Give Directly?

Give Directly?

G3FVYeVSeveral secret, unnamed villages in Kenya have become the “beta test” for the theory that a guaranteed income will eradicate poverty world-wide.

The Silicon Valley motivated charity, GiveDirectly disperses its donations to Kenyan villages in cash as a guaranteed monthly income. No tractors, no computers, no medicine, no scholarships or other training – just cash. The organization has operated since 2008 and believes it now has the data to prove its theory.

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People or Wildlife?

People or Wildlife?

angry villager fight eleIt’s immoral to support saving wildlife at the expense of saving people. It’s that simple and today in Kenya I realized first-hand this travesty.

It begins with climate change. Surely you notice weather is changing where you live, and I’ve often explained that the developed world is more capable of adjusting to this than the developing world.  But when you feel compelled to assist efforts to mitigate climate change in the developing world, shouldn’t you consider the people who live there rather than just the wildlife?

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Democratic Disease

Democratic Disease

gabon and polioRotary Charity and Gabon Wealth, two very different issues this morning that teach a similar lesson: you can’t buy success.

The oil rich country of  Gabon remains unsettled this morning following contested elections and days of violence.  A third case of the presumed eradicated polio was confirmed this morning in Nigeria.

Two extremely different African tales share an amazing similarity. Both of them were completely predictable and for the same reason.  Let’s start with Gabon.

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Be Careful What You Support

Be Careful What You Support

raisedtobekilledWild animals in Africa are threatened as never before by western hypocrisy.

Thursday two wildlife organizations, Panthera & WildAid, announced a “Cecil Summit” to plan the allocation of $1.25 billion raised annually to save the lion. This campaign is as absurd as it is distasteful, a stunt playing on good people’s feelings and essentially unmasked by its own hypocrisy.

Cecil was a trophy lion killed by a Minnesota dentist last year which brought to public attention the horrors of “canned hunting,” raising and containing captive lions specifically to be shot for sport.

The public reaction to the story of Cecil was extensive: The U.S. slapped new restrictions on lion hunting and United Airlines forbid future transporting of lion trophy parts were just two of many such actions reflecting widespread public outrage.

Donations flooded into wildlife organizations.

All this was well and good. Lions are in trouble. The world’s top lion researchers concluded in October that the population has declined 43% in the last 21 years down to around 20,000 remaining individuals. This excellent study, however, becomes nearly as hypocritical as the “Cecil Summit” when it analyzes the causes.

The study concludes that “indiscriminate killing in defense of human life and livestock, habitat loss, and prey base depletion” are the three principal causes.

Put into simpler terms: human/wildlife conflict and habitat erosion.

That’s fine and they should have ended it there. Instead, in what can be considered nothing short of pandering to African governments and rich westerners at home, the study further claimed that “trophy hunting can … be a tool for conservation but also a threat, depending on how it is regulated and managed.”

Anyone with a tiny bit of experience in Africa knows that in areas outside southern Africa the regulation and management of trophy hunting has been a joke for years. Ping-ponged between authoritarian decisions easily swayed by bribing, to flawed policies imposed by the World Bank, trophy hunting in Tanzania for example has been a corruptible mess for generations.

This duplicitous analysis takes it right from high science into abject hypocrisy.

Imagine you’re an African businessmen or farmer, the family’s breadwinner. Imagine a lion killing two of your cows. Imagine having four children and sixteen grand children with only one child having gainful employment and living next to a wilderness area with lots of bushmeat.

Now imagine that as you try to survive, by getting rid of the lion that’s killing your cows or going out to your backyard and trapping a wildebeest for food, that wildlife officials paid by Panthera or WildAid find you, fine you and imprison you … while a rich Texas businessman is blowing animals – including lions – to smithereens and pasting his trophy pictures all over the internet.

There’s little difference between canned hunting and “wild” hunting, or as it is more egotistically called, “trophy hunting.” You kill an animal. One is a bit tamer than the other, so easier to kill certainly, but the act is exactly, precisely the same.

Canned hunting is simply a more honest version of wild hunting. Each time a lion is shot there is one less lion, and that is not conservation.

Why can a rich Texan break the law? How do you explain this to the businessman or farmer trying to survive?

You can’t. And when you try to, your whole mission is impugned in hypocrisy.

The Largest Panda of All

The Largest Panda of All

wwfvsbakaPeople with deep faith in the good work that they do sometimes develop blinders that become destructive. This may be happening today with the world’s largest and most revered wildlife organization.

We all know – or think we do – the World Wildlife Fund. In fact it’s actual name isn’t the World Wildlife Fund, but the “World Fund for Nature.” The name morphed over time and when the organization adopted its URL,

It’is the largest wildlife conservation organization in the world, with a balance sheet of just under a half billion dollars. Remarkably its liquid assets of $337 million are derived by less than 10% through fund raising, reflecting an “organization” that is mostly an endowment and grant sponge.

Too big too fail comes to mind.

WWF has enormous power throughout the world. In the Cameroon it implemented without much oversight what looked like good ecological programs mostly to protect the forests of the Congo Basin, but with little oversight by the Cameroon government the WWF programs may in fact be destroying the indigenous pygmies, the Baka people who live there.

In February a competing NGO, Survival International, filed a formal complaint against WWF with the OECD in Paris. According to the Guardian newspaper, “The complaint contains eye-witness accounts of alleged brutality, video testimonies, and reports from the Cameroonian press accusing the eco guards of violent actions against the pygmy groups.”

I was skeptical. Accusation is not evidence. But the evidence is now coming in, and it’s damning.

WWF’s strategy to protect the Congo Basin forests is deeply mired in partnerships with commercial enterprises like logging companies. At first this doesn’t seem so unusual: private/public partnerships is the tagline for much progressive public policy today.

The idea, of course, is that good public advocates will curtail the otherwise ungoverned exploitation of commercial interest, and that if well done, sustainable commerce can be achieved.

In logging, for example, historical partnerships between logging companies and government and private conservation entities have actually created long-term renewable forests in the U.S.

But in pursuing its private/public partnership in the Cameroon WWF embraced a French logging company, Rougier that had a long and troubled history with indigenous forest peoples. WWF had little choice who to partner with as it was the Cameroon government’s choice.

But there are now credible reports that Rougier has displaced Baka pygmies – who have claimed the forest as their home for millennia – without compensation and in violation of its own agreement with the Cameroon government.

There are even reports that many Baka have been tortured, and further claims that WWF trained anti-poaching units have been involved.

WWF portrays it otherwise insisting the issue is one of poaching, not displacement. Too many videos and eye-witness accounts have proved WWF’s defense is empty of reality.

Moreover, WWF has done everything to keep this out of the English media.

When pressed by a Belgian advocacy group for Cameroon, WWF responded (in French) that its partnership was sound and ethical, that Rougier was acting in accordance with ecological agreements, and that the logging was mostly taking place in an area soon to be flooded by a dam.

WWF aggressively defended its partnership with Rougier until April, 2015.

March and April, 2015, was when Stephen Cory, Survival International’s Director, demanded documents from WWF-International’s director, Marco Lambertini, regarding the accusations.

Shortly thereafter WWF stopped issuing press reports or field science monographs in English from the area. WWF assigned the Head of its “Issues Management” department, Phil Dickie, to respond. Dickie took several months, finally sending an email to Survival that read in part:

“Apologies for the delays… This is a personal note…. I would prefer to operate on the basis that our organisations both have the interests of the Baka and other indigenous people at heart….If you want to explore the possibilities, let me know.”
12 May 2015 15:37

It strikes me that WWF is in deep do-do, holding hands with a French logging company whose behavior is probably criminal. Like the leaders of our own Republican Party, WWF may have lost control but finds itself unable to extract itself into any original moral position nor to unentangle itself from its own perhaps unintentional involvement in displacing indigenous people.

It’s the disease of the Too Big, Too Powerful. In my view organizations and institutions this large can only function in a moral way when they are accountable to the people who support them and who they serve.

10% fund raising doesn’t reach that level.

When More is Too Much

When More is Too Much

MoreGorillaHelpWhat do Mother Jones and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) share in common? They’re always broke?

Yesterday, tens of thousands of persons on Mother Jones’ mailing list received an appeal from AWF to add their signature to a petition against oil drilling in the Virunga mountains. Virunga is home to the endangered mountain gorilla and a host of other lowland rainforest species.

Ostensibly the one-click link within the email adds your signature to a petition telling the Ugandan government not to issue oil licenses in the area, but in fact the page looks remarkably like a signup sheet for the AWF newsletter.

Like the “Stop the Serengeti Highway” which continues nearly five years after the Serengeti highway was stopped, aggressive development of Virunga for oil was stopped three years ago after Leonardo di Caprio’s remarkable documentary, “Virunga” was nominated for an Oscar.

Di Caprio was incensed when a British oil company began exploitation of the Virungas in 2013. Together with an aggressive campaign by the World Wildlife Fund which collaborated slightly on the film the original oil companies developing the area pulled out.

That was more than a year ago.

There were probably many reasons major oil companies pulled out of the area. We were on the brink of the decline in the oil price, so if anyone was aware of the upcoming glut, these companies were.

The new peace that came to the Virunga right about that time remained fragile, and it was and remains actually Uganda, not the DRC where most of the reserves have been located, that is trying so aggressively to sell its rights. Without clear collaboration with the DRC, development would be incomplete and probably too costly.

Without the major oil companies’ interest, the Ugandan government’s possible imminent assignments of exploration blocks in the area isn’t quite as serious as it seems.

This kind of global pandering is typical of the Museveni government as he thumbs his nose at an increasingly critical foreign community. Last week western ambassadors walked out of his umpteenth inauguration ceremony when he deviated from published remarks into a tirade about the west and the World Court.

AWF is not alone in the current campaign. It’s joined by Greenpeace. Both organizations have had a long history of positive work in the Virungas but this current campaign rings a bit hollow.

Not because it lacks merit, but because it carries a very obvious ulterior motive: fund raising. Fund raising for all not-for-profits is a never-ending struggle and there’s nothing negative about it per se.

But there are thresholds of “urgency” when asking for money. AWF in particular has recently initiated a number of crisis campaigns, from elephants to lions, with increasingly short intervals.

It’s hard to get attention in these days of Trumped-up reality. But the right way to do it isn’t just by increasing the volume.

The Gift Horse’s Mouth

The Gift Horse’s Mouth

clintontripAfricans are bristling but resigned to the current Clinton safari the same way I’m resigned to a President Hillary. What a dreary day.

The Clinton clan minus Hillary is currently on a 9-day African tour to Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia and Morocco, and they are not getting the reception they had expected.

Like the Bill Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation is highly vested in Africa, and so you would think it natural that from time to time the principals would come here.

“O, fellow benighted Africans! Gaze down at the bleeps emanating from your electronic device – a device powered by the marvelous coltan mined on your land. Can you not see the newsflash? Dignitaries, Big Names indeed, have come to our continent in order to help us help them help us,” famous African filmmaker and writer, Richard Poplak, wrote yesterday.

Poplak is white, South African born bred and nurtured, and like most of the intellectuals of all colors on the continent, not particularly happy with the Clintons.

Poplak continues:

“…the Grand Priests of the Clinton Foundation, the givers who give almost as good as they get, [have come] to sniff the cow dung burning in rustic villages, to pat the heads of the doe-eyed children they have kept safe from brand name infectious diseases.

“O, African, behold Chelsea Clinton, future presidential candidate of the Democratic Party… Lynn Forester de Rothschild, the billionaire boss of E.L. Rothschild… [billionaires] Jay and Mindy Jacobs are here!

“O, but Africans, there is more. No one less than Hadeel Ibrahim is here! The daughter of Sudanese-British billionaire mobile phone philanthropist Mo, Hadeel Ibrahim is a great friend of Chelsea’s, and they apparently spent a wonderful thanksgiving together at the Clinton pile in Chappaqua. All has been forgiven since Bill Clinton Cruise Missiled the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in 1998.”

Like the Bill Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation is even more heavily invested in Africa. I believe this is Bill’s penance for having “made a mistake” (his own words) when he ordered his United Nations ambassador to vote against increasing the Canadian UN force that could have stopped the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The problem is, Clinton has piled one mistake on another in Africa. He hugely empowered Ugandan president Museveni when all of us knew that was a mistake. Museveni is now one of Africa’s great dictators, the author of the “kill the gays” bill.

Poplak continues:

“Along for the ride are many other Clinton Foundation donors… professional philanthropists, Silicon Valley whizz-kids and generally outstanding humans. The safari …will culminate in a dazzling conference in Marrakesh, presided over by that famous empowerer of women and long-time Foundation supporter, the King of Morocco.

“And it is equally churlish to think of the Clinton Foundation as a giant corrupt money suck akin to the worst African banana republics: … [The fact that] Bill Clinton seems to have helped a Canadian mining magnate hand over 20% of America’s uranium resources to the Russians while Hillary was leading the state department, does not ipso facto make the outfit rotten.”

But she would be the first woman president!

“And what does it matter to you, O African, that tens of millions of dollars have flowed into Clinton pockets from women’s empowerment centres like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, either for speaking fees or for donations?

“… it may be tempting …to imagine that the Clintons and their Foundationites are using the continent as a theatre set, and we Africans as drooling extras… It is tempting to say that this is all about big money and real politick, because Bill and Hillary Clinton, along with their Chelsea clone, serve power for power’s sake.

“You might wish to say that this all seems so garish and ghastly, millions of dollars blown by a 0.1% cabal on swanning about the continent, billions of the world’s wealth zipping over the African savannah in a legions of Lear Jets.

“But you would just be sour to think that way. Ungrateful. When the beautiful waxed SUVs zip into your village and you smell the $1,500 anti-aging cream on the frozen faces of these Kings, these Gods, remember to thank them with the appropriate deference. Remember to bow and scrape.

“If we don’t look the part, then they don’t get the money.”

Charity Begins At Home 2014

Charity Begins At Home 2014

charitybeginsathomeCharity begins at home: In my estimation that means creating good government.

At this time of the year I get numerous requests from my generous and truly sensitive clients regarding charities I recommend in Africa. They are often surprised.

There are two reasons I discourage charity, whether to Africa or anywhere.

First, especially in Africa, charity is often a massive con game. There are many excellent not-for-profits doing heart warming work in Africa, but unfortunately there are many, many more that cause more problems than they solve.

Second, charity by its very nature coopts the responsibility that any reasonably moral society should take on its own. So by your act of charity, you are perpetuating the immoralities of your society.

The second reason is a contentious one, I concede. So for those who disagree with me on moral terms, my basic message changes to “stick close to home.” Charity is meaningless if wasted. All it does it make you feel good while possibly doing serious damage.

You must be able to do due diligence before giving, and you must be able to follow up to assess performance. Accountability is much easier the closer to home you get, and of course by “closer to home” I don’t mean simply proximity. You must be familiar with the situation, and you’re much likelier to be familiar with something near to you, geographically, socially and culturally.

Besides, we are rapidly approaching the time when poverty caused disadvantages like illiteracy are greater in parts of America than in the developed world.

I do due diligence in Africa. Good African charities are extremely few in number. They include Catholic Relief, World Vision and Médecins Sans Frontières.

Donations to many other large Africa involved organizations like National Geographic or the World Wildlife Fund are nearly useless. Their projects have become so massive they rely on their endowments to survive, diluting any individual giving to the point of meaninglessness.

Donations to smaller often locally created charities in specific countries, or to smaller church-based foundations, are usually destructive and anti-developmental. They are so mission focused that while they may indeed be helping a small group of people, more often than not they conflict with the greater social and governmental policies of the area.

One of America’s largest youth-based volunteer organizations,, reports 11 facts about current America that are likely more egregious than in many parts of the developing world.

Consider this. Morning Edition reported today that in clustered communities of 10,000 children in Philadelphia there were only 33 books.

Literacy is difficult to specify, because different parts of the world define it so differently. UNICEF is the best mediator of literacy statistics worldwide, but the problem is that UNICEF does not generate literacy metrics for the United States. But clearly, literacy in that Philadelphia community is not good.

According to UNICEF, Kenya’s literary rate is just above 72%.

Why, then, would you send books to Kenya and not to distressed Philadelphia?

The conundrum of wanting to do good but being unable to do so will only be remedied when we create a society with a government that is trusted and moral.

That should be your greatest goal of the new year, not getting a tax credit.

Lion Realities

Lion Realities

Excellent photo by Rich Mattas on my March Great Migration Safari.
Excellent photo by Rich Mattas on my March Great Migration Safari.
Never ‘in my life’ would I have expected to be concerned about declining lion populations in Africa, but despite grossly misunderstood and badly used statistics, they are definitely in decline.

I always thought of lions, I suppose, like kitty cats: They’re ubiquitous! In fact, they are more of them than my birder friends think there should be, and where I live feral cats likely outnumber deer.

At the top of the food chain, what could possibly threaten lion?

The framing of my question reveals the mistaken notion of trying to figure out what’s happening to a wild animal strictly by what’s happening in the wild.

What threatens lions is development: people, roads, buildings, dams … all the things that make for a modern world.

Development impinges on lions directly, but by also constricting the freedom and growth of lion food – other animals – it’s a doubly whammy.

I’m astounded by the inability of research organizations to get a firm number on lion declines in Africa. It ranges from popular charities like NatGeo’s low balling to many others suggesting twice the number. Either way it’s a serious, rapid decline, but why no consensus on actual numbers?

The best researchers, like Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota, refuse to deal with the issue in the aggregate, assuring me that compiling trusted aggregate numbers is too difficult.

LionAlert was my guide for many years, but they’ve been unable to make a prediction beyond the 35,000 they published for 2012.

NatGeo among many other organizations is appealing to your pocketbook to fund their missions to stem the decline. It’s a waste of money.

Although the actual numbers in decline might not be known, the reasons are.

Craig Packer’s many scholarly articles and popular publications sum it all: His 2004 study in Ngorongoro started the news that lions were in serious decline, building on an earlier 1996 study about how lions were growing increasingly vulnerable to viruses.

By 2005 Packer had the lions in the Serengeti well understood, and it’s really on the basis of this detailed although localized research that I think we can generalize to the continent as a whole.

Subsequent reports and studies would confirm that serious human/animal conflict was the driver of decline, not just building roads.

By 2009 researchers were no longer reticent about blaming the Maasai’s poisoning of lion as a major contribution to decline in East Africa.

Don’t put too much emphasis on that, though, because it’s really all a part of the same problem. Lion attacking livestock occurs not simply because lion have decided it’s easier than pulling down a wildebeest.

It’s as much because there are fewer wildebeest and the lion’s range is declining because of overall human spread.

Maasai poisoning lion is identical to Montana farmers poisoning wolves.

This decline will not stop by contributing to NatGeo, and once again I’m infuriated by so-called conservation organizations driving their general fund with appeals of imminent catastrophe that they claim to know how to stop.

Much better to support the more difficult-to-understand but lasting attempt by Kenya to list lions as an endangered species.

That was set back this summer when efforts to do so were curtailed, in this case mostly by NRA-driven hunting groups that would be most effected immediately. As a result, South Africa – a powerhouse in determining African conservation policy but also one of the last easiest places to arrange a lion hunt – declined to support the listing.

But Kenya battles on and so should we. I can’t suggest that human development be held hostage to protecting lions. But I can definitely tell hunters to go take a walk.

Be Good to A Samaritan!

Be Good to A Samaritan!

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, say some. Others? Perfect example of cooptive liberation. Confused? Read on.

There are good and bad everything, although readers of this space know that I think most charities are bad. I argue that most charities afford a way that their supporters can believe they’re doing good, when they aren’t really, or when the amount of good that the supporters’ resources could have done is squandered.

And so believing that they are saving the world, the supporters of the charity lose interest in their own governments’ foreign aid programs. Worse, they start to believe they can do everything well that really it takes a huge government to do.

Ergo, charter schools, pay-as-you highways, subcontracted prisons and the list goes on and on.

I’ve said it so much, but here goes again:

The world is too big and too complex to be run by a school committee.

The problem is that often the governments, as is the case in the U.S. today, are shrinking and able to do less and less. So what the old aid agencies used to do be able to do with their own staff, they can’t, because they don’t have enough staff.

So they hire a contractor … an “NGO” – nongovernmental organization. They are, in effect, hiring a charity.

At this point things often get squandered just as hopelessly as they do with a individual church or Rotary project.

“Samaritans” is a fabulous new TV comedy series that takes my feelings to the sarcastic extreme. It’s hilarious.

It explains so perfectly Herbert Marcuse’s “cooptive liberation” concept while keeping you laughing at each moment. The creator told AfricaIsACountry recently that he was inspired when he learned of a charity in the U.S. that held an auction to raise money to save the rhino.

The auction was of a rhino hunt in Namibia.

The other story, of course, is how professional Kenya’s entertainment industry has become. Conceived, written, produced, directed and using Kenyan actors. Incredible accomplishment and as good or better than most stuff we see here at home.

Ever since Buzzfeed carried the story last month the show has gone viral.

You can rent the first two episodes for as little as $5! Click here.

Take a look! Then, please, take a think.

Gates Gets Gross

Gates Gets Gross

gatesinafricaBill Gates is a very nice man captured in the last century, and his remarkable generosity grossly misses the mark.

The Melinda & Bill Gates Foundation just released Bill Gates’ “annual letter.” The Foundation continues to seek solutions to two of Africa’s crises, malaria and poverty.

The two, of course, are interconnected. Throughout the world the level of malaria infection is inversely proportional to personal income. I don’t think, though, that this fact drove the Gates Foundation’s mission development.

Gates and most of the world charities tackle problems as crises to the exclusion of remedying the fundamentals.

Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t as if these generous folks make crises out of situations in order to be good philanthropists. Malaria on an individual level is a distinct crisis. Hunger caused by extreme poverty has an immediate simple remedy when dealt with as a crisis: dinner.

But the problem with Gates and most of the world’s charities is that despite how rich they may be, they aren’t rich enough to tackle the fundamentals, and so they default to actions that deal with incidental crises.

Malaria is the perfect example.

Malaria was eradicated from most of the developing world without drugs or bednets. My own Chicago’s Fullerton marsh was a cesspool of malaria right until the great fire of the 1860s.

After the fire and a growing awareness that government had to step up, malaria was systematically eradicated from Chicago by an exponential increase in public expenditures that started with increased urban hygiene (better sewers and drainage) and radical use of crude oil to suffocate marshes.

Even at that time suffocating marshes was an ecological controversy, but the power of the public domain was much greater then than now. The majority ruled.

By the early 20th century, there was no malaria in Chicago. An early NIH study of the eradication found a number of additional socially progressive policies kept malaria from returning to large urban areas like Chicago, such as banning child labor.

By the 1930s malaria in the U.S. was confined to 13 poor, southeastern states that did not have the tax base to successfully eradicate the disease. So government came to the rescue.

The 1947 National Malaria Eradication campaign moved money from the rich industrialized northeast to eradicate malaria in the south, and was successful in doing so in less than a decade.

I suspect similar stories exist throughout the developed world. And the solutions employed then would work today in Kenya or Indonesia. But destruction of the environment (oiling marshes and later, using DDT) is no longer considered a tit-for-tat that might balance in the long run, and modernizing Nairobi’s sewage system is too expensive for even the Gates Foundation.

That example is a bit oversimplified, since in fact the Gates Foundation probably does have both the capital and wherewithal to modernize (at least once) the Nairobi sewage system. What I really mean, of course, is to effect a modernization and cleanliness that like in late 19th century Chicago was achieved by modernization of a public service.

Today Nairobi is exponentially bigger than Chicago was in 1860, and Nairobi is affected physiologically by what happens in Mombasa, Addis, Kampala and Dar, so fixing Nairobi without simultaneously fixing those other great metropolises would be problematic with regards to eradicating malaria.

BUT (and this is a very big but) so is the world’s wealth exponentially bigger today than in 1860, and that’s the point.

Were the public interest as dominant today as it was in Chicago in 1860, Nairobi, Mombasa, Addis, Kampala and Dar would be free of malaria, because the rich world would have fixed their sewer systems… (and of course, a lot more).

What has changed in the last 150 years is a disproportional amount of wealth has become concentrated among a few afraid it will be taken from them. There are not enough people in that pool of the paranoid very wealthy for any truly democratic or benevolent change to take place.

That isn’t to say that a majority of rich people, among which I’m sure Bill Gates is one, are not generous and intelligent enough to ante up. In this year’s letter, Gates castigates Americans for their paltry $30 annually that the U.S. provides in world aid.

But the power brokers within that pool are not the Gates of the world. They’re the Koch’s of the world. And the Koch’s rule. So long as there are Koch’s there will not be more than $30 annually per American spent on world aid.

So what’s left?

Gates. Deal with a problem as a crisis and not a fundamental, and that’s precisely what’s happened with malaria.

In October the huge multinational pharmaceutical Glaxonsmithkline (GSK) announced it would market the world’s first malaria vaccine.

The vaccine is about 60% efficacious. Not bad but incapable of eradicating malaria. It took about 30 years and billions of dollars to develop this. The beneficiaries are not exclusively people saved from malaria. It will probably in equal measure make the rich, richer.

(Note this cynical observation: If there were a vaccine that could eradicate malaria, that could be a big downer for the investors who paid to develop the vaccine.)

When the world won’t step up, when your own government or township won’t tax enough to fix fundamental problems, we have no choice: Gates and GSK become our only hope and it’s a very momentary, transitory solution that’s provided: a stop-gap.

And the powerful in the pool of the wealthy then distort those efforts to suggest they are successful in terms that claim governments can’t be.

And the cycle of mythology is perpetuated. Gates recognizes this. His annual letter is built on a series of “myths.”

I prefer a Warren Buffet to a Bill Gates. Frankly, I don’t prefer either of them in theory. There should not be super rich.

But Buffet often focuses on the fundamentals. Gates is an engineer. Or as a brilliant Dutch satirist pointed out this week, Gates treats aid like he treats Microsoft: self-perpetuating and growing and never completely tackling the problem holistically.

See Ikenna’s video below:

Will The Real Maasai Stand Up?

Will The Real Maasai Stand Up?

which real maasaiIt’s rare that I admire either a charity or NGO working in Africa, so when I do I let people know. If you’re considering an end-of-the-year donation, consider

The African People & Wildlife Fund at less than ten years old at its latest iteration promotes practical solutions to wildlife/people problems in Africa striking a balance for people that is often ignored by more purist wildlife NGOs.

And in the process of so doing has achieved a success that NGOs significantly older and far better funded have failed to do: protecting in an environmentally friendly way at very low cost Maasai stock from predators.

APW’s “Living Wall” is so simple it’s comic, when I think of all the money and science and startups that have come down the line for a generation trying to protect Maasai stock from lions to stop Maasai from killing them.

The Commiphora is a wild bush/tree that grows thick. By creating enclosures fenced with growing Commiphora a remarkable, sustainable barrier is created. And if grown through chain-link fencing (a huge additional cost, of course) the barrier achieves 100% success in keeping out cats.

Although Maasai are rarely nomadic anymore, they still graze their stock often far and wide from their homestead, bringing them home to the coral at night. Traditional thorntree enclosures were fine in the old days, when the human/wildlife conflict was less severe and when pressure particularly on lions was much, much less.

In the last several years scientists have recognized that the decline in the lion population may be more serious than any other large African animal. A number of factors have contributed to this, but the single most important one is likely human/wildlife conflict.

As Maasai grow sedentary and deed their land, they cease being nomads and become ranchers. Traditional boma enclosures are no longer appropriate, for animals or people. And chain link fences that are as high as a Commiphora grows are prohibitively expensive.

APW now documents more than 200 Living Walls working well throughout the Maasai Steppe of Tanzania, protecting more than 50,000 farmed animals.

I think one of the reasons APW was successful when so many other NGOs failed is quite simple: they put the Maasai first, not the lions. Rather than focusing on whether a strobe light or repetitive sound or electric fence was sufficient to deter lions, they started out with what was easy and convenient for the Maasai to use.

And basically they simply enhanced what the Maasai always did: instead of harvested thorn trees, which are too slow growing as live trees and near impossible to cultivate easily, they found a good, easy substitute. In other words, they asked the question, what could a sedentary Maasai use as a thorn tree?

Whereas the traditional animal focused NGO would ask, “What will keep lions away that won’t hurt them?”

Both are important questions, but one leads to a more rapid, practical and complete solution. One puts the Maasai first, the other puts the animal first.

Many NGOs have tried to integrate Maasai, particularly the youth, into anti-poaching and less aggressive pro-wildlife initiatives. APW focused on gizmos, like GPS devices and aps for phones that the kids love, resulting in greater success.

Many NGOs see Maasai as simply a problem: over grazing destroys the environment, wild life doesn’t. I venture to say most educated Africans feel the same way, and there’s this implicit feeling that these wandering farmers ought just put on a pair of pants and learn accounting.

APW dedicates a good amount of resource towards project officers who instruct Maasai on sustainable rangeland management. I’m not sure this is a good long-term strategy, since I tend to side with the majority of experts and Africans who feel there is no way that current East African domestic herds can be sustained. But the reality is that dynamic is not going to change quickly, and in the meantime, any better orientation to rangeland use and management will help.

Once again, APW takes the Maasai side.

There are other good initiatives in the APW program, but finally what I find truly satisfying can be easily seen by anyone visiting their website. So many NGOs and even East African government programs love to display the earinged Maasai resting on his acacia stick with a shuka wrapped about him and a few bracelets or anklets dangling from his appendages while he watches his goats.

APW gets real. They display Maasai kids in Polo T-shirts smiling wonderfully as they focus their binoculars. That’s the real world, today. That’s taking the Maasai’s side.

Truly Helpful Volunteers

Truly Helpful Volunteers

snapshotserengetiSnapshot Serengeti is working masterfully, and not just to help the science of the Serengeti but to unmask once and for all the increasing fraud of quasi tour experiences purporting to need the traveler to accomplish some scientific or cultural mission.

A plethora of tour companies selling travel experiences supposedly to help usually unqualified researchers or exotic project managers will never satisfy consumers’ demand to validate their experience by other than just enjoying or learning.

That’s often perplexed me. Curiosity should be enough to motivate travel. A good guide can in 20 minutes convey, inspire and make memorable a foreign experience a thousand times more successfully than a poorly fed grad student desperate to create a published study.

Indeed, learning first-hand is an even greater motivation to travel, and to be sure there are times that without actual participation in the mechanics of a situation, the understanding is scant. But as I’ve often written, that scant understanding is worth it, and attempts at full understanding by volunteering is usually compromised entirely by the amount of time the volunteer is willing to give.

EarthWatch is usually the single exception, particularly in Africa, but it is not always so. WorldTeach, International Volunteer, Cross Cultural Solutions and Full Center are examples of basically well marketed tour companies purporting to do good work abroad by organizing short vacations towards “giving” rather than “receiving.” And they are basically frauds, doing little good other than satisfying the guilt of travelers and building the equity of their companies.

In many many ways, they are identical to the tens of thousands of small church missions with very dedicated volunteers whose projects are tenuous as best, destructive more often, and usually producing a very bad culture of dependency.

But in addition to the early EarthWatch programs and a core of good ones the organization produces regularly, there really isn’t another pay-to-volunteer experience in Africa worth commending. Until now.

Snapshot Serengeti is brilliant.

The dean of African lion research, Craig Packer painted himself into the inevitable researcher’s basement of too much data. Like so many scientific projects, as money is raised for a goal it’s spent immediately, so Packer raised the money for 225 robotic cameras throughout the Serengeti that were motion or heat triggered.

The goal was to acquire so much definitive research about the whereabouts of various species throughout the year, that a truly definitive study of the Serengeti’s very fluid ecosystem, driven primarily by the great wildebeest migration, could be started.

But suddenly the study had 4.5 million photos, certainly enough to reach some at least initial conclusions, but no way to digest such voluminous data.

Nor has Google Recognition achieved the ability to distinguish between a topi and a hartebeest at 100 meters from less than a high quality lens.

Zooinverse to the rescue: “Real Science OnLine”

And yes, you can actually make a difference. And it doesn’t cost anything.

Packer using Zooniverse signed up 15,000 volunteers (in ten days) on line who felt they could identify African animals. A few, more qualified programmers wrote an algorithm created from the initial detailed study of volunteers to determine the likelihood that the identification is correct.

So by giving a certain multiple number of individuals the same packet of photos to identify, and correlating their answers with the algorithm specifically created for this specialist project, real data is mined at phenomenal speed.

In fact so fast, that the cameras are having a hard time keeping up with the refined results produced from the volunteers.

This works. There’s no fraud involved, and everyone involved can be assured that what they’re doing has real scientific value.

Congratulations to the InfoAge, the Serengeti Lion Project and Zooinverse!

Just Give, Damnit!

Just Give, Damnit!

googlesearchfoodSometimes, a week can’t end better: a long-held belief, a life-long mission, an endless struggle to prove the obvious … it just all comes, together. And so it did, today, for me:

GiveDirectly proves in real time in Kenya why charity is usually so bad. (Thanks to NPR’s Morning Edition for finding this one.)

Every time I criticize charity I have to quickly qualify the remark as a vital generalization that, of course, has exceptions. And then equally quickly, however, I have to point out how few exceptions there are.

My experience with charity has been mostly in East Africa, where for much of my life I fostered lots of it. When I was younger I was flattered, chagrined, grateful and often very proud of the projects that I created and which were generously funded by lots of organizations, especially Rotary International.

But as I got even older and looked back, I realized how bad most charity is, including I dare say, my own.

I came full circle, so to speak:

Long before I had the experience or equity to muster anybody to do anything, several of my first jobs were with international organizations in Paris, including the OECD and UNESCO.

Barely into my third decade of life, I was no analyst. I began as a typist, but over my two years I was given more responsibilities, and above all I had the remarkable opportunity of (not just typing the words of) but meeting people like Noam Chomsky and Jean Piaget.

These were the pioneer thinkers in world development, and from my point of view, they remain so, today. Their positions never changed. Mine have.

What I learned and discounted all too quickly back then was that to help the world, you had to first study Galileo.

You had to understand how big the world was, and how infinitesimally small any individual is.

That was a hard lesson for a young American in the early 1970s, particularly one who felt empowered by helping in a small but real way to end the Vietnam War.

And while the roster of thinkers in Paris at that time was overwhelming and diverse, I’d take a stab at summarizing an area of common ground: only governments can affect anything good and meaningful for societies to develop in the modern age.

Only governments. Not Rotary, or your church or your favorite foundation, or Toys for Tots. This doesn’t mean participation in those efforts is meaningless – not at all. The valuable fruit from the efforts of this type of charity is the possibility of creating a range of expertise.

(Theoretically, by the way, governments could also create this expertise if they had the latitude and unchecked funds to do so. But they don’t. In my radical older age I believe they should, and will, someday. But not yet.)

But that qualification which defines what private charity is capable of doing, creating expertise, means that most charities don’t.

The mission of most charities is not to learn from what they do, but to teach what they know. And that’s when they become destructive.

To summarize a myriad of thoughts and ideas on this, suffice it to explain that most charity work contributes to a culture of dependency. It becomes self-perpetuating in a most terrible way.

And this isn’t because the will or spirit isn’t there to do otherwise. It’s simply that you can’t engineer today’s modern society with toothpicks. It requires giant cranes and tunnel blasters and gargantuan staffs of people. You can’t build a skyscraper with a class of high schoolers.

And even the most affluent of us, even the Bill Gates of the world, aren’t big enough.

I’ve elaborated on this in particular, recently, as we learned about awesome breakthroughs in preventing malaria, a cause celebre for the Gates Foundation. But these breakthroughs have all come from government institutions, not private organizations like the Gates.

The perfect charity for an individual is thus:

Moved by the moral unacceptability of homelessness, a high schooler from the Brooklyn Heights takes the subway to South Bronx and helps Habitat for Humanity build a house for someone. She works her tail off, and at the end of the weekend feels pretty good as she stands back and looks at the new abode. She then walks back to the subway past hundreds of homeless and realizes how pitiful her effort was. She then votes progressive and dedicates much of her new free time to human rights organizations lobbying government for more subsidized housing.

That’s not the story of most donors.

Most givers are motivated if not principally at least significantly by the belief that no one knows better than themself and their small community how to help others.

This egocentric-mania leads to decrying government as a bad idea, since government is the ultimate reverse of egocentrism, the “we”. I suppose it’s based on the mythical American dream, that fantasy created by super American optimism that chooses to remember only the good at the expense of recognizing the bad.

The world is far too complicated for any single one or small group of us, or even wisely led foundation for us, to develop must less manage. If we are moral people, we must allow ourselves to be subsumed by the society we define.

We must trust government even as we work tirelessly to make it good.

That calls for an extraordinary effort, life long. And the beautiful antithesis of that is GiveDirectly, as simple as its website. You don’t have to click around very much, and you don’t have to think about a damn thing.

Just give.