Program Particulars: The Ethics of Aid

Program Particulars

*Times indicated refer to Web version of audio

» Enlarge the image U.N. Millennium Development Goals: 2008 Progress Chart

U.N. Millennium Development Goals: 2008 Progress Chart

(01:15) The Impact of Aid Dollars in Africa

A recent investigative story for the BBC One program Panorama reported that, over the last 50 years, Western governments have paid out billions of dollars in aid to Africa, but according to the World Bank, half of sub-Saharan Africans still live in extreme poverty, as was the case in 1981. Though foreign aid has helped grow African economies, the report says little has changed for the continent's poorest people.

And, halfway into its Millennium Development Goals initiative, the United Nations reported that it's not on track to meeting its objectives by 2015. The U.N. states that "even the best governed countries on the continent have not been able to make sufficient progress in reducing extreme poverty in its many forms." The UN Millennium Declaration, signed by all 189 member states of the UN, established eight measurable goals:

  1. eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  2. achieve universal primary education;
  3. promote gender equality and empower women;
  4. reduce child mortality;
  5. improve maternal health;
  6. combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases;
  7. ensure environmental stability; and
  8. develop a global partnership for development.

The progress chart (second column of graphic to the right) shows that sub-Saharan Africa has insufficient or no progress, or deterioration, for all eight of the targeted objectives.

(1:56) Quote from Wainaina Commentary

Wainaina is an opinion columnist for the South African-based online publication Mail & Guardian Online. Krista quotes from his December 2007 commentary "Oxfaming the Whole Black World." Following is an extended excerpt of that citation:

"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."

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(03:15–06:33) Music Element

"The Multiples of One" from Awakening, performed by Joseph Curiale


(03:38) Founder of Literary Journal Kwani?

Wainaina founded the Nairobi-based quarterly literary journal Kwani? in 2003 on the heels of winning the Caine Prize for African writing for his short story "Discovering Home." Kwani? means "So?" in Sheng — a slang mix of English, Swahili, and several tribal languages. The Washington Post reported on the publication of the inaugural issue and Wainaina's perspective on the significance of Kenya's first literary magazine.

(04:00) Reading from "How to Write About Africa"

An example of the provacative, satirical style of Wainaina's writing, the reading is excerpted from the following portion of his 2005 article "How to Write About Africa," printed in the British magazine Granta.

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life — but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause. Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the 'real Africa,' and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or suffering white people. Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people's property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil).

(06:29) President Daniel arap Moi

Daniel arap Moi served as president of Kenya for over 20 years. Moi was a member of the Sudanic Kalenjin people, an ethnic minority in the predominantly Bantu nation. He was educated as a teacher and was appointed minister of education in the early 1960s. After Kenya's first president Jomo Kenyatta died in 1978, Moi became president. Although he was a member of the Kikuyu-dominated party, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KANU), he elevated many of his Kalenjin peers to positions of authority in his government and neglected the interests of many other groups, including the Kikuyu people.

With the help of the army, Moi suppressed a coup attempt in 1982. Moi endorsed many pro-Western policies and, as a result, Kenya received a large amount of foreign aid. Many of his critics accused him and his government of corruption and perpetration of civil rights abuses. Moi faced much dissent and protests during the 1997 elections, which he won. Violent protests continued after the election and many Kenyans, particularly Kikuyu people, were killed. After five terms in office, Moi unexpectedly stepped down in deference to constitutional term limits.

(07:43) Obama's Father

President-elect Barack Obama's father (an economist by training) and extended family come from a small village, Nyangoma-Kogelo, northwest of Nairobi near Lake Victoria. In the video report above, Kenyans celebrate in the street after learning of Obama's presidential victory, referring to him as a "son of the soil."


(09:00) Reference to Andrew Sullivan's Blog

Wainaina criticizes a November 3, 2008, blog post by British author and political commentator Andrew Sullivan that displays a picture of a Congolese child burned by fighting in the African nation.

(11:00) CNN Video of December 2007 Post-Election Violence

(12:00) Reference to New York Times Article

Krista refers to Wainaina's January 6, 2008, article "No Country for Old Hatreds." She quotes this portion:

Yet all is not lost. Nations are built on crises like this. If there is such a thing as Kenya, it should be gathering energy right now. Two leaders can sit down, form a power-sharing agreement and put together a system to handle elections and transition. A Constitution that names and recognizes the tribal nations within our nation, that decentralizes some power and that includes us all in the process is possible. For 40 years we have been dancing around each other, a gaseous nation circling and tightening. The moment is now to make a solid thing called Kenya.

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(12:10–12:56) Music Element

"Don's Kora Song" from Cantando, performed by Bobo Stenson Trio


(14:00) Reference to Vanity Fair Article

Krista quotes from this section of Wainaina's July 2007 Vanity Fair article "Generation Kenya":

By 2000, Nairobi was also one giant, heaving market. A new craze swept the city: exhibition centers. As formal businesses closed up, buildings were left empty. One enterprising guy established a giant market in the city's largest park, Uhuru (Freedom) Park. It was called Freemark. Goods were brought in from Dubai and sold in little partitioned stalls. Soon, every second abandoned building, it seemed, was taking short-term leases to start these "Dubai exhibitions." One floor of a building could host sometimes hundreds of vendors. The informal sector was drilling into the heart of the city, selling anything you could think of. Soon, trade in leases began. You could sell your 10-by-10-meter stall for a goodwill payment of up to $5,000. Today, these small stalls, thousands of them, are the formal retail industry of the city. An evolution took place, and space is now used more efficiently, to maximize profits. We were all becoming hustlers. I was learning angles to make money doing freelance writing work on the Internet. A young 11-year-old I knew, Vincent Ogutu (who helped me do research for this piece), was selling hand-painted greeting cards on the streets. He was putting himself and his younger brother and sister through school. He was taking care of his invalid mother. In high school he was head prefect and an above-average student. The family's only asset is his bicycle. His brother and sister are now in good boarding schools. They did very well in their national school examinations, studying by the light of a paraffin lamp. Vincent is now 18, has finished high school, and continues to support his family, while looking for a scholarship to study in the U.S. For 30 years, Kenya was a partly subsidized country. Western donor money flowed into the economy. Jobs were reserved, space made, in the civil service, in hospitals and multi-national businesses, for certain so-and-sos. The country's income gap between rich and poor is one of the world's 10 worst. You did not need to be creative. You could own a large business without any entrepreneurial skills: just be the sober African face in a British company; or the strategic surname in a foreign-owned company that needed to get its stuff through customs. Real enterprise in Kenya has always been in the streets, in the markets, in the large dusty parks where people beat metal and wood and soldered things into being. This enterprise was regulated to the hilt, beaten down, beaten up, by askaris, fined, charged, and locked down in what we now call the slums, which were, 40 years ago, the only place in the city where "Africans" could live. In the 1990s, nobody outside of the politically connected and the banks was making real money. We hobbled on, dizzy and frenzied, sinking even when we thought we were climbing. Trying to avoid at all costs dealing with the vampire state: paying tax, registering your business, even holding a bank account.

» Enlarge the image Locations of the Millennium Villages

Locations of the Millennium Villages

(17:45) Millennium Villages

The Millennium Villages project is based on the findings of the United Nations Millennium Project and is led by the science, policy, and planning teams at The Earth Institute, Millennium Promise, and the United Nations Development Programme. It is related to the UN's Millennium Development Goals — the international effort to reduce extreme poverty by the year 2015. There are 12 villages in 10 African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda).

As reported by the Financial Times, an independent study of the Millennium Villages initiative found that overall the project has generated some positive results. The study also noted that the initiative would be hard to replicate in other areas, and requires five to 10 more years before determining if the project is a self-sustaining model that can be replicated in other parts of the world. Other articles and blogs about the project also give it mixed results, from criticizing it for being another top-down development effort to praising it for operating more efficiently and producing more results than many other large-scale efforts of recent years.

The brainchild of American economist Jeffrey Sachs, the project aims to demonstrate that extreme poverty can be eliminated or significantly reduced if the latest science and technology is applied to agriculture, health, education, and infrastructure. In October 2008, Jeffrey Sachs gave a lecture to students at Columbia University on the progress and challenges in the Millennium Villages. In October 2008, the PBS documentary program Frontline released a video report on the Millennium Village effort in Rwanda.

(20:49) Conversation with Jonathan Greenblatt

Krista refers to her 2008 interview with social entrepreneur Jonathan Greenblatt in the SOF program "The Business of Doing Good."

(22:51) Equity Bank

Wainaina points to the micro-lending efforts of businesses like Wainaina points to the micro-lending efforts of businesses like Equity Bank, a Kenyan commercial bank, as an example of the single thing that has changed the lives of most Kenyans in the last 10-15 years. Equity Bank recently expanded to a regional bank with the stated goal of replicating its success to neighboring African countries.

(23:40) Conversation with Wangari Maathai

Krista refers to her 2006 interview with Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai in our program, "Planting the Future."

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(25:00–27:24) Music Element

"Tavan'yai" from Gospel Songs from Kenya: Kikamba Hymns, performed by David Nzomo


(30:02) Reference to Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux is an acclaimed author and travel writer who spent much of the 1960s in sub-Saharan Africa, first with the Peace Corps in Malawi and then in Uganda as an English teacher at Makerere University. Dark Star Safari recounts his return to the continent 40 years later and his reflections of traveling from Cairo to Cape Town.

Krista reads a brief passage from his 2003 book:

"Uganda had a good reputation now, yet nothing I saw there surprised me with its newness; everything was on the wane. I did not lament this, nor was I impressed by a new hospital donated by the Swedes or the Japanese, a new school funded by the Canadians, the Baptist clinic, the flour mill that was signposted A Gift of the American People. These were like inspired Christmas presents, the sort that stop running when the batteries die or that break and aren't fixed. The project would become wrecks, every one of them, because they carried with them the seeds of their destruction. And when they stopped running, no one would be sorry. That's what happened in Africa: things fell apart."

He's spoken about his book and the efficacy of aid in Africa extensively — with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, on C-SPAN's Booknotes in 2003, and in a critical light with his 2005 op-ed for The New York Times, "The Rock Star's Burden":

"…It seems to have been Africa's fate to become a theater of empty talk and public gestures. But the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help — not to mention celebrities and charity concerts — is a destructive and misleading conceit. Those of us who committed ourselves to being Peace Corps teachers in rural Malawi more than 40 years ago are dismayed by what we see on our return visits and by all the news that has been reported recently from that unlucky, drought-stricken country. But we are more appalled by most of the proposed solutions. I am not speaking of humanitarian aid, disaster relief, AIDS education or affordable drugs. Nor am I speaking of small-scale, closely watched efforts like the Malawi Children's Village. I am speaking of the "more money" platform: the notion that what Africa needs is more prestige projects, volunteer labor and debt relief. We should know better by now. I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for — and this never happens. Dumping more money in the same old way is not only wasteful, but stupid and harmful; it is also ignoring some obvious points."

(32:19) Mention of Sleeping Sickness

Sleeping sickness is a parasitic disease that is endemic in Africa. People can contract the disease if they are bitten by an infected tsetse fly, which is found in sub-Saharan Africa. Treatment is available for sleeping sickness, also known as African trypanosomiasis, but it is fatal if left untreated. The World Health Organization estimates the current number of cases of sleeping sickness at 50,000 to 70,000.

(35:09) Wainaina's Response to Young Global Leader Nomination

In 2007, Wainaina was nominated to be part of the Forum of Young Global Leaders — a program of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Each year, the WEF identifies 200-250 individuals under the age of 40 from across the world to form an international community of "young leaders who share a commitment to shaping the global future."

Wainaina turned down his nomination, writing in his reply:

"I assume that most, like me, are tempted to go anyway because we will get to be 'validated' and glow with the kind of self-congratulation that can only be bestowed by very globally visible and significant people. And we are also tempted to go and talk to spectacularly bright and accomplished people — our 'peers'. We will achieve Global Institutional Credibility for our work, as we have been anointed by an institution that many countries and presidents bow down to. These are not bad things at all. The problem here is that I am a writer. And although, like many, I go to sleep at night fantasising about fame, fortune, and credibility, the thing that is most valuable in my trade is to try, all the time, to keep myself loose, independent and creative. To avoid dogma. To avoid things that give me too much certainty — about one's place in the world; about the world; about the perpetual shifting nature of characters; and their interaction each other; and with space and time. It would be an act of great fraudulence for me to accept the trite idea that I am 'going to significantly impact world affairs.' That little phrase is a kiss of death for any writer. It seems to me that what this society of peers will inevitably do are things that will further their fame and fortune. It is not clear to me at all, what good this will do to 'the future', 'the world' or our own work."

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(35:14–35:40) Music Element

"Yamala (Responsibility)" from The Rough Guide To The Music of Kenya, performed by Yunasi


(40:24) Reference to Comments by Rick Warren

Krista refers to Evangelical pastor Rick Warren's comments to her in the 2007 program "Rick and Kay Warren at Saddleback":

Ms. Tippett: And, Rick, I want to ask you, a line like this in The Purpose Driven Life, "Because God made you for a reason, He also decided when you would be born an in advance, choosing the exact time of your birth and death." In the last few years, you've met people in Rwanda who have lived their entire lives in poverty and genocide, you know, who've had to struggle just to survive with body and spirit intact. How is that? What has that done to this theology of yours? How has that expanded or changed your understanding of God or … Mr. Warren: The reason there are hungry people in the world, there are suffering people in the world is because of our own selfishness. What do I say to a woman in Sudan holding a baby who's dying of lack of water? The only thing I can say is I'm sorry. I am sorry. Why did I not get here sooner? It is our own selfishness. There's plenty of food in the world. There's plenty of water in the world. When I say, 'God, why don't you do something about this?' God is a saying to you, 'Well, I'm asking you the same question. Why don't you do something about it?' God is saying, 'Why don't you do something about it?' And I lay awake at night thinking about that. But on the other hand, I know that, one day, that suffering's going to be ended. And there is a hope. The bottom line is I believe the hope of the world is Jesus Christ working through His church. And I'm more convinced of that than ever before. And we will work with governments and businesses and nonbelievers and atheists and gays and anybody who wants to work who says, 'Let's make this a better place.'

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(44:44–45:18) Music Element

"Oleleiyo" from Music From Kenya Volume 1,


(46:55) Reference to Vanity Fair Article

Krista quotes from the end of Wainaina's July 2007 article, "Generation Kenya," in Vanity Fair:

"As I sit here, in upstate New York, and read The New York Times, or watch CNN, Africa feels like one fevered and infectious place. In this diseased world, viruses spread all over—and a small local crisis in one corner can infect the rest of the continent in one quick blink. In a highly suggestive New York Times piece, dated April 23, 2007, and titled "Africa's Crisis of Democracy," Nigeria's recent flawed election is used to show how everything democratic in sub-Saharan Africa is teetering on shaky stilts. This habit—of trying to turn the second-largest continent in the world, which has 53 countries and nearly a billion people of every variety and situation, into one giant crisis—is now one of the biggest problems Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Ghana face. We have learned to ignore the shrill screams coming from the peddlers of hopelessness. We motor on faith and enterprise, with small steps. On hope, and without hysteria."

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(48:31–49:33) Music Element

"Credo" from Missa Luba: An African Mass - 10 Kenyan Folk Melodies, performed by Peter Kamau


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(50:13–52:12) Music Element

"Ting' Badi Malo" from The Rough Guide To The Music of Kenya, performed by Gidigidi Majimaji


Voices on the Radio

is the founding editor of Kwani? literary journal and the director of Bard College's Chinua Achebe Center for African Languages and Literature.