30 April 2012

Shifting the Story While Keeping the Author

The latest video from Mama Hope, African Men. Hollywood Stereotypes began making the rounds last week. The same NGO produced the very smart Alex Presents: Commando. Myself and others were generally positive about the short where a young boy narrates the Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle Commando.

The aid social media space buzzed once again for a video that features four men tearing down Hollywood stereotypes of African men. Elliot Ross was not so impressed by the new video. He wrote in Africa is a Country:
Sure, the Western media continues shamelessly to traffic in vicious stereotypes of black African masculinity drawn from the deep histories of racist iconography that remain at their disposal in spite of (more likely under the cover of) the general subscription to a rigid politically correct consensus. Yes, it would be nice if they would give this a rest once every few centuries.

But do we really need this kind of “positive image for Africa” stuff? At best it can be framed as a necessary corrective, but the whole PR “brand Africa” shtick is boring, patronising, and finally insubstantial in its attempt to transform the West’s time-honoured way of imagining the continent, ideas that are thoroughly tangled up with ingrained – and much beloved – supremacist notions of Euro-American culture and identity. This isn’t all going to go away because you pointed out that there’s a bloke in Nairobi called Brian who works in HR.
Ross's post expands on Lidya Polgreen's recent tweet:

To combat stories that focus on pity, Mama Hope and others are mounting a campaign to tell positive stories. A Day Without Dignity is in some part connected to this movement. The focus on local champions was to tell stories of people of capability rather than in need of foreign assistance. While the stories are quite short on making into regular media stories and NGO posters, the problem is also a matter of the author.

If the same people who are telling the stories of pity decided to tell stories of hope, what changes is the story but not the storyteller. A part of the reason why a single narrative has developed is because there is a single author. The story of countries in Africa, whether it is news, film, or literature continues to be largely authored by Westerners for a Western audience.

In some part, this is due to the fact that the author has an understanding of his or her audience. Nick Kristof says he intentionally includes Western protagonists or bridge characters in his work because it provides a stronger connection to his audience. Pieces without the character are less read than ones with him or her.

As long as the global north insists on telling the story of the global south we will run into the same problems that come with a lack of local social and cultural understanding. We access our news and information from a localized source because of its understanding of the landscape for a given story. If it is politics in West Virginia, the best sources are going to be people who cover the political landscape of the state.

Why do we expect that level of local reporting from our own countries and others that make up the global north, but do not question it for Somalia, India and Bolivia? One of the problems is due to the changing media landscape. Newspapers have less money and are pulling what they consider to be less essential foreign correspondants. No surprise that the first to cut are in South-east Asia, Africa and South America.

Laura Seay writes in Foreign Policy:
Why is there so much bad reporting on Africa? Part of the problem has to do with the limited number of journalists assigned to cover the continent. Many major Western media outlets assign one correspondent for the entire continent -- more than 11 million square miles. He or she will be based in Johannesburg or Nairobi, but be expected to parachute into Niger, Somalia, or wherever the next crisis is unfolding, on a moment's notice. At best, larger publications will have two or three regional Africa correspondents who are each responsible for covering 10 to 15 countries. The wire services tend to have broader reach, but even they cannot station a correspondent in every country.

She points to instances where there are single correspondents for regions like East Africa and bureau chiefs for all of Africa. Could you imagine a New York Times bureau chief for all of North America with a few regional correspondents? The news quality would suffer immensely. People would turn to other sources that can provided the necessary depth and understanding that will provide context for the reporting.

Why then is it acceptable for one person to cover all of East Africa and be the main source for a newspaper? No matter how good someone is as a writer and reporter, it is immensely hard to cover Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Somalia, and Sudan with adequate depth.

The authors of stories will change. Telling positive stories is useful. Lee Crawfurd points to a recent study that shows how Sub-Saharan African countries are receiving less international investments when measured against comparable economies in other parts of the world. In part, this may be due to the way people see SSA. If they only hear of rape, war, and corruption, private investors can think twice about how much to invest in Zambia.

In a way, this is the exact same discussion about development at large. Some argue for a larger effort to affect change through outside intervention; another group wants grass root support, another calls for the complete end of outside interference, and so on. Much like the aid debate, there is a role for all to play. We all can play the excellent TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie and share Wainaina's "How to Write About Africa" to show what is possible and tell of the damage of the current narrative structure.

However, I challenge you to find many people in the United States who know the two authors. Some may know about Adichie, but that is probably because they herd about her book from Oprah. Right now, the likes of Oprah, George Clooney and Nick Kristof are the holders of the narrative of Africa. They reach the largest audience who then support aid based on the narrative that is spun by these few authors.

The authors do need to change. It will not happen suddenly. Rather, the people and organizations that have the greatest reach can begin to make important shifts. They can given time for others to contribute on their own space. Kristof can share local reporting with his 1 million + Twitter followers. Oprah can share stories that are not about her school in South Africa, but of locally developed and run schools in South Africa.

As the stories told by the same authors shift the space will be created for local authors to take over. Much like a good NGO, storytellers of the global south who are from the global north should be working to put themselves out of a job. There will always be foreign correspondents. An outsider's view can have some value, but it should not be the only author of others' stories.

What do you all think? AIC can get really into the academic analysis of issues that may go far at times, but there is something to consider about the point of actively telling positive stories. The stories change, but the storytellers are the same. Ross is right in his analysis of the video, but he should not forget the audience. If media makers have the awareness of Ross with the understanding of the present audience, they can begin to change the dominant single narrative to a decentralized and diverse multi-narrative. This can be done in part by engaging in conversations about how to do it and encourage more humility in telling storytelling.

The ability to take hold of the the story of an entire continent is privilege defined. We who hold that power should do everything possible to breakdown the privilege.

27 April 2012

Cross Post: Development Double Standards and Institutions

The following post is by Dave Algoso and originally appears on Find What Works. I think he raised some important points that should be discussed further. Being that the post that he is responding to is now in the top 5 most viewed, I thought it would be good to share Dave's thoughts.
Tom Murphy recently shared a chart that he created in collaboration with Carol Gallo and David Week. It lists the “double standards” of how certain political activities are described, depending on where they take place — e.g. in DC it’s a “campaign contribution” but in an African capital it’s a “bribe”. They offered the chart a bit light-heartedly, but in a classic blogger move, I’ll use it as an excuse to talk about something related. First, the chart in question:
What people might normally call it
When it happens in Washington
When it happens in Africa
Money received from political sponsorsCampaign contributionsBribes
Uneven spending on public services in different ethnic communitiesSocial injusticeTribalism
Seeking money in exchange for political influenceCampaign fundraisingRent seeking
Subservience to oil companiesEnergy policyControl by foreign interests
Political appointeesThe new administration’s teamCronyism
Political familiesTradition of public serviceNepotism
People driven from their homesHomelessnessDisplacement
No bid contractsNecessary expedienceCorrupt procurement
Government secrecyNational securityLack of transparency
Assistance to the poorWelfareAid
Internal security apparatusHomeland securitySecret police
Not funding public schools, health system, infrastructureSmall governmentUnderdevelopment
To be honest, I gave their original post a quick glance and then forgot about it. Here’s why: if you’re from the US and you work in international development in any capacity, then none of this should be news to you. I sincerely hope that we all have the minimum level of awareness and critical reflection to have noticed this double standard already.
So I didn’t give it much thought until my friend Josh forwarded me the post a few days ago. He doesn’t work in development, but we both worked on government reform campaigns in the US many years ago. We have some hands-on experience with a few of these issues and how hard they are to fix.
Given that experience, it doesn’t ring true to me that these phenomena have different labels simply because they happen in DC versus Africa. Yes, Americans have some rather simplistic, prejudiced, occasionally-neocolonialist views of “Africa” that lead to poor analysis and unearned moral righteousness. But there are also actual differences between the political events and practices described in the second and third columns. There’s something more going on here. These differing terminologies reflect something else.
I’ve realized that the double standard arises from how we think about political institutions. There are two (almost contradictory) points here:
1. We believe that institutional frameworks and processes matter …
The similar-looking phenomena described in the chart above are actually dramatically different due to their different institutional contexts. Just like dragging another player to the ground is a legal tackle in rugby, but a flagrant foul in basketball. We call them different terms, not merely because of the different continents, but because they take place within different political and governmental systems.
For example, the US political system has institutionalized the influence of money to such an extent that campaign contributors don’t have to bribe an official into doing what they want. The influence is more subtle than that. Contributions ensure first and foremost that the candidate who already agrees with you gets elected. (Secondary to this is that s/he answers your phone call in the future, allowing you to make the case for a particular policy; and tertiary is that s/he will consider your future contribution when deciding what to do.) You can argue whether this is actually better than bribery, but it’s clear that these contributions occur within formal rules and with a certain amount of transparency. Only in rare cases do campaign contributions come close to being quid pro quo bribes — and we’re understandably shocked by those cases.
In contrast, straight-up bribes occur often in systems without functioning formal rules and with little transparency. They result from institutions that don’t perform as they were intended. Some flexibility within the rules is always necessary, but if a bureaucracy systematically relies on “facilitation payments” because public sector salaries are too low and financial controls are too lax, then that’s a problem. Something similar can be said about the other elements of the chart (with the exception of welfare/aid — where the relevant difference is the international nature of the latter).
This emphasis on institutions and processes isn’t a Western or American bias. It’s a simple a fact of how large organizations function everywhere in the world. Institutionalization, bureaucracy, rules, and organizations allow humans to accomplish far more and at larger scales than we could without them. Of course, the exact nature of those institutions can and should vary from context to context. The point is that we think they are important…
2. … but we have no idea how those institutions form, function, develop or improve.
Every country has a variety of institutions. Some are resilient while others are fragile, but all of them change over time. The harsh, humbling truth is this: we have no idea how institutional change happens or how it can be guided for the better.
The chart reminded me of this because media and advocacy commentary on developing country politics usually applies a “problems-to-be-solved” framework on column three. Academic and policy discussions might go a bit deeper, seeing the problems in terms of “institutions-to-be-built”. But what we’re really talking about are long-term transformational processes over which any given actor has very little control.
We see that if we consider the history and development of the American system in column two. America’s history is marked by a great deal of bribery, clientelism, stolen elections, internecine violence, failed peacebuilding, and worse. The forces behind those didn’t just disappear. Some persist, of course, while others have been channelled into and transformed by our present day institutions. Our own column three has slowly shifted into column two. We argue fiercely — both in academic departments (history, political science, etc.) and in political debates — when trying to explain these shifts. We don’t have answers (let alone an answer) to explain how it all happened.
The double standard points to something worrying: not just an ignorance of how these shifts happen, but an ignorance of just how ignorant we are. Our use of different terms obscures the fact that all countries are grappling with similar issues. That doesn’t mean the solutions from one country will translate over, as trying to copy another country’s institutions can be fraught with hazards. We should point out the similarities among the problems if only to highlight the one real lesson from the American experience: that the solutions to the problems will only develop through a long, unpredictable process that is more or less unique to each individual country.
So to recap:
While I defend the “double standard” on the basis that these similar-looking phenomena really are different when they occur in different institutional contexts, I also think it clouds our view of how institutional development happens over time.
Sorry, were you hoping for a neat little answer at the end? You’ve come to the wrong blog, my friend.

26 April 2012

Quickly Growing: Cities and Mobile Money

Mobile money is rapidly growing across Africa in small pockets. Kenya's M-PESA is the frequent example of the potential of mobile money, but looking the map shows that it is not the only country with a high level of use.

This is not really related to the previous in any way, but The Economist turned out the two charts so quickly that I had to share both. A lot has been made of growing populations in emerging economies. That aside, it is pretty stunning to see the average annual population increases for the quickest growing cities and the projections in 13 years. Increasing rates will present new challenges for the cities. The projected rate decrease in Delhi and Shanghai in addition to the rise by over 100,000 in Kinshasa stand out.

Third World Saves First World For Only $480 a Day

This satire is brilliant and its teeth are quite sharp.

"On this spot," as Trevor Noah, crouched down, rubs the ground with his hand, "there was a Jacuzzi hot tub." Noah lifts his hand and rubs his fingers together, "Now, there is no Jacuzzi hot tub." He opens his palm and quickly blows off the dirt. With his other hand, Noah cleans his seemingly dirty hand while he looks into the camera and the viewer to emphasize the gravity of his statement.

He knows the common tactics of charity communications all too well in this video. Its success is putting into context the American recession with the majority of the world. Some will complain that it is too simple and he is making light of what is a very serious situation for some Americans. No doubt that is true, but why then are we OK with the same form of narrative about the poor in the global south? Isn't there much more going on than what is captured in a single 5 minute or less video?

Noah succeeds in providing perspective in both a local and global way. Give it a watch for yourself and share what you think.

Bonus: Africa is a Country recently reviewed Noah's stand up performance on NBC’s “Late Night with Jay Leno.”

HT TMS Ruge for the video

25 April 2012

Sudan's History of Bombing: 1999 to 2011

The above infographic is by researcher Eric Reeves.

I owe a big hat tip to Lee Crawfurd who posted this infographic first. For quick updates and info on the two Sudan's be sure to read his blog Roving Bandit.

World Peace Suspended

ESPN assess the state of the world with a headline that could have come straight out of The Onion: "World Peace is Suspended 7." The mobile site is even better: "NBA suspends World Peace 7 games for elbow." The levels of irony are too great not to share. Maybe the NBA can have a chat with Syria, the Sudans, Mali, the DRC, and the United States to return world peace.

Background: Metta World Peace is the name of a basketball player on the LA Lakers who viciously elbowed another player in a game over the weekend. The same man, when he was called Ron Artest, was suspended for an NBA record 86 games (including playoffs) for his role in an on court brawl that spilled over into the stands.

Latest Happenings over at DAWNS

Mark and I are still pushing along with providing the latest news updates to your inbox each morning as a means to fund further journalism and storytelling.  We have a few exciting developments that we wanted to share.

1) We have given away another $500 grant! We have chipped in to the kickstarter of one of our DAWNS Digest subscribers, the photographer and multi-media journalist Anna Marie Barry-Jester and her partner, the investigative reporter Sasha Chavkin. Their project will document a mysterious kidney disease that is wreaking havoc in a Nicaraguan agricultural community. We are excited to support the important journalism this duo will produce. You can learn more about their project here and watch the video below.

2) We are expanding the number of partner organizations that receive group editions of DAWNS Digest. We are now providing a specialized version of the Digest to USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. We add them to Overseas Development Institute and the Foundation for Sustainable Development as organizations that have benefited from a special relationship with DAWNS Digest. We are gratified that organizations on the front lines of aid and development work value our daily news round up. If you think your organization might benefit from receiving a specialized version of the Digest, please get in touch with us.

3) We are the recipients of a $2,000 grant from Humanity in Action! This is a transatlantic human rights organization, and the funding for this grant comes from the government of the Netherlands. We are using this funding to create a system of RSS feeds that will let subscribers opt for a more customized version of DAWNS Digest. This RSS system will also feed into a DAWNS Digest mobile app that we are developing. We are shooting for a June launch of DAWNS Digest 2.0 and the mobile app.

For those of you who have been following this project, we thank you for your inputs and support. As always, please feel free to share your feedback and ideas with us. We want to make this as useful as possible for all of you. One thing we have learned, that is not so insightful, is that people want to access humanitarian news in ways beyond email. We kept it on email to make it as simple as possible, but understand that there are other alternatives.  Hopefully we will find better ways to get the latest humanitarian news and opinions to you.

To learn more about DAWNS, our digest and mission head on over to our website.

24 April 2012

The Red Herring that is Attacking Armchair Critics

These jeers about upholstered seating, like so many ad hominem attacks, ignore the substance of the critiques. No one is saying that the Kony 2012 campaign is flawed because Joseph Kony is an awesome guy who should be left in peace to maim and murder as he pleases. Rather, the critics -- including us -- have pointed out that the campaign's shortcomings may lead to real harm.

For the most part, critics of the campaign were not "armchair" anything. Rather, they were Ugandans, aid workers, journalists, survivors of LRA atrocities, and researchers who had lived in the region and are experts on the LRA. Boots can't get much more "on the ground" than that.


[T]he "boots on the ground" narrative doesn't intend to privilege the voices of "brave" men over "foolhardy" women, or "self-sacrificing" Westerners over "compromised" locals. But beneath the surface of the criticism-of-the-critics of Kony 2012 rests an implicit assumption that only certain voices should be permitted to speak -- the same voices that have dominated Western discourse regarding the non-Western world since the earliest days of colonialism. That's the tricky thing about privilege -- you don't notice it when it's yours.

For our part, we are more than happy to cop to being armchair critics. Unlike the founders of Invisible Children, we have never headed off to Africa with a carload of video cameras, looking for people to save. Nor have we ever been held at gunpoint by warlords whose massacres we've interrupted. Although between us we have done human rights work on every continent except Australia and Antarctica, we also spend as much time as possible in armchairs. If our ideas are wrong, no amount of "on the ground" experience will make them right. And if we're right, it shouldn't matter if we've never left the house.
That is Kate Cronin-Furman and Amanda Taub (better known as Wronging Rights) sharing an edited version of their Beyond Kony 2012 chapter with the Atlantic. I posted the sample chapter on Friday, but the above section is worth repeating. Criticisms of Kony 2012 came from people with vast experience on the ground. Though the criticisms may have been written in an armchair, it does not make them any less valid that the video itself.

As Amanda and Kate point out, attacks on the individuals ignores the substance of what is said. Right or wrong, such a dismissive point of view misses the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation and ultimately lead to greater understanding and possibly a few changes.

Zooming in to See Big Picture Development

If aid was to have a paradigm determined by recent reviews, reports and discussions it would be one with Bill Easterly and Jeff Sachs on opposite ends. It is requisite to say that they represent opposing views in order to introduce a new set of ideas presented by a group or an individual. In doing so, it cheapens the theories of Sachs and Easterly into a pair of immutable posts that share no similarity.

One does not have to look much further than Ron Paul’s foreign aid stance to see the extreme end of libertarianism that Easterly supposedly occupies. The same can be said for Sachs who is said to be the epitome of liberal aid, but did not fit so neatly into that picture when Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development visited a Millennium Development Village and discovered that decisions were largely made at the local level.

The shades of grey that surround the two icons are filling in to show that the discussion and debate over aid is far wider than two professors at New York-based universities. Dambasia Moyo’s anti-aid book, Morduch and others look at spending of households, the randomistas testing out interventions, and Roodman’s middle view on microfinance are all examples of ideas that populate between and outside of the popular Sachs-Easterly paradigm.

Viewing the discussion of aid in shades of grey is a positive step forward. More competing big and small ideas about development can drive further innovations. Public pressure on the way the MVP is doing evaluations will have some level of impact. To a certain extent, the rise of pressure is due in part to the popularity of Duflo, Karlan, Banerjee and others. They are also receiving pushback from innovation-based researchers like Philip Auerswald and even Bill Easterly.

The clouds of big thinking have dissipated over the past few years and given way to hyper-localism. Delivering Development zooms into two villages in Ghana, Ponkrum and Dominase, to determine if the grand theories about aid and development that come from New York, London, Delhi, Western Kenya and even Ghana are applicable.

Author Edward R Carr comes from a different position than other development writers. Though there are many development writers, there are two general groups. There are the economists who look at various data and research to determine development interventions. Then, there are the aid workers with their experience in the system. Generally their books tell of challenging circumstances, broken systems, and corruption.

Carr, an anthropologist and geographer by training, arrives upon the scene in a round-about way. While doing an excavation near the Ghanaian coast, Ed uncovered a Fetish Priest who died in 1825 and was buried with goods that came from Europe. A small village that was largely made up of subsistence farming in 2000 experienced European trade roughly 200 years prior. In between the discovery and last year’s publication of the book, Carr observed globalization return and leave the villages thanks to a privately built and maintained road.

Through his observations and recorded evidence, Carr is able to show how development is not linear. He builds the metaphor of the shoreline of development where the tide of globalization ebbs and flows. This refutes the World is Flat point of view that globalization comes and stays. In showing this single story, Carr argues that the big theories are nearly impossible to apply when development and globalization to not necessarily take hold.

He summarizes these findings saying, “We can see how the current situation of those living in Dominase and Ponkrum is not the result of the lack of development or inadequate connections to global markets for their goods and the goods they might purchase. Instead these connections are the result of 170 years of engagement with global markets and development activities, as well as the decisions of these residents in the face of that changing engagement.”

What may appear to be chaotic farming and market engagement is well considered and tested. The plots for plating crops are set up to maximize the opportunity to have an annual yield. Placement is done so that some will thrive if it is a high or low rain year and all will flourish if there is average rainfall.

Carr tries to zoom out in the latter half of his book to take on the bigger theories. He attempts to connect to development at large, but stumbles a bit in doing so. The strength of the book is using 10 years of research in a pair of villages to show how grand theories have been wrong.

The research by Carr raises further questions about other development ideas that beg closer attention. Most interesting is the interaction between the men and women in the labor force. When the roads came to the villages, men attempted to seek other forms of labor due to the ease of transit. To do so, women were provided more land to farm. The greater farming area for women was an overall benefit to the farm. Carr observed that women were more efficient with their space than the men prior to gaining more land and maintained that edge after the expansion. When the quality of the road degraded and the men realize they were unable to find other labor, the families that stayed reverted to prior farming methods where men worked the majority of land at a lower rate of efficiency than the women.

Carr says this is a part of maintaining control in the household. The men could still farm the majority of land, let women farm more and bring higher returns. However, social and cultural mores dictate that the male maintains a large share of control. The lineage of landownership could be broken if man were to lose his social standing, thus negatively affecting the entire family. Given the previous evidence, it is possible that women’s equity in these two villages may be in part caused by men finding labor in formal markets. This questions the female-driven equity prescribed through the Girl Effect.

In the end, the solutions are not so simple. Carr offers some scenarios for how the future could play out in Ghana and how they could work to support or harm people like those living in the two villages. “Development and globalization do not directly cause anything to happen. They create opportunities and challenges that are addressed or mobilized by particular people with reference to their situations in particular places. These processes defy singular catalysts that might unleash their development potential,” he writes.

Globalization and development have a positive role to be played in for many of the world’s poor, but they are not without fault. "I think the problem is also that we use these tools ahistorically - we forget how people got into these situations, and what we have done in the past, so as a result we run the risk of using the tools that seek to eradicate poverty in a manner that furthers poverty," says Carr.

Disclosure: This review is my own opinion. I had a few conversations with Ed following my completion of the book. I was not offered compensation for this review. I paid for my own copy of the book.

23 April 2012

Never Again at the White House

Right now, the White House is hosting a discussion about addressing atrocity prevention. Watch it live above and ask questions using the #WHChat tag on Twitter.

More on the board from Daniel Solomon on Policy Mic:
Today, President Obama will acknowledge the moral burden of mass atrocities, and commit the U.S. government to confronting their continued occurrence. Inspired by a high-level report on U.S. foreign policy, the interagency process, and genocide prevention, the president will announce the creation of a new Atrocities Prevention Board, as mandated by a presidential directive last August. The Board is a crucial step towards mobilizing an effective, sustainable U.S. response to mass atrocities, ensuring the coordination of civilian, military, and intelligence resources to stem the tide of escalating political crises.

South African Youth Tell Their Own Stories

Young activists in South Africa are taking to the streets with cameras to document what they see and tell their own stories. Check out this short report from Al Jazeera on this great initiative.

20 April 2012

Moving Beyond #Kony2012 to Kony, the LRA and Activism

A new e-book is out today that is worth your time to read. Amanda Taub of Wronging Rights fame edits Beyond #Kony2012: Atrocity, Awareness, & Activism in the Internet Age. Today also happens to be the day that Invisible Children supporters will go out and "Take Back the Night." Aimed at new activists, the book features an all star cast of contributors including Bec Hamilton, Jina Moore, Taub with her blogging partner Kate Cronin-Furman, Laura Seay, TMS Ruge, and more.

The hope is that people who were engaged in the issue of Joseph Kony through the IC video will want to learn more. This resource provides a critical take of the video and more information about the issues surrounding Kony. Taub lays out the book in her introduction:
The first several chapters provide historical and political context. Adam Branch, Daniel Kalinaki, and Ayesha Nibbe explain the roots of the conflict, and how it has persisted for so many years. Alex Little and Patrick Wegner discuss various attempts to end the conflict through peace negotiations, ICC arrest warrants, and military operations, and why they have not been successful.

Later chapters consider the ethics and effectiveness of awareness campaigns like Kony 2012. Jina Moore and Glenna Gordon draw on their experiences as journalists to critique the video’s portrayal of Africa and the people who live there. Rebecca Hamilton, Laura Seay, Kate Cronin-Furman, and Amanda Taub examine the weakness of “awareness” advocacy. Alanna Shaikh explains the ethical dangers of bad aid work. Teddy Ruge offers a different view of Africa, as a place of dynamic innovation instead of violence and helplessness. And youth activist Sam Menefee-Libey describes his frustration with the tone and substance of the campaign meant to target his generation.
What Taub does well is shape a book that starts with providing more information about Uganda, Kony, the LRA and Central Africa. It fills in the historical and present perspective that were missing in the original video. From there, contributors engage in thoughtful discussions about the video and the campaign. Though I only had time to skim, my favorite section is the last. Teddy talks about shifting the conversation towards resilience and innovation and Sam uses his practical experience in advocacy to discuss not only why he disliked the campaign, but ways in which young people can become involved in a meaningful way.

You can read one sample chapter for free. Amanda and Kate take on the individuals who cast aside critics of Kony 2012 as mere "arm chair critics." They explain that the point of view comes from a paradigm of heroes verses critics. The heroes are the actors on the ground that are doing something in the face of an atrocity. In setting up the two opposing ideas, the heroes can emerge as the do-gooders that are working to make change. Ultimately, it allows the substance of criticisms to be cast aside. By saying that a critic is doing nothing the response acts to undermine the criticisms through a personal attack. Rhetorically, it is a brilliant move that distracts the audience from the concerns raised.

Not every critic of Kony 2012 had merit. It became popular to tout the idea of the US's oil interest as the reason for the action. Such a claim is as simplistic as the Kony 2012 video. The chapter ties all of this together to help illustrate some of the shortfalls of awareness raising. By creating such a strong narrative, it becomes easy to shut out discussion, debate and criticism. Give the chapter a read and then go get the full book. It is a pay-as-you-want system that allows you to get it for free, pay the suggested $2.99 or a bit more or less.

I will try to do a full review once I have read the entire book.

19 April 2012

Poor Press Coverage in Mali

Gregory Mann bemoans the poor press coverage of the Mali crisis in Africa is a Country.
Take al Jazeera. A few years ago, the Qatari-based chain was the thing, and I hear aspiring movers and shakers still try to publish there. Yet in spite of the fact that al Jazeera was said to be devoting more attention to African stories, its site has not been the place to go for Mali coverage. It has been the place not to go for Mali coverage. Check it out: a couple of round-ups of news stories that bring nothing new, little if any original reporting, and a few weak pieces of analysis, including one that trots out some of the same clichéd thinking that we try to smother in the cradle when we teach African Studies 101 to American undergraduates (e.g., conflict is due to colonial borders that “split tribes [and] lumped incompatible ethnic groups together…”; what are “incompatible ethnic groups”?). What gives?
He goes on to say that the New York Times does not do much better and offers up a few suggestions:
How to get some serious coverage? Here’s one idea. Maybe the next time interim president Dioncounda Traoré goes to Ouagadougou, he should strap a dog to the roof of his car. That seems to merit the attention of the Grey Lady, or at least its editorialists. Unless you’re thinking of the “Arts” section, Mali in and of itself apparently does not. Nor does the fact that over a decade of diplomatic engagement, military training, shadow-boxing in the “war on terror,” and a real war in Libya has failed catastrophically to serve American interests in the Sahel, helping to tear up a secular, multi-ethnic democracy and producing nearly 300,000 refugees and displaced people along the way. You’d think for America’s newspaper of record, there’d be a decent story in there somewhere.
Mann points to a few examples, but is disappointed overall. To what extent is this due to the lack of foreign news offices and correspondents? Mann rightly says that Malian press coverage should not be dismissed, but it is hard to access by an outside audience given that it is produced in a highly localized context. Much like the New York Times is written for an American audience. Is this the standard of reporting that is to be expected going forward? Or is Mann being too harsh?

I tend to think that it will only get worse until news sources figure out a way to make enough money off their reporting to re-open their foreign desks. Hopefully a solution will be found quickly.

A Ugandan Entrepreneur Looks for Answers in the Global Market

Andrew Rugasira, founder and CEO of Good African Coffee (Bill Easterly gave it his thumbs up), speaks at the DRI conference last month. The conference focused on development debates and the question sections showed that some panel members struck a nerve with the audience. 

Rugasira's mid-day talk was different. He spoke of the development of markets in Uganda, getting money to allow businesses to grow and standing aside for innovation at the ground level. The audience cheered at the end and asked him questions based on his experiences and how to unleash other entrepreneurs. Needless to say, the talk is well worth the time to watch.

On Sunday I wrote in the GlobalPost that we need to find and share stories about innovation and resilience to combat the dignity-stripping narrative of Africa as a single helpless place. Andrew is a great example of how the dominant narrative can begin to change.

Share your thoughts in the comments section.

18 April 2012

Poverty Porn: All of Creation Groans

The following poem is by Dr Claudette Carr. It is reprinted with her permission and originally appeared in a Facebook post with the image that is also included. 

Do not preach to me your sermons on women's empowerment,
adorned in the drag of patriarchal survival of the fittest,
whilst you strip me of my right to speak of my own suffering.
Just as Jannes and Jambres, this folly shall also be revealed.
How beastly the bourgeois is,
especially the fe/male of the species.

Like Peninnah you taunt the barreness of my land,
Yet dark am I and lovely,
O daughters of African soil
dark like the tents of Kedar
like the tent curtains of Solomon.
Do not stare at me because I am dark,
because I am darkened by the sun.
My mothers sons were angry with me,
and made me take care of the vineyards;
My own vineyard I have neglected.
I have cried the bitter tears of Mara,
because more are the children
of the desolate woman,
than of her who has a husband.

A voice is heard in Somalia,
Mourning and great weeping,
Hagar weeping for her children,
and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more.
Daughters of Africa
do not be afraid:
You will not suffer shame.
Do not fear disgrace;
you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more
the reproach of your widowhood.
Refrain your voice from weeping
and your eyes from tears,
for your work shall be rewarded.

Why should I be like a veiled woman?
beside the flocks of your friends?

Who is this coming up from the wilderness
leaning on her lover?
I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard.
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside,
He dug it up and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watch tower in it,
and cut out the wine press as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes
but it yielded only bad fruit....

The earth eagerly awaits the manifestation
of the sons and daughters of righteousness.

copyright 2012, Dr Claudette Carr

17 April 2012

Happiness is… sustainable development?

The following post is by Jen, writer of the new blog on sustainable development called Integrating Development.

Those who hear of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) generally find it quaint. At best, the concept of happiness as a national goal seems whimsical, especially in an achingly beautiful, fairytale-like kingdom in the middle of nowhere (case in point: the header photo). But supporters of GNH are serious. Conceived as a backlash to the world’s obsession with GDP as a measure of a country’s worth, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck determined back in 1972 that happiness should be more important than income. After all, the King proclaimed, while the Bhutanese are poor, they are also very, very happy.

It is easy to think that this is merely a brilliant public relations move by a small country putting itself on the map (indeed, it’s one of the few things most people know about Bhutan). There is a reason that it took the better part of forty years for GNH to gain traction in other countries. There is also a reason that now, in 2012, the world is finally starting to pay attention to “happiness” as a metric. It is dawning on us that the current, rampant economic growth is not delivering the goods that it promises, and that we need other solutions.

But how does one measure happiness? Not easily: Bhutan did not release its first happiness index until 2010. In it, Bhutan came up with 33 variables, focusing on environment, cultural preservation, governance and living standards. Seem familiar? Yes, “happiness” starts to sound a lot like “sustainable development” by another name.

I think I can see happiness down there...
Indeed, with the help of pop-development economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs, who have both become enamored with the idea of GNH, happiness and sustainable development now go hand in hand on the world stage. Last year, the United Nations passed resolution 65/309 called Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development, in which it recognized “the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and well-being of all peoples.”

Bhutan followed up earlier this month during the first-ever high-level meeting at the United Nations on happiness. In the concurrent report, Jeffrey Sachs advocates for the follow-on goals to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), due in 2015. The next set of goals, to be called the “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs), would have four pillars, based loosely on Bhutan’s GNH pillars:
  1. End extreme poverty by 2030 (a continuation of the MDGs, which will miss their initial deadline for this)
  2. Environmental sustainability
  3. Social inclusion
  4. Good governance
The SDGs would also have a specific commitment to happiness.

This begs the question: is happiness an appropriate euphemism for sustainable development for the world? There are several happiness indicators that don’t have obvious connections to the SDGs. These include the strength social relationships, spiritual wellbeing, cultural diversity, amount of sleep, and even frequency of sex. It is a philosophy unto itself, an age-old human question that has no easy answer. Does it all belong under the umbrella of sustainable development? Or is it trying to fit too much into an already complicated process?

Perhaps. But one way to look at happiness is to think of it as a powerful explanatory tool, helping to integrate the various aspects of sustainable development. Happiness is easier to relate to than the complex science behind climate change, diminishing resources, and extreme poverty. Instead, happiness is a goal that everyone can get behind. As the report states,

“People gain in happiness by working together for a higher purpose. There can be no higher purpose than promoting the Earth’s environmental balance, the well-being of future generations, and the survival and thriving of other specifies as well.”

In the same manner that loneliness is a leading cause of unhappiness, so is too much realism in the way governments and businesses behave. We would all be better off, and happier, if we just worked together for a more inclusive, sustainable society.

The Stream Talks Aid and #Dignity2012

TMS “Teddy” Ruge, Co-Founder of Project Diaspora and Joel Charny, Vice President for Humanitarian Policy at InterAction sit down on the orange couch yesterday to discuss the way aid is marketed and disbursed in Africa. "The dehumanizing comes into the fact we have to be continually looked at as recipients, as the poor, as if the only thing we have to offer are these beans so you can buy them in your coffee," explained Teddy. That is why A Day Without Dignity came into existence last year and was held yesterday. The hope is to find ways to shift the story of Africa from a single continent of misery to a place full of many countries, people, desires, cultures and experiences.

Charny struck a middle chord which I believe to be right. He argues taking the feelings of solidarity that do resonate with people and leverage it into better information and advocacy. "I don't want to get into this situation where we are discouraging this feeling or say, 'don't care,'" he explains.

The program continues to then feature further discussions and great questions from Laura Seay, who delivers the money quote, "I don't need another basket made by a refugee woman," when asking about how to get real trade and job growth, and Karen Attiah

Check it out and weigh in with your comments.

16 April 2012

Guest Post: Game Changing Women – Local Champions

The following post is by Jennifer Gottesfeld* and originally appears on her blog.

This blog post is in response to Tom Murphy of A View From The Cave’s A Day Without Dignity 2.0 whose theme this year is “local champions.” In short, A Day Without Dignity was inspired by campaigns like TOMS One Day Without Shoes and the Invisible Children’s Cover The Night Campaign KONY2012 (don’t even get me started on that one). These campaigns tend to celebrate the “white savior” and instead, Tom is looking to use A Day Without Dignity to celebrate people who are helping themselves and their communities, and there are MANY!

This has long been a topic that excites me, especially women taking charge in their communities and doing incredible things. I believe that a significant part of the real change made in communities around the world is organic and comes from within, not without, something I struggle with constantly as someone working in aid abroad. (I will hopefully also write a blog to post onto the A View From the Cave forum where I will discuss that further, and cross-post onto this blog.)

A few years ago I put together a TV series, which I pitched to the Oprah Network, called “Game Changing Women.” The premise of the show was to highlight the incredible women around the world taking things into their own hands. While the show was not picked up (thanks Oprah!), I’d love to use this space to celebrate just a few of these incredible women and share their stories. Each of these women is a local champion and they are changing the world:
  1. Amanda Espinoza realized that in Nicaragua, in order for women to compete in a man’s world, women needed to know how to do a man’s job. She started Mujeres Constructoras to teach poor Nicaraguan women construction skills. The women are taught carpentry, welding, plumbing and electrical work and can make everything from furniture to buildings. The program has taught hundreds of women who are now hired for well paying jobs and able to develop financial independence.
  2. Shilpa Merchant worked to prevent the spread of HIV in the sex workers of Mumbai.India. She soon realized that nothing would change for the sex workers unless they had a monetary buffer, which would make them less vulnerable. Since traditional banks in India would not provide sex workers accounts because of their trade, Merchant started the Sangini Women’s Co-operative Bank. The bank provides savings accounts and loans and now has over 2,000 accounts, empowering women to change their lives.
  3. Susan Burton is the founding Executive Director of A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project, which operates homes and programs in South Los Angeles, for women recently released from prison to enable them to stay sober, get jobs and obtain life skills. Burton herself overcame a personal history of decades of incarceration and struggled with re-entry. After her release, she earned enough money working as a home health aide to purchase a modest home in 1997, which she shared with her first clients. Today ANWOL operates three residences and has helped hundreds of women start new lives.
  4. Selenge Tserendash was tired of the high unemployment and alcohol abuse in her country of Mongolia. Her solution to this problem was to start New Way Life Mongolian Center to help women economically and socially by teaching them quilting. Quilting was a new activity in Mongolia so Tser­endash recruited quilting teachers from the U.S. to come to Mongolia and teach the women. Quilting changed these women’s lives and gives them a steady income where they can work together to make quilts that are sold in their store and online.
  5. When Betty Makoni was a secondary school teacher in Zimbabwe, she discovered that many of her students were victims of sexual abuse. In 1999, Makoni started the Girl Child Network to confront sexual abuse in the rural areas of Zimbabwe. The organization works closely with abused girls and offers them the support needed to keep the girls in school and safe.
  6. When Naima Zitan learned that 60% of Moroccan women are illiterate, she decided to write plays in order to teach them about women’s issues and their rights. Zitan started Théâtre Aquarium an organization that performs these informative plays in rural areas, souks, markets, mosques, prisons, hospitals, factories, orphanages and theatres. She found this medium of communica­tion to be effective in teaching women about the laws of their country and how to use them to protect themselves.
  7. The violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo has made it unsafe for women to commute even short distances. Adeline Nsimire recognized that these dangers prevent women from getting access to critical information and education. She started Radio Bubusa, a community radio station run by rural women in DRC, to ensure that rural women are empowered by access to information, training, and communication in a country that has seen a great deal of violence in the last years. By having a local radio station run by women, women are empowered by hearing important information that they can use to improve their lives.
  8. During the bloody Liberian civil war, Leymah Gibowee, a trauma counselor, realized that if any changes were to be made in her society, they would have to be made by mothers. In 2002, she organized the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which grew to be a political force against the government and violence in the country. Gibowee led women in demonstrations and strikes, including a sex strike against husbands. The actions of the women finally led to the end of the civil war and led to the election of the first fe­male president of Liberia.
  9. Lucky, Dickey and Nickey Chherti, three Nepalese sisters, taught themselves to be trekking guides in the Himalayas. Trekking is typically a man’s profession, but the sisters saw that empowering women to move into this field would improve their lives. They started Empowering Women of Nepal, which trains women to be trekking guides in the Himalayas.
  10. After becoming a victim of sexual violence, Sunitha Krishnam decided to devote her life to working with the exploited women in India. She started Prajwala to fight the sex trade in India and assist trafficked women and girls. She is responsible for recuing more than 3,000 girls from sex traffickers. Prajwala has more than 17 centers and provides sex trafficking victims shelter and employment programs in carpentry, welding, printing, masonry and housekeeping so that they can start new lives.
  11. The Women’s Media Centre was founded by 5 Cambodian women, Yim Davy, Ruth Rasy, Chea Sundaneth, Som Khemra, and Tive Sarayeth to en­courage Cambodian women to work in various forms of media at both the national and grassroots levels. It creates public awareness on women’s is­sues and trains women to be effective contributors in their respective media vocations. It also conducts activities to coordinate media networks through workshop, seminars, and the production of video and radio programs, as well as providing support for women journalists.
  12. When Marina Pisklakova discovered that there were no organizations in Russiathat helped victims of domestic violence, she founded Center ANNA, the nation’s first domestic violence hotline and brought about a movement against sexual violence in Russia. She began counseling women over the phone and in person. In spite of death threats, Center ANNA grew and Ma­rina helped women create hotlines across Russia. The organization runs pre­vention programs and prevention campaigns, as well as provides women with psychological counseling and legal assistance. The Center has helped more than 100,000 women escape violent relationships.
  13. Kakenya Ntaija did not want to follow the tradition path for Maasai women in Kenya; she wanted to get an education. She convinced her town that she would use her education to help improve their lives. With the financial support of her town, as well as scholarships, she went to America to study. With the dream of helping a new generation of leaders in her community, she returned to her village and set up a boarding school for underprivileged Maasai girls, which focuses on leadership and community development.
  14. Suraya Pakzad grew up under the oppressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan that denied girls education and treated them as second-class citizens. As a result, Pakzad started Voice of Women (VoW), a covert school in her Kabul apartment for young Afghan girls. In 2001, when the Taliban rule ended, VoW shifted its focus to fighting for the protection of women’s rights in Afghanistan. VoW provides refuge to at risk women and girls, and provides education and job skills training. VoW also works with imprisoned women in Afghanistan, often in jail due to abusive marriages.\
  15. At 19, Shahla Akbari, a young Afghan woman, started her own business, defying the role that most women are expected to play in Afghan society. Akbari was tired of buying boring, poor quality shoes imported from China, and began designing and selling fashionable, durable shoes for the women in her community. She decided to start her own business making shoes, one of the few accessories that Muslim women can use to express their personal style from beneath their burkas.
  16. In 1997, Oung Chantol was tired of the violence being perpetrated against women in Cambodia and was horrified to find that there were minimal services avail­able to care for the victims. She started the Cambodia Women’s Crisis Cen­ter (CWCC) to provide shelter, counseling, medical assistance, literacy, life skills and vocational training to women who have been trafficked and abused. Since it opened, the CWCC has helped over 55,600 female victims of violence, rape and trafficking take control of their lives.
  17. Rita Conceicao’s childhood in a Brazilian shantytown inspired her lifelong quest to help the girls of her community have a better life. Together with Margaret Wilson, she founded Bahia Street Center to provide impoverished girls in Bahia with academic courses to supplement their insufficient public education. Girls receive instruction in all basic subjects as well as in health and reproduction, art, and leadership skills. For many girls, the Bahia Street Center represents the only place where they can eat a hot meal, take a show­er, and receive positive encouragement from adult role models.
  18. Angela Gomes succeeded in getting an education despite the stigma of educating women in her community in Bangladesh. In 1981, she started Banch­ete Shekha to improve the quality life for the poor women and children in Bangladesh. Banchte Shekha’s program uses awareness techniques to em­power the girls and women with skills to survive and to access their legal rights. Today the organization offers programs to women in more than 430 Bangladesh villages.
  19. Pabla Milian and many other young women known as the Mayan Auxiliary Nurse-Midwives are working to reduce maternal mortality in their communities in Guatemala. These exceptional leaders are involved in a program developed to place skilled birth attendants in remote Mayan communities, where a lack of acceptance of modern obstetric techniques continues to threaten women’s lives.

*Jennifer Gottesfeld is a Global Health Corps fellow with Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative in Malawi, where she works as a health promotion officer. She was chosen to be a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and will receive a Master’s degree in gender-aware economics at Makerere University in Uganda in 2012-2013. In the past, Jennifer created a health center in Kala Refugee Camp in Zambia as project facilitator for the NGO FORGE under the UNHRC, participated in a year of service with AmeriCorps, worked in resource development at International Medical Corps and had a brief stint as an accountant and producer in the movie industry.

14 April 2012

The “Developing Country” Double Standard

The following post is a collaborative effort by Carol Gallo, David Week, and myself. It came from a conversation, which Carol am retells briefly below:

Once upon a time, David Week read an article in the Washington Post which revealed that Washington lawmakers not only accepted donations from contributors with a stake in the passing of certain laws, but did so while in the process of actually drafting such legislation. Frustrated, he tweeted: “Why is this not called ‘corruption’?” Carol Gallo enlightened him: because it’s not Africa.

David and Carol, then and there, resolved to enlist the help of Tom Murphy and make a list of how the same behaviour is described differently depending on whether it occurs in Washington or in Africa. You know, like those lists of gender double standards in which the same behaviour might be described as “confident” in men and “pushy” in women.

In fact, all kinds of things are framed differently by Westerners depending on whether they occur in the “developed” world or that weird, dark, backward abyss. As Binyavanga Wainaina has famously demonstrated, the Dark Continent is still alive and well in the Western imagination.

So David, Carol, and I are pleased to poke fun at this whole farcical epistemology and present a short list of Washington-Africa double standards.

Can you think of any others…?

What people might normally call it
When it happens in Washington
When it happens in Africa
Money received from political sponsorsCampaign contributionsBribes
Uneven spending on public services in different ethnic communitiesSocial injusticeTribalism
Seeking money in exchange for political influenceCampaign fundraisingRent seeking
Subservience to oil companiesEnergy policyControl by foreign interests
Political appointeesThe new administration’s teamCronyism
Political familiesTradition of public serviceNepotism
People driven from their homesHomelessnessDisplacement
No bid contractsNecessary expedienceCorrupt procurement
Government secrecyNational securityLack of transparency
Assistance to the poorWelfareAid
Internal security apparatusHomeland securitySecret police
Not funding public schools, health system, infrastructureSmall governmentUnderdevelopment