Bibles and lions, oh my!

Aid Watch occasionally features entries by NGO-worker Dianne Bennett. Her previous post on DFID’s Douglas Alexander’s inability to distinguish between self-promotion and accountability was well-argued and thoughtful. Her more recent post is a bit harder to swallow:

A small team was dispatched to assess and prioritize the needs of internally displaced people (IDPs) resettling in a corner of South Sudan…..

….Our team was horrified when we learned that lions actively hunted in this area, killing children daily without protection of shelter or family….

True to our word, our NGO brought in emergency food supplies, then seeds and agricultural tools. A year later, insufficient rain created a temporary food crisis and we again brought in supplemental food supplies to help them get through….

Within a short time of our first visit, there were no more lion attacks on helpless children and we never heard another word about the hundreds of orphaned children.

Is it just me, or are they claiming credit for the lack of lion-related deaths in this village? What sort of people does this NGO employ? There’s no mention of any direct attempt to protect the villagers from the attacks or kill the lions….. so how is it that they get the credit for this?

It’s odd that Easterly, usually a hound for good evidence, allows for the occassional bit of shameless promotion – Bennett’s article is titled “Respecting local values: Western confusion about African orphans,” yet her article deals very little with local culture, aside from a brief discussion of ubuntu (despite the fact that ubuntu is a bantu-based, south-east African concept, far from the culture of southern Sudan).

The story gets stranger, and a fair bit ickier when a commenter revealed this story on the website of Bennett’s NGO, Servant’s Heart Relief, titled “Going into the War Zone – Because They Care.” This is the part that struck me:

“…I made a commitment to them to bring in some food, bring in some bibles and I thought that was going to be the end of my involvement. Instead what happened was, that was almost 3 years ago now, and we’re still involved,” she said.

What was that about respecting local culture? I think this Onion article sums it up properly: Poverty-Stricken Africans Receive Desperately Needed Bibles.

4 thoughts on “Bibles and lions, oh my!

  1. Ranil Dissanayake

    July 10, 2009 at 1:24pm

    great post! I’m laughing out loud at the onion article.

    It’s possible that the first box quote refers to the lions- perhaps Ms. Bennett was bringing emergency food supplies for the lions and teaching basic agricultural principles to allow them to grow grass and attract zebra and impala. In such a way, they increase their supply of their normal food and leave the humans alone. The bibles are the next stage in their development, allowing them to transcend their savage nature and to become closer to human. Problem solved and humanity uplifted, thanks to an innovative NGO.

    On a serious note, I’ve been reading about the development of languages in Africa myself recently. My understanding is that all niger-congo languages derive from the same place near the border of modern nigeria. the bantu sub-division is primarily made because the bantu were the most successful internal colonisers of African lands in the period around Christ (just BC and just AD), due probably to their agricultural systems. Southern Sudan is primarily in the Nilotic linguistic region, but right on the cusp of where the Niger-Congo languages start to dominate.

    In any case I thought it was the word Ubuntu which is taken from Bantu languages; the concept seems to be universal to Africa. Doesn’t it get great play in South Africa? There is no bantu spoken among the native populations below the Western Cape.

    stand to be corrected, though, I don’t know a great deal about this.

  2. admin

    July 10, 2009 at 2:51pm

    Ranil,

    You’re likely very right about the language bit – my knowledge of it is limited to wikipedia :)

  3. Asma Zubairi

    July 10, 2009 at 9:09pm

    This is superb Matt. Like Ranil was laughing mao just because the word to describe this is just “incredible” and not in a good way! I wonder if “reduction of lion-related deaths” was on this particular NGO’s results-based framwork as a potential future outcome? Thanks for sharing :)

  4. Paul Revill

    July 11, 2009 at 8:05pm

    These US fanatics do more to damage Christianity and the image of religion in general than the most outspoken atheists. I’m not sure religious groups (even the worst kind such as these) override local culture any more though than any aid groups and especially proponents of aid policy – whether they be Esterley or Sachs – who reside outside of Africa and don’t have to live with the consequences of what they prescribe.

    Whether it’s in line with current Western sentiment or not – fact is most people in Africa are deeply religious …. so, even if it seems ridiculous to us, these people are generally welcomed.

    … I did think the Dinka in southern Sudan are Bantu though – but may be wrong.

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