Older and Wiser
June 14, 2015 9:55 AM   Subscribe

This confirms some things I've suspected about the US, thanks for posting.
posted by MikeWarot at 12:08 PM on June 14, 2015

Hmm. Seemed a little anecdote-heavy, a bit David-Brooksian. I wouldn't mind seeing someone from Kenya's response to it. Rothmyer has apparently done some good journalism, but this piece doesn't really make the case she wants it to. If you are going to advocate for less aid, you need to go into detail on the impact of aid and of losing it, at least if you are being responsible.
posted by emjaybee at 1:58 PM on June 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Another reason I have questions about aid is that it too often leads to "donor dependency." An acquaintance of mine in Nairobi told me a story about a trip she'd made to a rural area where she'd had a conversation with a group of farmers about their need for mechanized equipment to make their farms more efficient. Why, she asked them, don't you get together and save until you can jointly buy a tractor? No, was the reply; we are waiting for the donors.
This "friend of a friend" anecdote sounds like something my Republican friends would post on Facebook about people buying big screen TVs with their welfare benefits or something, and makes me skeptical of the whole thing.

(Or if they really are "waiting for the donors," then I would assume they have good reason to believe that is a realistic way to get a tractor, and therefore it makes sense to spend their money meeting other needs. If I were a donor, that's exactly what I would want to enable them to do.)
Yes, I support "gender equality" and "youth empowerment," but it seems to me it's far more important, in a country where many parents can't afford to take their children to a doctor or to educate them beyond primary school, to concentrate on creating jobs.
Important for whom? Let's say you create those jobs -- can women and young people get them?

Also, I thought that sentence was going to end, "to concentrate on funding schools and hospitals." That would make a lot more sense to me.
A few years ago, at a gathering at Harvard's Kennedy School, a young graduate student working on a master's degree in international development told me she wanted to "help" Kenya and asked what I thought would be the best way. I suggested she quit her program, get an MBA, and start a company in Kenya that in time might employ hundreds of people. She looked shocked, then disapproving, and quickly moved away.
Yeah, because that's a pretty insulting thing to say. "You've wasted the last five to seven years of your life. Capitalism is the answer to all social problems!" I bet someone getting a masters in international development has never heard that idea before!
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:00 PM on June 14, 2015 [8 favorites]

I think she is right questioning aid.
Does aid for trade help the poor in developing countries? Dambisa Moya who knows more about aid than most people thinks not as well.
posted by adamvasco at 2:43 PM on June 14, 2015

Whether she's right or not, it was a weak argument.
posted by OnceUponATime at 3:22 PM on June 14, 2015

Some years ago, I went to hear William Easterly speak and he was of the same opinion as the author-- aid efforts tend to fail since the givers lacked the cultural and social context to make the aid programmes effective. He was also extremely critical of Big Social Programs designed in the West. He had quite a bit of data to back up his points.

I didn't mind the anecdote-based approach from this author, but found it a little thin...
posted by frumiousb at 3:37 PM on June 14, 2015

I'm an American working in "international development" and I think many of her concerns are shared by many members of the professional community. The article's a little brief, but I wouldn't dismiss the ideas she's raising.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:06 PM on June 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Good article, but probably even better if read from the perspective of someone like her who can better see the nuance (not me). Strangely, I've just read this article about a completely different form of aid, from India. Makes you think.
posted by mumimor at 4:26 AM on June 15, 2015

I think it would behoove us all to remember that aid is the subject of intense study and debate at very high levels, and that there is no final say: "aid is good"/"aid is bad" statements, and anyone making such generalisations is, in my opinion, a fool.

Moyo is hardly a dispassionate observer; she is deeply right wing/neo liberal and has built a career on it. Easterly is far more measured and specific in his criticisms, in my opinion, and his work has much more rigor, he's less likely to trot out modish, funder-friendly, bromides - though still an extremist in many ways and not at all representative of where the sector is at. Here's one, very short, evidence-based critique of her work in Dead Aid. Note also, Moyo's support of microfinance is not so vocal now the years have revealed the problems associated with it. Always the problem with trend-based approaches to aid.

All that is not to say that her arguments are without merit. Rather, she does what so many popular writers about aid do - cherrypick case studies which support your assertions and steadfastly ignore anything to the contrary (for a left wing version of this, Ha Joon Chang's book Bad Samaritans is an excellent example, and antidote, to Moyo).

Neither are necessarily wrong about what they write about - but what they don't write about is very revealing. And one should certainly not conclude from reading an article, a book, or hearing one speech that you know the deal about Aid.

Apologies for the derail. I get a bit het up about this - it's a topic I'm passionate about and there is so much good info on it, and yet it's always getting taken hostage by these political trends - and the cost is ultimately one paid in human lives and suffering. The evidence is there; let's use it.

On the article, I dunno. I can't believe she had to spend ten years in Kenya to learn some of that shit, lol. I think it betokens a - sorry but - a particularly dumb kind of cultural chauvinism (alas, not uncommon in either America or Australia) to think you can waltz into a fucking country and do things just the same.

Yes, Kenyan cultural context is radically different from America's. Yes, you can pick up some very easy and fast pointers by talking to some Kenyans or reading a fucking book about the goddamn country before you barge into it. For an unconcise history, Hornsby's Kenya is great, but there are tonnes and tonnes of English books that will help with cultural context..

She's right that a lot of development aid is wasted/a load of shit. But a lot isn't. And there's one big factor she fails to mention - likely because most of the people she was mixing with were benefitting from it in a major way: Corruption (spoiler: Kenya ranks 145 out of 174). This is why a lot of western agencies want to run everything start to finish, or find their money evaporating like gasoline on a hot bonnet. I'm not saying it's right; I'm saying it's understandable.

The final lesson I'll take away from my years in Kenya is that America isn't the center of the world. Jesus fucking christ on a cracker, it took you ten years in Kenya to realise this?? When people like me (non-Americans) talk about American exceptionalism, lady, we're not saying America is exceptional, we're saying Americans think it's exceptional.

Finally, I actually loled at this: Even my own two sons expressed surprise, when they came to visit, at the lack of malnourished children and the prevalence of shopping malls filled with Kenyan consumers.

Did they, I don't know, even leave bloody Westgate, let alone Nairobi? Poverty is endemic and omnipresent in Kenya, though the elite work very very hard to pretend it isn't. If this is emblematic of the binary, simplistic thinking that's all you have to show after ten years in Kenya, the country is probably better without you.

For what it's worth, here's Smoke's What 6 Weeks in Kenya and Reading Some Goddamn Books and Listening Taught Me. I wish allkindsoftime was around more; he'd have lots more to add and would probably disagree with me on lots, too:

1. Corruption touches every interaction, every facet of life. It is inescapable, and it is as deleterious as malaria. Every single thing you do in Kenya will be shaped by corruption. Also, what you think of when you're thinking about corruption is inappropriate for what corruption is in Kenya. It is both more, and less than what you think, and it takes place in a wildly different cultural context. Your ideas about corruption will have limited value here.

2. Kenya is as racist as Hell, but you might not see all of it. Tribal background is an undercurrent shaping a lot of the politics and business you're seeing. Also, people are super totes crazy racist towards ethnic Somalis in particular, but really there are invisible race lines under everything (see It's our turn to eat).

3. Kenyans will say yes, even when they mean no. The culture is much more friendly and conflict averse than many Western cultures. You might not realise someone is disagreeing with you, and you'd best couch your own disagreement in the same way. People make a lot of nice talk in Kenya - you'll come out of meetings with a lot of promises about staying touch, moving forward etc etc. Parsing the real offers from the standard is a real skill!

4. Hierarchy is important, and age equates with respect. Real difference from the west, where we try to forget our old people. Defer and respect your elders. Also, if the most senior person says no, you will not get a yes from anyone else.

5. You're not the first Westerner off the plane. They see people like you, whatever person you are, every single day. Don't think you're special or you've got a new or special insight - and don't let this lack of singularity stop you from connecting and making friendships.

6. Kenyans really love the news, and politics. Though it's best just to listen and ask questions; don't venture an opinion of your own. People will stop to listen to the news in bars etc, papers still sell well. These people are aware of their democracy and their parliament and they care about it quite a bit, generally speaking.

7. Kenya is dangerous. You can sometimes forget, and things can go right. But if things go wrong, they can really go wrong in a hurry and in a very bad way. Be careful, and don't fall into th trap of thinking you're insulated from it all. Lots of people are really nice and helpful in Kenya, but the poverty is immense and desperate people do desperate things. Be careful, without falling into the siege mentality that has most of the elites sequestered utterly from actual real life in Kenya - but also recognise you are totally an elite and you do need a measure of protection. And for god's sake don't get pissy when people view you as a gravy train; you are a gravy train and be a generous tipper: it means far more to the recipient than you I guarantee.

Not especially profound, but better I think, then her wan insights.
posted by smoke at 5:00 AM on June 15, 2015 [9 favorites]

Hi. Sorry I haven't been around more. My days in international aid came to a bright fiery end and the last year and a half has been readjusting to corporate America.

Did they, I don't know, even leave bloody Westgate, let alone Nairobi?

Is bloody Westgate even there any more? This is a serious question. Also "bloody" seems like a bad pun, although I'm sure it wasn't intended.

I agree wholeheartedly on the corruption part. It touches everything, way more than you ever think it does. I was shocked, SHOCKED to find out just how far up it went in my international aid organization (read: a lot higher than just the Kenyan levels). But speaking purely in-country - it was everywhere. Sometimes it was blatant and bald-faced, most times it was subtle but understood. But it was never not there. You just saw it sometimes, and missed it all the other times.

I found it fun, if a bit devious, to confront the corruption with everyone's shared Christianity in Kenya, kind of hold them ethically accountable to their religious identity. I'd tell them about how my pastor had preached (true story) about how if you take part in corruption, even to make your life easier, you perpetuate the system that is holding everyone down, and you indulge in sin against God and your fellow man. So of course, I, as a good Christian, couldn't pay you, officer, a small fee to let me go, I must insist that we go to your police station and you write me the official ticket and I go to court, for I have broken the law. Usually that's the part where I'd be waived along, getting off scott free.

Kenyans, like humans pretty much anywhere, are indeed racist, as mentioned above.

And very much this: But if things go wrong, they can really go wrong in a hurry and in a very bad way.

One moment you're sleeping, the next someone is in your home with a gun. Welcome to Kenya.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:01 PM on June 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

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