The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems
Courtney Martin

Excellent article. I’ve lived and worked in East and Southern Africa for more than 25 years now, initially with Oxfam in Sudan, the Red Cross in Kenya, and thereafter in the private sector. Back then, there were, by comparison to today, a tiny number of NGOs and what are now called social enterprises. Along with their core mission, one of their main objectives was to reduce the number of expatriate workers. Now, 25 years later, there are many times as many well-educated and sincere young white people in every African capital city (especially the nice ones where English is widely spoken) congregating in coffee shops and bars swapping ideas on how to change the world. And, they are generally full of self-justification and empty of self-awareness. Something has gone badly wrong. I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words: “you cannot help men [or women] permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves”. It wounds me to say this, because I was once one of those well-intentioned young white people in Africa, but African problems need African-led solutions. You don’t extend your analogy by imagining how that well-intentioned young Ugandan would be received in the USA as an external agent of change. I suggest at best he or she would be viewed as a harmless curiosity: at worst, well, your guess is as good as mine.

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