Postings from the void of Banausia

  • Questioning the Phillipines

      • kaestel.dk

    On a personal level, visiting the Philippines have been a both joyous and frustrating exploration of "letting go". It is a concept I find troubling, especially due to my own control disorder. And in the name of exactly that disorder, I need to stress that there is a big difference between "letting go" and "giving up". Just saying. I am definitely not training my "giving up"-side, but I clearly need to keep practicing my "letting go" skills a little while longer.

    When observing the quality of life here, it is easy to feel the need to tell the Filipinos how things should be done, because from a Danish point of view, there is so much room for improvement. But aside from it being rude (and yes, I am well aware I am generally rude - now and all the time), it would be a complete failure for a number of reasons, rudeness not even being one of them.

    You can't be too obsessed with details out here. In fact, details doesn't appear to exist. If you order an omelet and get a sunny side up fried egg, just roll with it or prepare to wait another two hours to get an eggnog. You ordered something with egg, you got something with egg, you should be happy.

    If something would be expected to take 30 minutes anywhere else in the world, be prepared for it to take two hours here. After two hours, I think it is OK to become impatient - as long as you realize it might not help the least. It is a very different life out here - there is no rush, there is typhoons. There is no point in rushing, especially as you would be the only one - everyone else is busy typhooning (keeping calm and waiting for it to go away).

    There is this confusing mix of vaguely expressed and unnuanced personal opinion, with an undertow of self interest, well balanced with humility and best intentions, that seems quite unique. Personal opinion is, of course, very directly affected by the ever present need, but since details do not exist in the Philippines, nuances are rarely a factor in any expression, and their truly honest humility simply prevents them from really cheating you - even when you are clearly either stupid or desperate. On more the one occasion I deliberately didn't ask for the price of a tricycle ride beforehand just to test this, and when asking for the price (when it is in fact too late to undo), I was met with this answer: What you like, sir. Now, I really do appreciate the trust put forward in that response, but I think it also illustrates how hard it is to get a clear answer out here.

    I was continuously disappointed and confused with the poor quality and assortment of fruit in the Philippines. Everywhere I went - in the local markets AND in the big supermarkets. How the hell can a country like the Philippines have so little fresh fruit to offer locally and why (the even more hell) is a fruit smoothie made up of 4 different powders and ice cubes, instead of fresh fruit, when I can pick 10 bananas fresh off a tree less than 15 meters away? WTF?

    The Philippines is a major Avocado producer, and yet I didn't see even one Avocado during my 3 weeks here. Every single (pitiful small) orange, mandarin or clementine was imported from China. Most Pineapples where simply rotten, right there on the shelf. With all the fruits supported by this climate, I am still looking for a valid explanation, why mangoes, bananas and watermelons were the only fruits of decent quality, regularly present.

    (My deeply depressing guess is that the majority of the production is owned and exported by the multinationals)

    And ... Catholicism is clearly no ones salvation. Despite intentions it is more likely what keeps the poor in line - in order to maintain the status quo of a privileged few, paid for by the lot. Since I was here alongside both the pope and the Sinolog celebration, meanwhile they were arranging pedigree (or whatever) demonstrations against Islamic Fundamentalism back in Denmark, especially one thing requires a mention: Religious fanaticism is not reserved for Islam. It is equally scary in any dress. And especially so when its followers are scared and desperate.

    I really don't have any suggestions for the Filipinos. It's a hard life, keep the good mood. I wish you good luck and hope the weather improves ... soon.

    Sigh.

    Image: Enough rice?

    Image: YAG's eatery

  • Uganda, final comments

      • kaestel.dk

    I've spent 17 days in Uganda. I have mingled with the rich and the poor and done my best to see the world through their eyes, though what they see is painful to me in very different ways.

    I am left with a confused mix of hope and helplessness. The existing power structure is completely caught in its own need turning to greed. Everyone simply accepts "the way things are" and plays the game skillfully to leave the table with their pockets full. The ones who tries to do right, looses out. It's a dangerous game of everything or nothing.

    The powerful people we have talked to here, all seem very inspired with the prospect of collecting more taxes. When we talk about education and free internet they loose focus and quickly the topic close in on the "what is in it for me"-rhetoric. It appears no one will do anything here, unless they themselves benefit financially from the deal. Regardless of them being business men or appointed officials.

    It is not very surprising but still more extreme than expected. My initial thoughts on who to lube the chain wasn't nearly enough. Towards the end of our stay we were debating how to balance more direct means of bribery, without compromising the overall intention of granting free internet and education. It is tough being an idealist in Uganda.

    If Uganda established a government controlled internet provider, surely such an organization would have highly acclaimed positions ready for the willing aids of such a program. Establishing it as a private company might allow for purposeful distribution of ownership through stocks. And establishing free internet would surely accelerate the infantile IT industry of Uganda, allowing the entrepreneurial to acquire valuable stakes in this new and profitable industry of digital services and media. The market already has 17 million under-nurtured customers.

    I consider this initial research trip to be successful and I have a feeling I'll be coming back. Even if it is just to sit at the lake and write or having another Rolex at the intersection.

    Image: Strip mall

    Image: Jesus cares

  • Image: Mobile Money

    Uganda tomorrow
    - Ideas for a brighter future

      • kaestel.dk

    Before I arrived to Uganda, I had been working with some ideas. An attempt to inspire new approaches and unconventional solutions.

    A few facts about Uganda:

    • Population: 36 mio
    • People with sanitation: 12 mio
    • People with electricity: 3 mio
    • Life expectancy: 57 years
    • Dominant religion: 84% Christianity
    • Literacy rate: 67%
    • Fertility rate: 6 children born pr. woman

    And the finances:

    • Total tax revenue: 8 trillion shillings (US $3 Bn)
    • Estimated black economy: 50% of GDP
    • Fake notes in circulation: > 3 trillion shillings (US $1 Bn)

    In addition to all these somewhat saddening facts, surpricingly enough mobile penetration is extremely high and the Ugandan telecom system offers Mobile payments. Real mobile payments - transanctions between phone subscriptions, excluding the banks completely from the equation. They call it Mobile Money. This is primarily used by the broad, poor population, and most of them do not hold bank accounts.

    • Mobile subscribers: 17 mio
    • Mobile money transactions: 22 trillion shillings (US $8 Bn)

    Initial conclusion

    Uganda has lots of problems. We know that, they know that. It almost seems like the ones who knows this better than anyone, are the ones stealing all the money.

    And here is what we do:
    Hey, Uganda - why don't you just build more schools and sewers and make electricity available to everyone, - just like we did in Europe? We'll lend you the money, if you buy our toilets, employ our engineers  and sell us your powerplants (we think it is going to be a goldmine).

    It is a rude selfish offering, disguised as generosity!

    It simply doesn't make sense to increase the national debt, without growing the local businesses. Neither does it make sense to blindly repeat all our mistakes, when they have the option to skip them all together.

    They don't have the money to take on any real tasks on their own, regardless of how much it makes sense and they also want to. However, if they could increase their tax revenues and limit the financial corruption, then maybe ...

    New ideas

    To get anywhere, I decided to focus on these challenges:

    • difficulty in taxing the broad population
    • limited access to education and information sharing

    Here is what I came up with

    • Provide free internet in the entire country.
    • Build a digital education system, with a few educational hubs for specialized classes.
    • Introduce real-time transactions based taxation and remove all deductions and current taxes.

    Internet

    Free internet is simple. Free means free. Free for everyone. It costs a penny, but we'll get to that. First, think of the media value - everyone will look in awe. Then they will come. Most will bring money. Some will stay.

    Education

    Almost everyone who needs to learn, already has access to a mobile phone. If we give them free access to the internet, we can reach them and teach them. All study material is available online. When appropriate for your education, you will contribute to developing and maintaining the new educational system and Senior compendium includes creating study groups for the youngest students.

    Building a few educational hubs costs a fraction of regular schools distributed across the country. The hubs are open for external teachers and free to attend whenever you can to balance out survival and education.

    In my opinion this is an opportunity to build the educational system of the future. It could be implemented throughout the entire 3rd world. People will help. Open source is already here and this is what it is meant for.

    Ok, so we need some money to get started. My guess is, there is EU and possibly UN financing available for a project like this. And then there is the tax.

    Taxation

    Introducing a real-time financial transaction based tax across the banking and mobile sectors (all electronic financial transactions) of about 5%, would multiply current tax revenue, given the available numbers are credible.

    It is a complete replacement for all current taxes and deductions no longer makes any sense. Let cash be tax free for an easier transition, but stop producing new coins and notes. The modern way of making financial transactions for purchases already exist and has a broad market penetration even among the poor.

    A real-time transaction based tax implemented like this will remove the need for tax related administration (both public and private) and make it a lot harder for the black economy to thrive. Tax ovation is practically impossible as taxes are paid automatically and instantly on every transaction you make. It really is very simple.

    Leftovers

    The free internet and the online educational system, is the incentive the population needs to pursue the digital revolution willingly, and thus the reason it can succeed. A taxation plan like relies on a digital population.

    Even after building a revolutionary educational system and providing free internet, there is likely a penny left for investment in additional infrastructure. Spend it wisely.

  • Image: Kampala Hills

    Christmas Day dinner in Kampala

      • kaestel.dk

    We went for Christmas Day dinner with friends of the family. A lively critique of Ugandan progress and lack thereof were exchanged across the coincidentally male only coffee table. There is a clear understanding of individual problems and no coherent solutions. The president is mentioned in many sentences and it seems he is capable of being part of both the problem and the solution.

    No sight of Christmas, if you exclude the mix of 90's hits/pop version Christmas songs played by the hired DJ.

    Kampala sure is different :)

  • Uganda, first impressions

      • kaestel.dk

    Yesterday I ate the cheapest kind of street food on the dusty roadside and today I had a coffee with the daughter of the former president. I am expecting to see more of both for the remainder of my stay and several meetings have already been arranged.

    Today I ate fried grasshoppers and attended a traditional Ugandan engagement party, which is an adventure all on its own. Yes, I did wear a traditional Ugandan dress.

    Uganda is not unlike Kenya - the big difference for me this time, is being hosted by well connected locals. It really broadens the reach and thus the experience.

    My ambition for this visit is to explore the cultural differences first hand and attempt to understand the mechanisms at work here. With any luck inspire with new perspective, and leave with new perspective gained.