be: “We will organise a multi-sectoral working group to plan the development of a sector-wide capacity building master plan.” In standard English this roughly means that a big group of people will talk about planning a plan to train people in everything. Donorbabble is used by the donor industry itself, by development consultants and also by poor country governments who "speak the language of the donors".

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sustainable Development for dummies (Part 3 – The way forward)

This is the third of 3 blog posts in which I try to explain very briefly my view of what “Sustainable Development” is, based on my experiences in Rwanda.

In my last post, I concluded:

Development Aid is sustainable when it leaves behind an independent and exponentially growing sector, that continues to grow and respond to future environmental, social and economic challenges.

So how do we create such independent exponential growth? Experience in creating sectors in Europe and Africa have shown that to “jump-start” a sector from the outside, you need to work through 3 development stages:

To illustrate this development, you could look at the development of the German solar energy market from the 1990s up until now. This market started with a small demonstration programme called “100 roofs”, then it the government introduced an even larger “1000 roofs” programme and finally the government introduced a law guaranteeing a fixed price for solar electricity to private and public operators. The solar electricity market took off and is now one of the largest solar energy markets in the world.

This model shows a logical progression, in which each stage prepares for the next one: Pilot projects in phase 1 test technologies and methods that could be used in a larger national programme in phase 2; Larger national programmes in phase 2 sensitise the population and create independent organisations, institutions and companies for phase 3. Finally, the independent sector development on a national level in phase 3 can create the exponential growth required for sustainable development.

A poorly designed development aid project would be one that counter-acts this development. For example, if a country has a growing private textiles industry (phase 3) and a donor brings in free clothes to distribute to the poor (phase 1), then this will damage or even destroy the local clothes and textiles businesses.

Sustainable development is hard to achieve. It is unclear whether such a complicated issue is within the abilities of a large, bureaucratic, inflexible and uncoordinated donor industry. Time will tell: If in the next 50 years we achieve as little development in Africa as we have in the last 50, we will once again have failed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sustainable Development for dummies (Part 2 – Market Cycles)

This is the second of 3 blog posts in which I try to explain very briefly my view of what “Sustainable Development” is, based on my experiences in Rwanda.

Whether it is the government, aid agencies or NGOs attempting to develop a country, the final aim is the same: to give an impulse to the development of independent sectors. Energy specialists try to create entire energy sectors, health specialists attempt to create a national health sector, economic development specialists try to create a whole range of vital economic sectors. The development of a new sector generally follows the following 4-stage profile (adapted from a product life cycle):

I. Sector introduction stage

  • demand has to be created
  • cost high
  • volume low
  • no/little competition

II. Growth stage

  • economies of scale
  • volume increases significantly
  • public awareness
  • competition begins to increase

III. Mature stage

  • market is better established
  • volume peaks
  • increase in competitive offerings
  • prices tend to drop
  • differentiation, diversification of product or service.

IV. Decline, Stability or new growth stage

  • volume stabilises leading to a focus on efficiency rather than growth
  • volume declines e.g. if a replacement product/service is introduced
  • new growth stage can be triggered if changes in the market or the product create new demand

Development aid simply doesn’t have the resources or the mandate to guide the entire product cycle. For example, how can development aid hope to supply electricity to hundreds of millions of people in Africa?

The aim of development aid is to guide a sector through stage I so that the market and the government can take over an exponentially growing sector.

This is a key point in understanding the role of development aid. Understanding this principle, also allows us to better assess the sustainability of a development aid intervention. If indeed we are successfully guiding a sector through stage I of its development, we would expect to see:

  • Exponential growth
  • The creation of new independent market actors and institutions

Our new definition of sustainable development aid would then be:

Development Aid is sustainable when it leaves behind an independent and exponentially growing sector that is able to respond to future environmental, social and economic challenges.

This is an ambitious aim. And I would guess that less then 10% of development aid projects succeed in fulfilling this aim. Leaving behind a sector independent enough to continue the work after the end of your project is not easy.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Sustainable Development for dummies (Part 1 – Dynamic societies)

,This is the first of 3 blog posts in which I will try to explain very briefly my view of what “Sustainable Development” is, based on my experiences in Rwanda.

The buzzword of the decade is “Sustainable Development”: development that is environmentally socially and economically sustainable. The days of environmental exploitation, rollercoaster-capitalism and social exclusion need to end if we are to survive. We need to protect the environment, manage our economies better and help the poor.

What does sustainability mean for development aid projects? The answer of many of my colleagues in development would be something like this:

Development Aid is sustainable when the results achieved remain indefinitely, without destroying the environment, becoming unprofitable or causing social problems.

Sounds reasonable. If for example, we train 10 fishermen to fish better, those 10 fishermen continue to fish better after the training project has ended. Ideally, the fishermen pass on the better fishing methods to their children. And also, to ensure that their lake is not over-fished, they create a cooperative to manage fishing rights.

Unfortunately, things are not that simple in reality. The sustainability of the project will be threatened by three types of challenges:
  • Maintenance: people will need to be retrained, cooperatives need to be revitalised and new fishing equipment needs to be maintained. An intelligently planned project can generally reduce this problem.
  • Changes in the market: If the regional fish price collapses, if fishes migrate or people start eating less fish, the fishermen will have to respond to the changed situation. For many, this will mean finding a new occupation. Whilst the project might teach people to fish better, it doesn’t necessarily teach people how to look for vocational training by themselves.
  • Population and demand growth: As the population and the economy grows, so will the needs of the people. People will need to further improve the efficiency of their fishing methods. But people will also need to find other occupations and create new industries. Basically, we don’t need to train fishermen, but micro-businessmen who will fish whilst it is profitable, and who will constantly look for new and better opportunities.
Basically, the problem is one of a constantly changing, dynamic and independent society. People will only succeed if they don’t need help from the outside to respond to such developments. There needs to be constant innovation, improvements, entrepreneurship and development for any improvement to be sustainable.

Our re-definition of sustainability could look something like this:

Development aid is sustainable when it leaves behind an independently functioning society and economy is able to develop and respond to future environmental, social and economic challenges.