Quaker Witness in Africa

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Travel Exchange

This is where we'll share our travel plans in Africa.

(Traveling Friends are good couriers for carrying both small supplies and funds to programs in Africa.) Friends can also be useful in visiting more than one program and bringing back information to Friends here.)


Friends who wish to support the various programs in Africa are inevitably confronted with the problem of how to get assistance to the program selected. This section is intended to help Friends and other supporters find the most effective and efficient way to get money or materials to Africa.

Shipping goods and supplies to the various countries in Africa can be a challenge. Experience suggests that the U.S. Postal Service is the carrier of choice for most items. The varying rates are based on speed of delivery and the sender’s desire for either insurance or confirmation of delivery.

Published materials are among the most common items sent abroad. Media Mail (M-bags)
are the lowest cost option, running at slightly over a dollar a pound to the various African countries. The rules for Media Mail are as follows:
  • Books must be packed in boxes, and no box can exceed 20 pounds.
  • Boxes must be free of all markings or wrapped.
  • Each box in an M-bag must have the same address.
  • The M-bag tag must have the same address.
  • A customs declaration is needed for each bag–not each box in the bag.
The Postal Service has replaced the old canvas bags which permitted up to 60 pounds being sent in each bag. The new bags are clear plastic, and seem to hold closer to 35-40 pounds. Boxes should be full, so need to be filled with filler or cut down to size (a better approach in light of the new smaller plastic bags. Postal personnel will supply you with M-bag tags and customs stickers so that you can prepare them before coming to the Post Office.

Private carriers, UPS, Airborne Express, etc. may or may not take your parcel to its final
destination within a country. UPS, for example, recently took goods to Nairobi, Kenya but a local carrier was a required to take them to Kaimosi (220 miles away). In this situation, the recipient was expected to pay the additional charge of almost 8% of the value of the donated goods. Given that the recipients may not have the funds to do this, this is a problem. Therefore, it is best to get a written confirmation that goods will be sent to the final point of destination before they leave the States.

If a product is available locally, it is generally better to send funds to purchase the product
locally. Friends are advised to NEVER SEND PERSONAL CHECKS, which can be used as a basis for unscrupulous processors to create copies and write checks against your account. Funds should be sent by wire or by bank checks. Funds should only be sent to programs which are known to the donor or which are administered in such a way as to ensure proper usage. See, Guidelines on Giving.

Guidelines on Giving and Receiving

Approved, Quaker Peace Network—East Africa
March 19, 2006, Tororo, Uganda

I know that I am corrupt, but who is corrupting me?
Sese Seko Mobutu, former President of Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

The issue of wealthier Quakers from the northern countries giving funds to Quakers in the Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is fraught with difficulties. Too often these funds have been unaccounted for, misused, and/or stolen. Traditionally the blame has been put on the African implementers, but the northern donors who have so quickly written off these losses as “that’s the way Africa is” are also part of the problem. There are more than enough Quaker organizations led by honest African Quakers that receive, spend, and account for their funds with scrupulous honesty that there is no need to “excuse” those who are unaccountable and dishonest. Each time funds are misused in Africa, it is the honest Quaker implementers who are hurt the most since the errors of the few tarnish the image of all. Money can lead to conflict so the proper use and accountability of funds is a peace-making activity.

There are various levels of corruption:

Outright theft of funds for personal use.
Misuse of funds for purposes other than those indicated in the proposal, including unauthorized “borrowing” of funds from another program.
Waste of funds without using them as prudentially as possible because they are given by wealthy people from overseas.
Lack of accountability for funds receives which usually is used to hide one of the above misuses.

To rectify this situation guidelines for responsibilities of both donors and implementers are needed.

For Donors:

Funds are given only to recognized organization with a valid bank account. Funds are never sent to an individual’s bank account or given to implementers to carry back from overseas because this forecloses transparency. Even in the case of a scholarship, funds should be sent directly to the institution or routed through a dependable organization.

In order to qualify for funding, the donor must receive a proposal from a recognized organization which has passed the proposal at a Board meeting of the responsible people. This proposal should include a detailed budget. Donors should have a clear format for the proposal. A neutral person, knowledgeable about the country and type of proposal, should review it with an onsite visit. Over-budgeting, currency transactions, over-pricing, hiking of salary beyond those normally accepted, and vague or unclear line items should be thoroughly questioned. The proposal including purpose, timeline, budget, and delivery of funds is public information.

After funds are sent, monthly or quarterly program and financial reports should be regularly received. In these days this can easily be done by email anywhere in the region. No further funding should be sent until such reports have been received and accepted as proper.

At the end of the proposal period, a final report and financial accounting must be submitted. There should then be another on-site visit by a neutral observer who should verify the accounting by looking at the bookkeeping and receipts to back it up. This protects not only the donor but also protects the implementer from any charges of mis-management of the funds.

This implies that small donations are difficult to monitor and verify. Consequently it is advisable that those who are unable to make the appropriate site visits by neutral observers channel their funds through organizations that have this capability, allocating a proper amount for this administrative task.

When theft, misuse, wastage, or unacceptable accounting is encountered, the donor must pursue these problems with the same diligence they would use for a similar case in their home country. Corruption cannot be excused under any rationale. If a donor is not willing and prepared to follow-up such mis-conduct, it should not accept proposals and disperse funds.

When theft, misuse, wastage, or unacceptable accounting is uncovered, the donor organization will discretely tell the other donor organizations of such problems so that implementing organizations are not able to move from one donor to another with impunity.

For implementers:

Funds are requested only by an established organization for one of its priorities and have been approved by the appropriate Board of Directors. The organization must have mechanisms for handling and reporting funds including checks and balances with a trained treasurer.

The proposal will be transparent and shown to all who are concerned with it for their input and approval. No paid professional fundraisers should be used.

Those who are dispensing the funds must be as careful with these funds as they would be with their own. They must receive receipts for all transaction (and have their own signed receipts when this is not possible) and keep an accurate accounting of all these funds.

If it is necessary to substantially change the budget of a proposal (meaning more than 5% or as specified in the proposal), prior approval of any such changes must be received from the donating organization.

Written reports and financial reports will be sent on a regular basis as indicated in the proposal.

The implementers of these funds will be welcoming and open for all on-site visits by anyone sent by the donating organization. All written and financial accounting will be open for inspection.

If anyone in the implementing organization is financially irresponsible, the implementing organization will notify the donor and take whatever appropriate action is necessary with the offending individual.

If these guidelines of responsibility for both donors and implementers are faithfully adhered to, many of the problems which have been encountered in the past will be rectified. In the long term, this will build a much healthy relationship between donors in the North and implementers in Africa. The result should be not only a much more prudent use of the funds available, but a larger flow of funding.