My sister just sent me a clip of a 9 year old boy from Tanzanian re-enacting his favourite movie, the 1980s Schwarzenegger film called Commando.

The video is from an organization called Mama Hope who has created a “Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential” campaign.  I think this is such a great idea, and a great step forward for western NGOs to move away from perpetuating the image that Africans are poor, sick and in dire need of Westerners help. This really hits home for me when I show people pictures back home of Dar es Salaam; a lot of people are completely shocked when they see that I live in a city with sky scrapers. Part of this, I know,  is because their only interaction with Africa is how western NGO’s/Bono/the News portray it: babies with swollen bellies and flies circling them, surrounded by war and infected with AIDS.  This might be a great tactic to get short term funding, but this also completely ignores the diversity that is the 54 countries 55 countries of Africa (for instance, the growing middle class) and is not so helpful for long term development/international cooperation across the continent (not to mention potential investor/business confidence).

More on Mama Hope:

Mama Hope is a California-based nonprofit “focused on building self-sufficient communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.” The organization teams up with locally-based organizations in those communities and invests in “high impact, cost effective projects that meet their fundamental needs for food, water, education and health care.”

More on the campaign, from Mama Hope’s organizers:

Take the word “Africa.” Without thinking, what images immediately come to mind? War? AIDS? Genocide? Or maybe the vision of a small child with a swollen belly, surrounded by flies? Too many non-profits ask for your pity by depicting poor, helpless Africans. But like any stereotype, this portrayal has more exceptions than truth.

Mama Hope feels it is time to re-humanize Africa and look to the positive change that is happening. We’ve had enough of the tragic impressions and abundance of sad, oppressive imagery that floods media outlets and non-profit campaigns. It’s time to stop they pity and unlock the potential.
Through a series of thought provoking videos we hope to break the negative perception of Africa. We want you to see the courage, wit and potential of an incredible culture, people, and continent.


If I were ever to tell you to donate to an organization, I would tell you to donate to this one.

Thank you Boing Boing‘s Xeni Jardin for blogging this.

HT Rachel Reichel


I am really beginning to understand the phrase “Meeting Fatigue” for the first time.

Now that the Chief of Emergency post is vacant, that leaves just my colleague and I in our whole section to attend meetings that happen all over Dar es Salaam.  There are so many in fact, it’s hard to get any regular work done.

However, there are some things I have come to like about meetings (I won’t get into the things I don’t):

1) I have come to really enjoy the refreshments they serve here in meetings. In almost every long meeting (3-4 hours) you are given a selection of meat (meat balls, fried chicken, samosas), usually some recently roasted cashews, and of course, tea and coffee. It was really hard to get used to eating so much meat so early in the morning, but given that I usually skip breakfast it is definitely something to look forward to.  (I really resisted to make a meating pun) (oops).

2) I really like the silent hum of people talking and reviewing notes before a meeting. Call me crazy but it’s almost meditative. I keep thinking that if I had one of those radios that made sleeping sounds, I would consider picking “People quietly talking before a meeting” setting.

3) Sometimes you get to meet great new contacts in meetings, and see what other people are doing that are related to your field.  For instance, last week I met a colleague in a meeting and was able to tag along on his field trip the next day.

About this trip:

The trip was to Morogoro to evaluate recent activities UNICEF WASH-EPR (Water Hygiene and Sanitation – Emergency Preparedness and Response) team had in the region to contain a seemingly on going cholera outbreak. The main activity in the region was setting up a cholera centre and training staff to manage it.  We were there to see how it was progressing and do a bit of a “informal evaluation” of the project, as it was due to be launched in a few other regions by the end of this year.  Below are a few pictures:

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The rest of the journey had its ups and downs. Going out with people from the government proves to be eventful, to say the least. Everyone goes out really late here, so when I got in at night, I would go straight to bed and set my alarm for 12:00am so I could go out with them. Something I will only do once in awhile.

On Saturday, Kheri (seen above) invited me on a safari with him and some colleagues at Mikumi National Park. It was really awesome to get to see all the animals, I think I would have regretted coming to Tanzania again without seeing them. And, it was free!

I cannot insert another gallery, but this link has a few pictures from the safari. I was using UNICEF’s camera, so the zoom is quite terrible.

Photo’s from my impromptu Mkumi Safari:

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See the next post on why I got to go.

Constant power outages today! Even with a generator, our office has been without power for a significant part of the day … meaning that we can’t use the computer/air conditioning…. the two things that enable one to work in this heat.

To top it all off, today is also my supervisors last (full) day as he leaves tomorrow for Pakistan. I am really sad to see him go, he was a really great boss: very trusting of my work, always tried to give me interesting tasks, and really treated my like a member of the staff/family. That is really rare to find and unfortunately, a replacement will not come for months. But I am happy for him, the post seems really rewarding and much more exciting than here (for one, Pakistan actually has emergencies…)

Despite the power outages, today was semi-productive as we had a meeting at the PMO (see life lesson #1) to hand over some modems and mobile phones that we had procured. Sadly, that only took an hour and then we were back to the heat and no electricity.

By all means I am not complaining. We are really lucky to have a generator at our apartment. We have many friends that aren’t so lucky, and spend a few days a week without power and sometimes, not even water. On the weekend, I was house sitting in the nicer end of town and the power outages at night are even worse. I spent hours in the dark, trying to read with just my nokia phone flash-light.

It sure puts new meaning to this…

The Dark Continent

Besides that, the good news is that we have potentially found a new roommate!

Although, I spent the better part of Saturday trying to organize viewings —- I was only able to secure one. And this viewing, a North Western Tanzanian named Olivia, ended up being a very long conversation. I spent an hour with her as she tried to convince me to let her stay in the apartment for $100 (we are asking $550).  Her story, I am sure, is like a million others in this city: the traffic is horrible, it takes hours to get anywhere, she is always tired from travelling, she fears traffic accidents (which are frequent here) and its near impossible to find affordable accommodation in the city centre. I really feel fortunate to live where we do and that we are able to afford a nice apartment, and I do empathize with her situation…  but, sadly,  we can’t afford ourselves to compromise on the price given our intern salaries. So, I had to turn her away.

We did end up finding a potential other room mate when a women from the US called who is doing her dissertation research in Tanzania.  She seems like she would be a great fit. Here is hoping she decides to stay.

Haven’t done one of these in awhile, but I’ll try to keep it short. Please send me other articles if you find them for the next edition.


Sudan (deserves its own section this week):



As some of you may have guessed, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to write more. I have definitely been neglecting this thing, but hopefully, now that the holidays are over I can get back into a routine.

During my vacation, I had the pleasure of hosting some friends who are CIDA interns in Malawi. On one occasion, we grabbed a two hour dala dala and headed north of Dar to the old German colonial capital city of East Africa, called Bagamoyo. It was amazing. Because Tanzania was a main coastal destination for incoming goods, explorers and missionaries, there is a lot of history here — a place where many journeys began and ended. Most famously, it was where David Livingtone’s body was carried (5,000 km) after his death, so that it could be returned back to London.

In the city there are old museums and the ruins of a mosque from the 13C. But the most interesting part for me, was at a catholic missionary museum; this is where I first heard of a Canadian explorer William Grant Stairs. I am sure, like me, you have never heard of him.  The museum has this picture of him (see below) and a small description of his journey with Henry Morton Stanley (yes, the infamous explorer Stanley) from the mouth of the Congo River to Bagamoyo in 1889.  Stairs was only 25, a recent graduate from the Royal Navy in Nova Scotia, and completing a 5000 km journey across Eastern Africa.

When I returned from our trip to Bagamoyo, I started to do some research on him.  The more I read about him, and the more I delved into his history… the clearer the picture I got of this dark and twisted man. A lot of the accounts start with his more admirable accomplishments, such as, his discovery of one source of the Nile, the Semliki River or that he was the first non-African to climb the Ruwenzoris (10,677 ft).

However, it then the brutality of his expedition starts to shine through. For instance, he was wounded in the chest on the trek by a poisonous dart when he was shot by locals who thought their expedition was a slave raiding party — they (his expedition) killed hundreds in return.

I found one book that has his journal from his second mission in the Congo, where he is hired under Leopold II of Belgium to take Kantanga (an area that was not falling easily under Belgium control).  The journal reads a lot like Heart of Darkness, where you have a man who seems eerily similar to Mr. Kurtz.  I think for those who liked the Heart of Darkness and  have interest in this period of history should take the time to read this (although maybe not for the faint of heart).

One excerpt that was very disheartening:

For those still reading… I read one story that makes the man seem absolutely frightening. In competition with Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company, Stairs expedition set out to sign a treaty with the infamous Msiri. Msiri was a Tanzanian who had been sent by his father to Katanga to gain access to copper and ivory supplies. In a series of events which I will not detail here, Msiri then took control of the area and became increasingly powerful. Two other expeditions to the region proved to be failures.  But this is where it gets gruesome:

After three days of negotiations without progress, Stairs gave Msiri an ultimatum to sign the treaty the next day, December 20, 1891. When Msiri did not appear, he sent his second-in-command, Captain Bodson to arrest Msiri, who stood his ground. Bodson shot him dead, and a fight broke out. The expedition took their wounded and Msiri’s body back to their camp where Stairs was waiting, and there they cut off Msiri’s head and hoisted it on a pole in plain view as a ‘barbaric lesson’ to his people. Some of the Garanganze were massacred by the expedition’s askaris, and most of the rest fled into the bush.

Oral histories of the Garanganze people say that the expedition kept Msiri’s head – by some accounts in a can of kerosene – but it cursed and killed everyone who carried it and eventually, this included Stairs.He was ill with malaria throughout January 1892. After being relieved by another expedition, the Stairs Expedition set out on the long return journey to Zanzibar. Stairs was frequently sick but by May 1891 had recovered. On a steamer down the lower Zambezi he had another attack of malaria which killed him on June 9, 1892. He is buried in the European Cemetery in Chinde, Mozambique at the mouth of the Zambezi River.

It makes me wonder why he is commemorated at the Royal Military College of Canada and St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston, Ontario and in Rochester Cathedral near Chatham, England or why they named Stairs Island, in Parry Sound, Ontario after him.

Because everyone loves pictures, I thought I would visually show you what we did during our Joint Programme monitoring visit to our implementing partners in Zanzibar (don’t worry, I spare you the details).

For those that don’t know, the Joint Programme for Emergencies in Tanzania consists of  UN partners  to collaborate on activities in emergency preparedness and response. On this particular mission there were representatives from UNDP, FAO, WHO, UNICEF, and WFP.

This was one of UNICEF’s first visit to the newly named 2nd Vice Presidents Office – Department of Disaster Management (formerly known as the Chief Ministers Office – DMD)*.

*Why the name change? As previously mentioned, in Zanzibar’s new constitution, after the recent election the party which comes second in elections will hold the position of First vice president while the winning party will take second vice president.

Our meeting covered new Disaster Management plans and policies, and were able to watch one of the TV dramas they made to educate the public on disaster management. It was actually really good, and hilarious to see some of the people from around the 2nd PMO-DMD office acting in the video. For those curious, I will try later to post it here.

We were also able tour the newly built “situation room” and see the new radio systems (pictured above), provided through JP 6.2.  The situation room has new laptops, wireless internet, a TV — all which can be used for easier dissemination of information, coordination and response to an emergency. We have a similar one in Dar es salaam.

We were also able to visit local Shehias (head of local (municipal) government), where participants of a disaster management training program talked about their experiences (pictured above).

In the picture below, you can see the meeting that we are having with a female Shehia and training participants. I really like this picture because it captures the atmosphere of a lot of the meetings with local government. You find a nice big tree and lay down some mats. It feels like a real treat given the long days that we have in the office, much like the feeling when a laid back professor proposes to have the lecture outside.

Although we had a few more visits in office building, I sadly did not take pictures (offices do not make for good picture moments — well most of the time). Below is one of our last visits to an emergency preparedness warehouse that was recently stocked with supplies.  It holds enough for 7,000 people for the first 72 hours of an emergency. All of the items inside are non-food items (those warehouses are under WFP) or medicine (WHO), but with blankets, cooking pots, kangas, mats, tarps, etc.

I tried to keep this short so please feel free to ask me about specific activities, etc.

Sorry for the lack of posting. I haven’t had the most regular schedule lately with field visits and meetings, but I hope to start to post at least 3 times a week starting this week.

I thought that it might be fun to start my regular posting by having a themed week about Zanzibar. Last week I was fortunate enough to be a part of a UN mission to monitor the joint programme activities there. I will post on that, and also on news, UNICEF activities, and development later this week.

For now, I wanted to give a first impression (for some of you) of Zanzibar. While sitting in a cafe this weekend, I took pictures in black and white of everyone that passed one of Zanzibar’s famous carved doors. I hope it gives you a bit of an idea about the place.

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I apologize for my recent absence from here. I was mostly away from the internet for a couple weeks, as I was house-sitting for a South African couple. Thank you to all those that told me they missed reading this, it makes it easier to write.

For all those who don’t want to read about a few highlights from monitoring visits (which I detail below), here is a picture of a monkey that I saw in Zanzibar.

Hilarious Monkey

As for the rest of you, as you may or may not know, I recently was able to go on a Joint Programme Monitoring Mission, which began in Dar yesterday and will continue in Zanzibar next week. This means that I, along with 5 other representatives from UN agencies, get to visit the implementing partners of a few of our UN Joint Programme activities in emergency preparedness.

Some highlights from yesterday:

We went to the Ministry of Livestock and Development, where we learned about the use of Digital Pens to track trans-boundary livestock diseases (rabies, avian flu, etc.) across the country.

What a digital pen looks like

Instead of reporting monthly by paper and sending that information by mail (which can sometimes take months), the field offices in ten “hotspots” around Tanzania now send data by literally writing data into a template by using digital pen. They then use their cell phones to connect to the internet, and send that information to the Ministry of Livestock and Development, where data is tracked, mapped out, and disseminated. This is a very effective way to increase reporting, and thus, put the Ministry in a better position to respond quickly the spread of diseases. Pretty neat stuff. There is even some talk of using this to track diseases in humans (hopefully, more on this later).

We also went to the ship ports (harbour) to see some of the now upgraded laboratories for the inspecting of pests (rats, insects, etc.) that come from ships that are importing into Tanzania. It was interesting to see the process of what happens when ships enter, and how the grain and other imports are inspected. Before anything comes off the boat, they have to make sure that there are no insects or pests… if there are, the captain is advised to fumigate or use “Cat-Rats” (I am guessing they put cats on the ships to catch the rats?). If there are still insects after that… then the boat is taken outside of the harbour, to be further fumigated. This is not so ideal because of the threat of pirates, and you have to put the crew up in hotels. From there, if the shipment is off loaded, and pests are found, then they send information to the Ministry, who may decided to take international legal action. You can see how this would be a massive inconvenience for anyone receiving those goods, especially if there is a lot of money involved. I am unsure of how many cases are reported, or what they find, or what countries they have trouble with— that wasn’t the point of the mission. Our job was to see how/if the funds where be utilized and progress that has been made. I am going to try and see if I can go out with one of the inspectors one day, although that would be very unlikely.

Today, we went to the Department of Disaster Management at the PMO to discuss their current activities. This morning was a bit of a run around, because this meeting was cancelled and then back on again, but I am getting used to impromptu meetings. One of the best outcomes from the meeting (for me anyway) is that I will be going on another monitoring visit to Lindi next month to make sure the warehouse has been rehabilitated.

All in all, it was a great few days of visiting partners. It was nice to finally  be able to put faces to names, and names with certain projects and ministries. I also really enjoyed seeing the different offices… it reminded me of the photographer, Jan Banning, who took pictures of bureaucrats from around the world. We went from office to office of Directors in small offices, with paper piled on high, and usually a picture of Jakaya Kikwete smiling behind them.

I will post some more of my exploits and some international news items tomorrow and, if you are lucky, maybe some video of me being chased by a monkey.

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