Monday, October 13, 2008

Emails from Bamyan, Afghanistan (Part VI)

Tuesday, March 10 2004

Bamyan, Afghanistan

So, my frustration begins to mount when I find out that the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) Secretariat, which we are now officially called (no longer UNAMA Electoral Component), has just recently issued a new operational plan with the time frame of 3 weeks to register the rest of the population in Afghanistan. The estimated voter for the whole of Afghanistan is about 8 million people and we have so far registered more than 1 million people in Afghanistan.

The time frame for Phase 2 of the registration process is from 1st – 21st May 2004. This means, we will have to register about 7 million people in just 3 weeks!! If anyone needs a miracle to happen, it would be now.

(One of the lessons learned from the UN-administered Presidential election in Timor Leste was the implementation of registration method. In Timor Leste, the UN spent millions of dollars providing laptops, CD ROMs, high tech computer software and training to digitally register voters. After the election was over, the UN left behind hundreds of thousands of CD ROMs containing voters’ data and thousands of laptops but only a handful of Timorese who actually know how to use and maintain the system. Needless to say, the exit strategy, or actually the lack of it, was far from being ideal in an under-developed country with low level of literacy rate. Hence, in Afghanistan, eligible voters are registered manually which in essence makes a lot of sense since the implications are huge; more cost effective, less time needed to train registration staffs on how to operate the software, less headaches trying to recruit staffs who have at least minimal computing skill and most importantly, easier to manage and maintain by the local people after. However, it also results in longer registration time per voter.)

One of the reasons we have changed our name is because we are finally doing the much-delayed “Afghanisation” process. The JEMB Secretariat now consists of 7 Afghans and 6 international UNAMA staffs. It is headed by Dr. Farook Wardak and no longer Reg Austin, the International Chief of Electoral. Reg is now the Adviser to Dr. Wardak. This means, all international staffs will now be playing an advisory role rather than an active role in all positions.

For instance, my position as a Civic Education Officer might soon be changed to Civic Education Coordinator. Each of us will have an Afghan counterpart during this transitional period. Imagine how exciting this would be! Mark my sarcasm on this because the process of Afghanisation cannot perceive to be effective for only 2 months (if we by some kind of a miracle manage to recruit everyone by the end of this month).

Sometimes, I don’t really understand what the people in Kabul are doing. I feel that they just sit in their comfortable chairs in a fancy office with a fancy bukhari (their bukharis are imported from Canada) and probably spend their nights partying away and then wake up with a huge hangover the next morning. I mean, what took them so long to come up with an operational plan and then tell us 2 weeks before the whole process and expect us to implement them come rain or shine due to their lack of planning?

For me, that is poorly done and the worse thing is, I am not mad with the fact that I am banned from taking holidays from 15 April onwards until June or that I have to work my ass off for the next couple of months. No, I am mad with the fact that we are all forced to rush everything to the detriment of giving a real impact on the people in really understanding the process. Because of the extremely impossible time frame, we now have to do our jobs at a piecemeal level.

For the last few weeks, I have been involved in the organization of the International Women’s Day (IWD) due on 8 March and it was a mess. I don’t even want to go into the politics that went on. The bottom line is, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHCR) in Bamyan now has a bone to pick with us; i.e. the Civic Education team.

I have managed to get several international and national institutions as well as civil society groups to come together to organize this big event for IWD. The Organising Committee consisted of the Department of Women’s Affair (DOWA), AIHCR, UN Habitat, a local NGO called Save the Women and Children of Afghanistan (SWCA) and of course us.

I left Homa to organize the event with the rest of the women. This is my “Afghanisation” attempt and also a perfect opportunity for empowering the women to do something for themselves. But I took charge of the solicitation of fund which didn’t take too long because we have UNDP’s support for civil society project. Unfortunately, UNDP’s grant is limited to USD1, 000 per project only. So, I had to find another donor because we couldn’t cover transportation cost to send women from other districts to attend the event. In the end, I managed to get the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to fund the rest of the project.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Bamyan, Afghanistan

So, everything was set to go for 8th March 2004. Meanwhile, Homa and I had gone to Kabul for training and were due to be back in Bamyan on 7 March 2004. You could imagine my anxiety being involved in the organization of IWD and at the same time not being able to be there to supervise things. So, I was constantly calling Bamyan trying to check on things.

A bombshell was dropped on me when I was told that the Department of Women’s Affairs had to postpone the event to 14th March instead of 8th March. The Ministry of Women’s Affair (MOWA) has specifically requested all their DOWA Regional Directors to be in Kabul on 8th March for the national IWD celebration and then have their subsequent regional celebrations after in order for the Minister of MOWA to attend the regional events.

So, the Organising Committee had a meeting to discuss the possibility of postponing the event. AIHCR and SWCA disagreed and insisted on having the event on the 8th. By right, majority rules but DOWA cannot go against MOWA’s instruction. So, DOWA would have to pull out from the Committee.

Hence, a conflict arose.

Meantime, IOM has been requested by its Gender Officer in Kabul not to fund any IWD event, which clashes with MOWA’s request. IOM had to do that because part of its mandate is to establish links and cooperation with governmental bodies. Hence, a dilemma…whether to have it on 8th March, without IOM’s funding and DOWA’s involvement or have it on the 14th which of course was not acceptable for AIHCR and SWCA. Without IOM’s funding, we won’t be able to pay for the traveling allowances of those women coming from other districts.

Anyway, I was left to make a decision whether to support AIHCR and SWCA or DOWA. In actual fact, I don’t need to get involved because it was really up to the women to decide. We were just playing a supportive role and if the women want to split up and have 2 celebrations, we will support both events. But because I act as the main liaison person for UNDP’s grant (yep, let us not forget that we have 2 donors involved) I need to advise whether UNDP should provide the funding or not. I was left to weigh the circumstances on my own because Hari, my Regional Coordinator is on leave and he has entrusted the whole project to me. I was also forced to make a decision under tremendous pressure because I was stuck in Kabul and I was supposed to dedicate myself to the training.

In any case, I would like to have the idea of having just one celebration with all the bodies mentioned before involved. I don’t want to have duplication of programmes and the same target audience for 2 events. It risks people getting bored. It would be a wasted effort.

Plus, we have specific interest for the women from other districts to attend the event. We could provide civic education to these women in advance before they return to their districts with the hope that these women would then talk to other women for that cascading effect to work. Also, we can make recruitment announcement at the event so that we can start identifying potential candidates from other districts. Hence, IOM’s support is crucial for us.

So, I called one of our national civic educators in Bamyan to get all the women together and discuss this again. I wanted them to think carefully and weigh the implications before making a decision. I also asked the civic educator to persuade them to postpone the event, as DOWA really has no choice. At the end of the day, DOWA has specific and relevant interest on IWD and not AIHCR. If it were the International Human Rights Day, then AIHCR has priority.

So, they talked and again I was told that AIHCR was adamant to stick to the 8th although they managed to persuade SWCA to change their mind. Hence, AIHRC was now alone in its stand.

I talked to the UNDP Liaison Officer for Civil Society Projects in Kabul and he told me that UNDP would not be keen to fund a project which has in a way “fallen apart” and with only AIHCR as the only actor. So, I sent a message to Bamyan, giving AIHCR an ultimatum that either they agree to postpone the event or they would have to do it by themselves without any funding at all. AIHCR proudly announced that they would do it on their own and they did not need anyone’s help.

So, fine. I had a relatively peaceful week in Kabul after that.

… be continued in Part VII……

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