While the Washington Post op-ed page leaves much to be desired lately, they still produce some good reporting. This story about Peggielene Bartels is simply brilliant.
Who is Peggielene Bartels, you ask?
Peggielene Bartels, a secretary in the Ghanaian embassy in Washington, D.C., became king of Otuam, a town in Ghana, after her uncle, the 90-year-old king of Otuam, died. She currently divides her time between Washington and Otuam, and plans on becoming a full-time king after her retirement from the embassy, at which time she will oversee a 1,000 acre family-owned estate and occupy an eight-bedroom palace.
Now, on one level this is just a really entertaining read filled with excellent quotes. In particular when she takes a village elder to task for exploiting the death of the previous king by engaging in some corruption:
“Tsiami,” Bartels asked, “do you people think you can cheat me because I am a woman? Like you cheated the dead king in the fridge because he was old?”
Tsiami was wounded. “Why are you doing this?” he said petulantly. “You are trying to scrutinize our asses.”
Bartels turned on him with fire in her eyes and said, “That’s right! Big, small, medium-sized, short and tall asses, I will scrutinize them all! I will stick my head up there with a flashlight! Be prepared!”
And I have news for you. This corrupt system is going to change!” she cried, banging her fist on the table and sloshing their beers. “Change has come to America, and I have come from America to bring change to Otuam! I am the Obama of this place!”
You go, girl!
But, on a more serious note, this also is an interesting from an intelligence/critical thinking perspective. Particularly, I think it provides some interesting points for thinking about making assumptions about other cultures.
So, for example. In the industrialized West we regard secretaries as fairly low down the employment scale. Yet, in this circumstance:
Bartels’s organizational skills and decades of administrative experience are greatly admired in Otuam. For one thing, she is literate, which many of the elders are not. She knows computers, having received a diploma from Strayer University in computer information systems.
Or her explicit efforts to de-emphasize her gender. Or how she settles a dispute centered around charges of witchcraft.
So what’s the lesson for analysts? Think about how often this contextual stuff doesn’t make it into reports, assessments or briefings yet is critical to understand what’s going on and how the local population interprets reality around them. Picture locals coming to a force of Western troops conducting peace operations for help over a witchcraft problem. Since we, in the West, don’t place much stock in the paranormal a predictable reaction would be to ignore or minimize the issue. But for the locals, who participate in a different reality, such inaction could be interpreted as insulting or impotence or incompetence.
And down that path lay many failures…