Monday, August 4, 2008

Back from Blue Sky Country

Could not complain much about the islands where we spent much of the last six weeks. We spent our days under the bluest skies (most days), feed bread to the fish (and they were not shy); contemplated the gorgeous shades of the sea as we watched time grind slowly in a much different world. But even in this tiny paradise, real life has a way of intruding in unexpected ways. We enjoyed watching ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth” until we discovered that the movie pass cost half the locals' daily wage; and we thought we just came at a low screening time. Taxi drivers talked about hard times all the time and not just with the high price of gasoline but skyrocketing food prices, and corrupt officials running amok. And it seemed as if in every small town, there was a long line of people (mostly women) snaking into the hard sun waiting for their turn to buy the staple food for their families.

Lots of things happened while I was gone. Given that the net has its own internal clock, it’ll probably take me awhile to catch up… ah well ....maybe I will, maybe I won't....

Can't help noticing that old Bob in Zimbabwe was declared winner of the run-off presidential election with 85.51 percent of the vote and sworn in for a new five-year term. He’ll be what - 89 when he runs again in 2013? You bet he'll run again unless Father Time gets him first. He reportedly accused Britain of trying to seize control of resources in Zimbabwe and threatened to transfer ownership of all foreign-owned firms that support Western sanctions against the government to locals and investors from "friendly" countries. Say, that would not happen to be China and Russia, would it?

Sounds awfully familiar; I wonder if these dictators have a playbook that they share with each other. Something like -- When things fall apart, don’t blink! Blame the imperialists, the crusaders, the _____ (heck, fill in the blank).

On the Iraqi allies who are now refugees in Syria, Jordan and even in their own country - some new developments. In early July, as reported in the Washington Post, the United States ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, sent a cable to Washington on July 9 pressing the administration to issue immigrant visas to all Iraqis employed by the American government. In late July, the American Embassy in Baghdad announced that it had expanded tenfold its program to help Iraqi employees of the American government here, who faced threats for their work, to obtain visas for the United States. You can read the coverage here, in case you missed it. I can't imagine how long local employees can keep the fact that they work for the USG a secret in Iraq. Probably not too long. I'm also wondering how long before there is a complete turn-over of local Iraqis working for the USG in Iraq? And when that happens, won't State have another staffing problem on its hands? We would not only have a constant rotation of 1-year tour officers, we would also have locals who would be coming in new to their jobs at the embassy or elsewhere in the USG arm (until they come under threat, and get shipped out on a special visa).

Don't get me wrong. I don't think they should be left to their own devices when they come under threats for their association with our forces in Iraq; however, I'm also wondering how do we keep some sense of continuity on the work we're doing there when we have a constant rotation of personnel in addition to not having experienced local employees for support? What knowledge management strategy do we have to help ensure that the employees coming in to their jobs in Iraq, whether FS, civil servant, contractor or a new local hire would not be starting from scratch every time? Unless there is one, it would be kind of like being a uhm, hamster spinning its wheel in foreverland, wouldn't it?

Perhaps I'm suffering the fog from jet lag, there must be some rational answers to these questions, right? More later …

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