I just finished another 'Liberia briefing.' I am relieved and happy and have a sense of accomplishment. With all the coursework I have to do and can't seem to be able to get done, looming exams and a general sense of frenzy and despair, it was nice to actually get something done and feel good about it. It reminded me that I actually had a real job, doing things, doing DDRR, doing NGO capacity assessments, monitoring visits, donor reports, liaison and coordination and so on. And, it let me talk about Liberia with people who know of it more than just a random country associated with civil war and Charles Taylor.
How did I get involved in these 'Liberia briefings?' Believe it or not, Facebook! Sometime this year, a girl contacted me on Facebook who had also been in Liberia - Gwen Heaner. Gwen told me that SOAS was going to brief a client - a couple who were going to work in Liberia with some local organisations. As Gwen is doing a Phd on religion in Liberia at SOAS, she was going to brief the client on culture and customs and traditional law. Interface, the department at SOAS, was looking for other people as well. Gwen was kind enough to nominate me. That was quite stupendous. I had not met Gwen in Liberia but as it is such a small place and we had a couple of common friends, she managed to find me. She passed my details onto Interface and, after a CV forward and a brief chat with Dave Harris at Interface, I bagged the first briefing.
The first briefing went quite well although I had been quite nervous. My job was to talk about the UN, the mission, UNDP, their roles, what the do, local and international NGOs, my experiences. The couple had not been to Liberia before and there, my job was easier because I had to talk about the work and role and functions of the UN on a basic level. I pulled up a copy of the PRS, the Government NGO policy, stuff on the RFTF, I contacted the MSG Steering Group, some miscellaneous facts/figures. Hence I did a little bit of preparation. I tried to make it a narrative in terms of what achievements 'we' had since 2003 and, spoke a lot about my experiences with UNDP. All in all, it went okay and the feedback form said my presentation was pretty good. I believe I got a 3/4.
This second one was slightly different in the sense that the client has been working/living in Liberia for the past 18 months and, is obviously on a different level. I decided to do the briefing despite all stress I have and, was nervous I wouldn't be able to handle it and cursed myself for taking this on. I kept the old part of the presentation as before. The interesting requirement for this presentation were a a series of questions in the 'blurb' that was sent out related to development: so why is it that development has not worked, why are we not any closer to achieving the MDG targets, why are we imposing the Western models while we have the Chinese alternative? This part was given to me.
Big explosive questions. I mean, that is the entire beloved TPP course. In a way it was good because it forced me to a bit of revision and think of the course as a whole and see what it has taught me.
I went back to the meanings of development as defined by Alan Thomas in his Development as Practice in a Liberal Capitalist World which is a stupendous article.
- as a vision, description or measure of the state of being of a desirable society;
- as an historical process of social change in which societies are transformed over long periods;
- as consisting of deliberate efforts aimed at improvement on the part of various agencies, including governments, all kinds of organizations and social movements.
I went back to the moments of development (lectures are bloody useful, please take note):
- the epochal European transitions to (industrial) capitalism
- simultaneous and subsequent colonial encounters
- the post-war (1945) global polity shaped by the cold war, the formation of post-colonial states and their projects of ‘national development’, the evolution of specialised development agencies as instruments of Northern foreign policy (bilateral aid agencies), and aspirations or claims to disinterested benevolence by new multilateral international bodies (the UN again; the Bretton Woods institutions)
I did the rounds of the Washington Consensus, the SAPs, the Governance Agenda, the context of capitalism, the withering away of the state in the face of interventions and globalisation, etc. But to really answer the question very simply, we have to realise that development has been reduced to practice, to techniques and targets, that it is depoliticised and decentralised. And because of this, it will never address inequality.
So all in all, it was a good presentation and I have a nice sense of accomplishment. It put me in a good mood. In general, these briefings have been great because I got to talk with Gwen at length about her ongoing Phd which is on Pentecostal/charismatic churches. It was ridiculously fascinating to hear about her thesis, her depth of knowledge and how she perceived Liberia while she was doing her field work. She's a young girl but pretty amazing. And there is a lot of literature on Liberia which I was not even aware of, not to mention a society specifically devoted to Liberia. In fact she is going to Liberia in May to attend the society's first ever conference in Liberia.
Secondly, Dave Harris at Interface has extensive knowledge of Liberia and Sierra Leone's political history which will be great once I start on the dissertation.
There are a couple of funny stories to go with today's briefing though. I knew that the briefing was supposed to start 1:30 as per the draft programme. I was up at 5 am this morning to do a bit of work on it, went to sleep, got up again and was at the university by 10:30. I was in the bar, having a cup of tea, typing up my presentation when for some reason I looked at the draft programme again and, thought for some reason that my briefing was at 11:00. It was 11:30 at that time - I rushed to the briefing room, barged in and startled Gwen and the fellow. They clarified that my briefing was supposed to start at 1:30. Embarassed, I left and proceeded to complete my presentation. I made it back at 1:30 and apologised for the blunder I had committed earlier.
I was a bit nervous at the start of the presentation talking about the UN in general and its mission and work, the PRS, the DDRR Programme, the inside scoop, etc. However, I managed to hide my cover it up by repeating the points and asking the fellow whether or not he wanted to know about something in particular in more detail. Thankfully, he asked about the DDRR Programme and I was able to talk at length about it, the controversies, the politics, etc. Asking the audience questions is a good way to make it a natural presentation. When I started addressing The Big Development Question, I started by asking him what development meant to him. He said that he had always thought of it as the 'you give a guy he a fish, he eats for one day, you teach him to fish, he eats for life.' Aha - very good. So went on from there, covering everything from the moment/origin of development to the invention of development, from the developmental state to SAPs, from the Washington Consensus to the Good Governance Agenda.
Oh yes, another embarassing anecdote for the day. I was sitting with Hillary and Helka in the bar afterwards, regaling them with my blunder-full stories, the Wallet, the presentation, not getting essays done on time, etc. At one point, I hear a 'poing poing' and I ask Hillary, hey, do you hear that 'poing poing'? She said it must be a ring tone. Turns out it was coming from my own freaking pocket and my father was calling me. Who programmed the 'poing poing' ringtone for my father's mobile??
The final story of the day is that I was to meet Haseeb and a few of his colleagues for dinner near Charing Cross. I was looking forward to a nice relaxed dinner and meeting some nice Afghanis. Haseeb tells me to take the 91 bus instead of taking the tube. Absent-mindedly, I take the 91 bus in the wrong direction altogether. He's phoning me every few minutes to see if I am near or not. After 30 minutes, he rings me up to say, where are you? I tell him, dunno, middle of nowhere. Then he realised I was in the wrong direction. I get off, take a bus back to King's Cross, take the tube to Bank and change and take the district line to Embankment. What should have taken me less than half an hour to get to my destination took me close to two hours. I was in a really shitty mood however thankfully his friends were very nice and we had a nice time.
Here's to the weekend and writing the 5,000-word War to Peace essay. I have only come up with a bogus title so far but it sounds cool.