Knowing nothing about nobody
International operations in Africa often show the lack of mutual understanding.
Joseph (fictional name) lives at the former UN base in Tubmanburg, in Liberia. This is a small town that the peacekeeping mission (UNMIL) left a year ago, as part of its withdrawal. Joseph and his family work as security guards of this camp, which does not seem to have any particular use since it belongs to the local government.
One day, a convoy of peacekeepers arrives and stops to rest in this old base. After doing an inspection, the peacekeepers find an orchard and decide to harvest some vegetables and eat them. But they did not know that they belonged to Joseph and his family. Very angry, the old man goes to the peacekeepers and explain them, with some language barriers, that these were his.
– You have not even asked for permission! -exclaims.
Shortly after, the peacekeepers come back with olive oil, juice, medicines… everything for him. They apologize and leave ashamed. And when the troops finally leave the compound, Joseph gets upset again.
– Very good. You gave me back what you took from me. But now you are leaving without giving me anything for real?
Too late. The convoy is already departing and the peacekeepers look at him from their vehicles with disconcerted faces. Joseph has no more words and waves to them without understanding anything.
The situation is a good representation of what happens when the international community operates in territories where most of the people know nothing about nobody. And neither side seems to make any effort.
Liberia opens a new political era, far from the fratricidal war of 15 years ago
After two years covering the nonsense of war and hunger in South Sudan, where there is little room for optimism and a discouraging repetition of humanitarian misfortunes, I landed a month ago in Liberia where the context is completely different and, although not ideal, it seems a real breath of fresh air. George Weah, known as a former soccer star, is now the president of his country. For the first time, the inauguration ceremony on the 22nd was hold in the largest stadium in Monrovia. A gesture for more than 30,000 people who could witness, and mostly celebrate, the beginning of a new political stage. In a country where corruption and inequalities are still constant, I find that hope and the desire to move forward change the way to look at Africa. I really needed it.
Lessons given by children in South Sudan always put things in their place.
Charged batteries, empty memory cards, clean camera and lenses, notebook and pen, bottle of water, a hat… All ready for a new day in South Sudan. Today I’m working for UNICEF, the UN agency that protects children rights around the world. We are going to report on hunger and malnutrition that many families suffer in this country, so that the international community becomes more aware and helps with more money. The cause is legitimate enough to allow me to work with some pride. We arrive in a house where women and children smile. Photographs come out easily because there is honesty and sincerity in that house. Children express their feelings openly. Like the smile of one of the girls who comes to me with open arms. I feel beloved. “Nice!”, I think when I understand that the girl, in her own way, comes to thank me for the work I’ve been doing for years. I interpret the girl honours photography as a tool for awareness. The girl reaches my legs, grabs the pants and, keeping her smile, looks up to me and literally says: “White man, you came to bring us food, right?”.
In my career, I have learned how important the body language is in photojournalism. This week, this lesson has been confirmed.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir is standing alone in a large meeting room of his office, exposed to cameras and a group of journalists, some of who are asking him inquisitorial questions.
After about thirty seconds that seemed long and likely deliberate, his guest, the United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, one of the most important figures in the Donald Trump administration, finally arrives. And she was walking quickly, with firm decision, with an evident self-confidence, extending smiling her hand with a touch of supremacy not very obvious in order to not to break the diplomatic protocol. And she was nearly dominating the President, who was still in a waiting position.
The journalists do not know what happened and what was said in the meeting between these two important politicians. But the language of their bodies explained some things. A language that was photographed for the public opinion, which surely drew its own conclusions.
Hungry to learn
The students’ motivation in South Sudan is not satisfied due to a very poor educational system.
Hunger in South Sudan is a very popular truth. And the poor quality of education is another, surely not so well-known. A system that is based on a senseless repetition of words, where teachers do not show enough capacity and students do not have good education materials, it is sad to see the level of learning in classrooms ends up being insignificant, mostly in rural areas.
This is why the words from a young student from a very small school in Bunj, in Maban region, are really shocking:
– There are two things I really like in the school.
– Which are?
– Learning English, because I will be able to speak with foreigners who come to see us.
– And the second?
– This cup of sorghum I have in my hands.
It is overwhelming the motivation that children have to go to school. Apart from the desire to eat, they are hungry to know more and more. But if there is not a rapid and substantial improvement in educational resources and teachers’ capacity, the great opportunity of turning an entire generation into the hope of changing this country will be missed.
You can read more about it in an article recently published in SEGRE newspaper (in Catalan language).