Back in Adwa. Today is a holiday (TPLF day of all things!) so in addition to catching up on workshop planning, I also have the time to reflect on, complain about, puzzle over and feel overwhelmed about my role in development here. I’m finding myself more and more asking what is development, what is poverty, what is progress and where do we, as a global society, really want to go?
Hunger and starvation are problems. But living a rural lifestyle, in relatively good health, using a donkey to cart your produce to market along dirt roads: is there anything wrong with that? If food security is in place, as it is in much of Tigray, then do we really need all the other trappings (did you notice the root trap?) of modernity and so-called progress? I’m asking because I don’t know. Should developing countries strive to the level of development of Canada? If my answer is no, it’s not just because I’m not sure it’s environmentally sustainable or even possible. It's also because I’m not sure it’s a better life for people. Or at least whether many parts of it are a better life: more processed food, big office buildings, longer work days, cars, paper, an economic system that’s all about production of stuff with little focus on peoples’ real needs in terms of the environment, health and social well-being. What’s so great about all that?
Ethiopia, even with its pro-poor policy and areas where people are relatively food secure, still has a way to go – many peoples’ lives are still not great – in terms of
- equality of women and men
- access to an education system that promotes thinking and supports all children, not just the brightest
- improved health and health care
- clean water and sanitation.
How can these needs be met in Ethiopia and other developing countries, while still maintaining and strengthening aspects of life here that are important? Already you can find cheaply made junk from other countries in many shops in isolated Tigray, and the Coca Cola invasion is certainly underway. Peoples’ ways and attitudes are changing too. Many people who would not have thought twice about walking 30 kilometres from one town to another will now wait for a line taxi to take them one kilometre down the road. Teachers in towns use lack of materials as an excuse for poor teaching. Reusable bottles and boxes are often thrown out as garbage. Many people have access to television, if not in their homes then in shops and bars. They can see the way of life in Addis Ababa and the West, and they want it.
In developed and developing countries, we’re blindly following a path just because it’s there, with little thought to where it leads or what alternative paths there might be.
I’ve probably written similar things before, and have come to no conclusions. But this problem is huge. As I approach the end of my placement here, and begin to wonder about what I’ll do next, it’s a problem that is occupying my thoughts. I know I will go back to teaching in Toronto in the short term. But in the long term what do I want to do? How do I want to be involved in development or in improving the lives of people?
There is a strong movement to prevent corruption here. As a result accountability and record-keeping are huge issues. Unfortunately, there is now so much anxiety about providing receipts and paper that the original purpose is often forgotten. The process seems to me to be opened up to corruption even more. For example, the Cluster Unit pays for lunch for teachers at workshops, often provided by small restaurants in little villages. Often the restaurants don’t have proper receipts, or the restaurant-keeper doesn’t know how to write. So our solution to this, as at our workshop yesterday, is to find a shopkeeper or someone who does have receipts, ask them to give us a blank one and stamp Paid on it, and fill in the purchase and the amounts ourselves. This happens so often and is so little thought about that I think there must be books worth of blank stamped receipts floating around. Although I trust that my colleagues are writing the correct amounts, there is nothing at all preventing them from bumping it up a bit and putting the rest in their pocket.