Sunday, August 9, 2009


Each international development agency adopts their own district to nurture, develop and pump endless streams of western taxpayers money into. There is domain building. A closed wall of secrecy develops around each area, an air of competition hangs around the collaboration meetings, success stories are exalted and failures are blamed on the inhabitants inability and not the academic development models formulated in a pHd’s thesis.

As with all business sectors there is a unique language full of buzz words, sound bites and donor language. It all amounts to a great deal of box ticking for the bureaucrats. Does anyone ask the local people – Does it help?? So if you can understand the difference between an outcome and output, an aim, objective and purpose, monitoring, assessment and evaluation, sustainability, capacity building, and secure livelihoods etc….come and join the development party.

Muminobod is mountainous region in the South and the development child of Caritas, a German Swiss, Luxemburg equivalent of Oxfam, in fact direct competitors. After 15yrs of ‘development work’ they celebrated their achievements with a presentation day, shipping honour guests on guided tours of irrigation projects, clay stoves, women’s groups, handicrafts and if you missed anything it was all contained in a ‘pat on the back’ movie.

The day cumulated in a famous Tajik singer performing in the school football ground in front of 2000 Tajiks, (who did not dance) and ten Swiss, (who did dance) and one brit, (who hid). The busty singer, the Shirley Bassey of romantic tajik songs for the over 50’s, forcefully strode onto stage until she reached the penalty spot, whilst the bands casio keyboards radiated from the back of net. In disgust at the decline of her career since the Vegas circuit, she stomped off and demanded a stage; a floral carpet quelled her temperament and loosened her shrill voice.

All the invited starched dignitaries perched on plastic chairs in a horseshoe formation, far enough away to avoid any audience participation. The locals crowded behind in bemusement, whilst the Swiss ladies thought their own interpretation of Tajik dancing would be empowering for the on lookers. As the Swiss bounced around the 18yrd box, their initial impact appeared to spook the crowd who shuffled backwards with embarrassment and I suspect, an element of fear, However, the Swiss Tajik Dancing Troupe’s efforts were not in vain, their unique interpretations were aired to a wider audience on national TV.

After subsequent visits to Muminobod you begin to fully appreciate how far the district has progressed. Development is a slow and painful process, there are no correct models, there are no predefined starting points – health, education, infrastructure, economy etc… As for the people of Muminobod, they are not even native; they were shipped in by the Soviets circa 1970 and admirably strive for betterment and improvement with limited resources. So despite my first initial impressions of development organisations, if you can break into the domains and observe what is behind the trellis gates, ‘some good’ is being achieved behind the fortified walls of bureaucracy.

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