Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Celebration in Mali

Dancers celebrate as the President of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure opens proceedings on the first day of the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health. For more information, go to www.bamako2008.org

This gorgeous picture of one of the President's guards was taken by Elizabeth Kemf

The good news is that there is coffee available in Mali, but somehow it all tastes like the coffee they used to serve on South African Railways in the 1960s.

This is the view from our hotel window. The hotel is very basic but spotlessly clean, the food is good and the people are very friendly. Our room was upgraded to the "presidential suite" after the manager saw me on TV chairing a press conference and decided that we were "the boss of the conference".

We saw this goat when we were on our way to change money. It was one of those Monty Python moments, where Greg insisted that the goat was just resting. Having a little snooze.

I still believe it was dead.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Food, glorious food

We're in Mali managing the media room for the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health, and I'm too busy to blog, so today's posting is by Christina Scott, a member of my team but also the Africa Editor of Scidev.net

BAMAKO, Mali: Delegates attending the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health, underway until Thursday in Mali, were reminded today (Monday) that amidst the focus on faster,cheaper medical drugs and more active government policies, there was a risk of overlooking a rather important component of good health.
It's called food.
At a session on 'food for health' chaired by Ruth Oniang'o, founder of Kenya's Rural Outreach programme and co-author of 'The CompleteKenyan Cookbook', renowned researchers and high-level politicians were brought back to the basics: hungry people are never healthy people.
''Food is the most cost-effective intervention,'' declared Menno Mulder-Sibanda, a senior nutritionist specialist at the World Bank. Mulder-Sibanda said he hasn't seen such ''renewed attention'' paid to local foods such as sorghum and millet since the era of African independence. Only this time, the interest isn't triggered by pride or patriotism, but by the food crisis. Nonetheless, Mulder-Sibanda is delighted with the focus on quality local produce.
Much of the discussion about food sounded more military than nutritional. Mulder-Sibanda spoke about the need for food fortification. Marie Ruel, a director at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in the US spoke in praise of a slightly different tack, called biofortification, in which plant breeders design more nutritious crops.
''The idea is to reach the poorest of the poor,'' said Ruel, who has worked in Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti and Panama..
Robert Ochai, executive director of The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO) in Uganda, revealed that the country will be bringing in the 'Food by Prescription' programme for malnourished residents, many of whom are infected with HIV.'The programme, already underway in Kenya, allows malnourished poverty-stricken people access to bags of powdered blends of powdered sorghum and millet enriched with vitamin, whey protein and other ingredients, in the same way that their drugs are subsidised.''The food is basically a drug,'' Ochai said.
''So far in Uganda, we don't have this on the shelves. But we expect to have it by midway next year,'' he said.
The Food By Prescription programme forms part of the American government's US$ 15 billion President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and has been very successful in Kenya and Ethiopia. So clearly the meeting of agriculture and health is a good one, whether in the field or at the global gathering of health and science ministers which has been held every four years since 2000, in Thailand, Mexico and now Mali.
Tuesday's focus at the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health kicks off with a focus on the public reaction to largescale health research efforts, and includes Farhat Moazam, chairperson of Pakistan's Centre of Biomedical Ethics and Culture and Hannah Akuffoof the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
Conference organisers said Ariel Pablos-Mendez, the Mexican-born, USA-based managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation, is expected to make a major announcement on Tuesday morning at the Forum, followed by a video message from South African human rights activist and Anglican archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu.
For more information on PEPFAR's work on HIV and food security, see www.usaid.gov/our_work/humanitarian_assistance/ffp/pepfar_conceptual.pdf

For more information on the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health at www.bamako2008.org

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Socialism and self sufficiency

Regular readers of Wheatlands News would have seen my posting on the Peninsula School Feeding Association here.

Today, in response to that post, guest writer Skoorby offers his perspective:

You may have noticed that in the recent U.S. election campaign, John McCain cast about wildly for something, anything, that would frame Barack Obama in a poor light, and would resonate with the American electorate. In the last week or two of the campaign, he finally came up with what became his final campaign theme: “Obama is a Socialist!” And it seemed to work. At least, Obama’s rise in the polls stopped and even pulled back from that point on. Why it was effective has something to say about the Peninsula School Feeding Association’s work.

A few days after the “Socialist!” meme emerged, I was sitting in a restaurant in suburban Philadelphia having lunch when I overheard a conversation between two fairly well-to-do middle aged white men – obviously Republicans and conservatives. They expressed disgust at the new fact of Obama’s socialism, and one of the two concluded as they got up to leave: “Everybody’s looking for a handout!”

On the face of it, this is just another instance of conservative mean-spiritedness. Wealthy Republicans objecting once more to the outrage of a progressive tax system. But there is a serious idea behind it. It’s that programmes designed to benefit the less-fortunate in society, whether government-run or privately run, tend to create a condition of moral hazard, and to become self-perpetuating. If you know somebody’s going to provide for your needs (or your child’s), you have less incentive to provide for them yourself. Aggregated to the level of Society, less work gets done, fewer goods are produced, and those that that do work end up providing for those that don’t. This is the root idea behind the very old and still very strong strain of American Conservatism. This is the idea that induced President Clinton, a no-so-liberal Democrat, to sign in 1996 a welfare reform bill that was aimed at reducing welfare (i.e., dependency) by restructuring and reducing welfare benefits in ways designed to address the problem of moral hazard. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/22/opinion/22clinton.html for Clinton’s review of the initiative with 10 years of hindsight.)

It may be that these ideas have no relevance in an environment such as that faced by Zimbabweans, where physical survival is a daily struggle, and opportunities for personal upliftment are non-existent, whatever the incentives. But they may be worth considering in South Africa.

The thing about the PFSA that gives cause for concern here is, as Lynne indicated, its longevity. Its continued existence is inarguably “a sad indictment on our society”. I would add that it may also be an indictment of the PFSA. Its mission statement reads as follows: “Our Mission: To combat the prevalence of hunger in children attending schools or other educational institutions in the Western Cape, through school feeding and development initiatives, that will promote self-sufficiency and household food security.” Complete success in promoting self-sufficiency and household food security would eliminate the need for the PFSA.

Clearly the mission statement sets an impossible goal. Universal self-sufficiency and household food security is a condition that may exist in only a handful of small countries in the world, if it exists at all. The PFSA will not achieve this in the Western Cape. So what should it be doing to avoid having an elderly Lynne point out in 2058 that it has the dubious honour of being 100 years old?

Adopting a child for R235 per year may be the best we can do in the short run, but a 50-year old feeding programme needs urgently to consider the long run in new ways.

Friday, 7 November 2008

of being outspoken

I'm trying to catch up with my work and all the other things I need to do before we leave for Mali on Tuesday.

One of the things on my list was to buy Christmas presents for my brother and his family, so I went to Heather Moore's studio. I can't tell you what exactly I bought because my brother reads my blog!

But do yourself a favour and visit her Etsy shop (not you, Geoff. Or Maria). An extra incentive is that she is donating a portion of the profit from her Borrowed Spoons design to Peninsula School Feeding.

Last night was the last Isandla Development Dialogue of the year, with the title "Speaking truth to power". (I'll post Adrian's report that reflects all four of the speakers on Monday.) One of the speakers was the wonderfully forthright and outspoken Rhoda Kadalie (see pic). I'll leave you with some sound-bites:

"I am irritated by people who do not serve their country well because of political patronage. South Africa has become a haven for poor affirmative action appointments, where people boldly put themselves forward for jobs they are not qualified to do."

"So many people who fought for freedom now keep quiet in the face of political correctness, out of fear of blocking their access to patronage. It's stifling critical, independent thought. It contributes to the deluge of self censorship in all levels of society. Look at HIV - no one in cabinet was prepared to question the president on his idiotic approach to Aids. They all suspended their intelligence."

"As NGOs we shut up for too long because we were so happy to have our democracy. Now is the time for us to speak out, or we will become like the country on our border."

And from Judge Dennis Davis:

"We need to get to a place where transformation is not equated to race. The struggle is really about getting to the point where we can transcend our history and see each other, not as different races, but as humans."

If you want an opinion on the new kid on the SA political scene - now totally bizarrely to be known as COP - take a look at Afrodissident

Congress of the People sounds very noble. But COP? Don't people consider acronyms? Especially in a country where police brutality was the norm for so long?

And what about cop-outs? (Not that I'm suggesting that they are.... just that the choice of names opens a door for people to use that phrase against them).

Very strange.

The name does have a proud history. The original Congress of the People was the meeting in the 1950s where the Freedom Charter was adopted. Look on this ANC page (!) for more info.

The ANC is planning to challenge this choice too, but according to Lekota, the party has already taken legal advice and has no plans to come up with anything else.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

feeding the hungry

I found this video on Alex Matthews' Afrodissident blog.

Its well worth watching as a reminder of what happens when a government is headed by a madman with no regard for the people he is supposed to serve. What a contrast with Obama's speech this morning with its emphasis on working together for a new future and a government that is for, by and with the people.

And it is not just in Zimbabwe that children are starving. In Cape Town, the Peninsula School Feeding Association (PSFA) has the dubious honour of celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. I say dubious, because the fact that it exists at all is a sad indictment on our society. As a country we are still failing the most needy among us.

The PSFA feeds 160 000 children daily. That's a lot of children who are relying on the single meal they get at school to stay alive. That's a lot of children trying to learn on an empty stomach.

And the economic crisis isn't helping. The facts speak for themselves. In the space of just two months the price of rice has risen by over 100%; bread has crept above R10 a loaf, maize has seen an increase of 12% and legumes a hefty 25%. - all increases which directly affect the PFSA menu of soy, rice, bread, samp, beans and peanut butter and jam.

The rising costs of fuel put even more pressure on the organisation. "We are in negotiations with the delivery companies to freeze their prices too,” PSFA director Andy du Plessis said when I spoke to him recently. “But price freezing can only do so much. Next financial year we'll be facing increases of at least 10 – 15%.”

Currently the PFSA can provide a meal for R1.20 per child a day. Says Du Plessis: “It is the poorest of the poor who suffer the most. For many children the food we provide is their only meal of the day. Feeding fewer children is just not an option”.

One thing about the PSFA is that it offers us the opportunity to do far more than just wring our hands in horror.

You can adopt a child for just R235 (about $25) a year. That's the full cost of feeding a child for 198 school days.

Du Plessis was quick to point out to me that “100% of the money you donate goes to feeding the children. Our administration costs are paid from our investment reserve.”

If you want to help, go to the PSFA website here

I think its the least we can do.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

If I could vote in the US today...

Whenever I had a break yesterday, I watched a snippet of Barack Obama's campaign advert. It's 30 minutes long and I just didn't have a 30 minute chunk of time in my day. But I did have time for five minute snippets.
And I'm so glad I did.

What really impressed me was that he appeared to have a real understanding about what ordinary people are experiencing, and he seems to be coming up with measured, logical solutions to the problems rather that a whole lot of mud slinging and rhetoric.

If I were dictator of this country, I'd make all our politicians watch this just so they could see what a real statesman sounds like.

Time will tell if he lives up to his promise and his promises, and after today we'll know if he'll be given the chance.

One thing I did pick up on was that he only spent time with his Kenyan father once, for a month. I wonder if that will make him as inclined to be pro-African as so many people on this continent are hoping. When I was in Uganda a couple of months ago, people were coming in off the street at 4 in the morning to watch the first presidential debate. (I know because I was waiting for a shuttle to the airport for an early flight). Obama's candidacy is bringing new hope and new pride to Africans. Lets hope he'll continue to set a great example.

Here's the video. Do yourself a favour and watch it (for those like me who don't have great bandwidth, click pause instead of play and let it load in the background before you try to watch it. Otherwise the "buffering buffering" could drive you to drink).

thanks to Julochka for posting it on her great blog where I found it.

Monday, 3 November 2008

raising the bar

On the same weekend that the ANC breakaway group held its convention in Sandton in front of about 5000 people, Jacob Zuma had a rally in Soweto's Jabulani Stadium. About 20 000 people turned up to sing his praises.

I love the fact that our democracy is reflecting more voices. I love the fact that (on the whole) South Africans are free to voice their dissatisfaction with the government.

I'm not sure that any of the voices are entirely free of corruption and self interest, but that's beside the point.

What I don't love is that Jacob Zuma saw fit to include a whole posse of preachers on his platform. If all he was doing was signalling his broad based support it would be ok. But, according to the Star, what actually happened is:

Later, one of the many preachers stood up for devotions to signal the start of the rally, which was aimed at encouraging voter registration for the 2009 elections.

"(Zuma) has not been selected by the people only," the man told the huge crowd.

"Anyone who fights him is fighting Nkulunkulu (the Supreme Being) personally," he said to murmurs of assent in the crowd.

What??? Zuma has been appointed by God? Must be a god that's singing a whole new tune to the one I thought I knew.

What's the next step? Droit de seignuer? Or do we just take that as read?

If there is any comfort, its in the fact that the preacher's pronouncement was met with no more than "murmers of assent from the crowd".