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I received a random email last night from F+W Media asking me to advertise their fundraising campaign for Japan on my blog. I wondered if they had ever read my blog. But that’s beside the point.

Their pitch?

I wanted to alert you to a special announcement from David Nussbaum, Chairman & CEO of F+W Media, Inc.  Find his letter below, please feel free to share this with your (readers, constituents, fans) via the link on our website: http://fwmedia.com/japan

Best,
Kristin Nehls
Publicist | F+W Media, Inc
@KristinNehls

Their initiative?

“Much like in your own community, school, or place of work, the employees at F+W Media wanted to do something ­ anything ­ to help. While the people of Japan are relocated to temporary housing, as supplying food and potable water becomes critical, the need for support in the coming weeks is even greater. Wednesday March 30th we will join with the American Red Cross to lend our support. And, we hope you will too. F+W Media will donate 50% of all profits received Wednesday from the sale of products and services via all of our 23 eCommerce stores. By choosing to make a purchase on this day, you will directly contribute to the ongoing efforts to provide medical care and relief assistance to the people of Japan.”

Well, OK…

I’ll commend F+W for raising funds and having the good sense to not try sending volunteers and goods in kind to Japan, and for working through a known organization with emergency capacity like the Red Cross.

But…

I’d also call F+W’s attention to this article from Good Intents March 28th post “Japan is limiting international assistance“:

“Following the OCHA team’s visit to Miyagi Prefecture on 23 March and after discussion with Government of Japan counterparts, OCHA notes: (1) that even though the scale of the damage following the earthquake and tsunami was significant and resulting humanitarian needs remain considerable, (2) Japan is a highly developed country and has, in principle, enough resources as well as the ability to respond to existing humanitarian needs. The country can both produce and procure relief supplies domestically and has the capacity to deliver those supplies to the affected population. Japan has a consolidated disaster management system for disaster response although coordination and logistical challenges have yet to be fully overcome.

Nothing against Japan and its people. I was probably as shocked and stunned by the earthquake and tsunami there as anyone else who watched it from afar and who has some close Japanese friends who desperately wondered how their families were faring.

But since Japan doesn’t seem to need more funds, I wonder if F+W Media would consider another crisis in their awareness raising and fundraising efforts.

See, there is this country in West Africa called Cote d’Ivoire…

That country is entering into a civil war that has the potential to shake all of West Africa. Some 1 million people are fleeing the violence. Mercenaries from Liberia (the country next door) are already fighting in Cote d’Ivoire. According to a friend of a friend who’s in Cote d’Ivoire, Ivorian National TV is broadcasting xenophobic messages stirring aggressions against neighboring countries and their citizens in Ivorian territory. This explosive mix could throw the whole sub-region into war. For an overview on the Cote d’Ivoire crisis check my previous post “Cote d’Ivoire and the thinking trap” or Blog for Cote d’Ivoire, which lists a number of resources on the crisis.

Funds raised for Japan? As of March 28, OCHA reports $442,264,078 (including $261,292,921 in uncommitted funds)

Funds raised for Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia? As of March 28, OCHA reports a 10th of that: $44,924,193.

OCHA's chart on Cote d'Ivoire appeal (March 28)

EHAP for Liberia from OCHA (March 28)

(Charts: UN OCHA’s West and Central Africa Region)

Maybe we should be happy that the donations that Japan doesn’t need might go the unfolding and critical situation in Cote d’Ivoire, which no one seems to care about…. We should be thankful for the Asterisk, as Cynan says.

Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami

Your gift to the American Red Cross will support our disaster relief efforts to help those affected by the earthquake in Japan and tsunami throughout the Pacific. On those rare occasions when donations exceed American Red Cross expenses for a specific disaster, contributions are used to prepare for and serve victims of other disasters.”

And then there is the military intervention in Libya, which I’m not sure how I feel about. I’m following the situation there and in several countries in North Africa and it’s gruesome. But it’s hard to understand how choices are made. A friend of mine living and working in West Africa wrote to me today, and I can understand how he is feeling. It must be terrible to be there, watching “never again” happening again and being powerless to stop it.

“It seems incomprehensible why the international community does not intervene in Cote d’Ivoire whereas they are happily bombing Libya in the name of Human Rights. Strictly speaking in the case of Libya there is a revolution going on against a Head of State in power (I am not commenting here on the type of leader he is!). In Cote d’Ivoire the elected head of state cannot gain power for reasons known, and the population is persecuted and terrorized by his contestor. Wouldn’t it seem logical that the international community intervenes in Cote d’Ivoire instead? They refuse saying that Africa has the AU who should deal with this and that they were not on crusade to liberate the continent from its problems.

Why this differential treatment? Well, the answer is fairly simple: Libya has oil, Cote d’Ivoire not. In the case of Libya the AU stood still and did not comment – not surprisingly as Khaddafi pays for most of half of all country memberships in the AU and has been a tremendous support for development in individual countries. In the case of Cote d’Ivoire they mobilized themselves to act but their negotiation missions all failed. It’s a crazy world. There is no interest from the international community in Human Rights. There is only interest in access and control over resources.”

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'Green bicycles' change students' lives

So I’m sitting at lunch today in Kwale, Kenya and one of my Kenyan colleagues is reading the newspaper. He comments, ‘You know, sometimes what is said to be green is not really green.’  He shows another colleague and me this article:  “‘Green bicycles’ change students’ lives.”

They begin discussing:  How are these bicycles really green? How much are they paying to ship them over to Kenya? This is not even the right model of bicycle. These are not the Black Mamba bicycles like we are used to — these bicycles will not stand up to Kenyan roads. And you won’t find the spare parts here either. We are not short of bicycles here in Kenya. Why not purchase them locally? Why are they shipping in refurbished bicycles?

I tell them about 1millionshirts (an idea to send a ton of used t-shirts to ‘Africa’ that was subsequently taken through the wringer) and SWEDOW (Stuff We Don’t Want — a term made famous by @talesfromthhood to represent the idea of sending unwanted junk to ‘developing countries’ and feeling good about it).

We go back to the article to see what the details are, to see what exactly is it that makes the bicycles ‘green’?  After all, ‘green bicycle’ is in quotes in the headline, so maybe the article’s author is also questioning the real ‘greenness’ of these bicycles.

We read that the project is the brainchild of Kenyan Isaac Kalua, who runs the Green Africa Foundation. He visited Tokyo a few years ago and met Hiroshi Kurokawa, the Chairman of the Japan Bicycle Foundation, and the idea was born.

“The organisation [Japan Bicycle Foundation] receives bicycle donations from wealthy Japanese, refurbishes them and ships them to other Asian countries to help rural people reach school and healthcare centres…. On average, each refurbished bicycle costs Sh12,000, including the cost of shipment.” Kalua was able to convince Kurokawa to ship some to Kenya also.

So, if my calculation is correct, 12,000 Kenyan Shillings is around $150. (This June, 2009, blogpost called “Wanna buy a Kenyan bike” [complete with great photos] details the features that a good bike should have for the Kenyan context, and says that a new one can be purchased in Kenya for $75).

The article explains that in return for receiving a bicycle, “beneficiaries have to plant trees in their homes and schools and also encourage their communities to do so.”  The Japanese ambassador to Kenya says “this is an innovative way to get people to plant trees.” He also says that he looks forward to the day that there will be more Japanese bicycles than Japanese cars on the roads of Kenya.

Continuing on, we read that “…the project is facing challenges from Customs officials who take too long to clear the bicycles, making storage charges to soar. We were forced to pay Sh1.2 million for the storage of the latest batch of bicycles. We find that a big burden since this project is meant to be humanitarian.”  (That’s around $15,000 for storage.)

Handy SWEDOW flowchart

Now, I haven’t visited the project, spoken with project participants/ beneficiaries, nor have I done extensive research on the initiative, so I might be missing something here. But on the surface, using the handy SWEDOW flow chart, (created by Scott Gilmore at Peace Dividend Trust) it looks like the best thing to do with a bunch of used bicycles would be ‘sell them, send the cash to buy local’, or ‘throw them out.’

Greening Africa. Bike riding in Kenya. Tree planting. Recycling/re-using Japanese bicycles. Good ideas, but I bet there is a better, more sustainable, and more cost-effective way to achieve those aims than shipping refurbished bicycles from Japan to Kenya.

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The elephant in the room

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