Sometimes WAWA was a good thing

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We used to joke "WAWA" (West Africa Wins Again) when good idea was defeated. Who would think I was really happy to learn that a simple hand operated Stork hydraulic palm oil press had fallen victim to WAWA. This press was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I think it could squeeze out 30% more oil and produce a higher grade than a poor village woman pounding in her compound. The Ministry of Rural Development asked me to select 4 villages to receive these machines.

Back 'in those days', I viewed myself as an agent of change. This was neither a good or bad label, it was the nature of the work which I was being asked to do in Ikot Ekpene. It seemed to me that to be an effective agent of change, my primary role should be to help villages evaluate new ideas and for them to figure out how to adapt them to their own ways of doing things. The ideas the government was promoting were allegedly about community oil palm plantations, but it was really about reform of the traditional land use systems.

I was very excited about these Stork presses. When I presented the idea of a Stork press to the leaders of a village for the first time, we all learned something. My habit was to say, "if a village....then what do you think that village should do." Usually I would get a short reply. My job was to be the dumb European and ask for more information and examples. In this situation I asked them to tell me the process from who decided that the bunch of fruit needed to be picked to the selling of the oil to someone outside of the village. Then to tell me what they would do when the Stork press was being used. Thanks to the careful description, contributed by several people in the room, I realized there was potentially a big problem.

The problem was that they were going to assume some good old fashion American family values. Well anyway, that is how I put it to the village elders and the women who were in the back room listening to everything. The men were going to start giving their wives money every week, just like we did in America. (Pardon me, but this was 1966, when two parent family income was not common). I told them the women would be happy to have such modern men and the men were brave for doing something their ancestors could never imagine as happening in their village. I don't think it was the palm wine, we were all a little stunned about our thoughts.

Essentially, the women used to buy the fruit bunches from the men and process it into oil. The men's first thought was to take the bunches from the tree directly to the Community Farm Press, get paid and that was the end of the story. Except none of us had thought about the Annang way of getting money to the women. For example, the women bought clothes with their money for their children and themselves. To the credit of those elders, they broadened the discussion. They started to talk about the impact of a Stork press upon their traders and their local market. How would they arrange work at the Stork press. These thoughts were not in my head at all. And most importantly, they were working out a process which would incorporate the new idea into their existing ways of doing things. It took a couple of months and in a public meeting outlined what they would do if the government would give them a Press. Needless to say, some traditions remained, the women would bring the fruit to the press.

And WAWA? I think just about every village in the Eastern Region had similar traditions. My concern was that nobody in Government would get the "Americanization of the family" issue in time and things could "fall apart" when this was introduced as a community farm concept. It was like a white yam dipped in poison, which kept the insects away but killed the eater over time. As it happened, 5 months later, the Stork hydraulics presses were still in Port Harcourt waiting a part as I was being evacuated from Biafra. As far as I was concerned: Horray, WAWA .

Post scrips

Villages in Ikot Ekpene had some outstanding senior civil servants. There was no question that I was not a cookie cutter sort of person. Because of my approach, every community farm was different. This caused issues with those more junior civil servants who usually assumed that everything must be done the same. For example, I didn't realize that the Division of Cooperatives, in the Ministry of Rural Development, wanted the by-laws to be the same (boiler plate) for every community project. We had a couple of conversations where I finally asked them to show me where in the regulations they were coming up with that rule. The proposed organization met the regulations. Rather than confront me, they were stonewalling certification, which meant those communities could not receive seedlings for the acres they had cleared.

Then one day the Perm Sec (head) of Rural Developement came to Ikot Ekpene. Jacob Ague speech was all about the wonderful teamwork that was taking place in Ikot Ekpene. The Provincial Secretary and the Provincial Agriculture head had told him that a record number of Community Farms were planting record number of acres. He was so happy that all of his Ministry people were supporting such innovative methods that showed such concrete results. He knew this was not easy but everyone should take great pride in the results and push forward in support...etc..etc... etc. He said hello to me but spent some time with the stonewallers, congratulating them on their success and asking what special things were they doing to make these things happen so he could spread the word to others in the Division of Cooperatives. Those guys were smiling and telling him just how they did it (how they started doing it, but I won't quibble).

Over a beer in the Anchor Inn, the Agric head innocently asked me how my friends were since his friend, the Perm Sec of Rural Dev had come to town. Like I said, the people in Ikot Ekpene had some great senior civil servants who knew how to manage people. Not to mention the Perm Sec, who I knew had been stationed in Ikot Ekpene earlier in his career.

(Which reminds me of the Wawa store I first saw in Princeton. It brought a smile. I could not figure out why Princeton University would use those initials, until I realized it was a chain of quick market stores. Go figure).

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