Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Politics in Everyday Life


Today I realized that when I think of politics, I mean Republicans & Democrats, House & Senate, Libertarian & Leftie, etc... But at this moment, in our work here in Mali, we are involved in a political brawl of sorts that has nothing to do with parties or elected representatives or any of that. We are trying to dig a well in a remote, dry, crummy little village. But because of ethnic politics, we are being blocked from performing this good work for poor, destitute people who really need water. defines politics as:
1. the science or art of political government.
2.the practice or profession of conducting political affairs.
3.political affairs
4.political methods or maneuvers
5.political principles or opinions:

Pretty straightforward (boring) stuff. But then you get to the definition that describes our situation with the village here:
6.use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university, etc.

Or even better, here's the idiom to "8. play politics:" engage in political intrigue, take advantage of a political situation or issue, resort to partisan politics, etc.; exploit a political system or political relationships. deal with people in an opportunistic, manipulative, or devious way, as for job advancement.

Now we're getting down to it. Politics is about power.

Here's the situation: We are working in a village which is really 3 villages. Ethnic group A were the original inhabitants of what we'll call the A Quarter. Ethnic Group B has had their own 'neighborhood,' the B Quarter, for as long as anyone remembers. The C Quarter was formed over 15 years ago when the C people group were chased out of their homeland (a country ruled, incidentally, by Ethnic Group A) and became refugees. So the local A's in this particular village invited the C refugees to live in an uninhabited sector of their village, perhaps even seeing it as a kind of compensation for the wrongs perpetrated by their brethren in that other country.

Mind you, the A's were not making any great sacrifice. The reason this sector was uninhabited was that it was nearly uninhabitable. It's very rocky, unsuitable for farming, but not too bad for livestock, and group C just happens to be a shepherding tribe. So for them it wasn't too bad, except for one little detail -- no water. They were able to dig some shallow wells which were filthy, plus each day they would send a donkey cart to the A Quarter, a mile or more away, to fill several barrels with clean well water -- a job which takes about 5 hours daily. So when my DH started visiting the C Quarter, b/c of his interest in this ethnic group, all they could talk about was their need for water. They were coping, but certainly not thriving.

The last time we tried to do a water project for C, the leadership of A said, "Only if you help us first." (This project was a less expensive option than a deep well, a first effort). So we did our project there first, and they said, "The C's can keep coming here for their water. You are not to do a water project there." Within a few months, that water project failed. There were a lot of reasons for this, but could the hand of God have been part of it?

To make a lo-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g story short, we managed to find some funding for a well in C neighborhood. There is an African-American organization that wants to do a lot of good things for the C's, and the C people have said, If you get us water, you can do anything else you want. There is a C Christian worker who wants to promote education, hygiene, improved animal husbandry, farming, and not incidentally, preach the Gospel. Water is the key to all.

This time, DH asked the C village chief to go to his A counterpart and negotiate. (Let's keep the foreigner out of the picture!) Chief A told Chief C, "That's fine, we're all one here, if you can get a well, go for it!" Mind you, this is a culture where you can never say no to someone's face. So his response was really the only thing he could say within the confines of his world view (but it is also okay to stab your neighbor, at least figuratively, in the back.) Nevertheless, DH decided to go to the next higher political entity, the mayor of the commune, to get official permission. You're supposed to do that anyway, so the government knows what's going on.

So there was a meeting at the mayor's place in another village. The chiefs & elders of A & C were all there. The A's were conspicuously silent. So the mayor wrote up an official document, authorizing the well. They were delighted, in fact, since it is a project of this country for every village and hamlet to have clean water, and they can't afford to do it all.

So the day came for the ground breaking, last Monday the 12th. There were several local officials there to each dig up their token spadeful of dirt. No one from A Quarter tho -- in fact, the mayor said Chief A had called him that morning to lodge a protest. "Why didn't they speak up when we all met together?" asked the mayor. "It's too late now, and besides they know that these people have a right to a well!"

By Tuesday 13th the work had been stopped b/c Chief A contacted the next higher government authority, the prefect, who has authority over the mayor. So now we wait...

Okay, so what is political about all this? Lots of things:
1. The person who controls the water holds the power. If C Quarter gets water, they will be less dependent on the A's.
2. If the little boys of C are freed up from getting the water for 5 hours every day, they will be free to attend the village school, where as yet no C children attend. Education is power, too!
3. Chief A says he fears that if C gets water, more people will come to live there. Again, he feels a threat to his power.

There are ethnic conflicts going on here, too, but this is too long already, and I don't want to go into that anyway. One really hard part is that we have a burden for the A people to be reached with the Gospel as well, and are praying for Christian workers to come to our Region in that capacity. We have showed the J film in the A language twice in the village. We fear that this conflict is cutting us off from future positive contact with these A's. :-(

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