Long weekend Bujumbura

Actually the logic would be ‘Rwanda – T plus 1 year’. However in (Eastern) Africa to some things logic don’t apply. This will be one of them.

After working over one year in Rwanda I made my first short trip into one of the neighbouring countries only a couple of weeks ago. Thanks to a public holiday my colleague Tom and I decided on short notice to take one of the Coaster buses in the morning. Six hours later you literally are in a different country.

Rwanda itself can still be found in the last quarter of all international country rankings. From regular field trips I am used to the picture of people living in very basic conditions and poverty. Burundi is according to some rankings the poorest country in the world. This can be immediately seen when crossing the border.

Compared to other African capitals in Bujumbura the clock seems to stopped ticking a few decades ago and the word progress has been taken out of the dictionary. However also here you can find the upper class celebrating their night-life in fancy clubs, expensive vehicles parked outside guarded by the police. To the left and right darkness. Striking bizarre.

Kigali here I am

It had been quite a while since the last post. Leaving Northern-Namibia in February wasn’t easy for two reasons. Firstly: after all I really started calling it home – it is never easy to leave your home and friends behind. Secondly: logistics – handing over the house, taking quite some stuff back to Windhoek and selling the car was wearing down on me as well.
After spending a month back home (the other) in Switzerland I went for several weeks to the USA. Just a few days before departing to Chicago it became clear that I would go to work for GIZ in Rwanda. Africa again. The preparation in Germany started in May. From there things went way to fast. Again packing 130kg of airfreight, dealing with administrative issues (working in Rwanda + contract with German employer + resident in Switzerland = nightmare at first), saying goodbye…and in a blink you’re already squeezed into Qatar’s Dreamliner heading for Doha and from there to Kigali.
I have been in Kigali for now exactly two weeks. Thanks to my colleagues of our country office I am almost done with all the paperwork and official introductions. I already went out two times to Rwamagana where I will be based working with TEVSA, a national vocational training school association.
From one extreme to another: Namibia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. Rwanda has a density among the highest in Africa. Thanks to this and a government keen on ICT development the roll-out of MTN’s cell phone network is pretty impressive. There is often no power or tap water. But HSDPA is available in most areas. Therefore I should be able to feed this site also during trips to remote schools in the North. For several reasons I try to avoid taking photos in public. Hence my collection so far is pretty tiny. Nonetheless they might deliver a little insight.

(side node: browsing in the country side seems faster right now than in the capital, as bandwith-consuming-cash-backed customers bring the cell phone network to a stand still in some neighbourhoods of Kigali.)

The Chinese Are Here

What have the Omusati Regional Council, the Crafts Centre being build, the recently opened 100km tar road C41 between Okahao/Tsandi and the Opuwo/Ruacana junction, the ‘Outapi Times Square – Outapi’s newest and biggest shopping complex – and our region’s showcase school Onawa near Annamulenge in common? They are build and sometimes also financed or donated by the Chinese.

I’ve read a lot about the People’s Republic of China and their increasing presence and interests on the African continent during the last years. Recently I also watched the rather humorous BBC documentary ‘The Chinese Are Coming’. You easily could shoot another episode in Namibia.

Except when supervising their ‘China’ shops in Northern Namibia, where clothings, electronics and miscellaneous stuff of poor quality, are sold you barely see them in public life here. That they are numerous also in Namibia I had to hear the first time when I was listening to someone working at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry at a cozy dinner in Windhoek. In construction business they are simply everywhere here in the North. At Onawa, our newest school, roughly 40 Chinese workers, a few local labor, and even fewer ‘boers’ working there seven days a week – the Chinese are even not resting on public holidays. A tour on the construction site is a tour into a different world: earth moving vehicles, most building materials, engineering drawings, staff quarter kitchen (they do make delicious steam bread) and the toilet paper. It all comes from China. At the Omusati Regional Council things went into absurdity: even the emergency stickers on the water hose boxes are imported and have exotic phone numbers on it. Luckily they have their own fire truck.

There are many good articles on websites of relevant economical magazines trying to get to the bottom of PRC’s involvement on the African continent: explaining why comparatively simple work is done by ‘imported’ Chinese labor in African countries with high unemployment rates. So no need to philosophise about that. My only observation is that they work at a breathtaking pace. But the constructions have low quality standards and will not last long it seems to me.

Much more interesting is what locals up here think about their new neighbors. Whenever I had a good chance I’ve tried to bring up the topic or was watching, for example when waiting at the car wash or gas station and I Chinese store owner drove up. More black than white. Not surprisingly many locals are critical, sometimes even adversarial and express it verbally, when it comes to it. In the Omusati Region we have an unemployment rate of ~75%. Most people work for the government. Private business comes down to small shops, bars (shebeens – go on a building picture tour here), taxis or the car wash. The Chinese are competing exactly in that very first category with their shops which are flourishing. So they are, and are seen, as competitors and the same goes for the construction business. Some of my colleagues are on the other hand in favor of the Chinese and say they are doing good for the country. It is hard to say what their opinion is based on.

The Chinese itself don’t have it easy on the African continent. When staying at a friend’s place in Oshakati in the evening I often end up outside the apartment of Mr. H with a bunch of his friends eating and talking (as far as the language barrier allows it). H and his lovely wife and daughter own well running stores in town. He is in his mid-thirties. If you meet him the first time you would not think that. He had been in two African countries before. Several times robbed at gunpoint and injured with a knife. It is not a secret that Chinese store owner make a lot of money in cash. Crime has drastically increased in overcrowded areas around Oshakati since I came in 2010. Staying in Ongwediva (when Oshakati is L.A. – the adjoining Ongwediva is Beverly Hills) I heard several times shots fired at night – close to the police station. Due to that H. and most of his friends legally carry a gun with them all the time.

Construction workers at remote sites in the bush, for example at our Onawa school, are contrary to shop owners not exposed to the public at all and usually cannot speak a word English. They virtually never leave their barracks at the construction sites, where traditional food and phone calls via Internet help against home sickness. During my inspections at Onawa I also always felt welcomed and experienced a great deal of hospitality.

Namibia here I am: T plus 3 years

Before coming to Namibia at the beginning of 2010 I had a preparation course back in Switzerland. One of the things we had been warned of is that at some point during the assignment one would experience different cycles during the three years. Closer to the end time would run fast. But you would most likely also experience stretches where things would be quite sticky and days only pass by in slow motion.

Looking back I realize that I luckily never had those days. The three years had been flying by at the speed of light. However this is not the reason that my last blog post was published half a year ago. This is because the things you do at work and in your free time become normality after a while. Regardless where you are – routine takes over. So you start to think that they are not worth to be mentioned on any blog. Another reason will be explained in a following post on the tightrope walk of a development worker embedded within a large government institution.

So how does it feel to leave in a few weeks? To be honest this is not easy to answer. At work I had a smooth start from the first day. On the other hand the time off had been rough at the beginning. Compared to other parts of Namibia the 4-O-Region makes it tough in many regards (lack of cultural & culinary choice, dead nature, limited shopping facilities – to name a few). I always referred Outapi as the place to work – not the place to be. Although still going to Oshakati, which is 100km away, almost every weekend I refer Outapi as home by now. The reason for that is NOT that the town and Omusati has become more attractive in any of the above mentioned departments (to be honest shopping has improved also here). It is the amount of people you know after a while and friends you have up here. Your network. For work this is crucial to get things done. For your free time and emergencies like having your head stitched at midnight it is everything. And it is everything but easy to leave all those people back after three years. Happy new year!

What applies to blog posts also applies to taking pictures. At some point you stop doing it. Nonetheless a random selection of pictures taken in 2012.

Hilux 2.4 for sale

Toyota Hilux 2.4 double cab (long wide body) 4×4
Build: 1997
Engine: 22R
KM: 281’000 (24/12/2012)

price: TBD
handover of car in serviced condition in Windhoek after full payment. Payment into Bank Windhoek or German/Swiss account (IBAN can be provided). NO instalment sale. Vehicle available first/second week of February.

description

  • vehicle in pristine condition all components (engine, drive train, 4×4, air-con etc. are working 100%)
  • serviced every ~5000km (or less in rainy season and after extensive off road driving)
  • only qualified service provider: BZ Auto Electric (Windhoek), Ozzy’s Auto repair (Oshakati), Toyota Pukepwitz (Oshakati)
  • major engine overhaul at Pupkewitz Toyota (KM: 272’000): new timing chain, oil pump, gasket kit, divers internal parts
  • prop shafts overhauled (01/2012)
  • diff, gear- and transmission box oils replaced (12/2012)
  • starter and battery replaced (04/2012)
  • windscreen replaced (PGGlass, orig. Toyota, 12/2012)
  • 6x BFGoodrich All Terrain T/A KO Tires in excellent condition (4x original Toyota rims, 2x new standard rims (unused)
  • ARB Emu Dakar Leaf Springs (added: 01/2011, KM: 248’000)
  • ARB Nitrocharger Shock Absorbers (added: 01/2011, KM: 248’000)

recovery equipment

divers accessories installed

accessories inclued

SchoolLink 2.0

Johan van Wyk explaining the SchoolLink deployment, Safari Court Hotel WindhoekAlmost two years ago I had a small posting about ‘SchoolLink and the land of the workshops’: for the sake of the Namibian state of education – which many people say is going down every year despite the more money put in (Education receives with 23.6% (US$ 1,15 bn) the biggest share of this year’s budget) – I wish my pessimistic appreciation had been proven wrong and the project had been at least a partial success. But fairy-tales are scare here. The project had been a complete disaster in all the 4-O regions. Now the Ministry makes a second attempt to get things going together with Edupac, the South African supplier of the solution. Last week most of the Directors, numerous seniors education officers, IT staff members and the principals of the schools which are part of the initial roll-out had been in Windhoek for a SchoolLink Project ‘Workshop’. I rather refer to it as an information event: planing done at Head Office, execution in the Regions – as usual. Compared to the first roll out a fundamental (and hopefully match winning) change has been made: the web based software is now centrally hosted in Windhoek. No more vulnerable local (database and web server) installations at school PC’s scattered around the country. Only thing needed is Internet access, a running web browser on the PC and trained staff. Only? Despite the impressive progress the Namibian Telecom has done half of our project schools in the North have Internet coverage up to now. Biggest headache however is the training: the system is quite complicated having the IT (il-)literacy of some of our staff members in mind. With the current roll-out the biggest issues for all IT projects within the Namibian Government, and at the end the training issue, has not been addressed yet: lack of (technical) personnel involved in IT projects. To overcome this problem for the prestigious SchoolLink project it was decided at top-level in Windhoek that education and IT staff members who have been selected to train schools need to devote more than half of their working time for it till February 2013. Failure ahead: either SchoolLink or other duties will be neglected as most of the members of our regional SchoolLink team already cannot deal with their increasing workload. I really hope that my pessimism will be proven wrong this time.

lunch break stories: sometimes even the stamp does not help

'kill bump' Oshikuku, Omusati RegionIt is not a secret that traveling on African roads is more dangerous than in the Western world. Tough very well developed Namibia does not make an exception when it comes to this. And sometimes you see something dreadful coming, try to do something about it – and fail.
When coming back from a meeting in Windhoek Friday night, 20th April, we were passing Oshikuku: in a slight turn, at dark – and only a tiny sign next to it – we saw the newly installed two speed bumps a second before I hit it with more than the allowed 60km/h. Luckily we were driving our rugged Nissan GRN buggy and not one of our fragile Renault sedans. It was everything but enjoyable. The following Monday morning (23th April) I sent an official letter of complain to the Oshikuku Town Council about how grossly negligent the missing signalization is. On top of it I gave a copy of the letter to traffic control officers at our police station. Even some of their officers drove over the speed bump and complaint by that time.
The following Friday evening (27th April) a family drove over the speed bump. Their vehicle lost control, turned over and an eleven year old girl was thrown out of it and died at the scene. Helplessness. I would be surprised if anything has changed when I am heading back to the North tomorrow.

The Namibian: Speed-humps at Oshikuku a danger to motorists

alternative tourism in the North – part II

I probably drove the road from Outapi to Ruacana hundred times, two dozen times the gravel branching off to Onesi so far and thought I knew the surrounding area pretty well. Not really. Otherwise I would have bought a kayak during my first week in the country: only half an hour North-West from Outapi is a lake with a length of almost 30km. First time I heard from it was when a Portuguese friend mentioned that his farm is situated up there. Thanks again to Patrick’s good relationship with Rural Water Supply we’ve been two times on the lake so far – and many more trips to come: as you have the lake virtually on your own it is the perfect place to watch birds undisturbed – and to relax.

Namibia, Land of the long Meetings

Annual planning meeting, David Sheema SS, OutapiWhat have economizing, management, PQA, price giving, RPIS and many other meetings or gatherings all in common? They usually take quite a while. In the western business world we are – of course not everywhere – used to quick and efficient meetings: in and out within an hour or so. As with many other things it is a bit different in the Namibian Government regardless if you are in the North or in Windhoek. You go in at 09:00 and you come out at 17:00. Sometimes without a single break except a walk to the toilet room. After two years I still have trouble to deal with it. Main causes for such ‘meeting marathons’ are the group and the agenda – both are usually way to big. Take 17 people, 23 new topics, another twenty resolutions to go through from the last meeting and you and your day is done. RPIS teacher conference, Regional Council, OutapiI admire some of my colleagues as they really stay focused at all times whilst I often space out after a couple of hours and a few ‘generic’ red-bulls. However recently some of them also criticized long meetings and the amount of them which keeps them away from their offices. Change takes time. Also in meeting culture. Until then unhealthy consumption of caffeine and lobbying it is: no matter how important your items are, if they are on the second half of the agenda you’re better off taking them of the list completely. People might not be as exhausted as you are. But at the end things always become rushed as everyone is keen for the knocking-off time.

lunch break stories: dad with the big needle

shot #4, despite the look Ellie still loves his single parent, Anamulenge, OutapiSince his mother Lorie died at the age of ten (most likely a record for the North!) I’ve become the main parent for two and a half year old Ellie. Not an easy job. It is not a secret that pet animals outside the Western world are treated differently. Most people at Anamulenge love the hairy guy with his friendly character. Trouble is that he sometimes leaves the premises. Most villagers consider him as he threat for their goats. Two weeks ago he came back with an leg injury and stopped eating. The first anti-inflammatory shots were difficult to give: chasing, talking, petting and poking Ellie. The last two we had to do it the hard way by forcing the poor guy down as he developed a good flair for the shot hidden in the jacket.