so my last entry had a somewhat tangential comment on the recently privatized Cameroonian electric utility, SONEL. who bought it just a few months before i (an american peace corps volunteer) first started interacting with it at post? an american firm, of course. AES Corporation... “one of the world’s largest power companies... in 28 countries on 5 continents.”
i bring all this up b/c i think there are some interesting parallels (and perpendiculars, if you will) b/w AES’ presence in cameroon and the presense of american peace corps volunteers. not the least of which is an american expatriate living off a government stipend (me!) paying a majority american utility company (AES-SONEL = 56/44% partnership b/w AES and the Cameroonian govt.) for his electricity bills in central africa.
don’t read too much into this and other connections i’ll be making. my intention isn’t to unravel a conspiracy or grand plot for global corporate hegemony... just to offer some context for what it was that i and my other peace corps volunteer mates were embarking upon, in terms of both the scope and scale of our work as “agents of sustainable development.”
in that regard, it’s interesting to note that AES has a corporate social responsibility program (see here for AES’s CSR work) with a focus on things like community development, environment and HIV/AIDS... all the same issues i would be working on! par example, see the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) summary to the IFC project that helped finance a new power plant in Limbe, Southwest Province. there's a mention in there of environmental and social management plans and programs.
my fellow volunteers and i often found ourselves discussing the scale at which we were “doing development.” what we thought of as small, of course... often just one person in a town or village. especially as it compared to bigger, more technical organizations that we saw and/or interacted with in Cameroon: USAID and GTZ come to mind... but also other volunteer organizations like the British VSO and the German DED. not to mention the likes of the UN, World Bank and IFC.
AES is by no means a “development organization,” but it’s interesting to compare the size and scope of their CSR-related work to that of a peace corps volunteers. an apples to oranges comparison, no doubt. but peace corps isn't really a small organization (some PC stats)... it’s more like an upside down pyramid–many upside down pyramids, that hit the ground where one volunteer is stationed. in my case, this pyramid started with the $265 million budget approved by congress and the president to the US Peace Corps in 2001... and ended in a small town called Wum.
i won’t say much beyond that now... but this theme will come up again, especially as some of my fellow volunteers and i begin to discuss the merits and demerits of different approaches to sustainable develolpment. peace corps’ included. and especially as i start to interact with the peace corps administration (both in yaounde and washington, DC) more towards the end of my service. with that in mind, i'll end this post with a word or two on hindsight...
hindsight is 20/20, right? and in rereading, researching and posting my journal entries to this blog (and the web-based medium is certainly essential in this) i’ve started to see and make some of these interesting connections, in hindsight, that i either overlooked or simply couldn’t have seen while in cameroon. examples include the fact that renowned cameroonian author Mongo Beti passed away about a month after i first started reading his novels...
again, don’t read too much into such things. just interesting connections and a way to locate what i was up to within a more global context. there are also the points that i brought up above with AES-SONEL and, ultimately, the fact that i helped bring the motorcycle i fell off of (the same motorcycle that appears in the picture above my profile on this blog) to wum in the first place. stay tuned for more on that! :)