The Guardian recently posted an interview with Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina. You may know his name from the popular satirical essay “How to Write About Africa” or his commentary on the new laws in Nigeria and Uganda targeting LGBTI groups, but if you’re unfamiliar, he’s an opinionated, outspoken, and often controversial figure (especially when it comes to development in Africa).
In the interview, Wainaina speaks about stereotypes in development and the failure to align aid with the reality of Africa. He talks about the imbalanced, unsustainable power relationships between the West, African governments, and civil society. He calls for a restructuring of these relationships, and says it must come from Africans. I’d like to hear more about his ideas on exactly what it takes for Africans to shift power in an effective way, but he didn’t go into details in this interview. Also, according to Wainaina, it’s within the political sphere that change can happen and because civil society has “become anti-politics,” it’s missing the mark.
His blunt criticisms and his definition of the word community – someone utterly powerless upon which power is being imposed – made me laugh. If you work in development I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s some truth to everything he said, but as with most generalizations, they don’t apply to all aid, civil society organizations, or African governments. I can think of many counterexamples.
Click here to watch the video and share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
As most of you probably know, last week the Gates Foundation released their Annual Letter addressing three myths that Bill and Melinda Gates believe are blocking progress for poor people all over the world. Previous letters focused on the Foundation’s annual activities, so it’s quite a change that this year’s letter cites examples and data from around the world to disprove the following:
Myth 1: Poor countries are doomed to stay poor
Myth 2: Foreign aid is a big waste
Myth 3: Saving lives leads to overpopulation
Overall the letter is a very optimistic one, painting a bright picture of the future for the world’s poor and sick. It includes a combination of videos, infographics, and a lot of quotables which I’m sure we’ll see in other places. If you haven’t had a chance to read through it yet, I encourage you to take some time to do so. It’s worth it.
In terms of global health and development, it’s easy for us to lose perspective on how much progress is actually being achieved and for that reason I can appreciate the optimism in the letter. However, I see the letter as more of a cautionary piece or call to action, warning people against believing all the “bad” development news in the media. I don’t think it will truly dispel any of these myths, but it’s done a good job of raising interesting questions, starting conversations, causing controversy, and spurring critical discussions around the three myths and their related topics. In fact, the letter has resulted in a lot of global health professionals and others sharing their opinions online so join the conversation by reading the letter, watching the series of short videos here, and posting your reactions and comments below.
Side note 1: For those who are interested, Bill Gates went on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel last week to talk about the letter.
Side note 2: Bill Nye the Science Guy is featured in one of the videos that focuses specifically on global health and child mortality and two members of the cast of the MythBusters TV show are featured in another video.
Husain Haqqani, Pakistani Ambassador to the White House: