Let them eat stats

Back in April, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade announced his latest new plan to revitalize the country’s agricultural sector, the largest sector of activity in terms of employment and production. It was the third plan in as many years. Previous plans, Jaxaay and Reva, were announced with similar fanfare yet failed to materialize into any actual activity, as if their existence was purely rhetorical.

Wade imagines this surplus of ideas to be a quality others admire — in his recent autobiography, he claims that French President Chirac “used to tell everyone that Abdoulaye has a new idea every minute”. Some might see such behaviour as a symptom of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, whose other symptoms seem familiar chez Me Wade:

  • Impulsiveness: a person who acts quickly without thinking things through.
  • Hyperactivity: a person who is unable to sit still.
  • Inattention: a person who daydreams or seems to be in another world.

(Source: Wikipedia)

The problem is that the ideas are not followed through in any coherent or consistent manner. Their motivation is that of an enthusiastic do-gooder who has neither the capacity nor the will to carry the ideas to fruition. The ideas therefore remain in a virtual world of presidentially declared wonders, immune to rot or verification.

The latest new wonder plan was called the Great Agricultural Offensive for Food and Abundance (Grande offensive agricole pour la nourriture et l’abondance), or GOANA, proved immediately fruitful in associations in my mind: GOANA/GUANO, an effective fertilizer from bat droppings. Also the choice of words echoed Mao’s Great Leap Forward of the 1950s, whose effect on improving agricultural efficiency in China led to an estimated 30 million dead. Not the most inspiring association.

Shortly after the announcement of the GOANA, huge billboards appeared, showing a crude photomontage of yams, green fields over which floats a runaway tractor and a plane from Air GOANA releasing shots of blue (=rain) on ready-to-harvest cereals, all blessed by the outstretched arm of the benevolent leader.

GOANA poster

In the following months, the GOANA seemed destined to be another stillborn, existing only in glorious speeches by the President. At FAO in June, during discussions to resolve the burgeoning food security crisis, Wade announced that Senegal would be self-sufficient in food within four months; to the UN General Assembly, he declared that, “The GOANA is a great success. I invite you to fly over Senegal: everything is green!” Indeed, the rains were good this year; nothing more can be attributed to the verdure; certainly not government investment in sustainable irrigation, improved market access and the like. Just good rains.

When worlds collide
But what happens when the wonder world of Wade’s ideas is forced to fit the real world where people have to eat? What happens if the actual production figures don’t match the objectives? Here’s the trick: hold a big party, pay your friends to come, and present forecasted production figures as if they are the actual results, i.e. before the crops have actually been harvested. It’s a tough one to pull off, but, as I witnessed last Monday, the thousands of supporters thronging to the presidential palace were happy enough to go along with the Celebration of Virtual Success, as Naomed described it in his hilarious post (in French): Happy with their free T-shirt bearing slogans such as, “The Godsend of GOANA”, and other inanities; happy with a free ride to the capital and a free lunch; happy with the banknote to pay for their applause. And in a rare example of superior female earning power, women actually get paid more than men at these spontaneously orchestrated events because they can make more noise and dance better in front of the state-owned TV cameras. There was no other news that day, by the way.

The final results of GOANA, miraculously produced before the harvests, were mind-bogglingly impressive, surpassing the objectives on the billboard. Further still, production figures for crops not included in the GOANA were presented as if they too had benefited from the plan (e.g. peanuts); and crops whose cycle extends longer than that of the plan, and therefore could not draw benefit from it, also found their way into the celebration (e.g. manioc and bananas).

So what? Who cares? Wade celebrates in a big tent when the news is good, and when you make up the news and manage to beat the real world with your virtual world, everyone is invited to the party.

The way that reality is manipulated with such carefree arrogance reminds me of Soviet-style propaganda and, more amusingly, of the jokes that it spawned. Here are some choice examples that I have adapted to present-day Senegal:

The seven miracles of Wade’s World:
1. There is no unemployment, yet nobody works.
2. Nobody works, yet the Grand Scheme is carried out.
3. The Grand Scheme is carried out, yet there is nothing to buy.
4. There is nothing to buy, yet there are queues everywhere.
5. There are queues everywhere, yet everyone has everything.
6. Everyone has everything yet everyone is dissatisfied.
7. Everyone is dissatisfied, yet everyone votes ‘Yes’.

:-)

“My people!” – Wade addressed the people by radio. “I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that for the next seven years we shall eat only shit! The good news is that it will be plentiful!”

:-)

There was an international competition for the best book about polar bears.

France submitted a lavishly illustrated volume titled, “Love triangles in polar bear families”.
England presented a treatise entitled, “Polar Bears and World Trade”.
Germany submitted 24-volume set under the title, “Brief Introduction to Ursus maritimus”.
The USA distributed one million copies of a leaflet announcing a sweepstakes, “Win a polar bear. No purchase necessary”.

Senegal sent three volumes, with the following titles,

Vol. 1. The Role of Polar Bears in the Great Offensive on Food and Abundance.

Vol. 2. The Happy Life of Polar Bears under the Sun of the Most Progressive Leadership in the World.

Vol. 3. Senegal – Motherland of Polar Bears.

To the barricades, James, and don’t spare the Porsches!

A few days after my previous post, residents of Dakar suburbs, Castors, Derklé and Liberté 06, took to the streets to protest against the prolonged and repeated electricity cuts. Actually, what pushed them over the edge was the distribution of double invoices from the electricity company, SENELEC. Yes, we give you no power and charge you twice for the privilege!

The next day, October 9, the riots hit Parcelles Assainies, Médina and Grand Yoff, where streets were barricaded with burning tyres and SENELEC offices were smashed to pieces. The general opinion among residents was sympathetic:

It serves them right. SENELEC has made us suffer too much. All our food has rotted away.
(Source: Sud Online)

The well-to-do neighbourhoods on the western coastline of the city have not yet taken to the streets — “Chauffeur, take me to the barricades … then pick me up at 11:30 for my pedicure.”

Nevertheless, the images of organized rioters was enough to provoke a reaction within the upper echelons of power, with the result today of a huge donation to SENELEC by the French Government and the World Bank.

Completely unsustainable, yet maybe just enough to keep the rioters off the streets until the weather cools down and the need for air conditioning declines, and in time for the start of the tourist season. After that, who knows?

For the record: electricity cut every day the last ten days from around 8 am till 4 pm. It came back on early today, at 13:30, so all in all it was a good day

… and I dint even hafta use ma AK *grin*

Update: power cut just before posting at midnight and is still off now at 11 am.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

One of Senegal’s main newspapers, and the best known outside the country, is Le Soleil. Its most remarkable feature is that it is government-owned, which means that its editorial independence is comparable with Pravda in Soviet times. All content is filtered to be pro-government, or else is simply ignored.

The two main themes are (i) things are getting better in the best of possible worlds, and (ii) some things are not so great but they are beyond the Government’s control and in any case they’re all part of the Government’s plans to bring further improvements. In short, we are in the world of Orwell’s 1984, where “bad” no longer exists when talking about the Government, merely “ungood”.

With the recent flooding in Dakar’s poorer suburbs, Le Soleil provided a number of excellent examples of my description above.

A headline such as the following sets the tone:

FLOODING IN THE SUBURBS: offensive to maintain the gains made
(source)

Another example from yesterday’s edition shows how the Le Soleil attempts to present a balanced view. At first we have a hint of discord from a member of a party other than the President’s:

In reaction to the recent flooding, the Popular Front appears to disagree with the plan to restructure the affected neighbourhoods.(source: Le Soleil)

However, what follows is a call to revive an earlier plan (Senegal is rich in plans; results, not so good) to restructure the suburbs, which had been shamefully ignored by the previous socialist government (boo!). That government was voted out of office in 2000, by the way, but is still a useful straw man to beat with all current woes.

By mid-article, the pretense at opposition can no longer be sustained:

Bacar Dia [leader of the Popular Front], who is also Minister of Sports [ah-ha!], remarked that President Wade went directly to the people in the suburbs as soon as he returned from his trip [on holiday in France and Switzerland]. He evaluated the measures that had been undertaken and clarified prospects, according to the Minister, who added that the Head of State will not stop while on such a good path. The Presidential Council on sanitation, held last week, is an eloquent illustration, in his opinion.

Eloquent indeed.

In spite of this persistent bias and distortion, I did find one article in yesterday’s edition that could possibly maybe be interpreted as an attack against the government.

Power cuts: Iba Der Thiam questions the Government

In the face of persistent power cuts, Professor Iba Der Thiam, [asked] “What does the Government think of the following suggestion of transforming the constraints of power cuts into a resource?”
(source)

It is a question truly worthy of Orwell’s 1984 — pure doublethink.

Thiam acknowledges that power cuts are inevitable [because …?] before citing the situation in Ethiopia, where the Government has to publish a daily roster of the times of power cuts and the areas affected. Such a programme would allow people to plan their days more effectively, Thiam explained at length; thus businesses could reduce falls in productivity and loss in revenue to a maximum (there’s that wonderful doublethink again).

Thiam seems to be a sly fox, however, because his real intention is perhaps not merely to “accentuate the positive”. In his final remarks, he adds that publishing a programme of cuts would allow people to understand that

all neighbourhoods are affected, apart from strategic sectors, and that there is no bias, or favouritism, and no privilege for social status or rich neighbourhoods, to the detriment of the poor areas.

And there is the rub, of course: the Senegalese Government cannot publish such a programme without revealing that such bias and favouritism are exactly how the cuts are managed (read previous post)!

So only in the absence of information can we perceive a glimmer of a reality that Le Soleil never shines on.

It’s a pretty weak light to read by.

Postlapsarian PNP: After the fall from grace

The recent general election in Jamaica was a close run between the People’s National Party, in power for 18 years, and the Jamaica Labour Party. While at least one of the sixty seats remains to be decided by the courts, the JLP still managed to squeeze past the incumbents with a four-seat majority.

Politically motivated violence had been anticipated; in the event it was relatively peaceful, at least in comparison with the 800 deaths attributed to the infamous 1980 elections. One death stuck out, literally, in last month’s election: a JLP supporter stuck his head out of the party bus and was almost decapitated by bamboo growing by the roadside. Stupid behaviour, and worthy of a Darwin Award, but actually not at all surprising if you have ever seen buses carrying party supporters to a rally in Jamaica: there are more people on top of the bus than inside – not to mention those hanging from the outsides of the windows, or those sitting on the bonnet or hanging onto the radiator grill … The bus proceeds at top speed down the centre of the road, swerving violently in time to the beats from the monstrous sound system, which takes up more space inside than the passengers. It is an awesome sight, in the true meaning of the word.

My dear friend, the Reverend Dr Philip Phinn (read previously), had predicted a victory for the ruling party. Alas, his divine gift of prophecy failed yet again.

I took a more prosaic approach to predicting the winners and losers by using anagrams of names.

Here are the best results

BRUCE GOLDING (leader of the JLP, now Prime Minister)
Budge con girl – an eminently respectable goal

or

Boring cudgel – True, Bruce is no Portia when it comes to rabble-rousing

or

Glib con urged – a comment on the huge investment in a media blitzkrieg. I particularly liked the ambiguous slogan, “Be apart of the change”, used in one of the many JLP TV ads (watch ad on YouTube).

Adding “MR” to his name gives us the more sensational
Cold, murdering B.G.

From the other side, PORTIA SIMPSON MILLER (now former Prime Minister), gives us
A missioner pimp troll – a savage comment on her getting too cuddly with religious crackpots

or

Interim liar pomp loss – The only Prime Minister never to have been elected. For “Liar”, see YouTube vid link above. And yes, she did enjoy travelling in high style when she went “a farrin” (overseas).

SIMPSON MILLER produces the pithier
No slimmer lips

or

Smell imprison

My favourite anagrams, however, are generated by the now former Minister of Information, Donald Buchanan. He seemed to be the only member of the Government that spoke to the public and the media, relaying matters from other ministries and defending the party from any criticism. Unfortunately, he was also the most antipathetic person you could imagine as the Government mouthpiece: at his daily press conferences, he would slump forward on his desk, wearily reading from a sheaf of papers, occasionally peering up over his glasses to cast a withering glance over his audience – he oozed total disdain and resentment towards his questioners.

Anagrams of MR DONALD BUCHANAN give a possible insight into the man behind the frown:

Dubland anchorman

or

Hardbound clan man

or

Nonhuman bald card

or even

Bad man, unclad horn

Just in case you take my anagrammatical musings too seriously, note that MS RIA BACON is only

A minor scab

Jamaica rundown

The opening match of the Cricket World Cup (CWC) 2007 takes place on Tuesday 13 March, at Sabina Park, here in Kingston. Throughout the last year, the complaints and criticisms of the organization of the event have dominated all discussions about the World Cup — lack of Internet access for pre-booking tickets, closure of public roads to facilitate cricket traffic, cross-cultural clashes between Jamaican and Chinese construction workers, poor drainage and seating facilities at Sabina, … the list goes on.

The least tangible, but most persistent comment is the cynical remark about the government finding money — that it previously claimed to lack — in order to improve infrastructure that benefit the CWC directly, and local communities only indirectly, if at all — for example, doing a complete repair and resurfacing of the road that leads from the airport to the cricket ground, and that road alone. The fact that the road passes communities that have never previously had pavements shows that it is an exercise in window dressing — even the gutted shells of abandoned buildings downtown have got a new coat of paint!

Finishing touches at Sabina Park

Where does the money come from? That’s about as clear as the coconut milk used in the tasty rundown sauce mentioned in this post’s title. One thing is sure, it’s going to add on to the already huge levels of debts owed by Jamaica (Read more …).

The motivation for the panicky activities of the last few days is to avoid embarrassment, whatever the cost. And I have to admire the way that the workers are working round the clock to lick things into shape. Each time I’ve passed Sabina these last few weeks, I’ve been impressed by the improvements in the immediate area (street signs, road surface, tree planting), all done at incredible speed. Now, as the realization grows that we are not going to make complete fools of ourselves, so people are beginning to relax and feel more positive about, and even proud of, hosting the World Cup.

The contrast with the previous months’ sniping and carping is striking, and made me realize how often Jamaicans tend to run themselves down and accentuate the negative. The “tall poppy syndrome” that exists in other countries is far more prevalent here. One infamous example was the death of popular windscreen cleaner, Richard Grant, who, through hard work and a positive attitude, had saved enough to buy a second-hand car. This created such envy among his neighbourhood peers that they murdered him. His sister still works the same crossroads by Devon House, and is just as charming with a friendly smile and a T-shirt with the text, “May I wash your windscreen, please?”

Envy abounds. No one gets ahead on merit, imagines the popular mind; it comes through patronage and unfair advantage, which is an attempt to excuse the failure of the envious to move forward. The result is a culture of victimization and distrust that is completely counter to the carefree image presented to tourists; the reality is that, for most people, “Jamaica No Problem” is just a slogan on Chinese-imported souvenir T-shirt.

But I’m not going to give in to the Jamaica rundown today. I’m writing this post in the hope that people will take a break from the negative and latch on to the affirmative, at least for a short while.

Fowaad selecta!

[audio:Johnny Mercer – Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive.mp3]

Maybe Shaggy could do a version and make it the CWC anthem. He-he