just do it (better) – ii

I said yesterday I hope not to need to see teams like this ever again. Before I get to that, let me give you a quick rundown on what they’re doing. Read the rest of this entry »


just do it (better)

Donors and aid beneficiaries want different things. Everyone moans about it eventually. But it comes to a point where it’s a fallacy. What donors want and what beneficiaries want isn’t completely mutually exclusive. I think there’s a big, fat, intersection in that venn diagram. The trick is to get a hold of something within that space, and give it a tug. No, you’re not The One. No, you’re not going to cast the Ring of Aid into Mount Doom. But you still might just do something useful. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

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He took a pull on his beer.

I wonder, could you help explain to me something.

Sure, I said.

You have been living in the UK.

I have.

What is the difference with the words, English and the British?


They seem to be the same. But they are not the same.


I took a pull on my beer.

Okay. Britain is like the whole island. Technically, everyone from there is British.


But only some of them are English. The ones who are English, you can call them British or English, and they don’t really care. But there are people who are from Britain, but are not English. And if you call them English, you will make them very upset.


He was thinking pretty hard about this.

So, this is sensitive then. But why?

I’m really not sure. I think they used to fight a lot. And the ones from Scotland still want to break away, to have their independence from the English.

They had a war?

Yeah, I guess so.

It must have been a bad war. But I have not heard about this. When did it happen?

Umm. I’m not really sure… but about three hundred years ago I think.

Three HUNDRED years?

My Congolese colleague sucked his teeth.

Must have been a bad war.

On the epistemology of Christmas

Do they know it’s Christmas? Isn’t that such a presumptuous question? And I don’t mean for all the usual boring oh-they’re-so-ignorant-about-Africa ranty reasons it would be pathetically easy to recycle. I think it’s presumptuous because it assumes that the speaker, the implicit we, know ourselves when it is Christmas. But how do we know that it is Christmas? What is the foundation of this knowledge?

Traditionalists will point to dates on calendars, births of saviours, or even notices on the church noticeboard of scheduled “Christmas” church services and the like. But philosophically speaking, these are all a bunch of pretty dodgy empirical manifestations. Dates on calendars are subject to the whims of tyrants and bureaucrats; alleged birthdays of saviours are notoriously unreliable; and as for church services, well… which tradition of church? Catholic? Orthodox? Maybe neither?

I’m afraid no certainty lies with any of these. Fortunately over the last week, I have discovered that the true path to a profound and indelible determination of whether or not it is Christmas is both constructivist and yet uncomplicated, and requires merely the following.

  • 250g unsalted butter.
  • 350g muscavado sugar.
  • 4 cinnamon sticks.
  • 1 tsp ground cardamon.
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract.
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 8 cloves
  • 2 litres water.
  • 1L Myers dark rum at the bargain price of USD $14 from Jomo Kenyatta Airport.

Bring together these ontological devices in a large pot, and simmer on a very low heat for a couple of hours. Then, merrily consume in the company of friends and/or family.

Perhaps after the first cup, perhaps after the fourth, you will find within you the sure and certain knowledge that, regardless of what any priest, president or printed notice says, it is undoubtedly Christmas. Mmmm…. Christmas… in my mouth.

And then you will need a nice nap.


WordPress sent me a nice report saying there had been 10,155 readers of this blog over the course of 2011. Thank you all for stopping by, linking here, and chatting on twitter.

With a mammoth body of work of 14 posts over 12 months, the most popular posts were The asterisk is everything, The circle(s) of life, and Once I gave a man my shoes. I promise to continue providing some absurdly intermittent blogging in 2012; indeed blogging so infrequent that averaged over the next 365 days, it might be more accurately be categorized as not-blogging.

Such is my respect for the mores of the readership indicated above, I also commit to an increased focus upon punctuation, Elton John, and fashion-crime footwear.

aid works

Aid works? Really?

Well, what’s aid?

Come to think of it, what’s work?

What is aid work?

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Solving the Relief/Development Divide, part 3: Shocking Conclusions

I’m publishing a short series of posts as the definitive word on tackling the root cause of the failures of humanitarian and development practitioners to reconcile, resolve and otherwise deal with their differences in approach.  There is certainly much more that can be said, and probably volumes that can and will be written, but it will all be wrong.

Let us recap.

In part one of this series, we established that the abject failure of economists, anthropologists, sociologists, ethnologists, political scientists, engineers and every stripe of sun-weathered dusty-booted aidworker to resolve the yawning chasm between relief and development into a Grand Unified Theory of aid, is down to the fact that Disaster Risk Reduction advisors and practitioners are some of the most miserable buggers to walk the planet.

In part two, we empirically established that it is nevertheless possible to be wildly successful by making beautiful noises about miserable buggers.

And so now we turn to part three, the conclusion of this series: shocking conclusions.

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