This week’s Speaking of Faith discussed one African’s view of foreign aid. Specifically, Binyavanga Wainaina is angry with the way Kenyans have been portrayed in international media and how Africans in general are thought of as poor, dying orphans. He said:
“We can save you from yourself. We can save ourselves from our terrible selves. Help us to Oxfam the whole black world, to make it a better place.
We want to empower you. No, your mother cannot do this. Your government cannot do this. Time cannot do this. Evolution, it seems, cannot do this. Education cannot do this. Your IQ cannot do this.
No one can empower you except us. And if you don’t listen to us, our bad people, those RepublicanToryChineseOilConcessioningIanSmithing racists will come to get you: your choice is our compassionate breast or their market forces.”
My travels and work experience in Africa have given me a chance to see the ugly and the beautiful of foreign aid. I’d say that as an American, I look back on some of my gawking behavior with embarrassment. I should have known better than to have taken that photo, at that time, full-well knowing the shock of the horrific situation was exactly what I was trying to capture. I’d say this podcast gave me time to think a bit more about how to help others without exploitation and how aid can be destructive.
Our conversation group this morning was lively. I enjoyed listening to another PC volunteer’s experience in an Asian country as an English teacher. Additionally, two others discussed how aid to the US under similar circumstances would leave them feeling incapable of caring for themselves.
I think foreign aid has great room for systematic improvement. Like anything else with political and religious implications, it can become a terrible mess and cause more problems than it solves. Without intense and committed involvement from the community at stake, nothing can be achieved long-term. The one side to this conversation I missed was spirituality. Faith and charity go hand in hand. What are faith-based-organizations doing well in Africa? What are they doing poorly? How do people with the best of faith-fueled intentions have to say about this topic?
SOF is continuing the conversation about aid in the developing world. It will be interesting to see who else speaks up.