A Bit about the Blog
As you can decipher from the link for this blog, it was originally to consist of rants. Years ago I was accumulating numerous frustrations of this world in which I live that were, for the most part, and in my opinion, unnecessary. They were largely the product of human greed at the expense of others. The idea of the blog was that the ranting would give me an outlet for my frustrations and possibly shed some light on what is happening in this world where I work and live. The greed, just as much a characteristic of those helping Africa as those on the receiving end, hampers the ability of the aid to help those who need the help the most. If you're seriously in this work to see people's lives change for the better, I can assure you that seeing this over time creates considerable anxiety. There are many disillusioned bleeding hearts that have left this work for good as a result.
My occupation, however, took a different turn and I soon found myself no longer in a position to speak as freely about such injustices. I still see them. In fact I'm still writing about them but they will not be a part of this blog – at least not while I am doing what I do. For obvious reasons, I must be strategic in my approach to what I say and how I say it. I am very much involved in battling the injustices that exist but right now I can contribute more in my current role than I can by ranting (though I can say with all honesty that I am very happy with the integrity of the organization for whom I work). So for the time being, I'll continue to bite my tongue about some things and tell stories about other things. The stories may not have the bite that a nice corruption scandal would have but the blog does serve to shorten emails to family and friends. In other words, you can get the goods on what's going on with me if you want to but I'm not going to hammer you over the head with it. And if you are expecting any juicy stories about corruption in Africa, you shall be sadly disappointed. For now.
And so it begins…
So where did I leave off? Oh yes, the insignificant changes of a new home, new job, new language and new country. The language isn't entirely new to me but it is new from what I was using a couple weeks ago. Takes me a little longer to write emails since it's been 11 years since I worked in French.
Overall the change is going well. The new team has been very supportive and I have no complaints. Lots of reading to do and getting up to speed on what we are doing and where. It's very different from Tanzania where our primary focus was refugee camps. Here we're working in a post-conflict setting. This is where the war was that drove those people to become refugees (not referring to the Congolese for the time being). A little less than a tenth of the population is said to have been a refugee at some point. The programs target primarily, though not exclusively, the particularly vulnerable in this setting (ex. women, children, youth) and there are some pretty impressive efforts underway. I will discuss them from time to time in the weeks ahead.
As for the current security situation in the country, so far it seems to be unclear. I have met with a few other representatives of organizations, UN, embassies, etc. since I arrived and everyone seems to have a slightly different take on the current level of security. The three pillars of danger are banditry, internal conflict (roots of which go back to the decades of war) and the external threat posed by Muslim extremism in the form of Al-Shabaab (due to their anger regarding the presence of Burundian peace-keeping troops in Somalia). Most seem to put the threats in that order as to how much of a danger they are to personal safety for the population. I suppose you could include road accidents since that's the leading cause of death of foreigners in Africa but I'll stick to the other ones for now.
The variances are in how much of a threat people think each is. No one seems to live in panic in spite of a very visible presence of security forces around. I pass through a security road block almost every day just driving to or from work or going to a restaurant in the evening. It's not a problem really since they either just wave me through (my SUV is clearly marked as an NGO vehicle by license plates and our organization's logo) or ask me a few general questions as they peek in the windows. They have a tough job to do since they have a responsibility to protect the population without being overly invasive, abusive or just annoying. I wouldn't want their job.
I don't have a good feel yet as to how dangerous life is here. My security briefing from the UN comes every 24 hours and it lists incidents that are surprisingly numerous. The key, I think, is not to blow it out of proportion yet keep a close eye on things. My security responsibilities go beyond my wife and me since I'm also responsible for hundreds of staff. Remain vigilant. Keep the finger on the pulse of the security situation. Discuss frequently with the staff and partners. Don't overreact to rumors. Filter through the tons of information and communicate the essentials. It's as easy as that.
As a naïve newcomer to the country, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I'm optimistic. The people here seem very sharp and good-natured. They have an enormous amount of challenges ahead and decades of war is not something that you recover from overnight. We shall see in the weeks, months and years ahead but this is such a beautiful place. It has so much potential and there's no question that most people want to put all the crap behind them and move forward. Fasten your seatbelts and store your hand luggage in the overhead bin. There may be a little turbulence but overall we anticipate a good flight.