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"Smarter Aid, not more Aid!"

UK: Should Human Rights Matter More than Trade?

A still from this video capturing the live-fire shooting by Cambodian Security Forces on demonstrators. GR or GRK as worn on uniforms is the acronym for Royal Gendarmerie. You can see a report by VoA.  VoA broadcasts to the domestic audiences have been curtailed  because  many independent radio stations have been forced to cease airing in 2017.

In July 2005 armed police killed a young unarmed Brazilian outside Stockwell train station in London.

In January 2014 armed military police killed 5 young unarmed Cambodians near a factory in Veng Sreng Street, Phnom Penh.

So much older then I’m younger than that now

Kingston University Lecture Theatre
There’s no mistaking Kingston University’s Penrhyn Road building.  Its outward appearance is much as it was in our days of the 1970s.  You see the same main entrance; foyer; refectory, door-ways to corridors and stair-ways that are intact down to the exact same unpolished brass rails.

Cambodia:Turning the Clock Back

The Kampong Chhnang disabled people at the inaugural AGM of their own NGO in 2009. Their elected Governing Council took the stage ready for new advocacy initiatives as well as livelihood improvement activities.

Cambodia: Turning the Clock Back”

For the second time in 40 years a Cambodian regime is determined to turn the clock back.

Like the infamous Khmer Rouge regime, present rulers want to revert to a previous simpler existence, even if less extreme than the Utopian dream Pol Pot yearned for.

“Backpacker Tourism can be a Force for Good.” Says Aid & Development Worker

As appeared in Backpacker South East Asia and Ethical Tourism from 2 October 2017. Among many points I wanted to make, the most significant one is to go out just before Saint Helena Island's new regular air service begins on 14 October. As I re-tweeted to perhaps the island's best tourism advocates, who are entirely self-funded "Ability of Saints to come; go and stay [financially] is just as important as tourist dollars." So far this has not been built in to air-fare pricing policies.  Without it, eventually, it will fundamentally change the make-up, charcater and culture of the island, as  the ratio of locals to outsiders shifts, exactly as we have seen wherever places rely mainly on tourism. (My most popular blog about Saint Helena is here, and a summary of other postings here.)

 “Backpacker Tourism can be a Force for Good.” Says Aid & Development Worker

The rough amateurish sign read:

“The Middle of Somewhere”*

It was fixed haphazardly, not intended to last long. “Word-of-mouth” would suffice instead. Backpackers would find it no problem. So they did. Job done!

Dancing to the party's tune?

Foreword to this blog:

The main story in this blog was written in August 2017, and then as if I had yet again tempted fate, certain things came to pass.  Therefore I have added an update regarding the arrest of Opposition Leader Kem Sokha; a surprising exchange I have had with his daughters, and my response to a strange piece in the Khmer Times.

Cambodians love dancing in formation, but will they dance to the ruling party's tune in 2018?

Problem of understanding how modern rebellions come about is the reporting of them”

So coined Peter Beaumont of the Guardian in 2011. His article helps to explain the onslaught on media in Cambodia today. The ruling party thinks if no reporting, no rebellion!  Let's examine the context starting with a personal digression.

A lot of things happen to me over a beer. Back in 1997 one Saturday afternoon, overlooking Lake Malawi with the mountains of Tanzania and Mozambique in distant view, my quiet beer was abruptly disturbed by an enormous explosion. Buildings around me were obliterated. If it was not for the only solitary brick construction - a small toilet block - protecting me, I may well have suffered the same fate.

Cambodia Microcosm 3 – Our Land Issue and the Neighbourhood

The picture that appears here is the latest one that I will keep taking as and when our land and property is inundated because of landfill and new road construction that blocked previous natural drainage.  This blog documents the story including representations to authorities that have allowed this to happen and so creating stagnant mosquito and sewage-infested stretches of water that are serious new health hazards. Already in this picture early 2018 monsoon season rains have overwhelmed our previous drainage that worked well over the last 20 years.

For the very latest please jump to the end of this blog or see my latest Tweets herehere and here.

This is not only a third blog about our Takhmau neighbourhood but a complete documentation of how our property and neighbours have been affected by land development decisions forced upon us.  In this sense it qualifies as a "microcosm" because so many communities across Cambodia have been affected in the same way.  There is one difference though.  For many of those, the first they learn about such development is when strange people come to measure up land, and in some cases even when bulldozers move in. Cambodia is supposed to have planning laws but they are applied inconsistently.

Cambodia Microcosm 2 – the Neighbourhood

Street 251 springs in to life early every day; indeed it never is quiet. The boy with the hand-cart is a recycler. He goes through rubbish that has been dumped and to collect or buy from neighbours.

Temporary Note: My apologies. have reorganized this blog as the land case is now too great. Here I tell about the neighbours and the beginning of our land saga. As characters they do stand out on their own. The land case is s et out in a linked blog Microcosm 3.

Good Morning Takhmau  - 11 July 2017, 6.20 am

Welcome to Street 251, Takhmau – Kampong Samnanh Sangkhat.   It’s a small road.  We have lived here for 17 years.  It is the place where I have lived longest in my life, for more than last third of my 42 year career in human resources management; overseas development, and human rights.

Cambodia Microcosm 1 – the Family

The Wife’s Family Photograph 2004
Back Row Left to right:  Cousin, Oldest Brother, My Wife, her late Mother (RIP), "Bad Boy" Father
Front Row: Enterprising Brother; Quiet One, Errant One.

Interlude: Please go to the end of this blog for an update in view of the election in Cambodia in July 2018.  For other blogs just use Search and enter “elections”.

Urgent clarification 8 August 2018.  Last night I learned from my wife's brother that she had indeed been receiving a share of proceedings from her Mother's inheritance, contrary to what she told me. She has not confirmed or denied this. He says that she had also been offered to sell her share for a capital sum.  Throughout the blog I have alleged that her brothers were depriving her of her rights. I have accepted what they say for now and apologized. I will make amend this blog accordingly. However I am not convinced that it is a simple as this. I hope to obtain the full facts although as very little is documented formally this may be hard.  Whatever the truth It is another lesson learned about life in Cambodia.

A recent blog explained why I have had to accept that sometimes your best is not good enough. But I keep on trying regardless.

Usually I refer to policy matters and aspects of Cambodian Society at the macro-level in the hope of helping to influence change for the better.

Equally though it applies at the micro-level, at home and in the neighbourhood, both being exact microcosms of Cambodia, its wider society, with its intoxicating mix of blessings and ills.

Back in 1998, my first home in Cambodia was near Wat Langka, Phnom Penh.  One day I came home and a boy was beating his sister. Their mother and older sister, both well-educated, were unperturbed and laughed when I remonstrated. I had to let the incident pass due to not speaking the Khmer language.

Your best is not good enough!

Sometimes, your best is simply not good enough, no matter how hard you try.  Nowhere is that more apparent than in the world of aid and development. Old chum Nate Rabe discovered that. Thankfully he seems to be doing fine in his post-Aid life. So let this be a warning, especially to those bright young people earnestly pursuing international development studies; with the wanderlust to travel overseas as a rite of passage; to discover themselves, and Yes, even to put the world to rights.

Elections Fervour, Fear Cambodia v UK

Voters who do not turn out at elections often reason “It won’t make any difference, which party to vote for or not at all*”. This is not the case in Cambodia where the ruling party’s strategy makes it clear where benefits will go to, or be forfeited by the way a vote is cast. This picture shows the quality of a publicly-funded road
A key test of a healthy democracy? Read on.

Foreword to this blog December 2017

Firstly you will no longer see Opposition CNRP signs anywhere. They were removed once the Cambodia Supreme Court announced the dissolution of the party.  It is very clear that holding on to power matters more than anything else, yet some kind of election again as in 1998, is still wanted by the ruling party (for international legitimacy) and by many in the international community too- intricately entwined with it (to maintain business-as-usual). That is bound to mean even more manipulation of electoral processes, and even more skewed interpretation of standards to determine if elections are free, fair and credible. The criteria set out in this blog is the basis of how such judgments should be made.

This blog is really a technical assessment to illustrate how elections are determined to be free, fair and credible by international standards.  Repeatedly some commentators cast such judgments on the basis of what they see on polling day, when of course any manipulation or deviation from systems of integrity take place months and years before.

This blog is a companion to an earlier one "Part One" and part of a series in the build-up to the July 2018 elections. My most ominous one "Dark clouds gathering", is the one that predicted what was to happen after the close result in 2014, in my view when PM Hun Sen concluded that his party could no longer be sure of winning elections. "Astute as ever, he soon realized that to take on his friends was much harder (and more dangerous) than his enemies, and so he set about “detecting, disrupting, and destroying” all forms of opposition, whether party political, or neutral civil society, anywhere where absolute loyalty could not be assured."  (Quote from this blog.)

I have regularly posted observations on my twitter account, reminding followers of some essential factors such as the requirement for security services and public officials to be neutral, factors we gave careful attention to in 1998 that are no longer given even tacit respect.

Original blog as posted.

Part Two  (14 June 2017]

Predicting elections is for the foolhardy as Opinion Pollsters are learning.  I can’t claim to be any better.  Like most people, I did not foresee the UK election shock result with the governing Conservative Party losing its majority. Nor did most of us foresee the 2013 Cambodian election where the Opposition CNRP Party almost wrestled power.

Election fever, fear and fervour!

Fascinating to be able to watch at close-hand two elections – one in Cambodia and the other in the UK. Now we know that they are very different, so you can't make true comparisons, but they do give rise to interesting and valid observations on electoral processes.

One major distinction is clear. For the ruling party in one country the election was wanted and called, whereas for the other, it is not welcome, at least while there's any risk of losing.

It's a strange world.

Observations to go with the great breast-milk debate

Cambodian Mother and Child from Bunong ethnic minority in Mondulkiri
UNICEF and Child-Care experts united to persuade Cambodian authorities to outlaw poor Cambodian mothers from selling their breastmilk.  The issue has gone global and viral.  See for example this BBC report. Here is my tweet, not well-received by the experts.

Count your blessings!

Cambodian Children singing about Hurricane Katrina in Kampong Chhnang 2009 at a "Disaster Preparedness" Event

Heather George was as adept with her children as she was with her old piano at producing tuneful renditions for morning assemblies at Country School, Saint Helena. I always remember one song and it came to mind thanks to Santil Phin in Cambodia. Count your blessings, one by one. Please tune in to it.

Santil Phin is right.

Cambodia coffee: grounds for optimism?

The Coffee Kiosks of Takhmau
The idea of this blog was to show how cosmopolitan Takhmau is becoming, shown most noticeably in the proliferation of coffee shops that have opened up opportunities for girls and women to be out and about socially. They are more respectable and cleaner than the beer gardens but some folks are innovating and fighting back, taking on Starbucks, Costa, etc at their own game.  In this picture you see another aspect of Cambodian culture - the copy-cat one! 

Seeing how well some of the coffee shops were doing these other folks wanted to get in on the act, but from more modest origins. So now all over the place we have coffee kiosks or shacks, under a shade, with the ubiquitous green artificial grass!  Similar drinks are offered as in the salubrious coffee shops but cost much less.

This blog is also the only guide in Cambodia to Takhmau for visitors and it's worth a visit now we have the cheap bus service and [for now free] ferry serviceTakhmau ladies, and some boys, give very good service. Just a word of warning - some places come and go overnight, so I can't guarantee 100% accuracy.  A place I know has closed I will mark in red.

Inspirations, lasting impressions

The humble Salmon - what a remarkable journey it makes with sheer dogged determination to return to where it was hatched, to spawn and die. 
Photographer Mike Smith similarly persisted. It took two years to capture this Northumbrian image at Hexham Bridge.

Very often people ask me “What keeps you going?”  There is no doubt that work in the “Aid and Development” industry is a struggle and frustrating. Just ask Nate!