Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Senegal: The Unraveling

So, maybe the title of this post is a bit ominous.  Maybe it's a bit premature.  Maybe it's off base.  I certainly hope so.

I left Senegal about 7 weeks ago.  During the nine months we were there, we experienced daily and extensive power and water outages.  People were frustrated, since they can't work, but they were holding it together.  I wrote several posts about it, and all are here on this blog.

Things have apparently gotten worse, while, at the same time, President Wade, who is obviously so far out of touch with what normal people are going through, decided to introduce a constitutional amendment that, according to many, was designed to ensure a third term for Wade and his eventual succession by his son, Karim. Wade must be suffering from delusions of grandeur....I really cannot fathom why he would do such a stupid thing when people are so completely fed up with him.  In any case, the Senegalese, who are some of the most politically astute people I've ever met, were having none of it, and the proposal was withdrawn after widespread expressions of discontent took place across Dakar (some might call this rioting.  I deliberately choose not to).  The following week, widespread expressions of discontent took place in both M'Bour, where I was living, and Dakar, which were attributed to anger caused by energy shortages.  I don't really see the two bouts of civil unrest as distinct from each other.

Some pictures of what's happening are here.  And a short video:

My hope is that the current civil unrest isn't explained away by an "oh, you know how uncivilized Africa is" kind of answer. What's happening in Senegal is no surprise, and I really, really hope it doesn't appear that way to the rest of the world.  In my opinion, Senegalese citizens have shown extraordinary restraint, and they have shown this restraint while being completely tuned in to what their government is doing.

It occurs to me that not one mention of electricity was made at the Town Hall meeting on Sunday.  And maybe that's because the focus ended up being on agriculture, and people don't immediately think of the connections between energy and agriculture.  Maybe people think of agriculture as being inherently about production, rather than consumption.  But, there is no getting around the fact that western style agriculture is extremely energy consumptive.

Senegal is not the only sub-Saharan African country that is experiencing energy shortages.  Perhaps part of the reason that Senegal's energy shortages are so bad is because the country has been doing so well....they are succeeding just like they are supposed to succeed, but, oops, someone forgot that growth like that takes energy. Given the current and future global energy situation (in conjunction with the confounding disdain for renewable energy) as well as the ever-present issue of uneven water availability (which is projected to get worse if you believe the climate change people), the focus should be on sustainable self-sufficiency.  Establish that base first, and then there is a strong foundation from which to proceed.  This is the pragmatic approach, which I'll bet will resonate with farmers (and everyone in Senegal is a farmer, more or less.  Don't believe me?  Just ask a Senegalese).  Farmers are generally a pragmatic bunch the world round, and, man-oh-man, could the development Utopianists use a heavy dose of pragmatism to inform their visions of the future.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Absolutely Fascinating Article about Hunger and Poverty

This is THE most fascinating article I've read in a long time and challenges conventional wisdom in multiple ways about links between hunger and poverty and what it means to be poor. I highly recommend it.