IFP Tips

  • Weather: Be prepared for the rainy season, and I mean RAINY season.  When it rains it pours and there is no keeping dry. At least 2015 marks a year of major construction in Addis and pretty much every street is a construction site. When it rains this means water and mud literally everywhere. You may want to consider bringing rain boots. I wish I had. And the temperature varies. A lot. Bring t-shirts for sure, but also bring sweaters and fleeces, and socks and warm pants. I bought a small Uniqlo down jacket before I left and have been wearing it pretty much every day at some point (in Addis that is, other parts of the country are much warmer).
  • On doctors and medicine: Bring essentials (see Kathleen above). And get your shots. But also know that shots are no guarantee against for instance typhoid… The clinic I visited was nice and friendly, but I would rather have not visited it at all. It was very affordable though and the lab and meds were cheap compared to the US. If you travel to Lake Ziway or other lake areas, you may want to consider taking malarial medication during that time. Use your bug spray. Use it. Malaria is common in Ethiopia, although not in Addis at this time during the year.


Financing for Development or Development for Finance?

This was the question posed by many civil society organizations at the close of the Third Financing for Development Conference (FFD3) last week. The conference, held in Addis Ababa July 13-16 gathered some 7000 people from around the world, and it was hoped that FfD3 would produce a series of high-level commitments to promote sustainable and self-sufficient development. But many – member states and civil society alike – left Addis highly disappointed.

I have not been following the financing for development agenda closely but leading up to the conference, and in order to understand the framework for the FfD3 and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), I read up on the Monterrey Consensus (2002) as well as the Doha Declaration (2008). FfD3 follows a trajectory that began in the late 1990s in recognition of the need for global attention and action to address and overcome systemic inequalities, and the achievement of development.[1] In this regard, the first international conference of the FfD UN intergovernmental process was held in Monterrey, Mexico in 2002, and the outcome document – the Monterrey Consensus – shaped the FfD agenda on issues such as domestic resource mobilization, international trade as an instrument for development, foreign direct investment (FDI) as a source for development, external debt, and addressing systemic issues. The follow-up to Monterrey included a second FfD conference in Doha, Qatar in 2008. The Doha Declaration reconfirmed commitments made in Monterrey and, among other things, committed developed countries to maintain their Official Development Assistance (ODA) targets.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) – the outcome document of FfD3 that was negotiated and adopted in Addis – will set the stage for numerous global agreements that will be negotiated this year, including two major intergovernmental negotiations: the Post-2015 Summit that will define the sustainable development agenda; and COP21 of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC), a legally-binding agreement concerning the responsibility for climate change and how.

Obviously stakes were high and numerous contentious issues were on the agenda of the four-day conference, including the guiding principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR),[2] debt restructuring, and trade, to name a few. Issues on the table also included steps to address gender equality, but to the disappointment of many, the outcome focuses more on “Gender Equality as Smart Economics” than on women and girls’ human rights. Many CSOs as well as the final CSO response to the AAAA criticized the document for instrumentalizing women by stating that women’s empowerment is vital to enhance economic growth and productivity.

Inarguably, one of the most controversial topics in Addis was the proposed global tax body. The intergovernmental tax body has been the initiative of the G77 as a means for less wealthy countries that often struggle to build effective national taxations systems, to influence policy decisions at the UN. However, the OECD and the G20 have ferociously opposed the initiative, and have been accused of protecting their own tax bases, leaving developing countries out of a decision-making process that would be critical to their sovereignty and development. So even in Addis, and the final outcome document failed to establish a transparent and accountable intergovernmental tax body that potentially could stop illicit financial flows and tackle corporate tax dodging.

Civil society also criticized the FfD3 outcome for lacking the necessary ambition, leadership and actions to support the operational Means of Implementation (MOI) for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Overall however, one of the most glaring failures of the conference that I heard discussed, was that no real negotiations seem to ever have taken place. What did take place were behind-the-scenes bilateral meetings to put pressure on, and silence countries that cannot afford to go against the will of the more powerful. The rumors were also that the choice of holding the conference in Addis stemmed from donors knowing that they would be able to pressure the Ethiopians to play by their rules…

Such dynamics seem rather troubling seeing that the international community is embarking on an incredibly ambitious sustainable development paradigm that will define the next 15 years.

[1] Regions Refocus 2015, A Geopolitical Analysis of Financing for Development (FfD3)

[2] CBDR is one of the cornerstones of sustainable development and was formulated in the context of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. It finds its origins in equity considerations and equity principles in international law, and informs the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. The principle holds that although all countries are responsible for the development of global society, each has a different set of capabilities that they can contribute to this project.


Self Help Group Approach and field visit to Oromia

This week I had the opportunity to accompany Consortium of Self Help Group Approach Promoters (CoSAP) staff on a field visit to the Oromia region. One of my responsibilities this summer is to develop a monitoring and evaluation plan for CoSAP’s program Women Self Help Groups as Disaster Reduction and Mitigation Strategy, and the purpose of the trip to Oromia was to conduct some preliminary interviews. In addition to the interviews, I sat in on three monitoring sessions led by one of the CoSAP project coordinators. CoSAP staff regularly conduct field visits to assess the progress of the program and to discuss impact with the Self Help Groups (SHGs) as well as the Cluster Level Associations (CLAs). The visits are accompanied by local social workers who regularly visit the groups and have established relationships with these.

The SHG Approach is a development model that recognizes poverty not only as material deprivation but also as a continuous process of disempowerment. The goal of the approach is to lift individuals (women) and communities out of poverty by empowering them financially, and enhancing their self-esteem. The Self Help approach is organized into three different layers: 1) The Self Help Group (SHG) is comprised of 15-20 grassroots women from a similar socioeconomic background; 2) The Cluster Level Association (CLA) includes representatives from 8-10 SHGs; 3) and the Timret (federation) level that brings together representatives from 8 or more CLAs. At each level the members have distinct roles and responsibilities, such as chair, treasurer, secretary etc. In addition, at the SHG level various committees, such as reconciliation committees and loan committees, are formed to deal with concerns that arise within the group.

As always, getting out of Addis was very exciting, and we set out to Adama, leaving the rain and cold behind. The drive was rather short, featuring fantastic Chinese roads, and in a few hours we had reached our destination. Adama, or Nazret as it used it be called, is the third largest city in Ethiopia and forms an important urban focal point for local cattle farmers. Because of the easy access to meat, the city is known for the Ethiopian raw meat dish Kitfo. Kifto is ground meat marinated in Mitmita (a blend of chili, spices and salt), and butter! While I love the Ethiopian cuisine, I have not tried this dish yet, and I doubt that I will, as many locals have warned me against it… Adama is also a through town for truckers driving east to Somaliland and Somalia, and known for heavy chat consumption. It is a pretty city though, and it reminded me of Hawassa further south: trees lining the avenues and generally much greener than Addis.

The first day we visited two Self Help Groups and listened in on the conversations between the women and Berhanu, the CoSAP project coordinator. We learned of the advancements of the groups as a whole, and of progress the individual women had made since joining the group: loans they had been granted and what they had used their additional money for. Much of what we heard focused on community building and mentorship. Many of the women felt that the greatest benefit of being part of an SHG was the support and community within the group. Being empowered to speak up and take leadership roles within the group as well as at home seemed to be the greatest benefit of the SHGs.

The groups were also asked to elaborate on their overall functioning, and on whether they would continue to run smoothly, were the social workers to stop visiting them on a regular basis. During these conversations, I could not help but notice the gender imbalance among the social workers and reflect on how this may influence the responses received from the women. I have observed this gender imbalance several times here in Ethiopia, specifically when visiting the Wide Horizons for Children (WHFC) offices in Adwa in the north and Hawassa in the south. WHFC had only one female social worker in the southern office and none up north. The work of both CoSAP and WHFC focuses on the family, and particularly women and children. Employing more female social workers would seem like a no-brainer. In doing some research however, I found that social work as a profession is fairly new in Ethiopia, and that its benefit to health and well-being is not yet well understood. There are so far only two graduate programs in social work in the country. That could perhaps be why there is a lack of females within the profession.


Development without freedom and all that jazz…

“… There is no peace without development, there is no development without peace, and there is no lasting peace or sustainable development without respect of human rights and the rule of law. … For the international system to work, and for even a nation to work, you have to have peace, development and respect for human rights and rule of law, and you have to deal with it at the same time.” Jan Eliasson, United Nations Deputy Secretary General

With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) negotiations at their peak, and many civil society organizations lobbying relentlessly for peace to be included as a separate goal, the concept of “no peace without development, no development without peace“ has for the past few years been discussed at great length among the international community, civil society and other stakeholders. During the Open Working Group deliberations many governments challenged including peace and security in the SDG agenda, arguing that it is the responsibility of the UN Security Council and not the development agenda to ensure peace, and further claiming that it distracts from the objective of the agenda: sustainable development. In my previous position as Program Manager of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, we co-drafted and signed numerous open letters, petitions etc. to guarantee the inclusion of peace in the SDGs. Proposed goal 16 now reads “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development…”

Here in Ethiopia I am reminded of these conversations, although in a slightly different context. Should development come at the cost of freedom and rights – mainly freedom of expression and human rights – and similarly, can freedom be attained only once development has reached a certain stage, and basic needs and rights, like food, water, clothing, shelter, sanitation, education, and healthcare have been ensured? Or are development and rights undeniably interlinked, like peace and development? What does development without respect for human rights look like, and development for who are we talking about if rights are restricted?

A week and a half ago I had dinner with a friend of a friend here in Addis. Meskerem (not her real name), an Ethiopian national, lived in the US until a few years ago, when she decided to move back to her native country, contribute – as she expressed it – and be part of the rapid change that Ethiopia is inevitably undergoing. Meskerem works hard, has built a successful consulting company, and lives a good middle class life. She is definitely benefiting from the ongoing changes in her country. In our conversation over the course of the night, the topic of Ethiopian politics, government control, and restrictions of rights quite predictably came up. While we, for various reasons, did not get into a deep conversation about this, I was clearly made to understand that development comes “at a cost,” that “human rights is a western concept” (yes, we have all heard that one before) and that “you cannot emphasize rights before you have food in your stomach” and so on…the “full belly thesis” or ”you cannot eat democracy…”

While I respect and understand these common sentiments, I cannot help but cringe… It has been argued that the current Ethiopian regime has shifted to a discourse of “developmentalism” that delivers rapid economic growth deprived of democratic accountability (Dega 2010). While this approach might have stabilized the country to some extent, and contributed to Ethiopia becoming one of the five fastest growing economies in the world (International Monetary Fund 2015), it has not lifted the average Ethiopian out of poverty. Ethiopia is still one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income of $470 (World Bank 2015). The poverty is quite striking in many of the rural areas I have visited during my time here. Additionally, Ethiopia was rated nineteen by the Fund for Peace 2014 Fragile State Index. It seems odd that a country that allegedly is doing so well, still demonstrates such blatant inequality, and remains fragile. Development is not only measured by the number of buildings constructed or improved infrastructure. It is as much about the health, safety, welfare and happiness of a people. Establishing a democratically accountable governance system that encompasses institutions that foster economic growth, while heeding to the well being of its citizens might be the key for Ethiopia to achieve long-term development.


The lows of week 4 (or as per House 2: Thorns and Roses)

Personal space? Not so much. “Selam-no, sister, phone card?” “Selam-no sister, bubblegum?” “Sister, sister, shoeshine?” “What’s your name, sister? Remember me?” “Fuck youuuuu…..” Week four. Yeah. Definitely. It’s week four. The busy streets, the solicitors of everything possible, the mud, the lack of side walks. It is all a bit much this week.

We were warned that after about a month we might experience a bit of a low. It is unquestionably happening to me to some extent. It will pass. Of that I am sure. But at this moment, I would much appreciate a full night’s sleep without being awakened by mosquitoes; the stiffness in my neck (onset by the ridiculous rocklike thing that serves as a pillow); our landlady’s live-in maid who literally seems to slave all day and night in the courtyard by my window grinding something or other, sweeping, washing; or dogs barking like there is no tomorrow. Likewise, a nice warm shower, or walking out the door without almost being run over a multitude of times by drivers who literally do not seem to understand the concept of pedestrian rights, would be super! I could also do without coming home to the random smell of shit that seems to depend on the direction of the wind and air pressure.

My guidebook (that has come in very handy actually) warns of the “Remember me?” scam. A person will offer to take you around, and might invite you to a coffee ceremony or dinner, after which you are presented with an outrageous bill. This past week I did encounter a “remember me” dude. Oh, the struggles of Addis…!

On the bright side though, I am finally finding my way around the city a bit. The minivans do not seem as insane and confusing anymore, and I have successfully managed to make my way to a number of different parts of town, including Mexico, and the area around the African Union. This is also the area where my second internship is located so knowing how to get there is pretty exciting! And necessary. I even understand the layout of the city to some extent, and it is all beginning to make a bit of sense. The other day we explored the backstreets of Haya Hulet and came across a number of great vegetable and fruits stands that I am sure we will start frequenting. The papaya we purchased was quite delicious! Last night I met an old friend (who I realized some weeks ago, had moved back to Ethiopia) for Iftar. We met at a Yemeni restaurant not too far from our house. I decided to walk and discovered a completely new area. The dinner was super, and I made a bunch of new friends who gave me lots of tips on life in Addis, including restaurants and how to prepare for the rains and the cold, which are inevitably around the corner. Week 5, I am ready!


PEW Scores and such in Hawassa

After an intense week 2 in Adwa I arrive back in Addis on Sunday at noon. A one-hour repacking session at House 2 and off we go: down south this time. Eight of us packed in a van we head to Hawassa – a wonderfully vibrant town in the Sidamo region (which officially these days goes by the ridiculously long name of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional State  – SNNPRS). The luscious and green south is a stark contrast to the arid and mountainous north, and it feels almost like another country. The wide avenues of Hawassa, lined with greenery, are similarly a nice contrast to the dusty streets of Addis, and it is evident that the town has benefitted from some urban planning. The largest city in the Ethiopian Rift Valley, Hawassa is situated on the green shores of Lake Hawassa and we spend a lovely afternoon and evening enjoying cocktails overlooking the lake, and breathing the fresh air.

The purpose of the trip however, is to become familiar with the Wide Horizons for Children (WHFC) programs in the south, and on the agenda are family visits to urban as well as rural settings. Accompanied by WHFC social workers and Indicators of Progress Toward Economic Well Being (PEW) form in hand, we set out. The WHFC program focuses on child sponsorship – providing the economic and psychosocial support needed for the child to regularly attend and finish school. While the sponsored child is the focus, the entire family (and often an extended family) becomes a beneficiary of the program through a monthly stipend contributed by WHFC. It is hoped that the stipend will be the first step to lift a family out of poverty. When a family proves stability, improved income generation, and sustained savings, additional grants are available that can help a family expand a business, buy livestock, or install a well that will help them further improve their lives.

The first day the focus is on families enrolled in the program living in urban or semi-urban settings. We split into two groups based on our interests and in order not to intimidate the families. After all we are seven Forenjis and at least five WHFC social workers imposing on the families all at once… In Adwa we also did quite a few family visits and I am struck by the difference between the families in the south and the families we visited in the north. The families around Hawassa do not seem to be doing nearly as well as the ones in Adwa. Many of them have been in the program for a number of years but still do not have much to show for in terms of improved socioeconomic status. We visit a woman who is squatting on a piece of land so close to the lake shore that she is forced to move every year when the seasonal heavy rains flood her “house.” At 16 points, her PEW score is the lowest yet (for graduation out of the program you need a score of 80 or more), and the sponsored child does not regularly attend school because of health complications related to reoccurring Malaria. The proximity to the lake makes the likelihood of Malaria infection high. We inquire if it would be possible for the woman to qualify for some kind of government assistance that would provide her with a piece of land and/ or stability in her housing. After all it is the government who refers the families in need to WHFC. However, that option does not seem viable. The situation of the woman seems dire and her options next to none. It is saddening. We note her low PEW score and bid farewell, leaving her and her dependents to battle the oncoming rains yet another year.


Medical Mission

Adwa is located in the Tigray region, in the northern part of the country, and this is where I head the second week of my time in Ethiopia. Tasked with assisting a Wide Horizons for Children (WHFC) Medical Mission, and assessing gaps and challenges of the Mission, I set out with the two doctors Marianne and Hector, and Mark. After a short delay in Gondar we land in Axum where we are greeted by the WHFC regional director Alemseged and taken to the quiet WHFC guesthouse located on a hill overlooking Adwa town. This is where we will stay while working at the Atsede Mariam Health Center and the Adwa General Hospital during the coming week.

I am not a medical professional nor have I ever worked in a medical setting so I do not quite know what to expect from this assignment, and at the outset I am not entirely sure of what I will be doing. The uncertainty is soon replaced however, by the steady stream of patients who line the clinic grounds hoping to see Marianne who treats them free of cost during the week of the mission. I do Triage, which I learn means measuring the blood pressure of the patients, taking their pulse, and inquiring about their reason for seeking treatment. I do my best to make the patients feel safe and cared for. But I do not speak the local language Tigrinya, and in order to carry out my tasks I depend on a health officer or social worker to be by my side at every moment. It is difficult and at times frustrating. I struggle to make myself understood while ensuring that the vital questions I pose to the patients and the answers I receive are translated correctly before sending the patient on to the doctor. Many of the patients have ailments that have gone untreated for much too long and some of the interactions are challenging at best. But I think I do quite ok. Until day two.

There is something about the nine year-old boy that comes in for treatment that breaks my heart. It is not merely the fact that tumors in both his eyes cause him incredible pain and make him sensitive to daylight. It is his whole being that touches my soul in an inexplicable way. His suffering and sadness are apparent, and yet he does not speak. He does not complain or cry, but it is as if his whole person is full of sorrow. I have to turn away in order not to show my emotions. In this moment I am supposed to be the strong one, the cure, the solution.

This child needs surgery or he will go blind within a year. At age nine he has never gone to school because of the tumors that were detected in his eyes when he was seven years old. In Ethiopia you are not eligible to attend school if you have a disability. I become determined to make sure this child gets the operation before I leave Ethiopia.



The city certainly seems to be working hard at living up to its name “New Flower.” The idea of new, blooming, blossoming etc. rings true as we make our way through this capital city bursting with new constructions on literally every corner. However, the bustling Haile Gebre Selassie Road (one of the few roads I have actually been able to identify on the map), where Ethiopian urban youth hang out at the various coffee shops, internet cafes, bars, and malls, stands in stark contrast to some of the streets closer to our living quarters in Haya Hulet, where street children sell gum and candy, hoping to earn a birr or two, or get some bottled water.

While many of the incomplete structures still gape empty and sad, I am struck by the amount of work that is constantly being carried out here. As a hub in Africa and home of the African Union, I imagined Addis to be quite developed compared to some other African capital cities that I am familiar with. But I still did not quite know what to expect. While Monrovia or Kinshasa similarly can boast of construction, the difference is that many buildings seem to never get completed. I am impressed by the infrastructure, and the “smooth” traffic here, which does not seem that bad at all… Seeing enormous highways like the one down to Debre Zeyit was quite a surprise, and the light railway here in Addis is of course striking. However, I cannot help but wonder how all of the “development” in Addis will benefit the average person here in the capital as well as in Ethiopia at large. More on that later…

Oh, the coffee for sure is to die for! 😉

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