By Martijn Vink, Epidemiologist/Technical Advisor HealthNet TPO
Challenging times for Afghanistan
Afghanistan is facing challenging periods: For the first time since the 2004 elections (which followed the overthrow of the Taliban regime) the country will change presidents. President Karzai, who has served two full presidential terms, is not longer eligible for a new term. The first election round produced two clear winners (dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai), but since none of them secured a majority of votes, a second election round took place on the 14th of June.
Next to that the US troops, which have been in Afghanistan since 2002, will withdraw much of their military capacity from the country in 2014. It remains to be seen if the newly-trained Afghan forces are able to take over the American military position in the fight against the Taliban in the country.
That is why it is not strange that many Afghans are worried about the future of their country. Can the democratic process and the improvements in the basic services be sustained and further improved? Or will the country slide back into a civil war, with devastating consequences for the Afghan civil population?
The ‘Truth Booth’
I was therefore very interested to read about the “Truth Booth” initiative that was initiated by the international artist collective Cause Collective, as part of their project “In search of the truth”.
In the summer of 2013 an inflatable studio (the “Truth booth”) travelled through Afghanistan. Ordinary Afghans were then invited to record their own video message, finishing the sentence “The truth is …”. The studio visited four different provinces (Kabul, Herat, Bamyan and Balkh) and more than 400 video messages were recorded (An extract of these video messages can be found at: http://ihearyou.me/#Videos).
The video messages are recorded by Afghans from many different backgrounds: both males and females, children, adults and elderly people, people living in cities and in rural areas and people from different ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic groups. The stories are often personal and very interesting to hear. People talk about their daily lives, the insecurity in the country, education, the role of women, their views on religion and their hopes for the future of Afghanistan.
Experiences after 10 years reconstruction
Some people express that after 10 years of reconstruction the country still struggles with absent infrastructure, fraudulent politicians and inaccessible health care. Other people are optimistic about the improvements made since 2002.
The story of a young man from Herat particularly strikes me (visible here: http://ihearyou.me/#Videos/167 ). He retells a tale of a king who wanted to change the world. After some time he found out that he was unable to do so and then he decided to change his city. When he also failed to do so, he turns to his family and tries to change them. This also proves impossible, so at the end the king decides the best thing he can do is to change himself.
A lesson for state-building
This story refers to an old wisdom (“Be the change you want to see in the world” -Mahatma Ghandi), but it also contains a lesson that is useful for state-building. When you want to ‘fix a broken state’ you have to create the conditions so that each citizen is willing to make his or her own contribution. This means that, as a government, you have to organize basic systems (like education, health care and a juridical system) but also the mechanisms through which local citizens can control these systems. Governments should stimulate their citizens to ‘work for their country’, but this works best when governments themselves give the good example!
This is what I wish for the future of Afghanistan: a government that is working hard for the interests of all Afghan people and that stimulates its citizens each to make their own contribution to the country. When this is the case, Afghanistan can face a better future.
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