Moskito nets

Today in one month is World Malaria Day. It was established in 2007 by the WHO and took place for the first time in 2008. So this is the second time it takes place.

Several organizations have started their announcements and action plans:

to only name a few.

Last year the project “One million faces against malaria” asked Facebook members (who heard about it in time) to exchanged their profile picture with a black square for one day with the goal to “raise awareness of malaria and SHOW THE WORLD WHAT ONE MILLION FACES DYING OF MALARIA EVERY YEAR LOOKS LIKE.”

The video from World Vision shows how mosquito nets could prevent the death of so many children.

Several organizations completely focus on providing more mosquito nets, such as:

It is true that there are more than one million children who die each year from malaria (which is already less than when I first arrived in Africa in 1993 when the estimate was two million), the majority are under five years old. This means one child dies every 30 seconds in Africa. Still too many!

So sending mosquito nets to Africa is great, isn’t it? Well, I have mixed feelings about it. One (minor) reason is that I know from experience that the mosquitoes are most active during dusk and dawn, but few children are sleeping during this time. Most children stay up and play until late at night. Nightfall is when the family sits outside in the court yard to eat their evening meal together. Smaller children will fall asleep during this time or shortly after, next to their parents who will sit and talk for a long time into the night. Maybe the parents will use a cloth to wave away flies or mosquitoes but it would be unnatural to separate the small children from the rest of the family, by putting them under the mosquito net inside the house where they would be all alone. Only when the mothers go inside to sleep, they will take their small ones with them. Upper class urban families might have additional smaller mosquito nets, that can be used to protect children sleeping alone. I have seen them on sale in the capital but never anywhere else. It is certainly a good thing to sleep under a mosquito net, and I do it myself, but it is wrong to give the impression that this might prevent children from ever getting bitten by mosquitoes.

And there is another reason:

Ben and Eddie, quoting an article from the Wall Street Journal, raised the issue if sending nets to Africa does not ruin the local businesses that could produce these mosquito nets and therefore perpetuates a cycle of dependency from the West.

I certainly agree, that swamping a region with 100,000  free mosquito nets would have this effect.I am just not convinced that this is what will happen. I have seen the distribution of free mosquito nets in our village. They were usually given as an incentive to pregnant women, encouraging them to come for their pre-natal check-up at the maternity, get their shots and give birth there. I don’t know how these nets had been financed but they certainly did not come in huge quantities drowning out the local production, more like supplementing it. It’s hard to say that this will now suddenly change because of the above mentioned action days, etc.

However, I agree that this principle is at work in many other ways, that “pouring huge sums of money into situations is not a way to achieve goals; not for governments, nor for Christian missions,”  (Eddie) because the situation in developing countries is very complex as I have pointed out before. We often do not understand how touching one part of the “mobile” can unbalance the rest of it and will have unintended side effects. This is were sound anthropological research plays an important role. Also, it helps to be in it for the long run and work on our cultural integration, so that we might have true friends that will give us honest answers, instead of  telling us what they think we want to hear or what helps them “milk” us better.

The author of the WSJ article, Dambisa Moyo, suggested that cutting off the flow would be far more beneficial. I am not convinced of it.

Eddie summarizes his post by “Stimulating local initiative and ownership takes longer, costs less, is much more effective, but is far harder to do.”  And one commenter suggested the use of local supplies and work forces for the production of mosquito nets. I fully agree with both of them.

Tribute to Tom Avery

I just heard that Tom Avery died, and found this neat story on the following blog:

The difference a friend made « From My Heart, Out Of My Mind

“For nearly 20 years Jack and Jo Popjes, Canadian missionaries with Wycliffe, tried to learn the music of the Canela people of northeastern Brazil. Jack and Jo could not grasp the subtleties of Canela music. The Canelas showed little interest in writing any new music for themselves. Despite their love of music, the Canelas sang only ancient songs. They did not compose new music. Everyone was content to sing the old songs about ghosts and water monsters, just as their ancestors had done. It would have been easy for the Popjeses to simply translate hymns (using the Canela language and the original European/American music). “But this would have caused problems,” they report. “Hymn translation can perpetuate the false idea that Christianity is a foreign religion.”

Jack and Jo sought help from Dr. Tom Avery, a Wycliffe ethnomusicologist also working in Brazil at the time. Tom did extensive library research on the tribe. He then went with Jack and Jo and recorded Canela music so he could analyze it using a computer program he had written. After making recordings of Canela music Tom transcribed the music note by note, aided by computer-generated graphs of the melodies. Every part of the Canela music system was examined — form, melody, rhythm, scale, and more. He discovered that the intervals between notes of the Canela scale differ from the European scale. Therefore, Canela music cannot be played on a piano, because some of the notes would “fall in the cracks.”

Then Tom Avery and Jack Popjes teamed up to create 23 Canela songs with Christian lyrics, most of which were direct quotations from Scripture. With lyric sheets in hand and a tape recording of themselves singing the songs, Avery and the Popjeses arrived in the main villages. The moment they started playing the tape, the Canelas became very excited. Within minutes, the Canela men started to join in. Soon the women added a high-pitched harmony part. “I just stood there and bawled. It was so perfect,” Jack remembers.

Over the next few nights, hundreds of villagers gathered to learn the new songs. One Canela song leader told the Popjeses, “I never realized we could make up our own songs.” Another Canela told them: “You have been here all these years and gave us writing. Your friend Tom has only been here a little while, and he taught us how to sing to God.” Jack estimates that between 5 and 10 percent of the tribe have now placed their faith in Jesus Christ. New Christians enjoy freedom from the fear of ghosts and evil spirits. Looking back on their whole ministry, Jack says providing the songs may have been their most important contribution. “While the Bible translation was essential, the Scripture in those songs did more for them than the Bible translation.” “

Development – a complex story

Here are three articles that underline the complexities of developmental aid:

Rice Paddie

12 Nov 2006 09:45:48 GMT, Source: Reuters

By Nick Tattersall

TIMBUKTU, Mali, Nov 12 (Reuters) – Driving down a tree-lined avenue winding through lush paddy fields, it is hard to believe you are just a few kilometres (miles) from Timbuktu, the fabled gateway to the vast Sahara. The land here used to be parched earth, one of the last stretches of Mali’s barren savannah before it gives way to the dunes and rocks of the desert just to the north. Now women wrapped in bright cloth tend hundreds of hectares of rice fields, their slender green leaves a shock of colour against the dusty landscape that surrounds them. Long dependent on expensive food imports, Timbuktu has become self-sufficient thanks to a foreign-funded irrigation project which donors hope can be replicated across one of the world’s poorest countries. The city, founded in 1100 by Tuareg nomads, was once the richest in the region, where merchants would trade gold from West Africa in exchange for salt mined in the remote oasis of Taoudenni deep in the desert. But times have changed in the sun-blasted city of mud-brick mosques and sand-covered streets. “Before, the riches of Timbuktu were the salt coming down from Taoudenni,” Mali’s President Amadou Toumani Toure told Reuters in his palace in the capital, Bamako. “Today its riches are the irrigated plains, the rice production. They manage two harvests a year,” he said. Small motor pumps drive water from the Niger river, which winds its way lazily along the southern fringe of the desert, into channels where it is shared by smallholders who allow it to flow through sluices to neighbours’ plots. The result is 1,600 hectares (3,950 acres) of irrigated land spread across seven villages around Timbuktu. They produce 6,640 tonnes of rice a year, enough to feed the local area and to export as far afield as Burkina Faso. “There was no cultivation here before. It used to be just hard mud. Now we can feed the population with locally produced rice,” said Abdoul N’Diaye, head of rural development in the area. Behind him, women bent over in water-logged plots picking out weeds in preparation for the next harvest, due to begin in two months’ time. U.S. PLEDGES $460 MILLION Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of the active labour force in Mali and a fifth of gross domestic product. Yet less than 2 percent of Mali’s vast surface area, which is more than twice the size of former colonial power France, is cultivated. Donors including the European Union and United States are pushing for aid money to be focused on irrigation projects, seeing improving agricultural productivity as key to lifting countries like Mali out of poverty. “I know that Mali is an agricultural country, that the countryside is the heart of Mali,” the deputy head of the International Monetary Fund, John Lipsky, told villagers during a visit to the country last week. He pledged to fight for fairer access for their products on international markets — a sore point in Mali, whose cotton farmers say U.S. domestic subsidies keep them poor. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, set up by U.S. President George W. Bush to promote foreign aid, will sign a $461 million package with Mali on Monday to be invested in developing agriculture on the banks of the Niger river. “It will be used to put in place a very important project which is going to help develop 15,000 hectares around the Niger river to produce cereal, fruits and vegetables,” Mali’s Finance Minister Abou-Bakar Traore said. Much of the population of the Sahel region, spread across Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad on the southern edge of the Sahara, rely on farming to survive. But the region is one of the most inhospitable in the world. More than 3.6 million people in Niger, about a third of the population, were short of food last year after a locust plague. A three-decade drought has accelerated desertification, making valuable grazing land even more scarce and leading to clashes between herders and pastoralists in some areas. The desert has even encroached on the centre of Timbuktu, where some lintels over doorways in its 14th century mosques now stand at knee height. But as the sand buries its past, its people are looking to a new future. “Before, people did not even have the means to buy food in the market. Look at this now,” said Lansina Diarra, an economic advisor to the governor of Timbuktu, proudly sweeping his arm across the verdant vista behind him.

Chinese bring gifts, risks to African development

Sunday, November 12, 2006

BAMAKO: A few years ago most motorbikes buzzing round Mali’s dusty capital Bamako were locally assembled and a bargain at 1.5 million CFA francs ($2,935).

Now the same basic model, imported from China, sells for a fifth of that price and has become as ubiquitous as the battered green minivans that serve as the city’s public transport and the assembly plant has shut.
“It’s not the same quality. But in Mali people always prefer what is cheaper, even if they have to replace it several times a year and even if it is less comfortable, less reliable,” said Finance Minister Abou-Bakar Traore. “China has understood that.” It is not just the man on the African street that Beijing is trying to woo, undercutting rivals on price and critics say on quality.
President Hu Jintao offered $5 billion in loans and credits and a doubling of aid at a China-Africa summit in Beijing a week ago to boost access to Africa’s oil and mineral wealth. Trade officials say Chinese lending to Africa helps fill a financing gap left by the West. But they also voice concern that such money comes with few strings attached, undermining the efforts of other lenders to root out corruption by attaching conditions to their loans.
“We’re very happy that China intends to commit new resources to the region. It seems to us that more resources can be used effectively and efficiently and it is very welcome,” the International Monetary Fund’s first deputy managing director, John Lipsky, told Reuters in an interview here. But he said he hoped Chinese authorities would be “collaborative and co-operative” with other countries providing debt relief and funding to Africa.
Old chums: Not all economists are confident that such cooperation will be forthcoming or that Chinese investment will benefit Africa. “In terms of the coordination of aid we just don’t know what volume of financing is coming from China. Sometimes the states themselves don’t know how much they have to spend,” said one senior French development economist specialising in West Africa, one of the world’s poorest regions.
“It creates huge difficulties putting in place development strategies,” he said, asking not to be named. Finance Minister Traore acknowledged Mali’s relationship with China was very different to that enjoyed with other foreign lenders, but pointed out it was an old friendship.
“We owe billions to China which it never asks for. In the Malian mind, Chinese loans are considered to be gifts because we’re never asked to pay them back,” Traore said. But the funding is only one side of Beijing’s hard-nosed strategy in Africa.
It also brings cheap Chinese labour to its building sites and cheap imports like Bamako’s motorbikes, hurting local economies precisely where they should be generating jobs in the private sector. reuters

Hearts and Minds

12 Nov 2006 12:46:00 GMT, Source: Reuters  A resident of Tizimizi, a village in the Gao region of eastern Mali, writes on a blackboard to celebrate the opening of a school the U.S. army helped to build.

A resident of Tizimizi, a village in the Gao region of eastern Mali, writes on a blackboard to celebrate the opening of a school the U.S. army helped to build. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

US swaps guns for blackboards in Africa charm offensive

By Mark Trevelyan

TIZIMIZI, Mali, Nov 12 (Reuters) – Mayor Amadou Harouna Maiga was surprised, to say the least, when a group of U.S. soldiers turned up one day and offered to help build a school in his African village. But six months later, he is confident the Americans mean business and keen to explore what more they can do to help. “We have no shortage of problems — health problems, water problems, agricultural problems,” said Maiga as a four-man U.S. team returned this weekend to his village of mud-brick houses by the Niger River to deliver blackboards, slates, pencils, sharpeners and exercise books. “We think they (the Americans) are serious in their promises.” As he spoke inside a temporary classroom, built by villagers from branches and lined with reed matting, the sound of singing and clapping wafted in from dozens of women dancing outside in brilliantly coloured robes of pink, orange, blue and green to welcome the U.S. visitors. There is no mistaking the warmth of the greeting in this remote eastern region of Mali, a mainly Muslim nation and one of the world’s poorest countries. It is, perhaps, one tiny victory in an uphill struggle by the U.S. military to win hearts and minds as it brings its global war on terrorism to remote parts of Africa on the fringe of the Sahara desert. The new school will mean that some 50 children in the village are spared a daily trek of some 3 km (2 miles) each way, in sweltering heat, to reach the only other nearby school in Ansongo. It will also take pressure off the Ansongo school, where in one of the classrooms 65 children are sharing a dozen benches and desks. So how does building schools fit into a U.S. security strategy in Mali, a largely desert country of some 12 million people, bigger than South Africa and nearly twice the size of Texas? “If we can build the capacity of the government to provide services like schools, sanitation and public health, it’s less likely for insurgents to gain a foothold in an area,” says U.S. army captain Nathan Farris. He heads a four-man team of Civil Affairs soldiers, assisted by a U.S. military doctor, vet, dentist and nurse, which is working in Mali alongside, and under the command of, a U.S. special forces team training local soldiers in counter-terrorism. While the special forces teach the Malians to improve their marksmanship and tactics, the humanitarian team is visiting local villages like Tizimizi, offering help to build schools and clinics and repair broken-down wells. DELICATE RELATIONSHIPS Mali is one of nine West and North African countries which have signed up to the U.S. military’s Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, part of a strategy to prevent al Qaeda from establishing bases in the region in the same way it operated in the 1990s from Sudan and Afghanistan. Critics of the United States say it has exaggerated the threat in order to build up its security presence in Africa, partly because of its growing interest in West African oil as an alternative to supplies from the volatile Middle East. Some are concerned that even pure humanitarian projects like digging wells risk interfering with delicate local relationships that often rest on factors like access to water supplies. Sometimes the local people are nervous, as Farris found out early on when he visited a Malian school. “One of the first questions I got was: were we here to conquer Mali or to help them?” But he added: “People are very receptive to our presence, once we explain we’re here at the invitation of their government … they’re happy we’re here to help out and help their government out.” On a visit to another village, Tacharane, Farris and his team agree to come back on Monday and treat 150 children with vitamins and medicine to kill off tapeworms. The chief seems pleased and says he will spread the word at a feast to celebrate the wedding of his youngest daughter. But an unannounced trip to nearby Tabango is less successful. The chief is away and a nervous-looking group of women ask why the Americans want to see him and why they didn’t make an appointment. Much of the success may depend on how the Americans manage the expectations of local people and whether they deliver on their promises. “Sometimes things take a long time to get going,” Farris explained to the mayor of Tizimizi, saying the school project had been submitted to the U.S. embassy and was still under review.