When We Were Missionaries:
NED workers in the Good Old Days
Reading is believing... Highly recommended a three-part series in the Washington Post, "Yemen: Exporting Democracy" http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/17/AR2005121701237.html continued in Monday and Tuesday. It's certainly should be read by homeless/unemployed social scientists ISO Welfare Hotel. There is one in Washington, DC and it's called the Democracy Promotion Industry. in fact, there are many of those in the Capital of the Empire these days: NDI, AID, NED, Shmed... who'll provide you with hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to waste on such projects as conflict-resolution workshops in Yemen. I kid you not... Yes, read about one of these lucky winners, Robin Madrid, who sounds like one of the cool, mature ladies who publish personal ads in the NYROB:
She has been married several times, first to a Chicano activist, then to an Iranian Marxist, then to a development specialist with the World Bank. Before NDI, she worked in Washington, Indonesia and various parts of the Middle East, where she dodged stones thrown by young boys whose anger she tried to understand, and never learned Arabic, something she continues to regret.
She chews gum constantly, likes jazz, likes beer, reads Anthony Trollope and misses pork. She always introduces herself as an American. She believes in democracy and in American efficiency. She likes it when the staplers in the supply room are in a neat line, speaks endlessly about "transparency" and "capacity building," says that "I'm living a life I'm proud of," and every so often, when Yemen gets to her, as it inevitably gets to everyone, including Yemenis, she announces, "I'm going to be quiet for a few minutes" and shuts her office door. And then 10 minutes later opens it and gets back to work.
"Dr. Robin" is what the sheiks started calling her after she told them she has a PhD in anthropology."
"typical work of democracy promotion: Working with Yemen's various political parties. Trying to increase the political participation of women, who exist throughout much of Yemen as shadows. Trying to help Yemen's marginalized parliament, where one day, a cartoon circulates of President Bush and Saddam Hussein sitting next to each other washing their socks over a caption that reads, "Saddam washes the shame of the Arabs and Bush washes the blood of the innocents."
She worked with that parliament, worked with those women, built a good relationship with the government, stayed late, came in on weekends, oversaw a $2 million annual budget, increased her staff from five to 23, and watched democracy in Yemen inch forward, or since it's hard to tell sometimes, maybe backward. Unlike development work, in which a school is either built or it isn't, or charitable work, in which a village is either fed or it isn't, democracy work is hard to quantify. Either direction, though, it was work she loved, if not for the realities then for the possibilities."
And then she came up with this great idea:
"One day in spring 2004, however, this began to change when several sheiks from Yemen's most isolated governorates, one of which is called Al Jawf and another of which is called Marib, approached NDI, said they were starting an organization to stop revenge-based killings, and asked for help. What surprised Madrid wasn't the request, because she frequently is asked to help, but that sheiks from such places would make contact with a U.S.-based organization.
What is known about Marib: It is where, in 2002, a pilotless U.S. drone being controlled remotely by the CIA fired a missile into a car on an isolated road, incinerating six suspected al Qaeda terrorists.
What is known about Al Jawf is even less. It is always described the same way, as a lawless place beyond any government control -- and a place Americans never go.
Madrid's answer was no, with an explanation that NDI's mission is to work with parliaments, women's groups and political parties, not to start organizations.
But the anthropologist in her was curious enough to suggest a meeting with some of the sheiks so they could tell her about their lives. A first meeting led to a second, and then a third. Madrid learned about the lack of functioning schools and health clinics, the lack of police and courts, the lack of pretty much everything. They told her about how the simplest disagreement between two members of different tribes could result in words being exchanged, shots being fired, roads being blocked, villages being evacuated, houses being destroyed, lives being lost and full-blown wars. They explained that families of the dead are supposed to be compensated with blood money, but since no one has any money, justice revolves around revenge killings, which is what they were hoping to solve.
The meetings continued through the spring, continued through the summer, and were still happening on Sept. 2, 2004, when, in Washington, the Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, which is part of USAID's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, announced it had $8 million to spend on projects to help end conflict and spread democracy to "geo-strategically important" countries and was now accepting applications.
The notice appeared on a Web site called Fedgrants.gov about 9 a.m.
A few minutes later, at NDI's headquarters on M Street NW:
"Sent: Thursday, September 02, 2004 9:16 AM. An announcement was just posted on FedGrants for DRL RFP for conflict management, mitigation and reconciliation. . . . Not sure if folks at NDI would be interested, but at least one of the objectives listed is related to our work. . . ." NDI wasn't the only organization monitoring Web sites for newly available government money; in Washington, such trolling is a profession. There was no way for NDI to know how many other people at competing organizations had seen the notice, but a guiding rule in a business as competitive as democracy promotion is to act fast. Soon a meeting was underway to decide which of NDI's country programs would formally apply for the grant, and soon after that Yemen became the choice.
That gave Madrid and a colleague from Washington two weeks to come up with a proposal. Which of course turned out to be about the sheiks because by this point Madrid had become convinced of their sincerity. "Of course they want money," she said. "Poor people want money. But they also want us to help them project their voice, they want training and they want access to the rest of the world."
For $743,002, it said, NDI would shape tribal men from Al Jawf, Marib and a third governorate called Shabwa into an organization with an executive board, officers, bylaws, a code of conduct and various committees. It would assist them in setting up offices. It would teach them how to keep records. It would train them in conflict resolution. It would support them in negotiating truces, setting up no-shooting zones around places such as health clinics and schools, and organizing seminars in conflict prevention. And it would help them establish credibility with international donors so that at the end of NDI's program they would be self-sufficient enough to attract money and continue on their own.
The proposal was 16 pages long. Single-spaced.
"Perhaps overly ambitious," Madrid would acknowledge later."
Well... you should read the rest. Let's just say that it all proved to be a Big Dissaster, especially since the President of Yemen is aware that he can stay in power by apllying a strategy of Divide and Rule. In short, he benefits from conflicts between tribes (Robin, you should have studied Public Choice Theory and all of that wouldn't have come as a shock! shock! shock!:
"And Robin Madrid was in her house, blinking back sudden tears. She had been talking about the success of her other programs, that maybe there would be other ways to keep working with the tribes, that presidents can't be ignored, and that, "I'm a guest in this country, and that's a really important thing." She had said, "If this were the 19th century, what I would be doing is missionary work for Christianity. Now I'm a missionary for democracy, and the only way to do that is with a little humility. Be not so damn sure I'm right. Because if I'm wrong, I'm going to be on an airplane out of this country, and they're going to have to clean up the mess. That really ought to encourage some fear and humility on my part." She had said of the work she'd been able to do with the tribes, "We know them better, and they know us better, and that's a critical basis for the future," and had said of her program: "It was our highest-risk program, and it failed. In terms of what we were funded for, it failed."
Okay. So now she is a missionary. Fine with me, Robin. But why exactly should I be paying for your missionary work?