I spoke to merchants and pedestrians along the main street in Hit. It was encouraging to hear their stories too. Many of the businesses were new. The proprietors told me that they had been in business a few months or that they had closed down and reopened recently. Their complaints were no longer about security, as they had been only a short time before. Now they had the usual prosaic problems such as traffic congestion, lack of electricity and general difficulty doing business around the dilapidated infrastructure of this city on the Euphrates. If you sum up the complaints, you could say that their political leaders were failing to provide the basic building blocks of prosperity.
The picture shows a bicycle repair shop in Hit. The best bikes sell for 85,000 dinar, around $85. The proprietor told us that he was only 16 years old, but he had a talent for fixing bikes. It is his labor and skills that he brings into the partnership. His partner is an older, richer guy who provides the coin to keep the operation going. Our sixteen-year-old friend said he was happy with the arrangement and hopeful for the future. He had been in business for around three months and business was good. Having a business based on the rugged & rubble strewn streets of Hit, he gets to repair lots of bent wheels and flat tires.
We went to see the political leaders and met the problem. The head of the town council greeted us with a question: “What do you have to give me?” When I reminded him that we were seeking a sustainable partnership where he would work WITH us, he promised to make a detailed list of all the things he wanted us to give him. There was an uncomfortable moment as we explained that we had no intention of just filling orders. It was his town. We would help; we would not do the job of the local authorities.
The most frustrating people are those who are both indolent and demanding.
I should not be entirely negative. We are working well with some parts of the city. Below constructing drainage in Hit with help of USG funds (CSP). It just could be so much better.
Hit is the worst of major towns in my district. The tragedy of Hit is that the people, the merchants and mechanics I met, were hard working and willing to take on more responsibility, but they were held back by the incompetence, cravenness and sometimes downright dishonesty of their political leaders. The difference that good (or even just not bad) leadership can make is astonishing. It is hard to hold back progress. We see gains in Al Qaim, Anah, Hadithah and now even in Rutbah, which sits in the middle of nowhere getting little in terms of funding. Hit’s satellite city of Kubaysah is even doing well. I wonder if the people of Hit can trump their leadership and make the transition to prosperity.
In general, this week’s meetings (as I mentioned in yesterday’s post) and travels provoked both hope and gloom. I am filled with admiration for the brave Iraqis who stood up against violence and terrorism when there was no guarantee or even probability that they would win. They have seen enough suffering and death for many lifetimes and yet still they persist. When I talk to the merchants and businesses people, literally rebuilding Iraq, I cannot help feel joy at the resilience of the human spirit. Yet they all stumble over the pernicious legacy of dependence and dishonesty left over from the socialism and tyranny of the former regime. I am confident that these problems will be just be speed bumps on the road to prosperity, but we will certainly suffer a few more jolts.