The interesting story of Good African Coffee
April 7, 2012 7:02 AM   Subscribe

"Trade, not aid:" the interesting story of Good African Coffee. [slnyt]
posted by killdevil (6 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I read this yesterday, all the way through, and debated long and hard about what I felt about it as I try to track business news pertaining to Sub Saharan Africa. I was left with a slightly patronizing and really weird taste in my mouth, as though the author had no real idea of what he was trying so hard not to say. Perhaps, as I discovered, it is only the paragraph containing Fine's comments that are worthy of note, as they make some effort to present Andrew as a valid business owner trying to make a difference against all the odds, given the context of his operating environment. viz.,

“Every society that has prospered has done it through trade and not aid,” Rugasira told Fine when they met in London. Rugasira touched on Asia in recent decades. “Africa will be no different. Charity doesn’t incentivize. It stifles innovation. It causes chronic dependency. Africa’s contribution to global trade is 1 percent. If that were just 2 percent, the increase would bring far more annual revenue to the continent than all the aid Africa receives in a year.” Rugasira pledged to channel half of his eventual profits into more equipment and training for the farmers and to basic educational programs like “financial literacy” to bolster the village banks, but perhaps most thrilling to Fine was the contrast between Rugasira’s message and Geldof’s or Bono’s. “Here was Andrew saying, ‘Aid is not the panacea,’ ” Fine recalled.

But without giving context of the way financing and business is conducted within the constraints of the informal economy prevalent, the rest of the article ends up seemingly to portray this man as a scamming hustler. A clear case, imho, where concepts have not been interpreted across cultures but perceived only through the lens of one.
posted by infini at 7:18 AM on April 7, 2012

Tend to agree with infini in some respects. A bit patronizing and (as ever) presenting an unnecessary and false dichotomy between trade and aid. Africa is teeming with entrepreneurs, growth, and innovation.
posted by idb at 7:25 AM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

On the other hand, if I were to be fair, there as elements there which echo some of the challenges we all face when trying to do business or attain professional goals in locations with legacies that have not yet been shaken off. Here's a snippet from African Executive magazine, for the sake of balance:

Individuals at the grassroots can’t change corruption and exploitation of the society by Western biggies, but business partners at the grassroots can start changing their attitude towards each other. Thus, stop begging for money, stop being obeisant, stop believing you are helpless and that it’s all mzungus’ fault which gives you the right to exploit him/her whenever the occasion occurs. Stand upright, suggest your business, and set your terms clear and transparent for your mzungu customer. They will stop being arrogant as soon as you stop being smarmy and fawning. Respect yourself as the wonderful people you are. Westerners will pay any prize you want if you are a self-confident ,convincing business partner, whose business guarantees quality. If Caucasians still treat you badly, look them straight in the eye and confront them for being racist.
posted by infini at 7:47 AM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo is a good introduction about why Aid doesn't work well. (discussed here). Of course when you get trade and capitalism you get shysters and slick snake oil salesmen as well; though entrepreneurship does seem to be the solution.
posted by adamvasco at 10:54 AM on April 7, 2012

Ugh, Dead Aid is a stale collection of neoliberal talking points propped up by egregious cherry-picking, and a fatally ignorant understanding of of how the "charity" initiatives she allows are not so easily separable from the other aid initiatives she derides.

Her debt-driven free market model is already undermined by some of the examples in the book itself and - like any "African success recipe" - by treating the continent as a whole and the problems as universal, it perpetuates a lot of myths and preconceptions about aid, Africa, and the nature of the west's interaction on the continent. Most books about aid and Africa are like this, in my opinion, but nonetheless it exists mainly to pander to a pre-defined audience.

The conversation about aid and Africa is so far beyond Dead Aid and its adherents on Easterly's now-defunct blog it frustrates me that it's so often referred to as the end-point on a conversation on aid. Aid - like the problems that engender it - is heterogenous, brutally challenging, filtered through a nexus of cultures, countries, and conditions. It deserves better than the glib generalisations so many aid books traffic in.
posted by smoke at 4:16 PM on April 7, 2012

Has anyone had the coffee though? Tasty?
posted by Damienmce at 5:35 PM on April 7, 2012

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