Looking at today’s TV news, I felt inclined to repeat a column of last June
We are back with Tom and Fred, this time invited by World Wide Network to form a panel on important daily political matters.
“Fred, how are we going to do this?”
“Simple, Tom, you make a point and I make a counterpoint. We never agree because the opposite side must always be right, whatever side you are on.”
“But if I agree with you because you make more sense, why shouldn’t I say so?”
“Because you get fired if you do. It’s like a sports game, boy. You’re not supposed to kick the ball into your own goal. You must kick me as hard as you can, regardless of whether I’m right.”
“But isn’t that ridiculous? If I make sense, you wouldn’t agree with me?”
“Of course not. That’s how it works. You have fans on your side, and I have fans on mine. Each side wants the other to lose as badly as possible. Scorched Earth. That’s politics. It’s a sports game, the American way. Each side gets paid for making crushing opposite points. Otherwise, the viewers get bored.”
“Which side are you on?”
“The opposite of yours.”
“But which is it, left or right?”
“If you show me yours, I show you mine.”
“But does WWN not want to know first what yours is?”
“They will only tell me if they’ve seen yours first.”
“Can we switch panes when you like mine better?”
“For the viewer, left of the anchor is right, and right of the anchor is left. Don’t confuse people. They want to see which side you’re on.”
“What side is the anchor on?”
“Tom, don’t be stupid. It’s WWN that pays their salary. They talk WWN’s side.”
“How much do they pay?”
“The more they like yours or mine, the more they pay you or me.”
“Do they give equal time?”
“They may or may not. If you crush me or them, they may let me pay back twice.”
“Geez, Fred, this is really like Monday Night Football without referees or line backers.”
“It is, or more like national wrestling or kick boxing, male or female.”
“So this is how people in Congress live?”
“And what tax payers pay for. Your tax money is like buying tickets for the games. And to beat up each other in the streets if you lose.”
“What about those election slogans then, stronger together or America first?”
“Well, Tom, those are essentially sports terms. The political teams fight it out, either to show they’re stronger than the other, or to become first.”
“So we must fight it out on TV too?”
“Sure, if you want to get paid. Not physically, of course, like that guy in Montana, but by blabbing better and faster than your opponent, while keeping a straight but very false smile, as if you are the friendliest bastard or bitch ever.”
“Do we train for this before we start?”
“Don’t have to. Just look at today’s TV and you get the message.”
“Which side do I chose?”
“Just wait which side the anchor puts you. Then, whatever he or she wants you to comment on, you take the left or right side of his/her point of view. The truth does not matter. Nobody knows what that is anymore anyway.”
“But I don’t know in traffic sometimes what left or right is.”
“Doesn’t matter, as long as you take the opposite side. You’re insured by the media.”
“Fred, I’m going to sign up and hate you.”
“Me too, Tom, I hate you already.”
We entered Bangladesh airspace on New Year’s day of 1980 for a four-year World Bank posting assignment, with son David (4 1/2) and daughter Samantha ( 2 1/2). From the air, the territory looked like water all over. The Biman Airways pilot came from his cockpit in his white robe, kneeled down, and bowed toward Mecca for his morning prayer. We hoped the first officer would keep the shaking aircraft steady.
Flying over, we saw rice field after rice field and more water.
The outskirts of Dhaka looked like an extensive garden. But when we landed, all hell broke loose: hordes of Bangladeshi young men offering their services. Our first experience with an overpopulated country where everybody is fighting for a dime (or Taka, the Bangladeshi money). Fortunately, World Bank staff had come to receive us and guide us through diplomatic immigration while our suitcases were loaded on a huge heap outside on an uncovered platform (nowadays that has all been substantially modernized!).
We were put up in
At night, with the full moon, the backyard was a dream come true for a Dutchman grown up amidst oaks and beeches. For Joy, hailing from Caribbean Guyana, it just felt like home.
During weekends, especially in December when the weather was dry with warm subtropical temperatures during the day, cool at night, the yard was a wonderful place for our kids and their many friends to have party fun. Below, Joy cutting another birthday cake, with head servant Paul looking on.
The kids enjoyed themselves. Our children grew up in a ‘multicultural’ environment.
Dave and Sam on the left, with their Montessori teacher Mrs. De Souza in the background and top right, Dave’s math teacher.
Striking features of Bangladesh were its ships on the broad rivers!
My portfolio concerned industry, energy,
We traveled monthly with a group of local donor representatives to Ashuganj in a diesel-powered train through the flat land covered with rice fields and small rural villages to supervise construction progress and solve project issues. Below is a picture taken from the train window, representative of the Bangladeshi flat land scenery.
Next came a natural gas drilling project (needed to feed the fertilizer company), a very
Because of the distances and weak road connections, many of my energy trips needed to be carried out by helicopter, which also provided a thrilling opportunity to see the country from the air.
I also followed American entrepreneurs involved in oil production and visited their projects. See below one of the rigs I visited.
Below the proud Bangladeshi Energy officials, hoping for a break to help their poor and overpopulated country (100 million+ at the time I was there, now grown to 160 million!, the country with the highest population density of the world. The majority is Muslim.) The fellow in the orange shirt was an American oil man.
Other field trips were carried out by road (with local office drivers, who were very good). There we met workers hacking bricks from clay, dried in the sun, and then pulverizing the bricks again for gravel, depending on the construction needs.
Two solutions: go back home or cross in a little boat, and continue with another vehicle waiting across the ditch, which we did and which landed us in a welcoming village with doe-eyed beauties.
They smiled at us when we left, after having handed them a few hundred Takas for posing on the picture.
After four years and many adventures, our two kids had grown up nicely. Here they are, in our backyard, in front of the poinsettia, with bikes we got for them on our R&R trips to Bangkok.
And farewell it is, to two of our closest friends, the two of us (Joy extreme left, me extreme right) with Jim Curry, Deputy Chancellor of the Canadian Embassy and his wife, Cynthia, who also hailed from Guyana!
Next: our travels to India.
THE LOST CHILDREN – LES ENFANTS PERDUS – ENFANTS DE LA RUE or STREET CHILDREN OF AFRICA.
Hélène Pieume, left on the picture below, was an essential Cameroonian staff member of our Transport Sector Project team. She worked in the World Bank’s Resident Mission in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, and after retirement, she started GivHope in 2014 in Yaounde to keep orphaned children off the street and help impoverished families find employment and a better way of life.
Their mission: One child, one family, one community …
Pieume Helene, who Founded GivHOPE in 2014 believes GivHOPE project falls in straight line within the framework of government’s guidance and the strategy set up in the Cameroon’s Vision Document for Development Horizon 2035 on the one hand and the Cameroon Strategy Document for Growth and Employment 2035, (DSCE) on the other.
GivHOPE wants to break the silence and takes the lead in the fight against social exclusion of street children by the implementation of local initiatives for assistance to these socially vulnerable children, including via the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Whoever has visited African cities has seen little children roaming the streets begging, often led by ‘pimps’ to collect money for them, and growing up into criminality and hopeless poverty. They are driven to cities from all areas where war is waging or parents have stopped caring for them. GivHope is a wonderful undertaking to combat this abominable situation. State ministries are trying to address the fate of these children but the bureaucracy is not able to handle it all and private organizations must help. GivHope is doing that and has developed into a sustainable organization doing much good, succeeding in putting poor children in school and finding work for youngsters. Some pictures follow below.
Seed money for micro-enterprises from donations.
Hélène with “her” children.
Hélène discussing with her team.
‘Espérance’, a young girl, providing for herself and her child with a “carry out” cookery.
Young mother with children taken care of by Hélène at GivHope.
Hèléne with a young man successful in carpentry work.
Participants in GivHope showing credentials on how much they achieved.
GivHope can be reached on FaceBook under https://www.facebook.com/Givhopeafrica
You can donate on their website! All bits help to keep orphaned children off the streets and struggling families and single moms to find a rewarding employment using seed money from GivHope donations!
This is a picture of Katoucha Niane, a model from Senegal, showing the eccentric beauty of African women. After living in Mali and Senegal, she moved to France where she started modeling and became well-known. She lived in a houseboat on the Seine in Paris and accidentally drowned in 2008 at the age of 48. She led a movement against the cruel custom of female circumcision in Africa, which is still practiced in African countries, especially in rural areas.
On my many travels in Cameroon in the early nineteen-nineties to review and improve the status of the transport network on behalf of the World Bank, I admired the 80-meters (260 feet) waterfall at Ekom-Nkam. Due to its steep fall, it reminded me of the Kaieteur Waterfall in Guyana (which is 120 meters deep and somewhat wider). It is a beautiful sight in the middle of the jungle because, as the Kaieteur Waterfall, its environment has remained natural.
Not far from there, we discovered a viaduct being built in the middle of the jungle for a road financed by the World Bank (!), where works had been abandoned because of faulty pillars and errors in the investigation of the thermal resistivity of the soil. A huge and shameful “white elephant” wasting millions. That was the point where I got very upset and recommended a totally new approach for a much more efficient transport sector management in Cameroon instead of the piecemeal, uncoordinated development projects. After much ado, it was accepted, though not without difficulty, by both the Government and the World Bank, and became the “Transport Sector Project,” (TSP), including the management of road, railway, shipping, and airline transport. Despite many setbacks due to bureaucratic resistance, it succeeded.
The pictures below were collected by Mr. Jean-Bernard Sindeu, then Chief of the Transport Sector Project Unit in the Ministry of Transport, who directed the critical local steps to move the TSP ahead.
On the road with the Minister of Transport, H.E. Issa Tchiroma Bakari (fourth from left, in yellow robe), a remarkably good man and supporter of the “TSP”. He is now Minister of Communications. The gentleman with the beard, Frenchman Jacques Bret (third from right), was the lead engineer-consultant on my team and a great friend.
Traveling…the many thousands of kilometers, spotting the bad sections and status of often absent road maintenance.
Conferencing stop with the Minister
What happens when roads are not maintained regularly, and trucks are overloaded. This truck driver did not survive.
Road maintenance/rehabilitation underway.
Rural women using the roads on foot to market their goods: we developed built-in separate project components to facilitate marketing and road safety for women.
A stop at a local market where you find amazing things for sale and lots of fresh fruits.
At the side of the road, you see a small class of children being taught or perhaps it was a ‘daycare center.’ Up front a curious young boy.
Our caravan stops at a road crossing with another market. A child wanders on the roadway. Children often roam the streets in villages but more so in cities. The poor fate of lost children in African cities is very problematic. Les enfants perdus or the street children (orphaned due to religious wars, sheer poverty, and carelessness of parents) deserves a separate blog. See https://johnschwartzauthor.com/blog.
A sector-wide project with five main components (roads, railway, Douala port, shipping and Cameroun air) takes many studies and negotiations to prepare. We often had more than 100 Cameroonian staff attending in the room and endured long days of arduous talks and tiring field trips. But in the end, it paid off.
All beginning is difficult.
Trying to make the point…
Interim talks with Mr. Jean-Bernard Sindeu, the Chief of the Transport Sector Unit, to bridge disagreements. Jean-Bernard became later Minister of Energy and Water Resources and signed some important agreements for Cameroon. Having identified Jean-Bernard in the early stages of the TSP as a capable Cameroonian coworker to become the Unit’s chief, and seeing him rise to the rank of minister was a nice example of “capacity building.”
Dr. Amadou Boubacar Cissé, who in his younger years was already a Director General of Public Works in Niger before joining the World Bank, ably advocated the importance of a coherent development approach of Cameroon’s road network. Amadou became later Vice President in charge of Operations of the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where I worked with him as well before he returned to Niger to assume the function of Prime Minister.
Another view of beautiful Cameroon and the topographical challenges of its road network. Most of Cameroon speaks French (official language of ‘ Cameroun’) but in the eastern part (along the border with Nigeria) English is spoken, all the ‘fault’ of colonial times when France and Brittain dominated Africa.
There are many more stories regarding the railway rehabilitation, the rationalization of port management and shipping, and fights (with Air France, a minority shareholder) over money-losing Camair, but the above seems enough to give an idea of how we fared in Cameroon. The project came to fruition in 1996, the year I retired from the World Bank.
Woman in Kenya
Sorry that ENHANTÉ had to be away for a while due to a surgery in the house, but we are back alive and kicking with more of Africa. Why? Because it’s so big and so intensely fascinating.
Let’s start with that EQUATOR! Learning geography in secondary school, I never dreamt of experiencing being at the Equator. A picture of my dad drew my curiosity even more.
This picture was taken near Pekanbaru on Sumatra. Dad was selling his world’s best Van Vollenhoven’s Beer in what then was the Dutch Indies, now Indonesia.
I followed suit at an “Equator” boot set up in Burundi, reportedly to commemorate the meeting of Stanley and Livingstone in 1871 about ten miles south of Bujumbura.
Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
I worked on Côte d’Ivoire from 1985 to 1987, definitely one of the most intriguing periods in my World Bank life. The country was led by Président Houphouët-Boigny (nicknamed “Le Vieux”), a remarkable personality. In the early nineteen-eighties, he designated Yamoussoukro as the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, instead of Abidjan. Yamoussoukro was his birthplace. The village was previously called N’Gokro and renamed after Queen Yamousssou who was in charge of N’Gokro at the time of the French colonization. ‘Kro’ means ‘village’ in the local language.
Houphouët was assisted by a French “Technical Assistant” not less illustrious than him: Antoine Cesareo, a gifted and powerful civil engineer, born in Tunisia, who became the Director of the General Directorate of Large Works, and with whom we dealt in all our transport and urban works projects financed by the World Bank. He was, among others, the supervisor for the construction of the Basilica of The Notre Dame in Yamoussoukro, a prime project undertaken by Houphouët. It is reportedly larger than the St. Peter in Rome (which caused friction with the Pope) and cost a fortune that superseded by far the Ivoirian budget. The cost became a bone of contention with the donor community, in particular the IMF and the World Bank, but if it had not been for Cesareo, it might have cost even more. I only saw the leveled construction site (looked like two football fields). It was completed in 1995. It has a capacity for 18,000 followers, but as a rule, less than 1,000 attend the mass on Sundays.
photo credit: Felix Krohn
Another interesting feature of Yamoussoukro was Houphouët’s palace. The whole family lived there. Reportedly he himself lived modestly only in a small part of the building.
More interesting were the crocodiles that populated the groove along the palace. They were a gift from the President of Mali (Côte d’Ivoire has no crocodiles) and were fed fresh meat every day. Once a gardener got too close, got caught and was devoured.
I took this picture in 1985 when Antoine Cesareo accompanied us to Yamoussoukro.
Yamoussoukro housed a huge hotel – also handled by Cesareo – and several other buildings, among others an engineering institute, all generated with the overview of Cesareo’s “Grands Travaux.”
Below a picture of the formidable Cesareo, signing off on an urban project we had negotiated with him and his staff (all French) in 1986. The great Cesareo oversaw personally most of the civil works, roads and other infrastructures in Côte d’Ivoire and became the major cost cutter and anti-corruption activist.
The amusing aspect – for me as a Dutchman – was that Houphouët insisted on French technical assistance helping him govern Côte d’Ivoire as he had no confidence in his African civil servants. French being the French – including the World Bank staff on my teams – frequently had loud arguments among each other, defending the service they were assigned to, the African staff just looking on, stone-faced. Even while negotiating in Washington – and Cesareo was a shrewd and tough negotiator – I had to calm down the French ‘shouting matches.’
I am signing off on our negotiating results on an urban development project with my good friend François Amiot looking on.
These particular negotiations lasted a whole week till late in the evenings. The last evening, while we were battling the final conditions of the agreement at 10 PM, it had kept snowing heavily over the Washington D.C. area. We didn’t know, but many commuters traveling home got stuck on the highways and had to abandon their vehicles. It was complete chaos. When we finished, our Ivorian guests could not find a taxi. Cesareo and his staff had to walk to their hotel in the deep snow. Cesareo on his black pumps! He was not amused, as we heard. I remember driving home that night to Alexandria on a deserted 395, lined with hundreds of abandoned cars.
Left, a glimpse of Hotel Ivoire (Intercontinental) in Abidjan Cocody where I often stayed. The next three pictures show the Golf Hotel located at the Abidjan Lagune. From its beach, I could watch the contours of Abidjan where I had worked during the day (shown below). When I stayed there in 2001 on a consulting assignment with the African Development Bank, Gbagbo overthrew President Konan Bedié who, in the early nineties, had been selected by Houphouët to succeed him (over Wattahara, who had been running the Government during Houphouët’s last days). I had to ‘evacuate’ hotel Golf in haste – with dead bodies in the streets – and could just catch the last Air France before the airport was closed. Gbagbo threw the Ivory Coast into utmost disarray for ten years until Wattahara (a former IMF Director) was finally elected to put Ivory Coast back on its feet.
Much of what you see above are state-of-the-art works overseen by Cesareo.
Above a few pictures of Côte d’Ivoire’s lovely beaches where one could spend the weekends, eat the best lobsters freshly picked from the sea, and watch Ivoirian parties with fanciful ladies dancing the booty.
Next time Cameroon