Saturday, June 19, 2010

Report From The Field - Dr. K's World Cup Diary

Regular readers of this “newsletter” (all three of them) are aware that I am in South Africa at the moment, commuting between Johannesburg, Cape-Town and Durban attending life-saving meetings about trafficking that also happen to coincide with some of the more interesting games in the World Cup. I am also attending the odd meeting in Rastenberg (the proximity to Sun City, a nearby monument of tastefulness, is reassuring) but I do try to stay away from Blumfontein and Nelspruit, where driving around in a white landcruiser among the millions BMWs gracing the roads of South Africa makes one liable to be mistaken for a farmer, an indignity no man in my position could risk.

The fortunate timing allows me to make use of my WorldCup VIP tickets - graciously offered by the organizers as a token of their commitment to oppose trafficking, extracted with well designed guilt trips - and watch some of the games from obligatory "Hospitality Suites" where I not only find shelter from the nasty elements, but also afford a good view of the game, along with complementary snacks and beverages.

A man of my status has little time for frivolous games involving uneducated people running after a ball but I wouldn’t want to offend the organizers. Besides, someone needs to keep an eye out for the traffickers, who will surely make use of this event to ply their unspeakable trade.

Speaking of trade – at one of the games last week I was positively impressed by the swiftness with which officials have apprehended and ever so slightly slapped around a lowly criminal attempting to sell coffee during the game. Sponsors and organizers cannot afford to lose potential business by allowing the competition of small-time entrepreneurs spoiling a perfect opportunity to rip people off shamelessly.

As an enthusiast myself, I cannot but marvel at the beautiful act of creating a solid fallacy for the masses to believe that it is all about the game, in order to lock-in an average of 30,000 wallets in a confined area the size of a small city, 3 times a day, for 3-4 hours at a time and shove expensive shit down their throats. And I can only sympathize with the strategic geniuses behind this scheme who see their plans threatened by some dude selling coffee out of 5 liter flasks, not to mention the terrorist-like criminals trying to flog wire-and-beads souvenirs to the masses, thinning out the demand for sponsored-approved vuvuzelas.

Once arrived at the hospitality suite, I fortified myself with a few shots of free beverage (the sponsor-approved vintage of course) after which I took to the galleries, trying to get some street cred – nothing like rubbing shoulders with the commoners. The fine people manning the divide between dignified people like me and scum warned me that once stepping on the other side I will be lost unless I keep my lanyarded pass visible. Then they stepped aside and I was by myself among the masses:
It was a viciously cold night (what? cold in "africa"?) and my hand-tailored silk shirt and beige Gucci 3-piece, specially tailored for Africa, was not doing me any justice. I looked around and I realized that the locals have developed truly innovative ways to protect themselves from the cold, such as applying a randomly colored substance to their skin, hugging stuffed animals and jumping around in crowded groups:

(The Local Solution: a right mix of face-paint, stuffed lions and traditional, elaborate "moves")

Like everything else in life, football thrives on competition and in this particular instance the competition was between people favouring yellow and green:

And some favouring blue, vastly outnumbered but not less loud:

Check out the odd-dude-out, supporting red, which can only be the color of the referee. My kind of guy:

(me, i support the referee)

With my street-cred reinforced by the short walk among the masses, I rushed back in the warmed hospitality suite, where, further fortified by the free beverage deal, I proceeded to watch the game. Here is the view from the suite:
(at least i didn't pay for the view)

Not being able to see much, plus the comparative quietness of the suite, the warmth and the right mix of full stomach, comfortable arm-chair and free-flowing beverages have induced a heavy sleep in this over-worked aid professional, causing me to awaken to the gentle poking of a hospitality hostess, pointing out an empty stadium and a pitch populated by people with rakes fixing the turf. I asked her what the score was, and it turns out the wrong team won, i just forgot which one that was.

Well, them and the referee of course - there is a lesson right there for everyone in our business sector.
One detail that needs mentioning is that unlike the masses outside, queing in the cold for the luxury of urination, I had readily access to a toilet facility right there in the suite. And that toilet, very much like similar facilities I have visited in other hospitality suites at this wold cup (as well as in some of the choicer hotels I have been accommodated in) had the extra touch of being fitted with speakers continuously playing that cheesy song with the flag, while silent LCD Screens incorporated in the walls continuously showed Shakira in her hybrid Mobutu-Tahiti-school-of-fashion outfit (everyone knows you cannot go wrong when combining zebra patterns with waguely Polynesian-looking dress when attempting to nail an "african" visual), doing her part in promoting the event.

Is that a coincidence? I think what happened is it was a competition between the two favourite songs and a wise peace-maker among the organizers proposed to show the more pleasing image on the screens (skin sells, stupid), while playing the other song as a soundtrack. everybody happy and my instincts immediately recognized the familiar Win-Win, and as we speak I am trying to track down the person who came up with this idea for a swift head-hunting.

HRI needs people like that to keep the edge.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Sound of a Million Vuvuzelas: More Trafficking Work at The World Cup and A Journey Down Memory Lane, to Kinder Times And Places

As mentioned earlier “trafficking” has been good to us this World Cup, which is why this post will be a short one, typed during a Trafficking Working Group, where I kill time between good matches “facilitating” discussions around our need as stakeholders to coordinate our “response”.

The meeting should finish just in time for me to attend the Italy-Paraguay game tonight, allowing of course enough leeway to make my way from the Radisson Blu in Sandton to the VIP section of the stadium, where I have a HRI sponsored ticket, as part of our campaign to fight trafficking during the world cup (as always when in South Africa, I will take the route less beaten, in this case sticking to the back-roads of the mock-European suburbs reassuringly surrounded by massive electrified walls, behind which discreet servants mend the lush tropical gardens around pools and tennis courts).

The more inexperienced of you may wonder how come my attending games out of the VIP section is related to fighting trafficking. well, it is our obligation as “counter-trafficking stakeholders” to approach the organizers of any large event with a well-designed guilt trips and that’s exactly what we have done both with FIFA as well as with the relevant South African authorities. They need to be aware of the dangers of Trafficking and they need to be seen as doing something about it – it’s just good business in the 21st century. And what better way to show commitment than to make tickets available to dignified representatives of important “partners”, such as yours truly.

While at games I will of course keep my eyes open for any sign of trafficking and will take the opportunity to snap a few pictures of the crowd, which Nathan the intern can then put in our project report and newsletter with a random, ophraesque capture:
(while the world celebrates the world cup, thousands of vulnerable women and children are exploited by internationally networked ruthless hooligans)

As I was sipping Savanna Dry during the Ghana-Serbia game yesterday, in the ear-blasting sound of millions of vuvuzelas, I had a moment of nostalgia for the early days of trafficking and my formative years in what in those days we called “The Balkans”. Like so many other competitors partners in the sector, HRI had a sizeable presence all over the Balkans and up until today continues to have a significant involvement in the region, with offices everywhere from Croatia to Macedonia and everything in-between, much of it funded by trafficking-related grants, but also by “Governance” as well as various European Commission mechanisms, all of them fitting HRI’s business model like a glove.

The transitions from UNPROFOR to IFOR to EUFOR with KFOR and 26 different other “FORS” in-between were all useful opportunities for hundreds of inexperienced HRI staff to become today’s experts in fields as diverse as refugee protection and public health. There were also unique circumstances for bonding and networking, that remain beneficial until today. My old mate Gianluca for example, used to be our official supplier of Italian toilet-paper, vastly superior to the Yugoslav one, shipped in 20foot containers with the diplomatic currier straight out of Rome, with vacuum sealed packages of Parma ham in-between. He remains a close collaborator for HRI and, in exchange for reasonable fees, often produces “counter-trafficking manuals” for our affiliates, based on his experience in “The Balkans” - the world’s trafficking capital.

His expertise was developed over many a “field research” in Pristina’s and Belgrade’s seedier strip-joints (further enriched by subsequent HRI assignements in SouthEast Asia, West Africa and Central America), as well as in several useful interaction with Montenegrin fake-cigarettes suppliers, a community often referred to in those days as “the only reliable people in the Balkans”. With the help of a certain HRI affiliate based out of Vienna (HRIs official R&R location for “the Balkans”), we have established the absolute and universal assumption that all organized crime is inter-linked, which helped not only with “transferrable skills” in experts such as Gianluca, but also with the fear factor when fundraising – insinuating to potential donors that not doing anything about trafficking is the same thing with essentially supporting the illegal arms trade is a very effective fundraising strategy, we found.

This association remains relevant today, which is why HRI continues to be the recipient of very generous trafficking funding in places from Afghanistan to Brazil, Iceland to South Africa.

The failures of all these efforts to make even a visible dent in the world of organized trafficking, should not discourage anybody - it is not a symptom that our approach is wrong, but merely a sign that the respective crime cartels are very cunning and have access to modern technology, which is why our associates need more money for life-saving workshops, “toolkits” and “awareness raising campaigns” – all time-proven strategies to “address” not only trafficking, but pretty much any other “scourge”, from HIV/ AIDS to poverty, child exploitation and environmental degradation.

Meanwhile, I am happy to hear that Holland has won the game against Denmark – tomorrow I do have a fundraising meeting with the EC Head of Delegation in South Africa, and he just happens to be Dutch, a detail that will probably make the meeting more pleasant. Along the same lines, I will root for Italy tonight – not only in honour of my friend Gianluca, but also because it has been a while since Paraguay has funded HRI to do anything.

And as we are talking about funding, i would like to encourage everyone to go here and buy a Talibannosaurus Rex poster - it is for a good cause, as 10% of all proceeds will go towards a worthy HRI cause (either overhead or admin fees, i am not decided yet).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"Working in Trafficking" at the World Cup

Turns out the world cup starts friday. I didn’t know that, me, and the fact that my several trips to South Africa, for life-saving workshops and other meetings, coincide with some of the better games is just how it happens.

That’s right.

In small-talk sessions with fellow travelers i am planning to pull the above line often, for sport. I expect the usual business class crowd on the Joburg route to diversify over the next month, to include the grumpy guy who had to buy a very expensive ticket not to miss that business meeting and that other guy who forked out for business (half miles half cash) when there were no more places in couch as he didn’t want to miss that game to which his wife got him surprise tickets without bothering to book a flight.

The good news is that trafficking is back on the agenda and HRI is as ever the leading agency with an expertise developed over the last 12 years or so, in the “golden era of trafficking”, when hapless donors were scrambling over ben seen as funding very simplistic visions of the world of trafficking, as presented to them by HRI & affiliates, so they can please an Oprah educated constituency.

In Moldova, Cambodia, Ukraine, Indonesia, Panama, Costa Rica and elsewhere where a HRI expat may find it comfortable to settle for a while, trafficking has been combated with workshops and trainings, which also created a lucrative market for the counter-trafficking expert, a HRI specialty represented in particular by the dodgy ex-policemen with the 80s chauvinist jokes, the hysterical “case worker” providing technical input in “legal drafting processes” and the former DA, always a training expert in legal definitions inspired by the Arizona Counter Trafficking Act, particularly relevant in the Philippines and Vietnam.

Armies of HRI experts descended on every imaginable “shelter”, to make it more secure, more gender integrated, more child-friendly and more donor-compliant, all expensive processes that helped us better count “targets” and deliver successful projects.

Awareness campaigns were launched (best practices included “The Beaver and the Crocodile” edutainment strategy in Indonesia and the “I am empowered, I Know the Difference between Smuggling and Trafficking” t-shirt campaign in Guatemala), training curricula were developed, law-enforcement handbooks, press handbooks and hand-books for the military were printed, films were made and broadcasted, relevant fables were included in pre-school curricula. The link to migration was immediately explored which has been good to our refugee/ migration portfolios.

Additionally, to please our most eager donor during the “golden era”, HRI has pursued the useful assumption that all women in the sex trade are victims who need urgent saving, a matter in which our experts could provide cutting edge training to the police forces of relevant countries.

Often the bond between trainer and trainees would be sealed with a glorious night at the karaoke parlor (just indulging in a cultural experience) and the few cases when HRI consultants were involved in unspeakable acts with teenagers were always handled swiftly with the respective offender promptly transferred to another country where they would be tasked with presenting “lessons learned” and “best practices”. (If this sounds familiar, our methods in those days were guided by the church of course, a solid and strategically important HRI partner, also in matters of trafficking.

I assume you already saw the signature HRI Win-Win: HRI & affiliates get the cash and the kudos, government officials can continue getting backhanders from their dodgy business partners while showing the world their counter-trafficking credentials and the donors can get an Oprah tear, convertible in whatever political currency floats their boat.

Everybody happy.
Meanwhile women and children continue to be abused, which will ensure future work for all of us, so all should be ok. That no real trafficker was ever successfully convicted is another matter, which is easily explained away by the “lack of precise legal definitions defense”, a matter that must be addressed by a series of complex cross-border and regional activities conducted by a team of HRI experts. Among other things of course.

It may strike some as strange that countries with no legal system to speak of, no constitution and no courts would have a highly precise definition of "trafficking", inspired by the legal literature of Arizona, as part of a 600+ sections Counter-Trafficking Act, “operationalized” by a vast package of guidelines, by-laws and “SOPs” (ok I’ll tell you: Standard Operating Procedures”), but I say at least this “framework” has benefitted from the input of people with no legal background at all, who have ensured that no due process will be necessary when prosecuting a trafficker.

In other words, Trafficking is the new Terrorism, and I am taking back that thing about no trafficker having ever being convicted – it has happened that this opposition leaders or the other reactionary character have been found involved in trafficking, usually around election time, their prompt imprisonment always ensuring a better “tier ranking” a matter that leads to an increase in “trafficking” funding to HRI.

Did anyone say win-win? Thank you.

But that was the golden era. These days even Oprah has changed her business model and trafficking has been pushed ever so slightly towards the fringe.

Except every four years, during world cup or the Olympics. HRI & affiliates have already secured funding, got the story in every paper, launched campaigns and issued statements about expectations of significant increases in trafficking and exploitation during the world cup, all based of course on following precedents:
(whole thing here in pdf)

Part of us feels it is our duty to make some noise out of principle - after all, this is Africa and just because it didn’t really happen elsewhere doesn’t mean it won’t happen here. But also, there is another small matter – don’t know about you, but every cup is different and I for one want to make sure i can say: “I was there” (as well).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bibi is a Twat! and Life-saving Global Fund work in Kinshasa

I’ve been silent for a while, mostly putting up with the indignities of travelling around Africa, and, over the last two days, sitting silently in my room at the Inter in Kinshasa, watching Bibi being a twat, with French translation.

Bibi reminds me of many a former collaborator of HRI, men who always end up finding true love in the seedy underbelly of Manila, Phnom Penh or Kinshasa and whom you would run into on a Tuesday evening - sweaty, red-faced and slightly inebriated - comb-over a mess, always in too young a company, always a bit too proud of it. You look at them knowing they belong somewhere in a tin, preferably in solitary confinement and on strong medication, but given the landscape, you tolerate them as just a mild annoyance and yet another drunken bore before ordering another round.

That’s how it is with Bibi as well – we all know he belongs somewhere else, perhaps donning one of those classy shirts with very long sleeves (that can be tied helpfully around his back), but because of the landscape we dismiss his madness as an unfortunate transgression and move on with our lives.

This is not the first case a police-state shoots civilians and I am afraid it will not be the last either. My personal element of discomfort stems from the fact that usually when that happens people of my status congregate somewhere where they serve dodgy beer under neon “butcher’s lights” and bond with colleagues and donors representatives while lamenting the shocking strategies of respective rouge state while plotting possible “capacity building” programs for the future.

This time it’s different. HRI doesn’t even have an office in Israel. Perhaps that’s what those people need – extensive exposure to HRI “capacity building” activities to the point they get numbed, the danger element gets shaven off and they will be satisfied with just being mere incompetent, corrupt hypocrites – a type our lot knows how to “partner” with.

Anyway, you guessed it: I’m in Kinshasa because it is Global Fund season. For those who don’t know, the Global Fund is the donor community’s version of “multilateral aid”, and we are already talking round 10, no less (time passes, eh?). HRI has of course been the principal recipient for Global Fund money in D.R. Congo in three previous rounds and we have managed to spend almost 19% of the money already allocated. Naturally we decided to go for round 10 as well, arguing that the slow spending of existing funds is an obvious indication of “lack of absorption capacity” of partners, a situation that requires supplemental funds to address.

The CCM (Country Coordinating Mechanism, for the uninitiated) as well as other stakeholders in the country agree on this strategy so we have a textbook case of the development community and the government speaking in one voice. Donors love that stuff, so our chances to get at least part of what we ask for are pretty high. Knowing that partial funding is an option, we will of course massively inflate our initial submitted budget so everyone will be happy.

I was pleased to discover that I remain well known at the Sunday buffet at the Intercontinental (Le Grand these days is not what it used to be by the way), as well as at other respectable establishments in town and I remain on very cordial terms with many of the 86 or so Ministers in the Government, some of whom I visited already as part of my preparatory work for Round 10 GF, with a long list of visits scheduled for the remainder of the week.

One of my favourite is the Minister of Human Rights, an absolutely crucial partner on any application for funding involving partnerships with the Government and a man of high moral standing with the staff at L’Orangerie and Chez Nicola on account of the fact that he always tips generously when he is invited for lunch, which is every time he has a meeting with an NGO.

Yesterday, before inviting him for lunch I met him at his office where I had the pleasure to admire the tastefulness of his desk, complete with the obligatory leopard-skin accessories, so stylishly consecrated by the Mobutu school of interior design (the reader may remember I am myself a man who appreciates discrete tastefulness).

Here is a picture of his desk, taken on the sly on my “iphon”:

And here is my friend the minister himself, happy to see me again and filling me in on the “progress” of his Ministry since back in the day when he was a promising student of capacity building literature, before his HRI backed promotion :

You may notice, to his honorable's left hand, on the right side of the photo a shelf containing files on important matters of Human Rights in the country. While the minister excused himself to do his hair before our departure, I dared a step closer and put my “Iphon” to use.

And here are some useful details:
(before Nathan the inter's birth)
(after Nathan the intern's birth)

Amazingly efficient, the Minister seems to be still working on files from the 70s and the 80s (each decade has its own shelf, in impeccable ascending order), which is very reassuring. I like a well organized fellow and I have already proposed to the CCM that he will be elected as the co-chair.

But what of Bibi the twat? To do my part I already decided to refuse the service of any bodyguard armed with Israeli weapons (notoriously unreliable as well, “my driver” tells me) and perhaps, in the future I will laugh a bit less when treated to Israeli jokes by the next drunken bore at the Savannana or 3615.