Since I’ve moved to Hawaii I’ve purposely avoided reading newspapers or even listening to the news. I was so inundated with news of the world for so long, most of it bad news, so the break was much-needed. But I am slowly becoming more interested in what’s going on in the world again. I am sort of a closet news junkie, but I mostly peruse headlines to see if anything catches my eye. I’ll lie in bed with my iPhone when I wake up and before I go to bed and read online newspapers. What a dork.
When the protests in Egypt began, I didn’t have any strong feelings toward it and for the most part was disinterested. The last few days, I’ve thought more about the significance of the revolution that has occurred there. Perhaps it is possible for civil society to truly change the status quo. To even overthrow a dictator of 30 years! Some of my work had involved “civil society building” activities and in a sense that is what community development encourages. It always seemed like a development buzz word without much power translating to what was actually on the ground. Part of my disenchantment with development was seeing how without proper governance, poverty will prevail. Corrupt dictators or leaders don’t create an enabling environment for economic growth. They often benefit from repressing their citizens or denying them basic public services.
I have begun to better understand the role of development: it is very limited. Donors often want to see district/provincial-wide, even country-wide, changes in the level of poverty. But the reality is, NGOs, or any outside organization, cannot do this alone. It has to start with the governance and leadership. The UN, World Bank, IMF, etc. etc. cannot do this for them. You can throw millions of dollars at a country but things may not change. (Prime example = Haiti). This is not new news for most people in this field, but I think I’m just now getting it.
The revolution in Egypt has sparked protests all over North Africa and the Middle East. It’s amazing to watch. I am by no means an expert or even fully aware of what’s going on. Though I can’t help but wonder about many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that have dictatorships or corrupt governments. Zimbabwe comes to mind. I spent several days with a Zimbabwean colleague of mine in Mozambique and heard horrible and heartbreaking stories of the decline of the nation due to Mugabe. If revolution by the people could happen in Egypt, could it happen soon in places like Zimbabwe? Sadly, I am skeptical. When people have been repressed for so long and the poverty levels so high, there is less capacity for people to mobilize. There was also a huge drain brain as many educated citizens were booted out of the country. A corrupt and non-functioning government, poverty, and lack of educated society is enough to stall any kind of revolution. But it does give me hope to see that perhaps one day it will happen. And I am beside myself to see that civil society can indeed create change. Despite myself and my somewhat jaded views, change can happen.