Notes from the bottom left


January 2006

State House - a joint venture between North Korea and the European Union

The neo-Stalinist State House being built by the North Koreans. It has life-size fibreglass animals hidden in the bush around it so that visiting dignitaries can get a breath of the wild Africa without the inconvenience of going anywhere.



Once upon a time, long ago, before Developing Countries had been invented, Britain used to send its bravest and best ‘out’ to places that were a pinkish colour on the map but which most people (in Britain) had never heard of, in order to spread expertise, enlightenment and universal happiness. And to drink a congratulatory gin and tonic or two each evening to celebrate the end of a solid day’s enlightenment spreading.

One did not, in those days, have to develop anything, or alleviate any poverty, or even interpret any acronyms. One did, however, have some obligation to train up a few ‘locals’ to help you run their country for them in a manner fit and proper for a red bit on the map.

One might, for example, train a few science teachers, here or there, to teach science as it is taught in the motherland. For this one would be paid a local salary and then HMG would pay a top-up (tax free in recognition of the onerous nature of the task), pension, and in the fullness of time, school fees. And not forgetting a 500 pound loan to help one buy a car (of sound British manufacture, like a Ford). And, of course, a flight back to the motherland every two years


But it didn’t work. We were creating ‘dependency’; we were guarding our jobs and keeping ‘locals’ out of them. And we were enjoying the gin too much.


So early one morning we were all projectised. This meant that we had to stop training locals and start develop capacity instead. We were given targets that specified the quantity and quality of capacity that we had to develop annually. And there was an agreement with the ‘host institution’ that described their role in the exercise; this, it was said, would ‘create ownership’. So we developed capacity and we created ownership, and if there was time left over at the end of the day, we would train a few people.

Then we would drink a congratulatory gin and tonic or two each evening to celebrate the end of solid day’s capacity development.


But it didn’t work. We were weakening government systems by bypassing them. We were managing the project in a way that excluded ‘locals’. We had project cars (of sound British manufacture) which did not break down like the government ones. We earned lots and lots of money managing our projects and forgot to develop any capacity. And we were still enjoying the gin too much.

So early one morning we were all turned into ‘foreign experts’. We would be hired by the government to advise them on how to do the work that we used to do when we were ‘sent out’ or when we had been projectised. And the money would be poured into Ministry coffers to pay us and also to pay for what we advised them to do. And if we stuck around and advised long and hard enough we would get a car (preferably of European origin). We invented targets, constructed logframes, developed acronyms and defined indicators. And we were so busy that there was never any time left over to train a few people.

Then we would drink a congratulatory gin and tonic or two each evening to celebrate the end of solid day’s advising.


But it didn’t work. The money (now renamed ‘basket’ funding and provided by the EU) went in at the top and seeped through the system and eventually dribbled out at the bottom. Our advice stretched the country’s wastepaper baskets to breaking point (hence ‘basket funding’). And we were still enjoying the gin too much.


Then along came Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader, with his bucket. Which he placed carefully underneath the basket to catch the fungible euros dribbling out at the bottom. For this he offered to build The New State House, on the top of a hill which he would first demolish. It was to be a giant neo-Stalinist monolith, dominated by a fearsome bronze eagle of huge proportions atop an ever-so-solid pillar, an everlasting tribute to the Solidarity Of The Oppressed Peoples Of The World. And around and about he would put plastic replicas of the animals of the jungle to help the occupants feel they were still in Africa. It was to be built by teams of dear builders from North Korea who would tire endlessly day and night. And there was to be no capacity building, indicators, logframes, targets or acronyms to impede progress.

And they never dreamed of stopping for a gin and tonic or two at the end of a solid days building


So now at last, it was all beginning to work. We are left to fend for ourselves as best we can. The country has a Big Bronze Eagle. The EU does not have to worry any more about unspent funds. Nobody is troubled any more about capacity, logframes, targets, programmes or acronyms and the Dear Leader has some euros in his bucket.

And we can still enjoy a gin or two at the end of a solid day’s fending.


But then along came the World Bank............

April 2008
The People's State House was officially inaugurated on Idependence Day this year (March 21st) but, much to the annoyance of many, the People were excluded. The guest of honour was the speaker of the North Korean Parliamnet who came with an entourage of Ministers. Including the Minister of Health whose name was Mr Sik