London calling….

June 22, 2007

(Tuesday, May 15th, 2007)

What reforms need to be made to the global political and economic order to promote global equality and intergenerational equity? Do intellectuals and policymakers from the ‘South’ or ‘Third World’ advance perspectives on the changes necessary to advance these principles that are fundamentally different or even at odds with the views that empowered development elites from the rich countries articulate? If so, what are the specific points of divergence and the barriers to the advancement of ‘Southern Perspectives‘? How can Southerners realize their visions for change?
This weekend, The North-South Institute is holding a conference at Wilton Park, GB that aims to address these questions in great detail. The participation of several dozen high level people in the development business ensures that this will be an intellectually stimulating and enriching event. I am writing a report on the proceedings and look forward to sharing my more informal thoughts here. En route to another wonderful and challenging learning experience….

—Adam

Networking Cotton

June 22, 2007

(Tuesday, May 8, 2007)

I have lost count of just how many times during my grad school years someone has admonished me to remember the old colloquialism that it is “not what you know, but who you know.” While I was at York and early on at McMaster, each time I heard this phrase expressed I would get a little hot under the collar. It seemed to me to be a cliché that was essentially anti-intellectual. In my slightly anger-laced political rejoinders I typically asserted that knowledge production should have priority over networking. However, as time went on my responses mellowed somewhat and I often found myself grudgingly agreeing with the sentiment. My slow acceptance probably had quite a bit to do with the fact that despite my idealism and my doubts I was transforming myself into a major networker. I had learned that competence in contact building was necessary for self-preservation and self-advancement even in an academic context where, as the story goes, knowledge is supposed to be pursued as an end in itself. The development of my thinking on the latter subject also influenced my perspective on networking. I came to believe that as far as the social sciences go, the idea that research can somehow be ‘value-free’ or disinterested is more often than not a myth. As the relationships or institutions that social scientists did not question in their writing became more apparent to me I took on board a lesson that many professors had imparted over the years: if the status quo is problematic, push to change it. This notion became my political rationalization for networking. If principled young thinkers did not engage in such efforts I came to believe that another old chestnut – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – would certainly apply within the ivory tower and beyond. That being said, I was not prepared for just how much value networking could also add to my fieldwork. The raw material inputs I am collecting here in Sénégal will help me to construct an academic finished product, and it is only through a truly golden cotton network that I have been able to access these resources.

On my second full day in Dakar I met with Eric Hazard and Sally Baden, two well-known Oxfam UK experts on the West African cotton industry and the world cotton trade. After passing along a bag of Rwanda’s finest coffee to Eric as a token of my appreciation for the many letters of recommendation he had written over the past year for my various scholarship applications and for McMaster University Ethics Board approval, he made a few brief phone calls on my behalf to industry insiders. Eric subsequently turned to me and in English that is much better than my French explained that there was a truck heading to the hub of the cotton zone on Saturday morning that I could catch a ride with. Happy to have a stroke of luck so quickly I headed back to my new office at ENDA Tiers Monde with Barry Alimou, Eric’s old research partner and another cotton expert. After a lonely evening with my language learning software I arrived refreshed Friday morning at the office to find Alimou waiting for me outside. He informed me that Amdiatou Diallo, the Directeur exécutif of the Fédération Nationale des Producteurs de Coton (FNPC), and Moussa Sabaly, the FNPC Président, were departing for Tambacounda in one and a half hours and that I had a seat in their truck. Alimou flagged a taxi and we raced through the morning traffic to collect my things and find a bank machine. Three out of service ATMs later we found one that was operating and proceeded to enter a heavy traffic jam en route to the rendezvous at the offices of SODEFITEX, the cotton company. As we neared the meeting point screams of agony pierced through the murmur of running engines and the occasional horn blasts. As we approached I surveyed the scene and ascertained that moments before a young boy on a motorized bicycle had apparently been run over by a large transport truck. The tire marks were clearly embedded in his shattered lower left leg. It was a gruesome sight and fortunately for the boy quite a few people had already made haste to offer assistance. Sadly, such efforts cannot be counted on in other places I have visited this year. When we finally reached SODEFITEX I was still a little shaken. To escape a bit I pulled out my camera to take a few pictures of the street scenes around the place when a guard appeared from nowhere and informed me that I should not be taking photos of private property. Not being exactly in the best of spirits I demanded to know the reason. He offered none and I was left wondering if he had taken action just because I was white and had a camera. The issue of my whiteness was at the forefront of my mind as perhaps a dozen young boys had wandered by during the previous minutes making the inevitable demands: give me your bottle or give me your money, white man!

After meeting Moussa and Amdiatou we proceeded inland. The temperature gradually became more oppressive as we left the Atlantic behind and traversed a baobab-filled landscape. During our 3pm lunch stop I learned that our destination was not Tambacounda and that we were bound for the town of Vélingara instead. To save time we were to pass through the salt mining area around the Saloum River riparian zone and then cross into The Gambia. At the border immigration stamped my passport for 72 hours and as I walked back to the truck the first thing I noticed was that the kids were asking me for things in English instead of in French. As we traveled on into The Gambian countryside I learned that the shortcut plan is always a gamble. Each village on the highway has its own police check point. We passed through four such roadblocks unscathed but had a problem on the fifth go as the local cop demanded to be paid what he termed a “customs fee.” His issue was with the validity of the FNPC paperwork and not with my passport. Even so, since I was the best English speaker available I took it upon myself to resolve the situation. I looked him in the eye and asked if I could see his customs identification. In hindsight it seems like a slightly testosterone-jacked question to have asked a guy with a big gun. However, I was wearing a t-shirt that read “Kiss me, I’m Canadian,” and figured at the time that only the fashion police would take it upon themselves to shoot someone wearing a t-shirt like that. After a few moments he relented by informing us that if he ever saw us again he would arrest us on the spot.

We zoomed along and arrived at the first of two ferries that would take us across The Gambia River. The second was notable as it was powered by hand. All the men lined up along the Eastern side of the ferry and pulled a cable moored to both sides of the crossing. I tried to snap a picture of the President pulling in unison with everyone else but he ducked out just in time and I had to settle for a picture of him with Amdiatou in profile. On the ferries people also continued to ask me for things and I found myself recalling passages on the topic that really frustrated me in a book named “The Masked Rider” by a notable Canadian rock star and drummer about a bicycle trip he took through the region. He equated the phenomenon of kids asking for things with a “socialist” mentality in West Africa. While this particular author’s well known libertarian agenda was a problem for me, I also was not happy with the way he seemed to nonchalantly describe his dismissive treatment of the kids. Now I found myself in The Gambia behaving in a similar fashion and my annoyance with these occurrences somewhat overwhelming. Luckily, my benefactors woke me up with a random act of kindness. They invited three people without a ride to hop into the back of the truck and we rode for the border as twilight descended.

In Vélingara the following day I found myself perched atop a bale of cotton lint in the SODEFITEX yard reading my French dictionary while the FNPC leadership met with Bashir Diop, the Directeur Général of SODEFITEX, and his team. It was a marathon meeting. While I waited I tried out my French with a few of the workers and had some success. Driving to Tambacounda with Bashir and Amdiatou after the gathering adjourned I witnessed first-hand the convivial relationship between the producers’ organization and the sole buyer of cotton here. The contrasts with Tanzania were stark save for one commonality: the excellent hospitality. Networks rule!

-Adam

(Monday, May 7, 2007)

Sitting in relative solitude at the heart of Senegal’s cotton growing zone after a whirlwind week of travel, the problems of conducting academic work in Sub-Saharan Africa remain at the forefront of my mind. It seems to me that the payoff from university-based research, reading, reflection, writing and re-writing for people and the planet is certainly only ever realized in the long run, if it is at all. I think that intellectuals engaged in such work here must have a zealous faith in the future value of their output. I believe strongly in my project, but also worry sometimes that my forward orientation can be encompassing to the extent that it desensitizes me to my surroundings. For example, everyday on the ‘cotton trail’ (as an old friend from Queen’s likes to call it) I pass amongst some of the poorest and most exploited people on Earth without engaging substantively in efforts to assist their conditions of life. It is not like I put on a pair of Bono’s rose-coloured glasses each morning as I venture out, but I do find myself gazing at the problems of the people I am not researching much like a tourist. The immediacy of poverty and despoliation in this place is hard to square with a multiyear project to inform policy or the next generation of thinkers. Even though I find it hard to rationalize inaction in the present, I remain committed to the ideal of academic inquiry and the objectives of my dissertation. That being said, I sometimes have skeptical moments about those things too. Occasionally I recall the fact that the pace of poverty eradication and economic redistribution measures is glacial even though libraries around the globe are stuffed full of studies on the factors that impoverish this region and its relationships with the rich countries. Keynes famously noted that in the long run we are all dead, and a lot of insights on those dusty shelves have gone unutilized while many African bodies have piled up over the years. Nonetheless, I see light in his quote. I read it as a call to action or an incentive to get busy. Keynes himself bridged the divide between action and reflection. Like him, I believe that there must be a space for both, and though I regret that I have lacked the former during my current research phase, I know that abstaining from action now serves a higher purpose. The results of reflection can inform debates about the formulation, adoption, implementation and evaluation of governance reforms and policy alternatives that aim to advance the principles of global equality and intergenerational equity. I look forward to the time when I will be able to engage as a public intellectual in those spaces with my findings in hand knowing that my inputs can help people.

—-

As I waited outside Jomo Kenyatta International Airport last Monday for the Kenya Airways bus to take me to my hotel for the night, the first thing I noticed was that immigration had failed to stamp my passport. I had a receipt for my in-transit visa and figured that since I was in the hands of the airline there would be no problem. As our little group piled into the minibus I had some interesting discussions with a Chinese national off to peddle anti-malarials in the DRC, and an Ethiopian IT manager for Shell bound for Mauritius. An aged white Zimbabwean woman interrupted the latter conversation when she shrilly demanded that the driver take us to the Hilton. Much laughter ensued, followed by even more from me when my new Ethiopian friend noted that our destination was located next to one of East Africa’s biggest mattress factories. After arriving, expecting the worst at the register, I took note of a sign in capital letters: THE SKATING RINK CLOSES AT 11PM. At that point not even the 200 noisy French safari goers or ‘overlanders’ in the lobby could dampen my amazement. There I was at a hotel where from the top of the tower it was possible to wear a pair of skates while viewing African wildlife in the distance or the nearby industrial park. The mattress itself was fantastic and my good luck continued at the airport the following morning as I made it through immigration without a hitch. However, as there is no stamp in my passport and I seem to have misplaced my visa receipt – the only official proof I was there – it is possible that the entire experience was a figment of my imagination. All I can say for sure is that access to such luxury remains a dream for 80%+ of the people that call Kenya home.

Seated next to the window on the plane the following morning I bit into a cherished, fresh copy of the FT and tried to focus as the crew of Chinese labourers in the adjacent seats laughed it up. I stole occasional glances at the landscape below and was lucky enough to see Lake Edward and the Congo rainforest stretching into the distance. I took note of the time and a little under an hour later, after flying over an incredibly flat stretch of seemingly pristine forest, I looked again and saw the Congo River itself. The thing that struck me about the scenery around the river was that the forest seemed to have disappeared. Humanity was omnipresent. Subsequently I found myself putting down my French dictionary and thinking about the importance of the Congo’s trees for the planet and the well-known facts that forest is really not that big and is under pressure. My friends here in Africa know that I have been talking a lot about trees recently. Having planted a lot of them in the boreal forest back home – somewhere around 800 000 over the years – they are often in my dreams. Of late I have been considering ways of bringing them into my future work. Just to be clear, I have already rejected one such idea: the notion of going back to Northern Canada and digging up all 800 000. The findings of a recent “study” that The Economist saw fit to highlight can be used to argue that I should do just that to help prevent climate change. Scary stuff….

Later, after winging over the Niger and Volta watersheds and stopping briefly at Bamako to load up on carbon, copious quantities of beef were served with a pasta dish. As I ate it occurred to me that the Rift Valley Fever scare was much reduced. The story of the bovine and human outbreaks of the fever had been consistently in the news since my arrival in East Africa in January, and the meal drew my attention to the passing of time. At the airport, however, I realized that I apparently had not been here long enough to remember to bring essential disease-related things with me when I traveled, such as my international vaccination certificate. It was safely stowed in Kigali and I was next in line to explain my business to the authorities. Previously, possession of the little booklet had saved me from getting jabbed by a questionable needle filled with Yellow Fever vaccine when I re-entered Kenya from Uganda in 2004. Luckily immigration waved me through and in doing so gave me a great International Labour Day present. Keba Faty, the logistics coordinator for ENDA Tiers Monde and head of the household where I would be staying greeted me outside the airport. We embarked for his place near the market in the suburb of Ouakam and as I breathed in the fresh Atlantic air I soaked up West African sights for the first time. Bakeries and images of marabouts – leaders of Islamic brotherhoods – were everywhere and a new chapter in my research adventure had commence

(Saturday, April 7, 2007)

Early in the morning somewhere West of Dar’s Millennium Tower I found myself having to call ESRF’s Dr. Mashindano for the second time in less than fifteen minutes. After three months in Tanzania I had finally secured an interview with the most in-demand economic thinker in the country, Professor Wangwe. I had no idea where his office was located and my anti-malarial meds had induced a pounding headache. Needless to say I was quite frazzled. I looked up from the phone and watched a Land Cruiser glide by. To my surprise, I saw the man whose portrait adorns the lobby at ESRF in the passenger seat. “Follow that truck,” I very nearly shouted at my new and reasonably priced driver while I contemplated the fact that this was only one stroke of luck amongst many over the past weeks. The meeting that ensued with Professor Wangwe – my sixtieth ‘elite’ interviewee in Tanzania – was truly brilliant, and I felt blessed once again to be in such a privileged position. After saying our farewells and expressing our excitement about the North-South Institute conference we will both attend at Wilton Park next month, I headed to the city centre for my next big catch. Or so I thought.

If I were to generalize about my interviewees, I would say that they have been consistently informed, giving of their time and happy to assist a young mzungu that wants to explain problematic realities in a way that helps people. Save for one, that is. Suffice it to say that during my second interview of the day my project came under the microscope. I became the interviewee. As I emerged into the light of the street I thought about the visceral and negative take on the orientation of my project that I had just been subjected to. It was a first, and a cue for me to think more concretely about the limitations of my work. Even adversity, it seemed, could teach me things.

To clear my head I borrowed a page out of a book that I had recently finished – “The Economist’s Tale” – and made an impromptu drop-in at Pamba (Cotton) House on Pamba Road to see if I could meet briefly with Dr. Kabissa, the Director of the Cotton Board. He received me for a quick visit with a smile and complimented me on my work. As I was planning to write a short preliminary report on my findings, I asked him if there were measures that I could take that would enable me to write it in a way would that would be acceptable to most Tanzanians. Like Professor Wangwe, he advised me to stick with the facts and to avoid any pretensions to having all of the answers. Wangwe had noted that there are many things that people like me do not know about Tanzania, and many things about Tanzania that many Tanzanians do not know too, and that that message had to be front-and-centre. He impressed upon me that I must make it crystal clear to my readers that I am writing a contingent story about complex relationships and that what I have to say will add new empirical content to many diverse debates. After echoing these comments, Dr. Kabissa opined that he looked forward more to the finished dissertation than to a little report. I told him that his suggestion would be music to my supervisor’s ears.

I proceeded up the road to track down a copy of the 2004 Environment Act. After inquiring at the office that had provided me with a copy of the 2005 Biosafety Protocol, the staff suggested that I go around the corner to the “duka da vitabu wa taifa” (the National Bookshop). A comedy of errors ensued. “Around the corner” I made at least eight inquiries of different passerby regarding the exact location of the shop. Under the influence of the latest directions I’d been given in Swahili, I potentially walked past it four times as I crossed and re-crossed a traffic circle with no fewer than six roads jutting off of it. Curly blonde guys in aviators can be comic relief for the locals, and I was happy to oblige. Persistence paid off though, and I actually procured a whack of legislation, including the Employment Act and others that will be useful as I probe the question of potential child labour that came up more than once in Geita District.

Leaving the bookstore, to my surprise, a truck with the logo of the International Fund for Agricultural Development painted on its side was parked directly in front of me. I approached and asked if the Country Officer, Dr. Juma, was around and if it would be possible to say farewell to her. She had previously provided me with a wealth of information on the organics movement. I interviewed at least eight people as a direct result of the things I learnt during our first meeting, and it was great to thank her in person.

Later, after editing the day’s interviews from home I felt the need to do a workout. I set out on foot for the Gymkhanna Club. The Ocean Road evening traffic jam was in full effect and as I approached the Aga Khan Hospital the SUVs were at a standstill. At the corner, as they do every day, local street peddlers were hawking ice cream, shirts, bananas and pineapples. I saw a woman finish paying for some ice cream and then watched in seeming slow motion as she unwrapped the product and then flicked the wrapper out the window of her Range Rover and into the street. I stopped and without thinking twice picked up the wrapper and tossed it back inside the Range Rover’s open window and onto her lap. A few people that had witnessed my response started to yell at me in Swahili, presumably because the government employs labourers to clean up the road. Perhaps I was endangering those jobs! However, I paid no attention to the fuss and continued on my journey. It was a direct action that had sprung from somewhere in my subconscious mind and I was at peace. I think my Grandfather would have been proud.

—-

My time in Tanzania has come to an end for now. I have many people to thank for making my adventure thus far an incredible success. As I sit down in Kigali next week to piece together my thoughts on the past months I will be thinking of the many wonderful people that have helped me along the way. So, to my new friends: farewell and I’ll see you in the future.

– Adam

Pamba Time: Part 11

June 22, 2007

(Sunday, March 25, 2007)

Later that morning I met a 65 year-old woman who had just finished weeding one of her cotton plots. In Sukuma she explained to Charles that she had been cultivating cotton for 40 years. This woman told us that cotton is good for people when they are paid at the point of purchase. If they have to wait months or even years for payment, as she has in the past, her view of the crop is much less favourable. A man from a neighbouring village walked up and joined our group. His cotton failed completely during the drought last year. He was able to come up with enough cash to pay out-of-pocket for seeds this season, but he does not have enough money to pay for a single application of pesticide. Currently, he does not even have enough cash on hand – 5000 TZS – to join the new Savings and Credit Cooperative scheme (SACCOS). If he did, he would have access to credit for pesticides. Additionally, he has not seen any extension agents from any of the companies or from the District. Zero access to credit and extension, and adverse climatic events, are only several of many factors that keep this man poor.

Just up the road on a hill I then witnessed a farmer spraying pesticides on his field. Charles and Danstan explained that his crop was infested with bollworms. He too was barefoot, and wore no protective gear while applying the spray. While this man did have the money to purchase additional pesticide applications, Charles noted that his investments were likely for naught. Based upon the advanced stage of the bollworm infestation, and insights garnered over twenty years of field experience in the district, Charles predicted that this farmer’s yields were set to be under 100 kg/acre. Assuming he is paid 320 TZS per kilo, a higher than average price, his net at the farm gate will be thin. He might net less than $15 Canadian per acre for many weeks of hard manual labour. A few kilometers away I met with victims of another type of infestation: aphids. This young family was attempting to rid their crop of the scourge, but they too had not seen any extension agents or company people until we walked up. This factor of impoverishment – lack of extension services – was clearly not a minor one.

Later we visited a Village Executive Officer. He sang the praises of cotton and argued that it was relatively more beneficial for farmers to produce than other cash crops due to the evidently high level of competition amongst the buyers. The VEO argued that the more cotton that people grow the richer they are. We moved on to visit one of these ‘rich’ farmers in another area. Approaching a smallholding that was dominated by cotton plants, we introduced ourselves to a man with a massive family. He had two beautiful wives and eight children between the ages of two and ten. The man noted that with eleven mouths to feed things get quite tight each year in the months leading up to harvest. He explained that they had kidogo sana (very little) food on hand, but that they are surviving better than in previous years. This farmer had invested his past cotton earnings heavily in cattle and is now the proud owner of twenty cows. However, his houses are in disrepair and he does not have the money to purchase additional pesticides this season. The farmer’s failure to invest in production is a factor that impoverishes his family. His wives also work the fields quite hard, but do not seem to control the earnings from their work. Consequently, a skewed intra-household resource distribution impoverishes these women.

Our meeting with this large family was also notable as the parents broke out in hysterics at the mention of maskini (poverty). After settling down, the two women explained that they did not think that it was possible to remove poverty from cotton production. I wagered a guess that poverty was not a usual subject of conversation in their area. Also of note was the man’s name: he was called “Maendeleo”. In Swahili, maendeleo means development or progress, and it was enshrined in Mwalimu Nyerere’s policies. Before we left I passed one 500 TZS note to each of the women, and one to the man. My colleagues at the ESRF in Dar, and several of my interviewees, advised me earlier this year that I should always leave a little something with cash crop producers after an interview. In this case the typical 500 TZS did not seem to be enough.

After traveling through a large forested area (msitu) we met with one of Copcot’s assistant cashiers. According to her first-hand account of the marketplace some farmers will travel more than 7 km with seed cotton wrapped in bundles on their head. She explained that only the richest farmers – perhaps 5% of total sellers – hire labourers to carry their produce to market. Cotton farmers that sell early in the season also become disgruntled as the season progresses and prices rise. Sometimes they confront the cashiers and demand more money. She claimed that it was easy for her to tell the bigger farmers from the poorer ones based upon the things they have with them in the market, including their clothes. It seems that shoes or the lack thereof are a useful guide to ascertaining a farmer’s relative success.

As we drove off, Charles and Danstan pointed out the lack of electricity in all but a few villages in the district, and we attempted to guesstimate just how many cotton producers might have generators or televisions. As we were pondering the TV issue, I told Charles to hit the brakes when I saw the silhouettes of what looked to be a gang of young men clubbing away at the weeds against the backdrop of a setting sun. I walked up to them and introduced myself as per normal. Nilisema (I said): Habari za kazi (how’s work)? Jina langu Adam. Mimi ni mwanafunzi (I’m a student). Mimi natoka Canada (from Canada). Jina lake (what’s your name)? Habari za nyumbani (how is your home)? As my eyes settled on the group I realized that the leader was in his early twenties, but that the rest of the crew were half his height and that they were no more than ten years old. The man claimed that these boys were a team that could be hired for 1000 TZS for an afternoon. I asked Danstan if that figure could be believed, and my suspicions were raised further when none of the boys would speak to us. Instead, they stared intently at the man, and several appeared to be fearful. Much of the field had not been weeded yet, and Danstan commented that this could be one of the reasons he had ‘retained’ the boys. I was disturbed by the fact that they were children, and not young teenagers. I believe that I subsequently fell into a little bit of shock as we drove away towards the ginnery. Coupled with some minor heat exhaustion, I was spent. As I pumped fluids all night in a way that producers on the other side of the compound’s walls could not, I was quite disturbed. I knew that people like Donald Max were doing what little they could to reinvest in the community. But I also knew that few people in the business shared his sense his corporate social responsibility. With little to no NGO presence or ethical production systems in Geita, the prospects for many producers seemed grim.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pamba Time….

June 22, 2007

(Saturday, March 24, 2007)

Today I realized one of my dreams. I met with several dozen people in Geita District that rely directly or indirectly upon sales of seed cotton. Two members of Copcot Tanzania’s operations team, Charles Theodory and Danstan Mugashe, took me on this tour. Danstan acted as an interpreter with Swahili speakers while Charles drove and also did interpretation for the older people we met that were more comfortable speaking in the Sukuma language.

On our way to see how people were getting on with an embryonic Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCOS), perhaps ten kilometres from Geita town, I was surprised to see a man lying in the middle of the road at the bottom of a hill. As we slowed to check out the situation several people gathered near him. We learned from a bystander that a bicycle traveling at high speed down the hill had apparently hit him. There was no sign of the bike or the rider. Charles and Danstan surveyed the scene and concluded that we should move along without offering to help. They rationalized this failure to act by noting our proximity to the town. Over the past years people have been ambushed in the forested areas surrounding Geita and they did not want me to experience banditry first-hand.

As we pushed further into the countryside I took note of the incredibly small farm sizes. Most smallholders seemed to be cultivating no more than a hectare. Production on all the farms also appeared to be quite diversified. People were cultivating maize, cassava, legumes, sweet potatoes and in the lower areas, rice. Rows of sisal, a large spiky-looking cash crop, marked the borders between many farms. I saw quite a few pamba (cotton) fields on the higher ground. On each smallholding where cotton was grown, pamba fields seemed to account for anywhere between ¼ to ¾ of cultivated land.

As we headed towards a ridge, off to the left under the glaring sun I glimpsed a team of five younger men swinging their jembes (hoes) in unison. They were working together to weed their cotton fields. As Charles, Danstan and I approached the men dropped their hoes and came to greet us. None had shoes and all were quite thin. The man whose field we were standing in was no more than five feet tall. He told us that he was in his early twenties, and that he and his friends had wives and children to feed, save for the youngest man who was not yet lucky enough to have a wife. He hoped that they were going to have a better harvest this season than they had during the drought last year. Members of the group complained about the expense of pesticides and their inability to pay for fertilizers that would increase their yields. When I asked if any other people had come to offer advice about production they told me that we were the first to appear their fields in 2007.

I then sought permission from the group to take a picture. They agreed. With my back to the sun I captured several stunning images. As I snapped these photos I noticed for the first time that one of the men was wearing a second-hand t-shirt with the word “Gettysburg” written on the front in bold. The irony was simply overwhelming. Here was a man working with a hoe in East Africa in 2007. The prices he will receive for his seed cotton at the market will be lower again this year due to the global glut that partly results from the United States’ cotton subsidy scheme. Interestingly, the US government defeated the slave-owning cotton plantation owners at Gettysburg nearly 150 years ago. Now the US cotton support policy is one of the factors that keep this man looking like a slave of old: scrawny, wearing ragged clothing and swinging a hoe. The imposition of free market policies on Sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s, often at the behest of the United States, crushed the domestic textile and clothing industries in this region and led to East Africa’s reliance on second-hand clothing imports. As I stood in an important cotton-producing zone watching men dressed in used garments from abroad sweat it out, I found myself questioning the rationality of the current model. I wondered why many policymakers the world-over would consider the argument that textiles and clothing should be produced where cotton is grown to be too idealistic or even irrational. Certainly it is economically rational for cotton producers to purchase used clothing right now. It is also their only option, and an option that condemns Tanzania to a low value-added future. It really struck a foul note to see a man working his tail off clothed in a garment that advertised his oppressor’s tourist destination. As you can tell, seeing ground zero of the global economy was quite a shock, and I’m only just now collecting my thoughts.

I have much more to write about 22 March. I will continue to clean up my diary from that day and publish bits of it here. Right now, I have to move on. I’m sitting in Mwanza and will be heading out to Shinyanga this afternoon. I hope to meet with two of the organic operators in that region over the coming days. More soon!

(Thursday, February 15th, 2007)

He looked up from his plate of spring rolls and told me to think like the Keynesian welfare state. It probably wasn’t the first time that Daniel Drache, the Canadian political economist, had given this little piece of advice to a student, or in my case, a former student. But the timing of his challenge to me could not have been better. Seated across the table on a bewilderingly hot January afternoon, I was set to fly out for Tanzania in a couple of days. After finishing another delicious mouthful of green curry I asked for some clarification. Drache explained that it was possible for me to make choices about my consumption habits in Dar es Salaam that would generate local employment. In effect, he urged me to embrace the market. Instead of washing and ironing my own clothes or preparing my own meals, he encouraged me to engage people to do these things. Ideally, in his view, by expanding the range of services that I purchased on a daily basis I would induce a supply response that would create jobs. I savoured the Thai food and his wisdom – both were free for me – and imagined what life was like for people that stood to benefit from the application of Drache’s lesson. The prospect of becoming a micro-level personification of post-war economic policymaking was enticing.

While I entertained do-gooder thoughts that afternoon, one of the houseboys at 17 Ocean Road was in bed recuperating. Days before, disaster had struck while he was walking home alone after ringing in 2007 with some friends. Two men rushed up to him – one brandishing a knife – and proceeded to beat him to the ground. More men joined the assault and in a few seconds the knife had done its work. Blood flowed from a deep gash above the houseboy’s right temple. Upon seeing the mess one of the attackers reached down and grabbed the victim’s cell phone and wallet. The gang subsequently melted into the night and the young wounded man raced back to number 17. When he reached the gate one of the guards took note and bolted up the stairs to inform Ronald Shelukindo that John, his full time helper, was in need of professional medical attention.

Big Ron’s response to the crisis demonstrated why he is known around Dar as ‘Baraka’ or blessing. After piling John into his Mercedes Baraka sped to the Aga Khan hospital just up the road. Upon arrival John’s head was promptly sewn up and a course of medication prescribed. The total cost of the visit came to 100 000 TZS, well beyond John’s means. This husband and father of two from Arusha did not expect his boss to pay the bill. He considered hospital care to be a personal expense. When they arrived at the cashier’s window, however, Baraka opened his wallet and paid the full amount. He then turned to John and explained that John’s wages were only one element of their employment agreement. In Baraka’s mind, if anything happened to John or to his family it was incumbent upon him, as a responsible employer, to make things right. For nearly thirty years Baraka had lived on or near Ocean Road and not once had he seen or heard of a similar incident. He didn’t think twice about choosing to come to the financial aid of his employee at a random moment of need.

In mid-January I moved my things into Ron’s spare bedroom. He introduced me to John, the man that would now be doing nearly all of the grocery shopping, meal preparation, house cleaning, laundry and insect termination for one worldly Tanzanian and his new hungry and dirty Canadian housemate. Over the following weeks I came to rely more and more on John’s work. Every single day he made me a great breakfast and demonstrated an amazing amount of stamina and skill by cleaning all of my dirty laundry by hand. I contributed little to his efforts. I simply picked up certain essentials from the shops up the road, including phone cards and the occasional beer or three, and helped Ron to pay for some of the food, electricity and Internet costs. Once or twice per week, when I remembered, I would buy John a 500ml bottle of Castle, the famous South African beer. The guy made my life so much easier and he did it with a smile on his face. I thought that spending about $1.50 Canadian once in awhile was the least I could do. For some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, I neglected to tell Baraka about my little habit.

Then one morning I woke from a fairly restless and sweaty sleep with my head full of thoughts about the day’s agenda. I made my ritual dash to the fridge to retrieve a water jug and fill my glass. To my surprise and disdain the water was ‘finished’, as they say around here. I was pretty pissed off. Then I discovered that there were also no eggs. I caught myself throwing some shillings at John and telling him to remember to remind us when things ran out. Before thinking about what I was doing, I sent him out the door and to the shops down the street, towards the place where he was attacked. Apparently I’d made the transition from covert do-gooder to asshole in about a week.

Nothing can excuse my behaviour that morning. As I have thought more about my actions it has become apparent to me that there is a very fine line between employment generation and exploitation. It is now my view that those with the means to employ domestic help in this country should do so. But they should also provide working conditions that are fair and decent. Baraka meets this standard. He is a fantastic boss. John is happy to be supporting his family with earnings from all of his work. Without Big Ron or someone else as giving, the chances are slim that he would even have a paying job. If, however, employers behave like I did that morning, or in other more sinister and unforgivable ways, this type of employment generation might be a dead end. As it stands, at 17 Ocean Road there is hope for John. He’s learning English. The phrasebook is open on the kitchen counter and Baraka is doing his bit to get John to converse in my language more often. It feels good to be reciprocating in a small way all of the value that John adds to our lives. I hope that he succeeds.

(Monday, January 29, 2007)

During the lead up to the Iraq Invasion my housemate Neil Gislason and I often tuned in to ‘Diplomatic Immunity’, the weekly TV Ontario current affairs programme. One blustery night we were surprised to learn that the show was not focusing on the impending conflict. Instead of witnessing another debate between Eric Margolis and Janice Stein over the relative merits of the military option, we were treated to some deep thoughts on Sub-Saharan Africa’s development problems. Neil and I will never forget that night. Professor Stein opined that one of the principal impediments to equitable development was a culture of ‘Land Rover envy’. We thought about it for weeks. Was it really only the size of one’s rover that counted?

Based upon my informal observations of the twice-daily traffic jam on Ocean Road here in Dar es Salaam, Professor Stein was on to something. Typically 70 to 75% of the idling vehicles that I walk past on my way to work are gas-guzzlers. Often their doors feature the logos of prominent NGOs and development agencies, including several of the former that concentrate on environmental issues, such as the World Wide Fund for Nature. Certainly the local development establishment can convincingly rationalize the composition of its fleet by appealing to the sorry state of Tanzania’s side roads. However, it remains an open question just how many of these SUVs are actually used consistently to do work in rural areas. In short, I’ve caught myself wondering on more than one occasion if this transportation ‘norm’ is really necessary for development workers based in and around Dar. In light of the present climate crisis, the status quo surely does not seem desirable.

As the environment surges past its historic 1989 high to the top of the national priority list in Canada, it makes sense to think about my own project’s environmental balance sheet. On January 5th, days before I left, I recall walking down Yonge Street in Toronto clad in nothing more than my David Suzuki t-shirt. That same day, looking at my research budget, I wondered what it was going to cost me to hire an SUV to complete interviews with cotton farmers in the heart of Tanzania’s Western Cotton Growing Area. At the time I didn’t really grasp the contradiction. I can now see that I was unthinkingly caught up in the old equation: development work = big white truck.

Many of the young expats that I met at a party last Friday night have liberated themselves from such path dependence. They have embraced ‘piki pikis’ (little motorbikes) and car pools. When they do hop into one of the many development dreamboats, it is frequently because they are hitching a ride. I hope to follow their lead. If I bear in mind Toronto guitar superstar Don Duval’s famous dictum I should be able to will my environmental awareness into action. As Donner has admonished again and again: “less talk, more rock!”

—Adam

(originally posted January of 2007)

On Saturday I arrived in Nairobi to attend the World Social Forum for three days. I was incredibly excited to meet new people and discuss all things political and economic. After landing at Kenyatta airport my taxi driver told me that there had been many changes in the city over the past two years, including a visibly scaled-up police presence. He noted that the people he knew generally felt safer going about their daily lives. I took him at his word, and getting caught up in his optimism, thought nothing more of Kenya’s development problems.

As we neared my destination on Milimani Road – Nairobi Backbackers – I took in the sights along a beautiful road named after the famous African-American political scientist and Nobel laureate Ralph Bunche. As I subsequently walked from the Backpackers towards the mall to check out the best development bookstore in East Africa I realized that on my last visit in 2004 I must have been in great shape. This time, not having recently completed months of treeplanting, my legs were on fire!

I returned to the Backpackers in the mid-afternoon for a meeting with two fellow Canadians set up by the global social convenor herself, Robyn Agoston (my old officemate at The North-South Institute). Leaving at least twenty WSF delegates to enjoy an overdone rack of lamb, Andrew Deak, Mireille Saurette and I headed out for some Italian in the city centre. We drank red wine and pontificated about the state of the Forum and the condition of the world. Andrew explained his current documentary project and discussed the WSF’s chronic disorganization, while Mireille talked about her new home in Rwanda and the possibilities of building a more eco-friendly economy. For my part, I wondered aloud about the size of the pile that would result from stacking all the vehicles in the world together in one place. My guesstimate was that such a stack would extend at least from Nairobi to the coast at Mombassa. I argued that the production and dissemination of a pseudo view from space of such a pile belching a giant cloud of emissions could go a long way towards getting people to think twice about taking the car…or in the case of East Africa, the giant SUV.

Afterwards, as the taxi dropped me at Milimani and Bunche I was caught up in the moment. I didn’t think twice about the large crowd of people gathered just down Bunche at the head of an alley running parallel to Milimani. I proceeded up Milimani, passing the Milimani apartments and the autowreckers en route to the Backpackers. When I entered the compound I realized that something was up from the looks of concern I got from the people seated in the restaurant. I headed around the back of the main building to my shelter for the night in one of the permanently pitched tents and ran smack into a crowd of a dozen Forum delegates. They were standing outside of my tent and gazing over the compound’s back fence. I asked several women what was happening. They explained that half an hour before, police (or men dressed as police) drew their guns and marched up the alley behind the Milimani apartments into the slum directly behind the Backpackers. The ‘cops’ simply told the residents to “get out.” According to these witnesses, two giant bulldozers then drove up the alley and into the slum. These machines rolled over all of the homes and shelters that stood in their way.

I paused, listened, and then realized that I was hearing the sound of bulldozers in action. Women and children were screaming. From their cries we could tell that many were choosing to remain inside their homes until the last possible second. I pulled out my digital audio recorder and captured the roaring of the bulldozers, the grating of metal on metal, and the terror-induced screeches.

It was morbid. Here we were, a group of people that John Kenneth Galbraith would definitely consider to be “socially concerned” (if he were still with us, that is) and we were absolutely paralyzed. Someone discussed marching over as a group to put a stop to the carnage. But the impulse to self-preserve took hold. The consensus seemed to be that it was irresponsible to organize a direct intervention in the pitch black against men with guns. Not knowing how to react, people retreated into their own thoughts.

The bulldozers shut down around 2am and then the pillaging began. Men – many of them quite drunk – trickled into the slum in groups. They began recovering corrugated fencing and other things of value. Safely behind the wall, and the property rights it represented, my tent was no more than three metres from the destructive action. I sprawled out on my cot in my clothes, thinking it was best to remain clothed in case the fence were to become a target for the looters, and settled in for a sleepless night. As things got colder I thought of the hundreds of women and children that had been forced out into the Nairobi night with no place to go but the forest along Bunche Road.

When the sun came up on Sunday morning I learned that several delegates had shot video footage of the event in the alley. Word was getting out to the WSF organizers and there were plans to post as much information about the incident as possible on the web through sites such as Indymedia. I joined a fellow delegate and headed to alley to talk to people, take pictures and see what could be done. Upon seeing the place my first impression was that a bomb had gone off. Apparently the community had existed for twenty years. As my pictures attest, it was completely flattened in about four hours. The images are quite disturbing. I will post one or two on the blog later today or tomorrow.

I wrestled with staying at the Forum for the duration, and decided against it. I hopped into a taxi for Kenyatta, and after witnessing my driver pay off an officer on the road to the airport (chai kidogo incident #2), had him drop me off at the WSF airport welcome centre. I explained what had happened behind the Backpackers. After hearing my story one volunteer said that it had probably been the work of thieves. In her view the government was not involved, and the slum dwellers had probably been given a notice of eviction, or were likely thieves themselves. Another volunteer apparently misunderstood my story. She informed the committee that WSF delegates had been attacked by slum dwellers. I corrected her, but this apparently did not stop her from contacting airport security. After changing some money at international arrivals, I walked back past the welcome centre, and this person told me to sit and wait for the head of airport security to arrive. Apparently he wanted to see me to discuss my “serious allegation.” Needless to say I hightailed it to the departures terminal and smiled my way through immigration.

Kenya had an opportunity this week to show the world that changes were afoot. Unfortunately, they failed to meet the challenge. Saturday’s Financial Times Magazine featured an article on Kenyan anti-corruption crusader John Githongo. It detailed how the “kleptocratic” (plundering) ways of the Moi-era have continued unabated during Kibaki’s tenure as President. To this recognition I would add that human rights abuses are ongoing and significant under the new regime. As nearly twenty young WSF delegates will attest, human rights violations occurred on Saturday night. It is quite possible that no one in the government sanctioned the destruction. The fact remains, however, that the authorities did not put a stop to it. I can think of no rational justification for toppling houses with people in them at gunpoint even if an eviction notice has been served and the date to vacate has passed. According to witnesses nobody died on the night of 20 January behind Nairobi Backpackers. It is an open question whether those dwelling at the bulldozer crew’s next target will have similar luck.

The pressing question concerns what will happen to the people that lost their homes. My hope is that those that stayed on at the Forum after witnessing this tragic event are able to act on the desires they articulated Sunday morning to help. I felt that I could best contribute by getting out of the country and writing about the incident. I hope there are other ways that I can be of use to these newly homeless people as time goes on, and will update all of you on what is being done, and the ways you might possibly be able to contribute.

—–Adam

Introducing Adam….

June 20, 2007

In 2006 I took up a position at The North-South Institute funded by McMaster University’s Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition. During my time at the Institute I completed a background paper for the Southern Perspectives on Reform of the International Development Architecture project. My involvement with this project is ongoing. You should note that these posts were actually written at the earlier date indicated in each of the contributions.

Over the past six months I have been completing field research for my doctoral dissertation on the relationships between globalization, cotton production and poverty in Tanzania and Senegal. This blog imparts a few of the adventures I have had along the way. More stories can be found on my blogger site. For a formal account of my research activities, see my McMaster University homepage.