Mark Wentling (Honduras 1967-69, 1970-73; PC Staff Togo, Gabon & Niger 1973-77) Says Goodbye to Africa

wsu-mark-wentling-with-children-in-burkina-faso-2014

After two years as a PCV in Honduras, Mark went to Africa in 1970 as a Peace Corps Volunteer, working in the southern Ewe district of Agu, near Gha. Next he was hired as an APCD for rural development. He left Togo in early 1975 to serve as the Peace Corps CD in Gabon and, briefly, in the Central African Republic.  In 1976, he was transferred by the Peace Corps to Niger, and in 1977, started a long career with USAID in Niger, then onto Guinea, Togo, Benin, Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Zambia, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Madagascar and South Africa. He worked as the USAID Mission Director in six of these countries. After USAID, his work with NGOs took him to Niger, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Congo and Angola. Work and travel has allowed him to visit all 53 African countries. For the past four years, he has been living and working in Burkina Faso, and on June 9, 1915, he will end a 45-year connection with Africa and moves to Lubbock, Texas to assist Breedlove Foods, Inc., and feed hungry people everywhere.

This is Mark’s moving farewell address to his staff in Burkina Faso.

My Dream for Africa

I dream of an Africa where:

Every girl is educated, and all mothers are helped during the first thousand days of their babies’ lives, starting at conception, to ensure all children have a healthy start in life. All babies born are not in the low birth-weight range, and all mothers are old enough to marry and bear children. Every woman has access to modern birth control methods in order to lower high fertility rates and achieve a national demographic transition. The fast population growth rate in a number of countries is slowed so that it does not outstrip all assistance efforts and result in high population densities that exceed the carrying capacity of available land.

Every child has a good head start in life, including a birth certificate and the opportunity to go to pre-school. Public schooling is of high quality and free. There are no longer any stunted, permanently-limited children because of poor nutrition. Health care for mothers and children is free. The battle against all negative traditional practices is won.

Farmers, especially women, have access to improved seeds and other inputs needed to raise crop yields up to international averages. Agro-processing enterprises thrive and strong land tenure regimes are in place everywhere. The use of irrigation is optimized. Everyone has access to profitable markets for their goods and services so they can reduce their poverty by participating successfully in competitive markets.

I dream of an Africa where:

Free trade regimes and regional trade blocks function. Abusive roadblocks and unnecessary delays at borders no longer exist. People and goods circulate freely within regions. Customs duties collected at borders are no longer a major source of national income. Police and soldiers are no longer visible everywhere. Money spent on national armies is drastically reduced or eliminated. Key all-weather roads permitting easy circulation of people and goods are built and well maintained. Reliable and affordable electrical power, potable water and sanitation for all become the rule instead of the exception.

Good and competent governments that put the best interests of the people first become the norm. Strong institutions that can manage competently the development process over the long term are established. A robust justice system pursues effectively all those involved in corrupt activities. Equitable tax systems collect more from elites, thereby providing more funds to help create safety nets for the poor. The exploitation of natural resources is environmentally sound and their management is transparent, and a portion of the income generated by the sale of these resources is equitably distributed to poor people.

The outflow of foreign currency to offshore banks is tightly controlled. Legal impunity for any person is stopped. External security assistance is provided where needed to help countries fight trans-national crime, terrorism and internal civil conflict so they can maintain the peace and stability needed to advance. Government leaders who endeavor to stay in power for too long of a period, thereby preventing a true democratic transition, are not tolerated. Democracy is made to work to improve the lives of the poor, and justice and human rights are relentlessly pursued.

I dream of an Africa where:

Special attention is paid to what can be done and not be done in poorly-governed, fragile, failing or failed states. Emergency humanitarian aid is provided where and when needed to save lives and reduce excessive human suffering. Food aid is only resorted to when absolutely necessary, utilizing the nearest sources of surplus foodstuffs. Development assistance models are adapted to fit the context of any given country or region, and each country has a viable development model that clearly shows a path to achieving an acceptable level of equitable economic growth. These models show how to create jobs and wealth, and increase the resiliency of vulnerable households. Job creation remains one of the true litmus tests of development.

Development assistance models take into account the youthful structure of many national populations and the challenges posed by rapid urbanization. There is more purchasing power and less hunger for all. The scourge of malaria is eradicated, and the burden posed by HIV/AIDs, Ebola and other diseases is greatly reduced. Environmental threats and climate change are mitigated to the extent possible. Every effort is engaged to prevent or reduce the effects of natural and man-made disasters. An ounce of disaster prevention is always worth much more than a pound of emergency assistance.

I believe that with a critical mass of collective political will and understanding among leaders, the public and donors, this dream of a better Africa is possible when strong institutions exist. We all need to set the example so that the lives of next generation are better and the road forward to further improvements is clearer. The best place to start is with the children as they are the future. The way to better tomorrow for all can be achieved by making a better today for the children.

Mark Wentling
Country Director, Plan International in Burkina Faso
July 2011 – June 2015
June 2, 2015, Ouagadougou

3 Comments

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  • Thank you Mark for looking out for “our” children…you made a difference in their lives, in Africa and Honduras. Shriver made it very clear when he was asked why…why do you make so many sacrifices? He responded, “if not us, who?”
    Bob Arias

  • Leo,

    It is so good to be in total agreement with you! Thank you, Mark, for describing what we all would wish for and which so many have worked towards.

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