01 November 2012

Just in case you missed it

I don't know if anyone is paying attention to this blog since I update so infrequently anyway, but just in case you're wondering what my latest excuse is for not doing so, it's that I'm kind of busy traveling around the globe with my girlfriend. To follow us, check out The Long Trail Home.

30 May 2012

An email exchange

Saw this in my inbox this morning [reproduced with permission from Mom]:

       Just saw on world news that your area is needing rain and children are dying due to drought. Didn't you say the rains came early, often and hard just a few weeks ago ? Can you direct where we should send funds? It was heart-breaking to watch.
         You're OK, right ? Film footage was not in B.F., but the map highlighted there.
                  Please reply asap. mom

Thanks Mom! It's nice to know people are worried. The situation here IS bad. Here is my response [reproduced with permission from me]:

I need to preface this by saying that humanitarian aid is not my field. I am at best tangentially aware of those kinds of activities happening here, so my advice is based on a weird amalgam of rumor, second-hand recommendations, and web research. All of which is to say that if you hear of something you think may be better, don't discount it just because I didn't mention it.

The problem is not so much the drought this year as it is that there were not enough rains LAST year, so not enough food was produced to hold people over until the crops can be brought in this season (which won't be until around late June for the first round of corn, late July for the first rounds of millet and sorghum...so even if the rains continue well this year, some people will be literally starving until then). The problem is made much worse by the refugees from Mali, who are an extra drain on production since obviously they can't feed themselves. So yes, while the rains are so far ok here this year (though unseasonably early, which is not an unmitigated positive), many people's stores are empty, forcing them to buy, and food prices are up. Not everyone can afford it. There is a popular movement here called "la vie chère" that in situations like this hosts protest marches. In past years, those marches have sometimes become violent. So far that hasn't happened this year, but everyone knows it is a possibility.

The good news is that a lot of aid is coming in for the refugees, from the UN, from individual countries (including the US), and from NGOs. The bad news is that there is so much focus on aid for the refugees that less assistance is available for Burkinabé than would normally be the case in such a famine. Besides being bad for obvious reasons, that's also a source of potential conflict. Note that while I'm speaking about Burkinabé because I live here, the same situation is unfolding in Niger, Mali itself (though because of the ongoing conflict, aid is mostly blocked), Mauritania, and Algeria. Chad is also suffering from the famine, though I don't believe they have a Malian refugee population exacerbating the problem.

If you would like to help the refugee populations:

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is working in the camps in Niger (and maybe elsewhere):
http://crs.org/niger/sahel-crisis-helping-refugees-in-niger/ (Donate link at top)
They also have general food assistance programs in the region, though I don't know whether they have anything in place specifically addressing the current famine.

The ICRC is working in camps in Burkina, Niger, and Mali:

To donate: http://www.icrc.org/eng/donations/index.jsp

The UN hosts a site that collects refugee news. The Burkina page is found at:

That is probably a good place to get more information than I can gather in this brief note.

To assist non-displaced populations who are suffering from the famine, the big hitters are:
Oxfam, with whom I have never worked but about whom I have never heard anything but very good things:
(Donate link at top right)

The IFRC (and I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of the Red Cross collaborations, so I don't really know how different this is from the ICRC above. I just know that what we call here "the Red Cross" is working both in the camps and with indigenous Burkinabé):
(donate link is first option in "Get Involved" drop-down menu)

The World Food Programme (a UN aid agency) has activities pretty much anywhere there is hunger. I've heard them described as bureaucratic and somewhat inefficient (again, I've never worked with them so cannot give a personal opinion), but they are EVERYWHERE, and there's something to be said for that - they have a lot of leverage when working with host governments.

(donate online link in "Get Involved" drop-down menu here, too).

A good general resource on humanitarian aid is irinnews.org. For instance: http://www.irinnews.org/Country/BF/Burkina-Faso

USAID funds a famine-specific news source, which is good for climate monitoring and understanding the full situation of food insecurity in the region (but does not address your specific question of funding aid efforts):

I wish I knew more, but I'm pretty confident in at least those recommendations. In fact, I am going to reproduce this email on my blog. Do you mind if I copy your email, too, to give it context?


With that, I will now go off to other places and invite my very knowledgeable friends to add to and/or correct the advice here. Also, I apologize for the ugly formatting, but I am in a hurry so just using Blogger's native options. When I come back in to report on my friends' ideas, perhaps I'll also have the chance to pretty this up.

16 April 2012

News roundup: Mali

For those interested, I just posted a summary to MetaFilter of several current articles on the Mali situation, and I put enough effort into it that I thought I'd post it here as well.

Completely unsurprisingly, the situation in Mali is kind of dominating the news here in Burkina. Here are some of the articles published today for the francophones, and synopses in English for the rest:

Summary of the negotiations this weekend: about eighty Malians participated, representing the elected government, the junta, and civilian leaders. The two topics were a roadmap to power transition and the Tuareg rebellion. As for the former, they will stick to the agreement from April 6th which puts Traoré in power and makes anyone participating in the transitional government ineligible in the next elections, but whether the transition period will be only forty days as originally agreed will depend on the resolution of the rebellion. As to that resolution, all agree it needs to include humanitarian aid as soon as possible. They call for the immediate "restoration of the integrity of the territory" (read here: surrender of the rebels), saying everyone participating should remember their "duty to protect the civilian populations," lay down their arms, and look for "republican" solutions.

Slightly more detail on the structure of the agreement, which is broken out into 17 recommendations focusing on three main points: ending the rebellion (this section uses the exact same language as the above article); transitioning power by recognizing the 6th April agreement, creating a "national unity government," and creating new ministerial departments to focus on humanitarian efforts; and creating some sort of monitoring body, overseen by an international mediator.

This article discusses the wider political impact of the choice of a mediator, mentioning that the representative of the interim Mali government at the weekend talks asked that the Mauritanian president participate in negotiations with the Tuaregs (that's the same guy as in this article (cheers, nangar) last link, where he explicitly says he's open to the establishment of a new country, but adds that he is ready to commit troops to fight the terrorists of AQMI, inviting European intervention as well). The author expresses some doubt that Aziz and Compaoré (the president of Burkina Faso, and current mediator between the junta and constitutional authorities, nominated by ECOWAS) will work well together but notes that Mauritanian involvement may be beneficial given their nearer geographic proximity to the territories being fought over.

Here's a discussion of the humanitarian crisis caused by the Tuareg rebellion, or at least of the difficulty in addressing it. Ansar Dine has announced that they will open corridors to humanitarian aid - as long as said aid is "halal"; that is, from Islamic nations only. They won't accept any aid from Europe or the US. The author speculates that they may be concerned that any corridors they open will become routes for gun-trafficking. He or she then says that Ansar Dine is being hypocritical because they already use Western technology, and that in any case they should focus on accepting any aid that feeds the hungry in their territory if they want any claim to legitimacy. The conclusion of the article is that if they hold to this demand, they are planting the seeds of their own destruction, when hunger overcomes fear.

The Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs came to Burkina Saturday to offer the king's support to Compaoré toward ending the Mali conflict. He also offered monetary support for humanitarian aid to the Malian refugees in Burkina.

So, yeah. A lot of interested parties are talking with each other. But so far not with the Tuaregs.

11 April 2012

I attended a management training

The topic of role playing came up. This is what I hoped would happen:

It didn't. So I drew this instead.

08 April 2012


Wow, I really don't update this blog very much these days. Blame Facebook. I've been meaning for the last couple days to write something. I've got a fun idea. I'm going to tell the story of my life in a way that is 100% true and entirely misleading. Kind of like that game Two Truths and a Lie, only no lies. That will have to wait though.

Because this evening a Burkinabe friend stopped by, and he said some things I need to make sure are documented for posterity. He's a young guy who used to be a guard at the Peace Corps transit house. He stops by occasionally to chit chat. A couple of times I've lent him my moto, and he's unreasonably grateful about it. So much so that I get embarrassed when he talks about it, and I don't get embarrassed easily*.

As I said, he stopped by this evening. Lucky he did, otherwise he'd have gotten caught in the rain** on his way home.

My friend started talking to me about his life growing up, a topic that had never really come up before. Turns out his mom had him when she was 16, so they were both kind of raised by HER mom, his grandma. He didn't really have a father figure. (The subtext of this conversation, by the way, goes back to how great I am for letting him borrow my bike. See? EMBARRASING.) Now here's where the story gets weird - when he was talking about not having a dad and what he never got that other kids did, he never ONCE mentioned love, or a helping hand, or pride, or anything like that. Nope! Apparently, what he missed out on (and seemed sincerely to regret missing) was someone to tell him when he was wrong, someone to tell him he was gonna get beat if he didn't straighten up.

That was not the weirdest part of the conversation. It got weirder. He started talking about people being kind to each other, and how you shouldn't be mean because if you are then the people you are mean to will be mean to others; same thing for being good to others. (This is STILL all him expressing gratitude. EM. BAR. RAS. SING.) Ok, I can dig all that. But then he busts out this proverb to express it (it's a Djoula proverb, if anyone's interested): "When the sorcerer eats a baby, he'll forget it as soon as it's time to go look for his next meal. But the baby's father*** won't ever forget."

What a weird conversation.

*Especially when the topic is me, and ESPECIALLY when the topic is how great I am.
**Rain! The third in a week! In April. This is too late for the mango rains, too soon for the real ones. I hope it means the season is very wet, but I'm worried it will be even more unpredictable, which is no good to anyone.
***He said the proverb a couple times, and he used the words "père" and "proprietaire" interchangeably. I can't help but think that word choice is pretty intimately tied to his views on fatherhood as implied by his earlier comments.