Monday, May 31, 2010

Calling All Consultants!

Dear friends,

Have you been a consultant? An independent consultant/contractor/freelancer?

How do you manage the fact that you're not really an employee? You're a company with a client.

How do you manage the different people, stakeholders, personalities, and the fact you have little background knowledge on internal personal divisions that might effect you and your work?

It seems to me that consultants are supposed to be these magic 'fixers' who come in and deal with some difficult project, or, like economic sanctions--are just to prove that the company/group is doing something about a project. Or, the consultant is doing some job that no one else is willing to do.

Consultants, as non-employees and non-parts-of-the-normal-team, are inherently outsiders, who have to gain insight into the deep inner workings of the group for which they contract and also maintain their independence. How do you manage the balance?

I'm new to consulting and would like your thoughts. What are the toughest challenges? How did you transition from regular work to consulting? What else should I know?


Monday, May 24, 2010

Another Nuclear Blog Post

This was sent to me by a colleague

Turkey and Brazil Raise the (Nuclear) Dead

It has a pretty great overview of events relating to Iran from the past 6 months.

Hope you like it.


Nuclear Actors: United States, Iran, Israel

Dear readers,

I will send a proper update of several Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) later in the week.

I'm on the Pugwash Councils email list and there have been TONS of emails and stories.

Here are a few of them:

An Arsenal We Can All Live With by GARY SCHAUB Jr. and JAMES FORSYTH Jr.

key excerpt:
"THE Pentagon has now told the public, for the first time, precisely how many nuclear weapons the United States has in its arsenal: 5,113. That is exactly 4,802 more than we need."

America Moves the Goalposts By ROGER COHEN

key excerpt:
"John Limbert, once a U.S. hostage in Tehran, now charged with Iranian affairs at the State Department, has given a good description of the caricatures that bedevil American-Iranian non-relations."

"Americans see Iranians as “devious, mendacious, fanatical, violent and incomprehensible.” Iranians, in turn, see Americans as “belligerent, sanctimonious, Godless and immoral, materialistic, calculating,” not to mention bullying and exploitive."

Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons.

key excerpt:

"Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state's possession of nuclear weapons.

They will also undermine Israel's attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a "responsible" power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted."

Hope you enjoy the reading and learn something!


Monday, May 17, 2010

Counterterrorism: Communities and Terror

Dear readers,

There are many ways to approach counter-terrorism. The challenge is like that of David and Golliath--or Odysseus and the Cyclops. The terrorists are small, careful, smart, desperate and creative. Governments are large, lumbering, filled with internal bureaucratic issues. And, you might note, Golliath and Odysseus did not fare well--mostly due to my lack of good imagination to come up with a better parallel. :)

Two striking stories about extremist terrorist groups with ties to Islam.

Technology versus good old-fashioned spying: Europe's antiterrorism agencies favor human intelligence over technology

My favorite paragraph from this article is this one:
"You have to have people who go into a specific community, an ethnic group, religious group, a sectarian group, get acquainted with their people, their leaders, and get to know their community," Hamilton said in an interview. "Those communities know, usually, the people within the community that are disaffected, mad, angry, maybe even threatening."

Partially, because it deals with an understanding that terrorists, or people who become terrorists are an anomaly, not the mainstream. Also, if you build networks within a group, you can quickly find those anomalies...everyone knows the local weirdo, right?

The other story deals with the trickier aspect of the causes of terrorism--anger, frustration, the fact that the US is still killing people in 'Muslim lands' and how disconnected I think most Americans are from the reality of other people's fear--not just ours.

Just how deeply unpopular the United States is in the Muslim world?

My favorite paragraphs in this one are those that quote George Orwell:

Their violence, our violence

The palatable and politically safe answers – for conservatives, that Muslims are inherently violent, and for left-liberals, that only a small minority is violent – have always skirted around one important detail: our own violence.

This is no surprise. The notion that our violence motivates terrorism has always lost out to the notion that terror is absent from our violence. It was George Orwell who observed in 1945 that “the nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them”.

But this “remarkable capacity” is not shared by everyone. Civilian deaths and accounts of torture from Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine have fueled the radicalization of a minority of Muslims abroad, and it was only a matter of time before it produced the same effect on a minority of Muslims here, too.

It is only now, amid this growing domestic radicalization, that we are seeing some willingness to cure the deafness Orwell once wrote about.

Hope you enjoyed these stories.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More on China in Nigeria: Challenges Brew Opportunities

Hey all,

I always find it interesting to know what other people are reading. Let me know what news you're following.

This was sent to me by my mother:

In Africa for mutual growth This describes the Chinese interest in Nigeria from a Chinese perspective. It also is a refreshing step away from the doom and gloom approach of Western Media.

Ma Chao gives some good advice: "The Chinese should learn to engage with civil society and tribal leaders. Chinese firms venturing into Nigeria should learn to deal with trade unions, NGOs and the media."

I'd also like to point out that the successful Chinese business people mentioned in the article, have all been in Nigeria for 20+ years. That's not the 'new wave' of China 'taking over the world.'

Chinese investment opportunities exist in infrastructure and Chinese products need to improve in their quality.

Another interesting quote: "The Nigerian government and politicians are keen to see more Chinese firms invest in Nigeria. Compared with their Western counterparts, Chinese companies are more sincere in developing together with Africa. They usually make great efforts to train local staff and transfer technology to their partners.

"In half a century, Nigeria has barely acquired any technology in its dealings with the West. But the Chinese are ready to transfer theirs. That's why we began looking East for opportunities", says Ibrahim Mantu, senator and former deputy president of Nigeria's senate."

Thanks Mom for the article!


Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Chinese in Nigeria: What should I ask them?

Dear all,

I will ask this question in a few forms as I prepare for this job in Nigeria. I will be spending 6 months in the Niger Delta, working on a project. On the side, I figure I have a unique opportunity to befriend and interview the Chinese businessmen, government officials, etc while I'm there (since I speak Chinese).

Everyone wants to know what China is up to on the continent of Africa.

What should I ask them? What does everyone really want to know?


Monday, May 3, 2010

What should I learn from Indiana Jones?

Hey all,

I'm about to go on an adventure. The Indiana Jones theme song has been playing in my head all week. I'm going to spend 6 months as a consultant in Yenagoa, Nigeria.

There will be swamps, rivers, travel will be by speed boat and there are real crocodiles. There's an election, political intrigue, accusations of corruption. The stage is set for drama!

Now the important question! What to pack? What would Indiana Jones do? What should I know? How will this work? What shoes should I wear?

Other important details: insurance? No one seems willing to insure people who go to Nigeria. Go figure.


Fun? I know the Nigerians will be more than able of keeping me busy for six months. So I'm not too worried.

But what gifts do I bring in case I meet kings, chiefs and princes?

I will definitely need a cool hat and a bull-whip...
Send me your thoughts and advice!


Saturday, May 1, 2010

How do you divide up Africa?

Hey all,

I went to an event at the World Bank, called Yes! Africa Can!, an event attempting to address the dearth of positive events in DC that discuss the continent of Africa.

It was a bit of a mixed event--some of it good, some of it interesting, some of it atrocious. I don't want to make any enemies, so I won't name panelists, but the first group mostly named 1 small success story (without telling us what made it a success), and then complained about how difficult 'Africa' is. There was even the suggestion that, since African countries can't run their own economies (these were their words, not mine), that African countries should rent coast lines or areas with minerals to other 'more productive' countries to take over and manage.

I don't see how this would address governance issues, empower countries to have control over their own wealth (or lack of it). In fact, the first panel left me somewhat the idea that neo-colonialism is the answer and we're all going to he** in a hand basket. The interesting part of being at a World Bank event, as opposed to a US government organization, no mention was made of AFRICOM.

The second panel was a relief from the first. The first speaker brought up the fact that discussing Africa as a whole was difficult and often not very productive.

So, he divided Africa into 3 groups: Oil/Resource rich countries (ex: Nigeria, Angola, DRC), High Performers (almost all democracies and sources of fairly dynamic growth) and Low-Performers (almost all dictatorships, where quality of life and other norms have been steadily declining). I really would like to see this list.

What do you think of this as an approach? How do you tend to think of the continent?

As of yet, I've only been to two African countries, both Anglophone, both in West Africa, and both like night and day to each other. So I will reserve judgement until I've got more to go on.

The speaker also brought up an interesting point. Many people see various life-quality indicators on Africa remaining about the same for the last decade. The speaker maintained that it is really that Group 2 (see above) were steadily improving and Group 3 (also see above) were steadily declining, effectively cancelling each other on any graphical representation of change of the whole continent. I think this speaks to not grouping the continent as a whole, in general, unless you are, say the African Union.

What do you think?