The Malian captain who staged a coup d’état last year (and handed two-thirds of his country on a silver plate to the bands of criminals that are currently being removed) had been trained…in the United States. Nothing new here. Most of the worst human rights abusers in uniform who in the past visited their reign of terror on the citizens of various countries in Latin America had received training…in the United States.

But this piece is not about how the USA is the wellspring of all evils in the world. For that we have The Guardian, an eternal kindergarten playground for self-appointed progressives whose lives, these days, revolve mainly around their own navels.

No, this is about training. Training! Workshops! Meetings! But most of all: training! Today, this constitutes, without any doubt, the prime activity of the development set.

Old style: development worker arrives in village, digs wells, builds schools, designs irrigation scheme – and leaves. The villagers, whose priorities lie elsewhere, use the new facilities for a while, until they fall into disrepair. Exceptions duly noted. On a more spectacular scale, entire factories worth billions have been thusly erected and never used.

But then it was decided that is was a most inefficient way of spending development funds. A better method was found.

New style. A caravan of Four Wheel Drives arrives at an expensive hotel. Invitations have been emailed to a selected group of individuals, who duly show up – expenses paid – and gather in several rooms to receive training. Four days later the caravan departs (someone having picked up the tab) and splits: one part goes to the airport; another to the nicer parts of town. Notes and minutes are emailed, perused and forgotten.

The reverse also happens. Groups of locals are hauled through the excruciatingly humiliating process of obtaining visas for rich countries that have developed a quivering fear of “foreigners”. They arrive in said rich countries and are transported to an expensive hotel. They gather in several rooms to receive…you know the drill.

For hotel, you can also read “military base”, “radio station” or even “company”. Usually, the people thus trained have priorities that are not necessarily reflected in the training program. Practical priorities, or political ones. Priorities of which the training organisers are, in the main, blissfully unaware.

Training can of course be useful. Say, someone wants to be a radio broadcaster, like me. Stands to reason that receiving training to become one is a perfectly rational course of action. However…the use of that new expertise is another thing altogether. Will it be used for fair and balanced reporting? That depends on factors that are outside the remit of trainer and trainee alike.

And the same can reasonably be said for others. Say, someone wants to be an army captain, unlike me. Receiving military training is, once again, highly logical. Captain Sanogo, the Malian putschist, received such, in the USA. He must have been told a thousand times that the army takes its orders from politicians, not the other way around. But practical and political priorities compelled him to forget those expensive lessons – and those factors were clearly outside the remit of trainers and trainees alike.

And here lies, I think, the problem with the development set’s newfound activity. Like the village projects before it, all those training sessions are based, implicitly, on the notion that the natives must first be studied and then improved, irrespective of their own priorities. In one word: hubris. The same hubris that compelled one development bureaucrat to inform me, years ago, that implicating the recipients of aid projects in the design of such projects was, of course, complete nonsense.

Indeed. On the other hand, the context-free training of people makes perfect sense…to the hospitality industry. I’m off to training!

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2 Responses to “‘I’M OFF TO TRAINING!’”

  1. The culture of debate | Bram Posthumus - Yoff Tales Says:

    […] When you read a line like this, the association is immediate: some NGO or other? Correct! Does it contain the word training somewhere? It does – double bingo! […]

  2. After Oxfam | Bram Posthumus - Yoff Tales Says:

    […] This is not doing development, sorry. This is, at the deepest level, a colonial mindset at work, which I once summarised like this: ‘the natives must first be studied and then improved’. Sure, all with the best of intentions but that only helps to remind me of Michael Maren’s The […]

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