A Small Note on Teju Cole's 'White-Savior Industrial Complex'

If you haven't read Teju Cole's Atlantic post on Kony2012 and Nick Kristof, well, you're the only one. Read it, it's very interesting, and it brought to mind a conversation I had with a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor years ago in Uganda. We were both staying at the Sheraton in Kampala, which was (and maybe is, I haven't been there in years) a very nice hotel on a hill, surrounded by gardens.

The contractor was working to promote democracy in Uganda on behalf of the U.S. government, and I asked her how much time she spent in Uganda (I assumed, because she was staying at the Sheraton, that she was there for only a week or two at a time). She told me that she spent six months in Uganda, in the hotel, and in an office nearby, and then the next six months at home in California, near Carmel, not working, but living off the money she made the previous six months. I noted that this was quite a fortuitous arrangement, and I joked that she better not bring about democracy too quickly. She answered me quite earnestly: "Yes, I know, I would lose this job."

A second, small observation: When Mrs. Goldblog and I were living in Liberia, one of the best jobs to be found in Monrovia for actual Liberians was at a makeshift car-washing center near UN headquarters, where, every day, dozens of brilliant-white SUVs -- Toyota Landcruisers, mainly - belonging to the dozens of NGOs in town were scrubbed clean of mud. It was a bizarre thing to see, these $50,000 vehicles belonging to "non-profits," flyspecked by Liberians the NGOs were ostensibly there to help.  

There are brilliant people working in development all over the world, of course, but the system of incentives is worth examining, and so too are the assumptions about the utlity of many aid programs. More on this when I return from my travels.  

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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