Archive for September, 2010

What Does Development Aid Really Mean?* (a poem)

September 23, 2010

What does development aid really mean?

Does it mean managing money to mobilize against HIV

Or driving through southern Sudan in an SUV?

Does it mean the improvement of life,

Since many join the development enterprise to improve their lifestyle?

Does it mean giving 1/10 of 1% of your GNP

And having 1/3 of that funnel its way to those in need,

Since most of the aid goes to pay aid agency staff salary?

What does it mean?

Development aid is well-intentioned

But in this new millennium we have to learn our lesson

Because I’d rather have no aid than slow aid or low aid

If it means that development agencies will give funds

To governments for pipelines and pesticides

But indirectly support a genocide

Or have we forgotten the extreme case of Rwanda,

Where 80% of development aid went to the pre-genocide government

Even though all of the signs of the genocide were in place

But agencies for aid

Paid it no mind as long as that well-water became potable

…or that fertilizer ferry became floatable

… or that minimal rise in literacy became notable

Just noticeable enough to give uplifting quotable statistics on report backs to donors


Misguided, top-down development enforces the politics of exclusion

Because in collusion with repressive governments,

The poorest of the poor never receive assistance in fields like subsistence farming

And it’s quite alarming

Because aid agencies never realize their agency in societal conflicts

Because they claim to take an “apolitical” approach

But they fail to see how misdirected, top-down aid can encroach

On a politically fragmented society

And exacerbate it by further disempowering the disempowered

Primarily by working with government-appointed elites

So we have to rethink development

Because many of us don’t understand what to “develop” meant in the first place

I’m calling for a structural adjustment program of Structural Adjustment Programs

And other policies that claim or claimed to assist developing homelands

Because development doesn’t mean that we can have Afrikan Growth & Opportunity

When the resources we use don’t come from our own community

It doesn’t mean fancy dinners in classy hotels

With money given to decrease mortality rates for newborn children

And if aid can’t be given to a government

Without a care for ensuring the rights of every child, woman and man

Then I’ll be damned before I say that everything is “ok” with development aid

It’s time to ensure that our dollars are being spent on education and public health

As opposed to Safari vacations and private wealth

For foreign experts and host government hierarchies

And if we can have vouchers at home

Why not have developing country vouchers

So good governments can choose the best development projects for their land

Instead of generic plans from those claiming to know what’s best for the destitute?

Development aid can’t be looked at as a Wall Street business transaction

Where investors are only worried about the comeback

We need to come back and revise our strategy

Because we’ll all be glad to see the day

When development aid is not only concerned

With promising statistics on cocoa revenues, crop distribution,

And more village midwives

Because few lives will be improved or saved

Unless the poorest of the poor truly receive the majority of the aid

So until the day when underdeveloped development dreams

Are redeveloped for developing countries

Development aid will never be what is seems

And if we continue to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to this preventable predicament

Then the poorest of the world’s poor will continue to ask:

“What does development aid really mean?”

*Partially inspired by Dr. Peter Uvin’s Aiding Violence


No Child Left Behind (a poem)

September 21, 2010

I’m the child left behind so I rhyme

Didn’t pass the test so I dropped outta line

Outta sight into crime just tryin’ to get paid

They cared more for my braids than they did for my grades

Didn’t quite look the part plus they didn’t have art

No foreign languages no music, not even head start

So when the shotgun went off I didn’t run I stayed

School was just daycare so I ran and played

Acted a fool in school and I thought I was cool

Made a point to act stupid and not follow the rules

Till I got held back and the joke was on me

Some other brothers hauled off to Special Ed see

Supposed to be case by case but too many black males

Make up Special Ed, it’s like a school jail cell

They say the first shall be last and that’s true in class

Original man at the bottom of education class

I wonder (a child’s poem on education in America)

September 20, 2010

I wonder what my world would be

If you could just see me as I see me

If you could just greet me with a smile even though you think I’m hostile

If you could not assume that I’m doomed for life’s prisons and trials

You may see a smile that would light up your room

You may see I’m as precious as any child in your room

If you could see why we may not see eye to eye

And meet me half-way so I’m not that child left behind

Maybe just maybe we will make some progress

If you just looked at me as a scholar and nothing less

I hunger for education but my teachers have me fasting

I’m just looking for your love and a little understanding

They don’t care about us (a poem on education)

September 20, 2010

They don’t really care, we can’t compare

Educational system should have everyone scared

2010 MJ lyrics still ring true

From what he dropped back in the 1990’s dude

Tired of being the same victim of shame

They still throwin’ me in the class with the bad name?

Special Ed ain’t dead in fact it’s livin’ and  thrivin’

Black and brown kids packed in class like slaves no lyin’

Do they really care when the parents don’t

Do they really even care when society won’t

Hell nah lock em up in the corner of a school

Prepare ‘em for prison life they got same rules

But I’m remixing this song so I can reach out to you

To take a hard look at the kids bein’ lost in our schools

Fail me, sell me, no matter what you tell me

It’s all really lies ‘cause what I really know see

Is I’m tired of seeing my name in the same old books

Next to convicts, slaves, other types of crooks

Didn’t I come from greatness from Martin and Medgar

From Malcolm, Chavez, Mcleod I beg ya

To see me not as I am but as what I could be

I’m more then the ideas that you preconceive

So many strong roots livin’ in my ancestry

But when you look at me you see the branch of a dead tree

I’m tired of being the victim of you

Destroyin’ my self esteem like you love to

I wish you’d really just learn how to teach me

Reach me, preach me, teacher I beseech thee

Don’t label me special less it’s specially gifted

To go and save the world get humanity lifted

I can be great if you see the greatness in me

Just teach me like a prospect and not a suspect please

O’Donnell & Tea Party: becoming their own worst enemy

September 20, 2010

The recent comments of O’Donnell dabbling and witchcraft in addition to the campaign spending allegations pose a true challenge for the Tea Party: is the party going to stick by its professed values or stick to the candidate it simply likes? If they choose to stick by her no matter what, this will be an act of hypocrisy because the Party would condemn any other non Tea Party-endorsed politician who had these same issues. In continuing to endorse her 100%, the Party becomes as hypocritical as it claims other parties are. As it relates to O’Donnell, she can only play the victim for so long. She cannot duck the media. This will only make the problem worse, particularly in the media culture we live in now. She needs to confront these issues now before they spin out of control. If she continues to stay silent and if the Tea Party shows blind loyalty regardless of her past, they will both lose major credibility both as an organization and a as a politician.

See you later…

September 12, 2010

25 years

25-plus million lives touched

Born to bring peace

Piece by piece

Daily delivering deeds of dignity

From America to South Africa

From Mississippi to Kinshasa

A life lived for others

A million daughters, one mother

A voice for the voiceless

Bringing hope to the hopeless

A gift from above harpo-oned into our hearts

Like Mattie and Mandela, a bridge builder through love

The next 25 will simply save more lives

Educate more young girls, heal more husbands and wives

If we like she could just live our OWN lives

With no fear, no regrets, no compromise

Then a life well-lived will for all be our prize

Until that day we will just say “thank you”

For leading by example, for giving us direction

So many lessons and so many blessins

We’re not saying “goodbye”

Just “see you later”

Because,  as you want for us all

You’re just on to something greater

Congo advocacy groups must put their egos aside

September 2, 2010

As I have said time and again, fighting for change in the Congo has become my family business. I am part of a continuing struggle that has been deep in my blood for centuries. As I’ve also been known to say, the U.S. media can only handle one African conflict per decade: Ethiopia in the 80s, Rwanda in the 90s, and Sudan from 2000-2010. From the latest trends I am seeing, it seems as though 2010 may be the start of Congo’s US media decade, for better or for worse. As the spotlight continues to grow on Congo, it is high time that Congolese advocacy organizations put their egos aside and stay focused on the task at hand, which should be to assist in creating a conflict-mineral free Congo where good governance reigns and innocent women, children, and men (yes, men are suffering too) can live as free as we do in America.

Over the past 2 years, I have been fortunate enough to work with most major organizations in the U.S. that work on or for the Congo. These include Women for Women International, the Enough! Project, TransAfrica, Africa Action, STAND Now, The Holocaust Museum, and Friends of the Congo. While I have had a great experience with all of these organizations, I have also seen a fair share of dissension between the groups that could ultimately lead to us doing more harm than good for the Congo. The main problem is that there is too much time spent criticizing the approach of the differing groups. What we fail to realize is that each second we spend arguing amongst ourselves is another second a 3-year old is raped. It’s another second where a man watches his family be slaughtered while he sits helpless. It’s another second where women like Honorata are called “food” by their rebel captors.

Much of the debate between the groups focuses on the true value of what has been deemed the “conflict mineral approach” as well as the desire of some groups to only focus on women’s issues in the Congo at the expense of Congolese men and boys who may be suffering. Lastly, there is debate about who is responsible for communicating the crisis in the Congo to the American people. Quite honestly, even though I am a proponent of the conflict mineral approach, I never considered it to be the only problem facing the Congo. Furthermore, I have yet to work with an organization that believes the war in Congo is only fueled by our desire for electronics’ products. However, this approach has the best chance of reaching the average American who could care less about the Congo, but does feel that people shouldn’t die in Congo so we in America can have a cell phone.

As it relates to those organizations that focus primarily on women’s issues, I understand the idea. The problem however is that when we become more engaged in the Congo, we tend to see the conflict through a Western women’s rights mindset that will ultimately aid in the deterioration of Congolese traditional values. This approach ironically becomes quite paternalistic in the end. As the aboriginal quote states: “If you are coming to help me, stay home. But if you are coming because you believe you freedom as a human being is inextricably linked to my freedom, then let’s work together.” Ashley Judd spoke to this sentiment after her recent trip to Congo. At the same time however, there are women and girls who are in need of services and they cannot be ignored either.

The last major issue I see is that many Congolese advocates in America are frustrated that there are no Congolese on mainstream television who are asked to share their work on Congo. For the most part, it is either white Americans like Lisa Shannon and John Prendergast or some other celebrity, such as the aforementioned Ashley Judd or Don Cheadle who are interviewed by mainstream media while we only see Congolese victims of violence on the television. As a Congolese-American advocate for the Congo, I fully understand this point because to the mainstream media, it makes it look like Congolese are just asking for help and not being proactive in ending these conflicts. This makes it hard for anyone to want to get involved because one could easily think “If they’re not involved in stopping their own plight, why should I be?”

At the end of the day though, what I have to say to all of this is…so what? We are dealing with a crisis in the Congo. I’d love to share my work about the Congo on Oprah or AC360 but If Lisa Shannon and Prendergast can speak to a group of people that aren’t going to listen to me and raise more awareness about the Congo, I’m for it. It was never about me in the first place and others must realize it was never about them. If Ben Affleck and Don Cheadle are going to influence their Hollywood buddies to get involved, I’m for it. If Friends of the Congo is going to focus its energies on making sure that everyone also understands how U.S. foreign policy affects what’s happening in the Congo instead of (or in addition to) the conflict minerals approach, I’m for it. If Women for Women wants to focus primarily on making sure the needs of women and girls are met, I’m for it as well!

What I’ve just said about each organization or individual is obviously a gross generalization about what they all do, but the point I am trying to make is that they are all doing something! We need all hands on deck for the Congo right now while we have the world’s attention. Rather than fighting each other on this approach or that, we need to work with one another on how we can enhance each other’s efforts. Just like 1950s & 1960s movements for Congolese independence, we find factions supposedly wanting the same thing for Congo but some of us get caught up in believing we are the only individual or organization that can bring change to the Congo. We don’t need martyrs now. We need messengers to the masses. This misguided approach is going to lead to a new group of Americans becoming aware of the atrocities in the Congo but feeling confused about how they can actually help our cause and ultimately becoming disengaged. For the sake of the Congo, we must put our egos aside and keep our eyes on the prize.