"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


I give up

Is the New York Times trying to exasperate us with its shoddy, stereotypical coverage of the African continent? I mean, I've come to expect Gettleman to make outrageous claims like the one that "corruption is essentially a national pastime" in Kenya and for The Kristof to parade around villages as though only his columns will Save These Poor Starving Africans from a Life of Doom and Despair.

But The Kristof's latest video from the DRC takes it to a new low of stereotyping and exoticization:

Dear land. Let's set aside the fact that Kristof once again presents an incomplete story of what life is really like in the eastern Congo. Plenty of people can and do exercise in the Kivus, where they take advantage of the tennis courts in Goma or the fact that it is perfectly safe to run on a Sunday afternoon in the lakeside neighborhoods where every expat lives. (And the lovely Orchids Safari Club, where Kristof almost certainly stayed while in Bukavu, is conveniently located in just that neighborhood.)

Look, I get the point. Women in the DRC, just like women everywhere else in the developing world, do the bulk of the hard work. I think it's important to draw attention to that fact and to figure out ways to make their lives easier.

But it doesn't have to be done by turning everyday work into a spectacle. Kristof could tell the story of broken backs, hurting feet, and malnutrition without putting himself at the center of a show among people who don't have a choice about doing such work. (He could tell a similar story about poor women in the United States, for that matter.) Or he could have discussed some of the innovations in water carrying techniques (like the South African-developed Hippo Roller) that aim to make women's work easier. Or he could have donated some of his book royalties to one of the many charities that dig wells and collect rainwater so that women and girls don't have to transport water so far. There are a million possibilities.

Then there's this little gem, in which the Kristof suggests creating an international version of Teach for America. This is ridiculous. It would be FAR better for the people of those countries if we instead used resources to improve teacher training & pay in developing countries. We need to be giving educated citizens of developing countries increased and improved incentives to stay in their home countries - and that includes the bright men and women who stand in front of classrooms every day. The last thing African children need is a bunch of inexperienced, culturally illiterate twenty-somethings coming to hang out for temporary adventures in unfamiliar educational systems.

Besides, we already have a program for young Americans who want to teach in exotic locales. It's called the Peace Corps.

This kind of nonsense gives me headaches.

(HT: @talesfromthehood for the video)



Blogger Rachel said...

There's also aerobics classes every Monday, Tuesday & Thursday at the MONUC base in Goma. And okay, yes -- the techno music IS a bit hard to take for a whole hour -- MAN, life is tough here! -- but it's still a good exercise.

Plus a bunch of the richer shop owners have jetskis and buzz our house ALL THE TIME on Lake Kivu. Does that count as exercise? Not sure.

Thursday, March 11, 2010 8:11:00 AM

Blogger Rachel said...

Slowly finishing video -- snail-like internet today. Just heard this: "The question is whether we can harness their strength for the good of their nation."


Was that really what he said? That sounds like a line out of TinTin Goes to Congo.

Thursday, March 11, 2010 8:19:00 AM

Blogger Justin said...

As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I laughed out loud when I saw Kristof's idea of a one-year "Teach for the World."

As almost any Peace Corps volunteer will tell you, it takes at least a year just to figure out what the hell is going on. The second year is when a volunteer can start helping instead of merely getting in the way.

Thursday, March 11, 2010 11:23:00 AM

Blogger Jamison said...

I hear and share your frustration with stereotypes and generalizations. While I haven't had a chance to watch the video you posted, I still have a question: Even if some of the ideas are "nonsense" (which I'm not sure they are) isn't it better to have the conversation?

I get no headache from ideas, only from inaction. Kristof makes mistakes, as be began today's articles by saying, but he's one of the most outspoken mainstream media voices on Africa. Part of me is just glad that ANYONE in the mainstream cares!

All that said, I appreciate your input into the conversation. Your post today certainly added value.

Don't give up!

Thank you.
Jamison Wiggins

Thursday, March 11, 2010 11:28:00 AM

Blogger Adam M. said...

Another RPCV here and I agree with Justin. My first thought after reading the article was of two merchants at the weekly market in town. They both had masters degrees in English, but made 4x as much money selling grease, rope, sugar, and pineapples as they would were they to teach English in my town.

Meanwhile, while I taught 4eme and 2nde, there was no teacher at all for Premiere and Terminale. Guess we could just send more Americans over there to plug up the problem...

Thursday, March 11, 2010 1:37:00 PM

Blogger Leslie said...

Add me to the RPCVs who saw this and groaned. It felt pretty weird when, as a 23 yr old recent college graduate with no real work experience apart from a few internships and my work-study job, I was suddenly an "expert." I can only imagine how it would have been fresh out of high school!

I believe the Peace Corps was asked to leave Russia in part because PCVs sent to work as English teachers were seen as taking local jobs. (That's just PC rumor though, so can't be too sure.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010 4:55:00 PM

Blogger Caroline said...

I agree with my fellow RPCVs. This is far from a solution. I was not a teacher, but I certainly saw the impact my fellow PCVs had at their schools bringing fresh ideas and new perspectives to the education system. However, I don't believe having 18 year olds teach 17 year olds would provide the same results.

I don't have a problem with sending high school grads to the developing world to spend a year as a mentor or in a cross cultural exchange. But let's not put any financial burden on the host country and certainly not dress it up as Americans doing good abroad.

My real issue with Kristof's suggestion is the idea to create yet another organization/agency to do something so similar to those we have already running. Especially when Teach for American and Peace Corps are fighting for funding and barely able to financially support the volunteers they have on the ground. He has spoken of the problems of having too many aid agencies operating in the same space, but his suggest would just throw one more in which would greatly overlap with existing groups. This would take valuable time, energy and resources away from the host countries and further crowd and complicate the development scene on the ground.

Friday, March 12, 2010 8:53:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I agree that it makes no sense to create a new organization when one already exists. Also, I'm not sure that the TFA model is one that needs replicating. There's very little evidence that TFA teachers produce better results than their counterparts in the general population. I don't see how a global version could do so, either, especially with younger participants who will lack most of the skills necessary to live in a developing country, much less actually teach.

Friday, March 12, 2010 9:30:00 AM

Anonymous Carla Murphy said...

For someone who's been covering development issues for a minute, I expect more from Kristof. But the TFA proposal sounds like something I'd expect from an idealistic college student--not someone whose Rolodex stretches from NY to Zambia. Honestly, it made me wonder, what *has* he been learning then, in all his jaunts around the world?

Friday, March 12, 2010 10:19:00 PM

Blogger Drebellious said...

You can't expect the likes of Kirstoff to learn anything from his "jaunts". People of his ilk are steeped in the reportage of "us and them". He's like the grand colonial, who looks at "the other" through a pinhole and offers nothing remotely intelligent or balanced on any topic. I think the bigger question is, why are you still reading Kirstoff (and the NYT) for news about Africa? There's far better and accessible reading out there. Boycott journos like Kirstoff. He's clearly a racist and an insult to the profession!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 8:42:00 PM


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