Friday, December 11, 2009

what is development?

I know it's crazy...two posts in two days...but I've been contemplating this for a while now, and James is off at a meeting for who know how long so I've got plenty of time to post.

Two weeks ago a girl was hit by a police car and had both of her legs broken. She and many other middle and high school students were out in the streets celebrating the end of exams. The ambulance came and took her to the hospital. She'll be fine and ready to start 10th grade in a month. In Chad, she would have been crippled for the rest of her life unless her family was one of the richest in the village and could afford to take her themselves to the hospital in Kelo or Moundou. It led me to start thinking about how I see development in terms of my experience in one of the richest countries in Africa compared to one of the poorest. So here's some of the differences I've noticed.

Electricity - In South Africa, electricity comes from the power company. It goes out some times, and you call them to come fix it. Everything uses electricity...refrigerators, tvs, stoves, toasters, hot water heaters (geysers), kettles, fans, heaters, lights, computers, fax machines. When the electricity goes out, everyone complains about how boring it is. In Chad, electricity comes from generators if at all. It is used to power lights, to charge cell phones at the local shop, to power the one blender in the village that makes smoothies (if you are lucky) and the one refrigerator in the village that keeps soda cold.

Building - In South Africa, tin roofs are for poor people, tile roofs for the more well off, and thatched roofs are for safari lodges. In Chad, thatched roofs are for poor people and tin roofs are for the more well off. In South Africa, people have cement patios and plastered houses (if not brick). In Chad, people cement half way up the wall just to show that they could afford that much cement.

Water - In South Africa, there are water faucets in people's yards and houses. The one well that you have to pull from yourself is a funny anomaly at the Catholic church. The water may not come, but the infrastructure is there. In Chad, pulling from the well is a daily reality and carrying water from the water tower back to your house is a luxury.

Towns - In South Africa, towns are places with industry, chain shops, malls, restaurants, and grocery stores where people live in flats or houses with electric fences. In Chad, towns are bigger versions of villages with bigger markets, where you may be able to buy vache qui rit (Laughing Cow cheese) if you are lucky.

Transport - In South Africa, taxis belong to taxi associations. They have routes and must follow certain rules. There are never more than 13 or 14 passengers in a taxi. People travel all the time to go shopping in town, to visit relatives, to go to work. People commute hours every day or week or month. Many people have their own cars. In Chad, taxis are piled high with baggage on top and usually 20 people inside (or in the back of the truck). People hardly ever leave their villages and if the do travel they stay for months because of the cost of the trip. No one has a car, but those who can afford them have motorcycles.

Police - In South Africa, the police are people that are looking out for the best interest of citizens. You can file a police report and they will investigate it. They are seen as an asset to the community (except to our host mom). In Chad, the police sit around drinking tea, harrass and sometimes arrest people for no reason.

Schools - In South Africa, teachers are monitored and receive support from the government. They are constantly being encouraged to attend workshops, given new information about the curriculum, and encouraged to use participatory learning. In Chad, the curriculum for each subject for each grade is a page long and references books the teachers have never seen before. They don't receive much support from beyond the principal and there is no effort to reform the educational system.

And these are just some of the many blatent differences that strike me every day. I don't want to say that South Africa is a better place than Chad because I don't believe that at all, but instead to look at how development plays out in the everyday. I think people have a tendency to look at South Africa negatively because of the huge gap between rich and poor, yet there is so much going for this country even in the rural areas that people take for granted. They have the tools to close the gap that it will take poorer countries years to develop in infrastructure. That is one of the reasons I am so excited to be working here as I feel like I can do a lot to be a part of that in a short time. I hope I can take what I learn here and bring it with me when I return to work in countries that do not have these resources.


  1. It is an interesting change, for sure... I'm seeing the same thing, although on a lesser scale in Chad and in Cameroon.

  2. very interesting, i love hearing your opinions about all these things!

  3. Nathaniel's right. You cross the border into Kousseri, Cameroon and all of a sudden the internet costs 400 CFA rather than 2,000 CFA - the taxis are the same. And you have electricity 24/7 whereas in N'Djamena we had electricity about 1 day a week, though apparently in certain neighborhoods (occupied by certain government workers) there is almost always electricity. Police are pretty corrupt in Cameroon, but I don't think people are as afraid or anxious around them as they are in Chad. They are starting to build more roads in Chad and even get buses, so that is a good sign. And there are even dump trucks. But yeah, Chad is still one of the most underdeveloped places in the world. Sometimes I think it's just a political strategy so that when Deby gives them a little, they are enthusiastically grateful.

  4. fascinating! It sounds like it should be a poster or book or something ;)