Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Shackled Continent (Part IV)

 If you made it though the litany of thorny problems Africa faces, surprisingly we are only to page 28 in Guest’s "The Shackled Continent".  We have finished the Introduction: Why is Africa so Poor? The next 9 chapters include titles like, “No Title”,  “Sex And Death”, “The Vampire State,” and “Wiring the Wilderness.”  They are equally discouraging including explanations of Trucker Prostitution in South Africa, the demoralizing fall of a once great nation of Zaire into the  Democratic Republic of Congo, & the horrors of the genocide in Rwanda.  You can read the book to see what Guest has experienced.  

Let me share two experiences here in Kenya (not nearly as dramatic), but similarly revealing. I don’t share this to be mean-spirited, but rather to show that Kenya is still developing and I often don’t understand why it functions as it does.

A dental NGO (with Christian roots) contacted me about coming to Kenya last year.  Their NGO had success working with Rotary to set up portable dental clinics in Latin American schools.  Their clinics are staffed by national dental graduates who are required to give one year of service.  They have over 8 clinics and treat hundreds of kids each year. Two members of this NGO flew out to Kenya to see if this idea would fly here in Africa.  I was able to arrange a meaning with the Ministry of Health.  The NGO (myself in attendance) graciously presented their idea to the Minister and offered to donate the first two portable dental chairs.  What seems like a no-brainer in a country with big need (ratio of dentists to people is 1/378,000 in the public sector).  Why decline donations at the cost of your nation’s own children? It was met with silence.  And as far as I know despite several more requests to help in Kenya, the NGO never head back from the health minister. 

Between our short drive from Kijabe to Nairobi there are at least three police roadblocks in our way.  Spikes on the left and right, a few policeman with batons, and traffic funneled to one lane signify an upcoming roadblock.  If you are fortunate (which we have been so far) you are waved on through to Nairobi.  If the policeman feels so inclined he can direct you to the side of the road.  Apparently the police force is underpaid and it is understood that they supplement their salaries in “creative ways.”  Our good friend was riding as a passenger when stopped at a roadblock.  She was threatened to be thrown in jail for not wearing her seatbelt if she did not pay the officer a fine.  I know of another large  missionary family who was stopped at a roadblock for no apparent reason.  They were given a citation for having a tire that was partially deflated.  The driver (Dad) refused to pay.  The officer began to to arrest and detain the father. “OK, but you will have to take our whole family to jail.” Mom, Dad, and four children embarrassed the officer by spreading their legs, placing their faces against the windows, and raising their hands behind the head (even the four year old).    The humiliated police officer pleaded them to stop and quickly reneged his bribe attempt.

I could go on but with more examples but I don’t wish to tread on Kenya: a good country with great people.  Let's move on to possible solutions?  Next posts will look at what Robert Guest believes Africa needs to progress, a creative solution by Romer called “Charter Cities”, and my final take on this book.

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