26 March 2012

Taking it Personal

In the culture of rural Africa juridical personalities appear not to exist. This is a discovery that got me reeling the last weeks. It is again proof that even after 11 years full of overflowing days in rural Africa, one continues to stumble upon new and fundamental truths every day. How could I not have seen this before? And, now understood, how to integrate this knowledge in wise mentoring?

Currently Macha Works is in the middle of a program called 'Pruning for Growth'. This program was initiated when during January and February two major expansion and donor commitments did not materialize; follow up Universal Service Funding expansion support for LinkNet, anticipated since May 2010, and delay in reimbursement for a large, executed target-based-funding building project.

With financial sustainability under attack, and thoughtful of the aim for long term sustainable progress, while avoiding particularism, Macha Works management took the only possible and tough decision to lay off all staff per 1 March. A growing contingency of volunteering staff continue activities in March, while the process towards rebuilding of the organisation takes off.

All this goes 'according to the management-handbook' and is a clear pass in the exam of local talent to sustainably operate an organisation in rural Africa, even under 'pressure cooker' circumstances! A signal that did not land on deaf ears and positivity exited most cooperating partners.

However, in the rural area the message is not easily digested. Some former staff and community members did start a hunt for 'the person who did this'. As Macha Works is community owned and run by Local Talent, a twister of attention focusing on the 'who'-question wanders through the area. It aims to uproot the local individuals seen as liable. Outside of the cyclone most remains at peace. Still, the magnitude of the difficulties for the individuals involved attains levels that startle me. Thus we forcefully entered a new phase of local talent training and mentoring, and discoveries.

One such discovery is that the concept of a legal entity, with a legal name and rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and liabilities under law, is not readily understood in the local culture and context. When I probe community members, local leadership, and even district dignitaries, they confirm this finding. Some even compassionately welcome me in the community of those endowed with this knowledge from experience.

Legal bodies in rural Africa seem to be a scarce and often bewildering artifact. It appears that, apart from the clergy that esoterically represent God, there are two entities that do exist in rural areas: the People and the Government. As such, anything that is not 'people' thus per definition is 'government'. One signal of such classification is that writing, necessary in the operations of corporate legal bodies, signals the separation of such bodies from people; People utilize orality and government literacy. Entities that utilize writings are thus seen to be necessarily part of government. Albeit the continuous review of an institute's government recognition, registration, and interaction.

On the other hand, it seems that a community owned entity like Macha Works, is seen necessarily having all rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and liabilities connected to a person. And thus, when the entity goes through a challenging period, the community searches for the person whom should have the full responsibility. That is quite tough for institutional leaders, whom have to watch two fronts at once, one rational/institutional and one relational/personal!

There is much to learn, and understand, and to educate, both for local talents, for communities, and, of course, for me. Never a dull moment!