A Colleague of mine from NRI, also working on the project, flew into Bujumbura that day. I knew David Silverside from back in Chatham, where he supervised a lot of the UK activity for the project, and ran much of the financial coordination for the project. Over the couple of days we spent together at Kelly’s, I grew to know him much better, and we shared a whole load of conversations up on Kelly’s rooftop.
He would use me as a sounding board for his ideas on how to tighten spending on the project, reorganise activities, and understand how elements of the project would work. We both were amazed at how vast the project was, and how many elements were not fusing together. To me as a geographer, it seemed natural that every component should link in one to another, but both of us were confounded how the different activities seemed to go on almost in isolation; even out here in the field, there were different camps; socio-economic studies, biodiversity studies, fishing practices studies, sedimentation studies, and the project coordination unit in Tanzania which, like so many multinational aid projects, was more bothered by keeping countries and interested parties around a table than discussing the pressing issues on the lake. Despite this, the project had some very notable successes, and despite UNEP giving a miniscule amount of money compared to its other Global Environment Fund projects, so many activities were created. But at the time, the project had a lot of mess to clear up, it was behind in many activities, money had been spent in the wrong places, and there was a lack of coherence between the different components. David, a meat specialist by training, might have seemed an odd choice for project finance coordination, but he tackled it brilliantly, and although much of the seepage of funds had already severely handicapped the project when David arrived three years in, he did a masterful job at trying to pull it back together. Although his bottom line was the amount of money left in the pot, he tried to understand how the different components of the project were supposed to be working, and not compromise the goals of the project. This visit was his whistle stop tour to try to get a grasp on how the project operated. I watched him at work that week, and saw how he visited everything, from the office administration to the laboratories to the field stations, the collaborators and the politicians. He dealt with people in a very straight way, with his matter of fact North London accent, a gentle but firm nature and a wonderful sense of humour. I found him a brilliant boss, and was so glad when the project was finished that we still worked with each other. He became the financial guru for my new department in my last years at NRI, he helped me enormously to manage my projects in the Caribbean, and David played an important role for all of us who were made redundant in 2001. He ensured that the bosses didn’t pull the wool over our eyes, that we got what was due in terms of payments and security, he dealt with the pastoral cases; to those who were elated at getting a huge pay off and were going off to a newly high paid job, he calmed down. To those who were devastated at losing their jobs after so long, he had the shoulder to cry on, but he also had practical advice for all of us, which more than a “There there” was what we all needed. And his great strength was he did this for fifty or so staff at the same time as dealing with his own redundancy.