Finally, a novel about the Global Fund!
Article Number: 6
Can fiction really be stranger than truth?!
ABSTRACT Roberto Garcia Saez has spent his entire career working in the field of international development. The sequel to his first fiction book was published last autumn. The story begins in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and we meet endearing characters who move between the Phnong people of Mondolkiri and air-conditioned United Nations offices. We meet Dee Dee, a vibrant Congolese transgender character dreaming of a better life in Thailand, humanitarian workers with radically different views, Global Fund staff and public health diplomats.
Following ‘Onu Soit Qui Mal Y Pense’, Roberto Garcia Saez’s first novel on the Global Fund, Harrisson and Romero’s adventures continue in ‘Dee Dee Paradize’.
- Roberto, please tell our readers more about you…
I am French from a Spanish family that fled Franco’s regime in Spain and settled in France at the end of the Second World War. I studied socioeconomics then worked with international organizations like the European Union, the Global Fund and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). I have been running a global health consultancy firm called HMST for 10 years.
I am part of the generation that joined the Global Fund in its early days in 2002, initially in the Secretariat, then as a Principal Recipient Coordinator, as a Technical Review Panel member and then I did more than 50 Global Fund assignments. So, I am very attached to the Global Fund, because the concept represented everything that we wanted in response to top-down international development approaches, dictated by neo-colonialist capital cities in Europe. The Global Fund advocated a bottom-up approach, with the creation of Country Coordinating Mechanisms (CCMs), which were supposed to reflect multisectoral governance, financing for approaches developed in and by countries, and the involvement and promotion of stakeholders who had previously had little or no voice, namely civil society representatives. The Global Fund was then able to equip itself with the significant resources needed to achieve its ambitions.
- How did your writing adventure come about?
It wasn’t at all planned. I was working in international development and had been lucky enough to get senior positions at a very young age. At that point, it seemed like my career and my life were already mapped out. But I hit a stumbling block and a particular event threw all this up in the air. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, I led the UNDP team in charge of managing Global Fund grants, amounting to more than $250 million for the three diseases. Consultants we had recruited were involved in an embezzlement, and I was wrongly accused of collusion. Various inquiries and criminal investigations ensued, and I was sucked into a downward spiral and made a scapegoat, which I hadn’t expected to happen. All of a sudden, some people around me started to doubt me, to the extent that I had no other choice but to take UNDP to court to prove I was innocent, because the UN agency had let me down mid-fight. Fortunately, at the time, the United Nations tribunal had just been created and I was able to benefit from impartial treatment. Not only was I cleared but I also received compensation. This painful episode lasted four years.
This unexpected “adventure” led to my first novel ‘ONU Soit Qui Mal Y Pense’, published in 2011, which tells this story in fictional form. It was a way of showing my side of the story as well as an outlet. The book sold 3,500 copies. It goes to show that you should never give up and you should keep fighting. A musical based on the novel also came out, which ran for 45 shows in a 300-seat Paris theater in 2012. That’s how I got a taste for writing. I took lessons and also received advice from a friend who was a journalist. That desire to tell stories through writing is still with me.
Paradoxically, this experience turned out to be one of the greatest opportunities of my life as it pushed me to my limits. In particular, I had to deal with those around me seeing me in a new light, with their doubts about my integrity, and with continuous rumors. I got to understand myself better and recognize my fears and limits and, in a way, to acknowledge my arrogance, that had developed alongside my professional success. And thanks to this, I was able to explore new horizons.
- What are your two novels about?
When the first novel was reissued, we changed the title to ‘Un éléphant dans une chaussette.’ The second, ‘Dee Dee Paradize’, is the sequel and is named after one of the main characters.