Return to the poverty safari

Kennedy Odede, who grew up in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, reflects on poverty tourism in the New York Times:

I was 16 when I first saw a slum tour. I was outside my 100-square-foot house washing dishes, looking at the utensils with longing because I hadn’t eaten in two days. Suddenly a white woman was taking my picture. I felt like a tiger in a cage. Before I could say anything, she had moved on.

On the educational value of these trips:

To be fair, many foreigners come to the slums wanting to understand poverty, and they leave with what they believe is a better grasp of our desperately poor conditions. The expectation, among the visitors and the tour organizers, is that the experience may lead the tourists to action once they get home.

But it’s just as likely that a tour will come to nothing. After all, looking at conditions like those in Kibera is overwhelming, and I imagine many visitors think that merely bearing witness to such poverty is enough.

A few months ago Ravi Kanbur wrote an interesting paper suggesting that development workers should have to go on routine ‘exposure’ trips, where they spend a few days staying in a rural village to get a better perspective on poverty. Several others thought this would be a good idea, but I remain concerned that this would be nothing more than a glorified poverty safari, akin to earning a merit badge in the Boy Scouts.

The very first post on this blog was on poverty safaris. What do you think of them?

Hat tip to Aid Watch for the link.

Living in hell

So much for rose-tinted glasses

Foreign Policy recently ran a photo essay with images from countries that scored the worst on their Failed States Index. The title? “Postcards from Hell.”

But as the photos here demonstrate, sometimes the best test is the simplest one: You’ll only know a failed state when you see it.

Really? Isn’t selection an issue here? If I went to the projects of Baltimore to take some photos, Maryland would start looking like a failed state pretty quickly.

The Failed States Index, a creation of both Foreign Policy and The Fund For Peace, uses a range of indicators, some more reasonable than others. The ranking of failed states is based on an amalgamation of these indicators, which means that some states get a similar ranking, despite being “failed” for drastically different reasons. This is why war-torn, refugee-laden Sierra Leone is tied with extremely-peaceful but desperately poor Malawi.

Sean Jacobs also weighs in.

Portraying Lagos

A BBC documentary is accused of poverty porn by a Nigerian Nobel laureate:

Speaking to the Guardian, Professor Soyinka said that Welcome to Lagos, the BBC2 observational documentary which follows various people in poor areas of the city, was “the most tendentious and lopsided programme” he had ever seen.

The series of three programmes, which concludes tomorrow, follows groups of people living in three impoverished areas: a rubbish dump, the Lagos lagoon and the city’s beach area. The narration from the black British actor David Harewood overtly praises their resourceful resilience.

Go on.

The 75-year-old [Soyinka], who splits his time between the US and his home outside Lagos, added: “There was no sense of Lagos as what it is – a modern African state. What we had was jaundiced and extremely patronising. It was saying ‘Oh, look at these people who can make a living from the pit of degradation’.

“One could do a similar programme about London in which you go to a poor council estate and speaking of poverty and knifings. Or you could follow a hobo selling iron on the streets of London. But you wouldn’t call it Welcome to London because that would give the viewer the impression that that is all London is about.”

UK residents can watch the show on BBC iPlayer here.

Op-ed of Darkness

What is Nick Kristof’s most popular word? Hint: it isn’t “kittens” or “happiness”

I’ve learned some new words.

One is “autocannibalism,” coined in French but equally appropriate in English. It describes what happens when a militia here in eastern Congo’s endless war cuts flesh from living victims and forces them to eat it.

Another is “re-rape.” The need for that term arose because doctors were seeing women and girls raped, re-raped and re-raped again, here in the world capital of murder, rape, mutilation.

Media and the benefits of giving


I was in a gym yesterday on the Msasani peninsula, watching the news on a muted television, surrounded by over-pumped expats. An ad came up for a CNN special report to be aired that evening. The name?

Anderson Cooper Presents:

CNN Heroes: Saving Haiti

From the files of the No. 1 Bumbling Aid Agency

A while ago Ranil took a pot shot at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – accusing it of being patronising. Others are more worried about relatively rosy-picture McCall Smith paints of the continent.

This Is Africa (awfully named, but then again we’re called Aid Thoughts) has a wonderful suggestion for McCall’s next project – to satisfy those that prefer their vision of Africa dry and bleak:

Bowing to the criticism, McCall Smith announced plans for a new series, The No. 1 Malnourished AIDS Orphans Agency. This will be followed by a film adaptation of his unreleased novella, The No. 1 Brutal Kleptocrats Club, starring Don Cheadle.

Would you like fries with that?


There’s a lot of badvocacy out there. Amanda at Wronging Rights has given us the worst offender, ever:

“Using a ketchup sachet, we demonstrated the horrific nature of living in a land mine affected country and how much a part of everyday life that horror is. The idea is simple: as you tear open the sachet you also rip through the child’s leg and the ketchup inside pours out like blood.”

Amanda points out that the effects might be mitigated by starchy hunger:

The smidge? That the net effect of the campaign was almost certainly to ensure that, when Kiwis hear about landmines, they develop an instant craving for french fries.

I don’t have much to say, except to continue to refer to you Texas in Africa’s excellent critique of badvocacy.

More hardcore poverty porn, now with landmines

MSF have done it again. I’ve already discussed how these ads play to stereotypes and quite effectively use the medium to envoke the “right” emotions. See for yourself:

Common themes between this and their original ad “Boy” are pain, rape, and war. My prescription is the same.

Unfashionable philanthropy


This may look like self-parody, but it's not.

I just discovered the blandly-named Project Migration, which is the brainchild of (model?) Hillary Rowland. The organisation purportedly sells merchandise (in this case fashionable t-shirts with the African continent on them) made by “single mothers in Africa” (no indication where it might be, but at least they found it on a map).

On the website are links to a number of photo shoots Rowland has done with the new t-shirts, as well as a video of her looking sexy during a particularly skimpy photo shoot (Bill Easterly, eat your heart out).

Rowland is one of those self-made socialites who uses the internet for self promotion (such as by posting lots of pictures of herself with real celebrities). As she seems to dominate most of the photos on the site, her sudden decision to join the philanthropic community might seem a tad suspect.

The photo at the start (which is directly from the merchandise shop!) says it all. Also read the fine print: “For each Project Migration product sold, a single mother in central Africa will receive 5 to 20 years of clean water and life-saving medical supplies.”


Hat tip to AFRICA IS A COUNTRY for the link.