Last week was the Hargeisa Trade Fair.  Our business wanted a booth to network and develop further relationships with clients.  You know, the type of thing that happens at conventions all around the world every day.

But the Hargeisa Trade Fair was a bit different.  First off, they didn’t have that many booths.  Granted we were a bit late to the game, but it was still fairly annoying that we were unable to secure a booth.

I chalked it up, before going, to a good development.  If the trade fair had sold out its booths as they were telling us then that must mean that there would be a lot of local business there, so no matter if we had a booth it would be beneficial to just go and network from the other side of the booth.

So we went.  To the Hargeisa NGO Fair.  Save the Children had maybe a quarter of the booths.  Different UN agencies were there.  The Somaliland Ministry of Planning was there.  Tons of other NGOs had booths.  What was there, but only on the margins, were businesses.  This is how the game goes in a screwed up economy.  The businesses get pushed to the margins to make way for individuals empowered by my tax dollars.

I don’t have any problems per se with STC buying a quarter of the booths at the trade fair to show off what they are doing.  My free market proclivities are, at times, binding.  That said, it is super annoying.  Mainly because it does not make much sense.

Let me begin here.  I have deep philosophical problems with the notion that development has turned into an industry, complete with dedicated degrees, [think tanks][3], and navel gazing [memes][4] about professionals v. amateurs.   While I can agree with the notion that professionalism and progress within the development sector is an overall benefit which helped lead us to [this point][5], the core of the development story is often lost.  This is an industry which is deeply entrenched on the Hill, with Number 10, and in Brussels.  But it is an industry which should, at least according to its own rhetoric, be working itself out of existence.

[3]:,25657,25907,26486,26488,26492,26496,26504,26637,26992,27028,27182&sugexp=ldymls&xhr=t&q=development think tanks&cp=15&pf=p&sclient=psy&aq=f&aqi=g4g-o1&aql=&oq=development thi&gs_rfai=&pbx=1&fp=8cf21fc6377a49f1 [4]: [5]: sharing

Instead, we have a very different current situation.  One of deepening entrenchment rather than working for your own demise.  Here in Hargeisa at least NGO’s are the craved jobs.  They suck up the brains of the country with their steady jobs, their culturally relevant salaries, and their extremely limited advancement opportunities.  And then the NGOs talk about brain drain.  How awful that smart people want to leave their country because they have reduced opportunities to pursue their dreams.  Isn’t a bit hypocritical to moan and complain about meta-brain-drain when micro-brain-drain is happening by the people doing the complaining?

And then there are the brochures, the brilliant web sites, the signs on the land cruisers, etc.  I have nothing against charity:water producing a fantastic site.  I have nothing against glossy brochures showing pictures of people in trouble.  I have nothing against the UN putting “Donated by:” on every single vehicle they buy for governments.  What I have a problem with is why in the world this is happening at all in Hargeisa.

Marketing needs to have a purpose and an audience.  So what is the purpose and intended audience of the above cited things?  If the intended audience is donors who are the ones making the decisions whether to extend funding, start a new program with a given organization, restrict funding, etc. then I have no problem.  In that case you have a situation where marketing makes sense as the cost of doing business.  I may continue to have philosophical problems with the “industrialization” of the sector, but at least I can see a purpose to glossy brochures in fancy DC offices.

But here in Hargeisa?  I mean donors come here like twice a year.  What is the point the rest of the time?  Is this marketing aimed at the beneficiaries?  If so, then wouldn’t the money be more efficiently used to buying one more X (insert your pet project’s purpose here)?  This is the crux of what was annoying me last week about the NGO fun fair.  Why was the money being spent at all?  Fine if it was marketing on behalf of the beneficiaries of livelihood training projects that is one thing.  And I grant that *some *of the NGO fun fair booths were doing that exact thing.  But the rest of it, I have no idea.  Do you?

Some pictures we took from the fun fair are below.

[flickr-gallery mode="photoset” photoset="72157625007133105”]

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