Homeless ...

While the rain is pouring down and I'm enjoying a coffee - rum in Banfora, the title of this post is what came to my head. Homeless. Not that the house VSO arranged for me in Ouagadougou doesn't exist anymore. Maybe I should change the title to 'homefull'. For the last number of months I've been home everywhere, and switching places constantly. Ouaga, Dano, Hounde, Banfora, ... While working my ass to get the civil services thing up-n-running and yes, it DOES work, I've spent week after week in different locations. With my XT600 as a contstant buddy, getting me everywhere I needed to be. And everywhere I landed, it was great to land. Everywhere I departed, it was great, because I was heading towards somewhere.

So now is week number 0. Have just finished up in Banfora and Beregadougou. Delivered. Last week in Dano, and tomorrow an update in Hounde. Happy to see that the result is more than expected. We're reaching out to more than 150.000 citizens who can now rely on a civil service. After all, this is what I came for.
Next week I'm heading back to Europe for a 3 week holiday. I've been there 3 weeks ago - which seems again like ages - since my grandmum died and I took a week off to attend the funeral.

But this time I'm going back to relax. And I do hope the rain stays in Burkina Faso and doesn't travel with me. It's much more appreciated here.


stakeholders, chickens and jeu-de-boule

Hiya. Time again for an update - almost one month after the last one.

Let's start with work this time - and with good news! Last week I've finally gathered all signatures required to commence the 2012 work plan. Some 3 months after my first version, we've agreed on creating this year the tool sets for civil services and accounting - 2 areas of great importance for managing municipalities. Looking back on the discussions we've had over the last months, one of the major reasons for the time-it-took-to-get-forward-with-this-plan was the issue of stakeholders. It was incredibly hard to make sure we're claiming the right resources on the right moment (and for the right subject). In true African style, every time there was pressure to get 'everybody' involved, which - according to my gut feeling - is one of the major factors for execution delays and scope problems. Hope truly we've got that sorted out well now. In practical terms, I'll be dividing my time now between working in municipalities (with the actual users of the tools) and Ouagadougou, meeting with ministries - and other parties involved. The municipalities we've chosen are Dano, Banfora and Houndé. Result-wise, we should be able in the second half of this year to deliver a tool for civil services nation-wide, and by the end of the year a limited production test for accounting.

Some other - in random order - remarks of what's going on:

  • we've had a week of working with a Canadian group on the subject of local economical development - quite an interesting experience where I've learned one word I'll never forget: inukshuk. (which has nothing to do with the subject, but still - just look it up with google, choose images, and you'll see something we all had to build)
  • there's been a visit - again, one week - of a delegation of the Central African Republic. Purpose was sharing information bout how to set up and organize an association of municipalities - as they are in the process of creating one there. Interesting to see how good practices get shared, but what doesn't work never enters the room :)
  • the chickens have done their best - 7 chicks are added to the pool of lunch-to-be-ready-in-some-months.
  • no photos this time. Have posted some on facebook. Note though that my repaired iphone (home-button) need some hitting in order to continue functioning, wifi works well when I'm about one arm length away from the base station, and most of the time, the camera refuses to work, limiting my opportunities for casual shots. In true African style, I just reboot when necessary, and accept the once-in-a-lifetime-shot to never exist (and naturally hitting the damn thing when necessary). 
  • really interesting: last week I found out I don't need a tv to be able to watch something Burkinabe. The public channel does broadcast also on the internet (see: http://www.rtb.bf). With my 256Kb/s - 25.000 F CFA (38 euros) a month connection at home it takes only one hour to see a 30 minute show.
  • I've expanded my sports activities and have found a second one I can support in this weather. So apart from swimming, I've joined a jeu-de-boules team. Great success so far, as I'm becomes less and less a disrupting factor and punishment for my teammate. Beginner's luck, it must be.

Think big, bigger, biggest!

Happy new year to everyone! (just to explain how this blog has been getting dusty over the last months)

So, what happened in the meantime ...

In that meantime: 
  • I've enjoyed a relaxing holiday in Burkina Faso - with Sabine, Theun and Mieke. Exploring the countryside, assisting in finding antibiotics for people who got ill, visiting local friends, freezing in a swimming pool, enjoying the automatic repair of exploding tires, seeing more elephants than ever before, witnessing mountains of freshly picked cotton waiting to get shipped, enjoying Dutch donuts on new year's eve (and getting drunk as hell), being the luckiest ass in the world as it happens that 40km's in the bush there's a mechanic driving behind us while we're having car problems (and that was most surely the only living soul nearby), well, this is just a small pick of the event of those 4 weeks. Come again, please!
  • My chickens are growing up, and 2 of them are having a nest - with a load of eggs mutating below em. Over the next couple of weeks, there's quite a chance Villa43 will get crowded. Think there will be lots of chicken on the menu later on this year. 
  • There's a motorbike version 2.0. New tires - off road this time - will assist me in escaping the city at weekends. Yay!
  • I've assisted at a traditional village marriage negotiation. The most funny part was where the family of the girl that gets married tries to steal something in order to avoid the guests from leaving. Bad luck for one of the drivers of the bus, as his mobile phone got stolen. It took about 3 hours and the theft (ok, let's call it kidnapping) of one of the girl's sisters before we could head home. 
  • More bout work (explaining the title - after a series of photos). 

This is why I don't like traveling with a local car. Would feel exactly like of the (yes, alive) chickens hanging upside down. 

Just a man keeping us company when the car broke down. 

Also company, same location. 

The 'piques' de Sindou. 

He dad, that was the first train I saw in Burkina Faso. Think the locals were surprised too.

It drives, so what ? Dieu merci ... indeed.

Negotiations about the amount of dolo (local beer), coca-nuts, cigarettes and money for the traditional wedding. Somehow, the sand plays an important role. 

Ok. You've made it this far. Let's start explaining the title for this post. 

While traveling to municipalities last year, it became very clear there where no tools for managing stuff. So we've started creating them. Which we've only done after investigating if there was nothing available somewhere else. And what exists just couldn't do the job. Created by projects and abandoned afterwards, or hopelessly old, not suited to the actual needs. 

So aside from creating tools, we needed to start another process in order to ensure that the work I've started could go on after this year.

Hence, last month, I've organized a conference, and invited bout 45 municipalities (mayors, heads of staff of divisions, ...) throughout the country - in total more than 200 people. That day we discussed the actual situation, and how to move forward in regard to the management question, and I've laid out a plan to create a centre at the association which could assume the role of creating and maintaining those tools and deliver them nation-wide. 

The response was above expectations. Not having provided any financial contribution for the invitees to attend (like money for fuel or accommodation - which is highly uncommon here), almost everybody came on their own expense, even from 400kms away. 

Before that meeting, I've worked like hell to get a first tool in a state where I could present - and make clear what technology can do in the 21th century. A showcase or eye-opener, as it's called, and since that meeting I've had a number of mayors asking me when I could come over and deliver.

So, conclusion, I've just finished getting the financial part of the centre sorted out. To make it also in that regard sustainable, I've prepared in a way where within 2 years, the project should be self-funding through contributions from municipalities. Next week I'm having a first chat with one of the possible technical/financial partners for the funding of the first years. 

In the meantime, I'm waiting to get my plan for this year approved, so I could finalize this year some of the tools and get them where they are needed. 

To end this post, I must admit that last couple of months where energy-draining. As it was clear for me what's needed out there, my heart just wanted to go on with providing that assistance and kick ass (hard). The process has been slow though - at least very very very (repeat about a 1000 times) slow for me. But maybe, we'll get there.

On damage, work and random thoughts

Hi there!

Wow. 2 Months without an update. It almost feels like I haven't done anything in the meantime. Almost, so to speak. Well, I never got bored before, and that still sure is the case since I arrived in Africa.

More on work later on. First, one of the things I do love, is exploring the countryside. A couple of months ago, I really got bored with the Chinese imported bike ... and decided to seek for an alternative. Which I've found, more specifically, named Yamaha XT600e. And all of a sudden, I'm the coolest guy around - ya, finally !!! In the last month, I've done bout 3000 kms, mostly ... getting lost somewhere - and desperately trying to find my way back to Ouaga. Joy oh joy! Damage so far: one broken suspension (ok, entirely my fault, as it's not a good idea to go over potholes at more than 100km/h), a couple of flat tires and some minor leg injuries (also, again, my fault - some hills are just too steep). Overall though, a great success. In order to avoid constant warnings and harassment by other volunteers, I even got myself a helmet, almost white as preferred by VSO insurance. Well, it got a tiny white 'yamaha'-sticker on it.

The bike, patiently waiting for a couple more miles.
Now, work. Last months, that has been keeping me busy like a monkey pulling a lorry. There were 3 projects were pulled heavily:
  • setting up a monitoring and evaluation system for people working at the mairie. In general, everything related to human resources management is completely absent in this country, so I was more than astonished when I got the request from someone who really wanted to set up a system, but lacked any experience or guidelines to do that properly. Funny story: after working a month on creating processes, forms, documentation, etc. I headed out to the municipality to give a presentation on the subject, and with me, 2 journalists from VSO Canada, and one Burkinabe journalist, working for the capital's radio station. Remembering Murphy's law, the car broke down halfway, so it took bout 3 hours before the major picked us up. In true African style, we spent that time discovering some houses of people living next to the road, no stress, and as if we had arranged for the meeting to start 3 hours later, everybody was present; a general remark: "you've made it, that's the important bit"; and we kicked ass. 
  • working at civil services: birth certificates, marriage documents, ... well, every document a mairie has to provide to its citizens. In this case, I had been asked to reorganize the service. At the end of my first visit (in which a generally do nothing, except ask silly questions and try to understand how things work) we had our visit-meeting, in which I announced I was willing to continue, on the condition they would clear up the mess before I arrived again. Well, one month later I came back, and they were waiting for stage 2 from behind their cleaned desks. We started working on adapting the procedures, and setting up a basic IT-tool to help them create documents easier. Too bad I got quite ill, so we'll have to continue the work in 2012 to get everything up-n-running. 
  • at a regional tax-office, setting up a management tool for improving the management of land lots. We started that one in august, and now there's a first released version in production. 
Working with the tax-office team at Hounde.
So, let's talk a bit further bout work in general. Over the years in Belgium and Holland I worked on interesting projects, defined to meet business demands in a precise set of tools. This resulted quite often in custom-build - or the improved COTS (common of the shelve) with adaptations. Looking back at these experiences, it still hits me how often we go for customization, and how complex the world is we create. 
Working in Africa, one has to take into account the limitations of the environment. Lack of finances (for equipment), lack of well trained staff, lack of ... well, almost anything. Which brings out one clear conclusion: adapt the KISS-principle where possible. The management tools that do exist here, were created about 10 years ago, and - without any exception - are completely useless. They look like dinosaurs, as well as the people who maintain them.
So the approach I've adapted is to go for essential functionality and simplicity. Rather deliver something which does only a limited thing, but which does that well. Principles ... sometimes they do work, certainly when I explain to the people using the tools. 
On the procedural part of things, one has to accept the number of stamps and signatures before things actually get carried out. Well bugger, it's just that way. Am thinking though of making my own stamp to be seen more important. 

To end this post, another set of random events and thoughts:
  • Denise is having more success than her employer used to have at school, as she started second year, and every test results in a 10/10
  • 3 more working weeks to go this year! Yay! After that, there's 3 weeks holiday.
  • it doesn't work to upload an audio file on this blog. Again bugger, as it was a radio-interview with the major on the HR-tooling we set up. 
  • In regard to that radio broadcast, Murphy struck again, so when I got interviewed, the audio-recording quality was so bad and therefore not suited for radio. My chance for fame ... again ... down the drain.
  • I adopted a dog! Well, at a friday a pup showed up on the premised of the association, thirsty, kicked out somewhere, so I decided to take him to a vet, then home, and gave him the name of the major of Ouaga - Simon. Well, good end after all, as Denise volunteered to continue the adoption process, and he's now well been taken care of by her and her family. Unfortunately, they didn't want to call him Simon, so he got transformed to Bobby.
  • On the animal-part: for the second time since I got here, there are chickens running round now. A total of 3 hens and a cock. I decided to call the cock Simon. It's not an obsession though, I just prefer one Simon who actually listens well to me. This time though, they got vaccinated against some strange african diseases which makes them fall down, dead. The price for vaccination is 50 F CFA per chicken (about 0.76 euro). 
  • Sleep: I've been quite exhausting myself over the last months. So since temperatures are dropping as low as 22 degrees, I've decided to get myself back on track, and focus on resting enough. 
  • Sometimes enough is just enough - bye !

3 day madness

It has been rather quiet here. Sorry for that. I've just been a bit too busy, being on missions throughout Burkina - and ... and ... lots of stuff. 

This post is only about the 'Journée de la communauté Burkinabè', a yearly event, organized to gather all mayors of Burkina Faso and to discuss relevant topics in regard to the decentralization process. 3 Days, and every year a different city that hosts the event. This time the location was Gaoua, a city in the far west of Burkina Faso.  

In this post only the 'light' version of these days. A report on the contents - insights, challenges and problems regarding to decentralization in Burkina Faso - is still in progress and will be published - sometime. 

Assisting Nicole, secretary of the association in fidgeting some last details for a presentation. 

The mayor of Comin-Yanga

Don't know which municipality this major is from (picture taken while tag half out of frame), but he's definitely from the Sahel-region. Travelled about 600km to get to this convention.

Pretty filled up - university campus of Gaoua 
Everybody knows Simon. Mayor of the city of Ouagadougou, and president of the association I work for. 

Yep, there are female mayors in this country. But only 22 out of 351, so there's room for improvement.

Preparing for the procession and clearly happy. 3 Mayors posing.

Clarisse, protocol for the city of Ouagadougou. She works like 5 men! Made her happy by buying a beer.

Boniface, Sécretaire Executif of the AMBF. We share a desk and work well together. Note: look at his eyes. He's soooo tired.

Behind the scenes of an event like this. Trying to get a glimpse of what's happening.

Seeking shelter while waiting for start of procession - and rain pouring out of the sky. Which is a good omen in this country.

On the left the mayor of Koudougou and Secretaire General of the AMBF - nice guy.  On the right, the mayor of Banfora. Also nice guy.

The most pretty one. Looking round for mutinying soldiers.

The mayor of ... uhm ...

Don't know who that is, but I liked this shot. And the hat of course.

Aha ... the procession. Starts with music. 

Followed by soldiers marching. Never seen em so publicly while not using their firearms.

This image stands for the next 30 minutes of the procession. A sign for each province, followed by a sign for each region, listing the number of rural and urban municipalities - and a colored sign for every municipality in that region. Bonus on this picture: the village idiot marching aside. 

Never figured out what this should represent, but am afraid it is the white skinned folks amongst us. Everybody had a good laugh tho.

Every local association is also allowed to take place in the procession. Marching and marching. 

Luckily, nobody got hurt in this part of the procession. It came a bit as a surprise.

Mayor of Kindi - good friend. Wearing again his lucky hat. 

The prime minister of Burkina Faso. Ok. Time for a bit a confession. He just came round to express sympathy, making similar promises made at the meeting in may. Everybody was cheering again. Sigh.  

A bit of a group photo of people working for the association, taken at the ruins of Loropeni, Unesco world heritage. As you can see, not all noses are pointed in the same direction. There's still work to do.

secret test ...

Hectic weeks - again. Spent a lot of days in Houndé working on management of allotments and accounting. Have learned muchos muchos (and somehow people didn't got upset with my remarks). Some more - in random order - remarks since my ability to invent a storyline appears to have gotten lost somewhere - where's that bottle of mojito -:
  • rain season seems to have started somewhat a couple of days ago - finally. Barrages can be filled up again.
  • Denise is now at the letter D. And still smiling & happy.
  • the chicken population at Houndé decimated last week - I could choose between chips, rice or alloco (bananas) but every lunch and dinner ... there was roasted chicken. Must say tho the best chicken I've had in Burkina. To experience yourself, drive to Houndé, just after the mairie (on the left) turn right before the fuel station. A bit after the gun shop mind the potholes. They are enormous! Then turn left. There's a gate with something something 2000 on it. Enter & enjoy.
  • for breakfast, the mayor's wife prepared some bad-ass bugs called 'chenies'. They were crusty, filled with proteins, and lacked a general sense of taste. Think it was a secret test ... 
  • Next week is going to be spent in Po (near the border of Ghana) and Kindi (again). 
Nice scenery on a motorbike trip in the countryside. 
Some company during motorbike trip. Needles to say I left GPS at home and got completely lost.