What are the incentives for those living in DRC to work towards a better future? History has taught them that there are no incentives, and history is a strong teacher to overcome.
In America, it’s rather common sense that if you save money you will be better off in the future (Well, it was common sense until everyone drank the housing Cool-Aid). If we choose not to consume all of our wages now, then in the future we will be able to consume at a much higher level thanks to interest. Now, this is a nice incentive to save, which is to say: to invest.
Most people don’t understand where ‘investment’ goes. When people in a country save, that money doesn’t simply sit around, but it gets invested in other areas. The money could go into business loans, or new construction, or technological research, or any area where there is profit for the bank to be made. But it’s not only the bank that profits; it’s the people who saved their money as well.
If I save $1000.00 and in a year I get $1100.00 back, that’s great and I’m happy with the return. But if that original $1000.00 was a portion of a loan which was given to Apple Computers to assist with research and development an iPod that holds twice as much music, then not only did I make a $100.00 profit on my investment, but at some point in the future there will be a new device which did not exist before and my money will now buy me twice as much in the way for song-storage-per-dollar. That sounds like a great deal to me, and thus I am doubly incentivized to invest.
Now what about other countries? Well, during the three years I lived in Ukraine there were two runs on the banks. These were small runs, and were quickly relieved by the government, but they were banking runs none-the-less. Why did this happen? Ukrainians remember all too well when all their money became worthless junk during a period of hyperinflation in the early 1990s. Imagine putting $1000.00 into the bank today, and tomorrow the bank gives it back but it’s only has the buying power of $100.00. On top of that, when investing in Ukraine, the banks aren’t reliable enough with their investments and lending practices. So, when you put your $1000.00 in the bank, you might get a tiny return in interest, but the $1000.00 was most likely only loaned out to the government, so it did little to create new goods and services which will benefit your life.
So, what’s this have to do with a baby calf? Well, one component of our project is training soldiers to raise and breed cattle in order to have another reliable source of meat. While Kisangani isn’t exactly good cattle country, there is good grazing land in eastern DRC and cattle training was designed as a pilot program with the hope of expanding the project to those regions in the future.
A few months ago saw the birth of a calf, which was a significant milestone for the base, soldiers, and our project in general. But you have to understand that much of the work of this project is investment in the future and has little reward for those doing the work at this time. Stack onto that the fact that in the DRC the future always seems uncertain and the common mentality is that it’s better to take everything possible now then wait and have more.
Our calf became the sadly-perfect metaphor for this when it was attacked in the middle of the night by a few drunken men (most likely soldiers). These men were drunk and wanted to take some meat, but rather than go after a fully grown cow which could have fed a company of men they choose to attack future gains.
Incentives are a hard thing to demonstrate when there are so many disincentives around every corner.
The calf lived, though I was highly skeptical during the first few days, particularly since I’ve never seen anything with a 12-inch long by 5-inch deep wound in my life.
I’ll skip on posting the gruesome photos and instead just show this one of the calf after being fixed up and recovering in its private tent:
She’s limping around now and has become a symbol for the base and the soldiers and hopefully this incident will make for a better future.