Kibera’s not as big as we thought

Kibera is not as heavily populated as many (most?) people have been saying. This is old news (last year), but it’s gotten some recent attention  at Humanitarian info (for some reason, I can’t see the actual post; I only see the comments). See also Africa Research Institute’s Urban Africa by Numbers.

Posted  Friday, September 3  2010 at  22:30

It has been billed as Africa’s biggest slum and even by some accounts, the world’s largest. Some say it is home to two million people, others a million.

But the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census results released this week make everything you have heard about the size of Kibera improbable. Numbers do not lie, and figures from the 2009 census indicate that Kibera barely makes it to Nairobi’s largest slum.

According to the census figures, the eight locations that form Kibera slums combined host a paltry 170,070. These include Lindi, the largest, with 35,158 people; Kianda (29,356); Laini Saba (28,182); Makina (25,242); Gatwikira (24.991); Siranga (17,363); and Kibera (9,786)…

…Another major city slum, Mukuru Kwa Njenga, in Nairobi West with 130,402 people is slowly edging towards the largest slum in Kenya status. Throw in Mathare slum in Nairobi North with 87,097 people and you begin to understand why Kibera has never been Africa’s largest slum.

For a long time Kibera has been touted as Africa’s largest slum, with various ‘experts’ putting its population at anything between one and two million. But the slum does not hold a candle to India’s Pharavi with one million. Brazil’s Rocinha Farela with a quarter million is probably the closest rival…

…As for thousands of foreign visitors who trooped in to see the “Biggest-Slum-in-Africa:” You swallowed one big lie, hook and bait!

Read the whole article.

Brian Ekdale responded to the Daily Nation article with What’s in (a Name and a Number?) He offers a history of Kibara and just defended his dissertation on the subject (congratulations!): “Creativity and Constraint in Self-Representational Media: A Production Ethnography of Visual Storytelling in a Nairobi Slum.”:

First, I argue that the dominant discourse about Kibera that is constructed and circulated by authors, journalists, NGOs, and unawares is hyperbolic and simplistic. I explore this discourse by speaking with Kibera residents about the disconnect they see between their lived experiences and the representations of their community offered by non-residents and the media….[abstract]

So how did we get the million figure?

“In the absence of actual data (such as an official census), NGO staff make a back-of-envelope estimate in order to plan their projects; a postgraduate visiting the NGO staff tweaks that estimate for his thesis research; a journalist interviews the researcher and includes the estimate in a newspaper article; a UN officer reads the article and copies the estimate into her report; a television station picks up the report and the estimate becomes the headline; NGO staff see the television report and update their original estimate accordingly.” (source: via Map Kibera see also Kibera’s Census)

Although I’ve been into Kibera a number of times for various reasons (including my day in Kibera court), the population “figure” mostly comes to mind when I’m driving a foreign visitor down a stretch of Langata Road, near Wilson Airport, where you get a good, panoramic view of all the roofs. I’ve commented more than once that this is “supposedly the largest slum in Africa…they say about a million people live there.”

I guess now I know better now.

Update (17 Aug. 2012): 

See now Martin Robins, “The missing millions of Kibera” (The Guardian, Aug. 1)

…A quick search on Google finds page after page of estimates in or around the same ball-park. The White House reckon it’s “just about 1.5 million”, while the BBC claim 700,000. Jambo Volunteers say “more than one million.” The rather sickly-sounding Global Angels reckon “around 1 million.” The Kibera Tours website describes “a population estimated at one million.” The Kibera Law Centre gives “almost 1 million.”Shining Hope for Communities reckon that Kibera “houses 1.5 million people.” The Kibera Foundation talk about “a population of almost a million people,” as do Kibera UK and about a hundred other sites you can find through your friendly neighbourhood search engine.

…Kibera consists of around two square miles of densely-clustered, single story shacks. For the White House’s estimate to be accurate, Kibera’s cluttered streets and labyrinthine alleyways would have to support a population density thirty times higher than the towering skyscrapers of New York…

He too cites the above studies:

Hence the shock when a census by the Kenyan government found only 170,000 residents, a count probably not much higher than the number of NGOs that have swarmed into the area. It isn’t easy counting the transient population of an informal settlement, and of course the government don’t have a fantastic record on Kibera – if they did, it wouldn’t exist – but their figures fit reasonably well with those produced by others. The Map Kibera Project used sampling to produce an estimate of 235,000-270,000, while KeyObs deployed the cold, hard gaze of a satellite to produce an estimate of around 200,000. These more accurate figures have suffered the fate that tends to befall most inconvenient truths; they have been widely ignored.

Love outlasts fear and ignorance

I’ve come to believe Love doesn’t outright defeat fear and ignorance as much as it simply outlasts them. No matter how much you give, our little neighborhood fellowship will never overcome the culture of poverty surrounding us. We are just the Resistance, wreaking compassionate havoc where and when we can, waiting for a much stronger force to come finish the job…In the meantime, we try not to push too hard, for fear of burning ourselves out. – Bart Campolo.

For some reason, this comment comforted me. Maybe it has something to do with coming back from a three and a half month tour of North America (the longest I’ve been in the US in nine years) to a place where I’m surrounded by friends feeling the effects of poverty.

Poverty Tourism (Kibera; NYTimes)

Kennedy Odede (NYTimes, Op-Ed 9 Aug. 2010): Slumdog Tourism

SLUM tourism has a long history — during the late 1800s, lines of wealthy New Yorkers snaked along the Bowery and through the Lower East Side to see “how the other half lives.”

But with urban populations in the developing world expanding rapidly, the opportunity and demand to observe poverty firsthand have never been greater. The hot spots are Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai — thanks to “Slumdog Millionaire,” the film that started a thousand tours — and my home, Kibera, a Nairobi slum that is perhaps the largest in Africa.

Slum tourism has its advocates, who say it promotes social awareness. And it’s good money, which helps the local economy.

But it’s not worth it. Slum tourism turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from. People think they’ve really “seen” something — and then go back to their lives and leave me, my family and my community right where we were before.

I was 16 when I first saw a slum tour. I was….

…Other Kibera residents have taken a different path…

…To be fair, many foreigners come to the slums wanting to understand poverty, and they leave with what they believe is a better grasp of our desperately poor conditions. The expectation, among the visitors and the tour organizers, is that the experience may lead the tourists to action once they get home.But it’s just as likely that a tour will come to nothing. After all, looking at conditions like those in Kibera is overwhelming, and I imagine many visitors think that merely bearing witness to such poverty is enough.

Nor do the visitors really interact with us. Aside from the occasional comment, there is no dialogue established, no conversation begun. Slum tourism is a one-way street: They get photos; we lose a piece of our dignity.

Slums will not go away because a few dozen Americans or Europeans spent a morning walking around them. There are solutions to our problems — but they won’t come about through tours.

Kennedy Odede, the executive director of Shining Hope for Communities, a social services organization, is a junior at Wesleyan University.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on August 10, 2010, on page A25 of the New York edition.

Money, Power, and Radical Incarnation—a model for missions (Muriu, Urbana 09)

A little over a week ago, Pastor Oscar Muriu spoke at Urbana–a giant (16-20,000) missions conference for American college students.


Money and Power: Oscar Muriu from Urbana 09 on Vimeo.

For more Urban09 videos, click HERE

(We had the privilege of hearing most of it at Nairobi Chapel earlier in the year—just an average Sunday sermon for us ;-).

Muriu begins by saying that if he were God, he would have brought Jesus as a powerful ruler, or a wise sage. He would have employed the the best marketing and branding strategies for all the world to see. The way God did it was to slow, too low tech. While the world waited desperately for salvation, God sent his son as a poor helpless infant.

His point is that before we go for missions, we must undergo an attitudinal incarnation. This incarnation has four doors:

1. From pride to humility.

2. From power to powerlessness (Phil. 2:6)

3. From privilege into poverty

4. From the harmony and the unity of heaven to the brokenness and dysfunction of the earth.

Side Note: I haven’t been able to locate a smaller MP3audio. I understand that this is directed at a young, American audience, but I couldn’t help noting that the very nature of the video link (124MB by my count), means that many Africans—even many with “reasonably good” internet access—won’t be able to see or hear this message. Just another way that Africans generally can be marginalized (by the missions infrastructure) from “missions” thinking and discussions…even when Africans speak. At least Americans are hearing their voices now; I commend the speaker lineup.

[More detailed notes]

1. From pride to humility.

The incarnation of our attitude is more fundamental than geographical relocation. Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ (Phil 2). Before you go, we must undergo an attitudinal incarnation; consider others better than yourselves. Leave your pat answers, your degrees, your learning…and take on the attitude of a humble servant.

By way of illustration, Pastor Oscar talks about

Continue reading

Binyavanga Wainaina on Westerners and Africa

Last month, Binyavanga Wainaina had some interesting thoughts on Westerners ideas of Africa in this interview on Speaking of Faith.

SOF OnDemand: » Download (mp3, 52:34) ¦  » Listen Now (RealAudio, 52:34)

…A lot of people arrive in Africa to assume that it’s a blank empty space and their goodwill and desire and guilt will fix it. And that to me is not any different from the first people who arrived and colonized us. This power, this power to help, is just about as dangerous as hard power, because very often it arrives with a kind of zeal that is assuming ‘I will do it. I will solve it for you. I will fix it for you,’ and it rides roughshod over your own best efforts.

From How To Write About Africa (Granta 92 2005)

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country…

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. Describe in detail 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.

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. Elephants are caring and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humor (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil)."

…Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.

Back to the interview:

…that precisely is the problem. That you need this kind of weird shock appeal so someone is like, ‘I’ve got to do something.’…there will be someone with a child just like that looking at you and telling you, ‘Click here and send a dollar.’ So you pay some guilt money. But then after a while, you’ve paid some guilt money, and next year you’ll need something more horrific to notice, because you get more and more numb the more and more horror you witness. So you have this campaign that’s going, you know. I don’t even know how much our GDP has fallen because of just the ubiquitous photographs of us looking like that. I don’t know for every dollar given in that way how many dollars of somebody wanted to invest in a business in Nairobi have gone away.

…And so the ethics of those pictures to me, I mean, really, I can’t tell you how much they are upsetting, because someone just keeps telling you the urgency of the situation. People in Darfur are dying. I’m like if you have to dehumanize people to that degree, for them to die, if it is that the Western audience is so inattentive to a possible genocide that that is what you have to do, don’t do anything. Leave us alone…

…if you want to talk about grassroots organizations that work and change a country, you go to India, because they pretty much do them themselves. And because they have really no shrift for the usual nonsense. And the thing about Africa is it may be that we are poorer or weaker somehow so people with the craziest ideas, I mean, things that they tell their cousins they want to do they’ll be like, "You’re crazy… you can do it and you can get money.’

Lots of other great stuff in this interview. (Click here for the full transcript.)

I think Utube has a couple of interviews of him too, but I haven’t watched them yet.

Just keeping myself honest.

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Why slums are necessary (especially for the middle class.)

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO, Daily Nation: Kibera: It’s rich city folks who need slums most

…slums are a ‘‘necessary evil’’, and a very important ‘‘transitional phenomenon’’ and ‘‘conveyor belt’’ that feed a city the population it needs to survive…

If we didn’t have slums, then people from the countryside would never move to the city.

Many good people frown upon this migration to the cities from the countryside, but it is misplaced. Everyone deserves the comfort — or at least the greater opportunities — that cities offer. If you are a teacher in a poor village school and decide to move and take your chances in Nairobi and are lucky to get a job, you might be a watchman earning Sh5,000 a month. Without a shack in the slum that such people rent for Sh500 a month, they wouldn’t survive in the city. Not everyone who lives in a slum ends up there. Some eventually move to the slightly better working class areas, and then to the suburbs. They might join the police, army, or improve themselves slowly. But eventually, several make it. Some of them get to be MPs and ministers, and one day one of these people who started out in a slum could become president….

…There are slums because cities in poor Third World countries can’t survive without them. Take the watchman who is paid Sh5,000. At that low wage, the middle class can afford to hire a watchman for day and another for night. If there were no slums, and the cheapest accommodation a watchman could find was Sh5,000 a month, and all his other expenses were up accordingly, then the lowest a watchman or househelp (housegirl, to use the politically incorrect word) would be paid is Sh50,000. At that wage, the middle class wouldn’t afford watchmen, househelps and nannies for their children. Slums, therefore, are vehicles through which the urban poor subsidise its middle class. For that reason, it’s the height of hypocrisy when the middle class moralise about how terrible things are in the slums.

In Kenya’s case, slums — all their risks notwithstanding — are actually a stabilising force.

From street kid to missionary to Member of Parliament (an interview with a Kenyan MP)

Here are some excerpts from an interview with Fred Outa, Kenyan member of parliament [for the Biola University Magazine—hence the promotional angle]. Outa earned an MA from Biola University in 2002, and originally returned to his native Kenya in order to do missionary work, church ministry, and agricultural service back in Africa, but eventually decided to run for elected office at the urging of his community (2007).:

. . . When my father died, I was out on the street just like the “street kids.” Life was hard. Food was scarce. I learned the hardship of poverty, the need for education and the struggle to keep warm and to eat. I made it a vow to rise above this and one day come back and serve these kids. That hope led me to the U.S., with the loving help of an American couple, to Biola, and now back here in Kenya serving with my own foundation (, serving the people of my nation, and serving the Lord. My memory of my father reminds me everyday to help the poor, to open the doors of my home – which my wife and I have done for many orphaned children – and to keep Christ above culture.

Why the switch from missionary to parliament? What did God do that brought you here to this parliament building?

Mark, it’s people, it’s people, it’s people and it’s people. I had no clue at all that I would be in politics. I never thought about it; all my life I had prepared to be a missionary, just a simple missionary – a servant who was reaching out to a community. And yet one thing I learned at Biola was entrepreneurship: how important micro-finance is to every community, to reach out to a community to empower them to eradicate poverty so they will have the opportunity to hear the gospel. Those components of training were very real and people were in need. They needed to be given the opportunity to do something to improve their lives. So when I came here, my people approached me, my community in Kisumu. And they said, “Hey, since now you are coming from the U.S., why don’t you help us with rice production, which is being mismanaged by the government?”

I had no clue how to help, except for the micro-financing Biola taught me. We started a rice project on a very small scale. After one year, I had seen God’s hand on the little money we had earned, and things began to multiply – from 100 acres to 500 acres and the next year from 500 to 2,000 acres of production. As the rice production expanded in the area, it was touching individual lives by putting food on the table for families, and also bringing money to families to send their kids to school. That is where God helped me see the connection between leadership and politics, because the community had experienced bad leadership. They wanted someone to lead them that they could trust, and by living and serving among the people, they came to me. Not just a few, but the whole community came to me and shouted, “Send him to parliament!” . . .

[Details of running for parliament and responding to the initial violence] . . . Once, I was a missionary; now I was once again building peace in my own nation.

Guilt is like pity . . . more on the poverty tourism debate

“Guilt is like pity, it stops you from seeing people as they actually are, as normal human beings. What we wanted to do is say: ‘What you’re seeing is poverty, you’re not actually seeing people. People are the same all over the world, whether they have a penis gourd on or a three-piece suit with a gold watch chain.’”

– Robert Finlayson, Volunteering for International Development from Australia, quoted in Taipei Times: Slum tours provide hard dose of reality.

. . . Entering Jakarta’s Galur slum, Poluan takes his tour group through deepening circles of privation. At the outer edge, tourists drink Fanta in the stifling heat of the home of Rumidja, a pint-sized, 69-year-old grandmother who lives cramped alongside 14 other people. She poses excitedly with the foreigners and complains of pains and lost sleep, and worries about how to pay for her granddaughter’s education. She shows off photos of herself as a much fatter teenager.

It is this contact with the everyday, rather than unmitigated suffering, that impresses Australian Martin Roach, a 39-year-old who makes his living in share trading and poker tournaments: “Many of the things she’s worrying about are the same as us.”

But moving deeper into the slum, . . . By the time the group reaches the train tracks where Sana has her weekly conflict with the city, the mood darkens. Upset by what they see, some in the group kick off an impassioned debate with Poluan [tour operator], arguing for the right to give money to anyone they come across in the slum.

“You can pass the other stuff as okay, it’s reduced from our lifestyle [but] they’re happy. The people on the railway lines, that’s not okay,” Larry Stringer, 54, said.

It may be unsettling at times, but coming face to face with the reality of poverty is an important step in getting rich Westerners to see the poor as equals, says Robert Finlayson.

A critique of poverty tourism says,

“If you come with money then it’s a complete language of money. It doesn’t develop the understanding [among the poor] that they are powerful, that they can help themselves.”

Apart from the whole debate about poverty tourism, I know a similar debate is conducted among micro-finance groups here. Should we bring in outside capital to help get projects started, or should we limit the investments to what can be generated locally? Why can’t we do both? Why not reward some proven initiative with outside capital investment to boost capacity?

My guess is that it probably depends on a number of variables including, how the individuals and community respond to outside capital. If it boosts their entrepreneurial capacity, great! If it fosters dependency and complacency . . . it’s better to do nothing.

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Poverty tourism (Christian Science Monitor) & short term missions?

I’ve written about a similar topic before in relation to short-term missions (missionary tourism and the poor). Here is an article that I think anyone planning short-term missions might want to read.

Jina Moore (Christian Science Monitor) – June 29, 2009: Does peeking at how the other five-sixths live preserve culture—or comodify it?

. . . From the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the townships of Cape Town, well-to-do Western tourists are plunking down serious dollars to see how the other five-sixths live. Like all tourism, this experiential off-roading can be a mixed bag for the local people, damaging the environment and threatening the authenticity of culture.

The bad kind has earned a seedy-sounding nickname – “poorism” – that means to suggest what experts say can be little more than a voyeuristic excursion to see just how poor the poor really are.

But there’s a more compassionate kind of poverty tourism, known by a spectrum of labels, that delivers more money to the countries tourists visit and puts more of their cash in impoverished locals’ pockets. The best of these programs take foreigners into local communities and expose them to authentic, indigenous ways of life, while taking heed of the cultural and environmental costs of tourism. . .

. . . “Often, rich Western tourists are interested to see people who have a strong cultural and social ethic – which they often don’t have themselves,” he says. “One thing that’s clear is … that the economic poor are often culturally rich.”. .  [or faith]

[Keep reading]

Thanks for the tip: Scarlett Lion who writes: “The debate about “poverty tourism” rages on the blogosphere on the pages of the HuffPo, Bill Eastery’s blog, and elsewhere. But, as Jina Moore (previous Context Africa feature), who wrote a great, nuanced piece about this for Christian Science Monitor, says,

If it’s that easy to be flip, you’re probably missing something.

Gordon then features the work of photographer Samantha Reinders, who is currently based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her take on Township Tourism shows that nothing is as straightforward as it might seem and even something as divisive as “poverty tourism” can be looked at with nuance. [Great interview and photos as part of the Context Africa series!!]

Township Tourism, especially when it just became popular in the mid 90s, got really bad press in South Africa. And admittedly I was swept up in that. I thought the concept was horrible. A Brazilian friend in town was determined to do one of these tours and I went along with him and had a surprisingly good experience. So I decided to do a story on it and investigate the industry in a little more depth. As time went on I changed my mind about Township Tourism. Whilst there are definitely negative impacts on the communities involved when tours are run badly and mismanaged, I saw the positive impacts out way these in many cases. I left the project with a more 50/50 view of the industry. . .

See previous Context Africa posts:

If you want to be in the know about Africa and development . . .

. . . subscribe to the following links in Google Reader:

More general economics, but often hits on Africa

(Plus the links in the blogroll under Kenya and Africa)

What other ones would you add??

I don’t know anything about economics (I’m a New Testament student), but I’m very interested in economics and social justice –  especially as it relates to Africa and American attitudes and actions towards “Africa.”

In response to my post yesterday,  I was ambushed by two friends – Eddie (Kouya) and Rombo (What an African Woman Thinks) – to get on Twitter.  I guess they got tired of clicking on my “Links of the Day” on the right sidebar (maybe the most useful aspect of this blog). I gave in without too much of a fight, but I thought it would be more helpful to point you to the sources of all my great links regarding Africa, aid in development. (Besides, I’m going to magically “disappear” next week.)

Side note: sometimes I feel a little schizophrenic. I wonder which group of my friends I’m going to drive away first – the biblical studies friends or the Africa friends.

In other news: For two days this week, I introduced two friends from One Horizon Foundation to people I know here so that they could explore things like how microfinance programs are working, how NGOs (Christian and otherwise) are meeting basic needs (health, food, education), and how churches are functioning both in terms of   outreach/discipleship/nurture and justice/development ministries.

Here are a few of the reflections I had coming out of some of these conversations and visits.

  1. I have really incredible friends doing amazing things here. Some of them are world-class experts on things like microfinance, peacemaking and reconciliation, and worldview transformation (I feel very blessed.)
  2. We are going to have major poverty with us for a long time; the poverty stricken informal settlements (slums) seem to have the biggest baby booms and the capacity to provide jobs seems to be lagging far behind.
  3. The most effective efforts seem to be when local, entrepreneurial visionaries mobilize their community resources and get some boosting from outside “friends” for building construction, boreholes, generators, workshops, etc.
  4. Changing worldviews and mindsets is as important as anything else – opening their eyes to the realm of possibilities. As a Christian, I feel like ethics, self-sacrifice, and dependance on God are also important – freedom from fear.
  5. The most dramatic stories I hear always seem to have a little bit of  “miracle” in them; God rewards their efforts with a big break of one kind or another.
  6. A little bit of money can go a lot further here than it can in the US.
  7. Nairobi is an easy target for foreign donors – easy access, developed infrastructure, the “glamor” of a “Kibera,” a growing middle class (examples to follow right before your eyes), competent entrepreneurs, numerous churches and christian organizations active locally, etc. Plus the people here do a really good job of marketing their dreams.
  8. It’s a good thing that people don’t believe in the adage “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.” A lot of people have just started with what they have and have done as much as they can. The results are pretty remarkable.
  9. We tend to demand much more from the poor than we do from ourselves. We want them to be self-sacrificing and entrepreneurial. (I don’t know about you, but I’m not much of an entrepreneur and I like my comfort.)

Feel free to add additional thoughts below.

Development is not hard (Moyo)

Dambisa Moyo – Aid Ironies:

Dambisa_Moyo. . . Development is not that hard. We now have over 300 years of evidence of what works (and what doesn’t) in increasing growth, alleviating poverty and suffering. For example, we know that countries that finance development and create jobs through trade and encouraging foreign (and domestic) investment thrive.

We also know that there is no country — anywhere in the world — that has meaningfully reduced poverty and spurred significant and sustainable levels of economic growth by relying on aid. If anything, history has shown us that by encouraging corruption, creating dependency, fueling inflation, creating debt burdens and disenfranchising Africans (to name a few), an aid-based strategy hurts more that it helps…(Read More)

HT: (Eddie Arthur)

A piece of advice for Westerners wanting to do micro-lending in Africa

“Among the poor here, as long as a loan is seen as coming from the west, or is seen to have the backing from a western organization, it will be considered ‘relief.’; you will never see that money again.”

– Carol Makanda, Africa Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM), Kenya

This was in the context of a conversation about how one of ALARM’s microfinance projects had been transforming the lives of women in the Nairobi area.

Churches & Benevolence assistance

As long as we are on the subject of the poor these days (and I am self-conscious about spending most of my time in the library these days and not actually doing much that’s tangible for the poor), here is a list of questions from Beverly Ryskamp is a social worker and an attorney in Grand Rapids, MI: Financial Assistance: Is Your Church Ready?

I suppose most churches in urban settings already have processes in place, but they are helpful questions nonetheless.

How can you fine-tune your emergency assistance efforts ahead of time, so as not to depend on rooftop calls? Here are some questions you can consider now to be ready then:

  • Who will receive and process emergency requests? When should people submit requests, and when can they expect answers to them?
  • What information will the church need? (For example, what efforts have already been made? Is collaboration with other resources possible?) Can a church member with knowledge of local human services help standardize your information-gathering?
  • To whom would the church issue a check or other aid? What documentation is necessary to do that? Will the church want applicants to do anything special, such as volunteer, in exchange for help?
  • Will some needs take precedence over others? Define your priorities ahead of time: First come, first served? Number of people impacted? Connection to the congregation? Ultimate fallout of crisis, such as threat of children being removed?
  • What process and time are needed to approve checks for direct aid? Consider defining a threshold for minor benevolence that can be approved rapidly, without a whole committee. Some churches set aside a modest fund with a single experienced gatekeeper to handle small requests; clear guidelines and a detailed records system can make this work well for urgent needs. If a church desires more checks and balances, consider a phone or e-mail process for approving requests.
  • What needs does the church feel most called to assist (e.g., housing, food, utilities, medical)? What special areas of need can you fill? For example, in our area, agencies can help homeless clients with rent but never security deposits. Defining a niche assistance area can be very helpful – the community learns what the church offers, and the church becomes an expert in one area rather than a dabbler in many.
  • When requests for money can’t be granted, are there other kinds of support the church wants to offer – transportation, child care, networking from the church community, in-kind supplies like diapers, or gift cards for food or gas?


How to help the poor have more money? Well, give it to them

Laura Freschi on Aid Watch: (Thanks: Michael Kruse)

In 2007, people in the Western Province of Zambia lost their homes, their livestock and their crops when heavier-than-normal flash floods swept through their area. USAID’s office of disaster assistance stepped in with $280,000 worth of with seeds and fertilizer, training for farmers, and emergency relief supplies.

Two NGOs working in Zambia, Oxfam GB and Concern Worldwide, tried a different approach: they handed out envelopes stuffed with cash—from $25 to $50 per month per affected family, with no strings attached. Anevaluation found that common fears about cash transfers—that the cash infusion will cause inflation in the market, that the money will be squandered, or that men will take control of the money—were unrealized.

What did people buy with the money? . . . 

. . . Unconditional cash transfer programs can be fast and cost effective.  .  . 

. . .Cash transfers also acknowledge that poor people are capable of making good economic decisions without the help of outside experts armed with needs assessment checklists. . . 

. . .As Duflo and Banerjee document in their study on the economic lives of the poor, the rich often assume that poor people have few choices about where to spend their money. . . 

. . .Cash transfers have plenty of potential drawbacks, as these studies also point out. . . [Two studies by Innovations for Poverty Action and thePoverty Action Lab at MIT in Morocco and Indonesia (See also studies collected by the UK-based Overseas Development Institute).]

. . .This gives people who have lost their livelihoods, belongings or loved ones a new feeling of control over their lives, builds money-management skills, and restores to them their power to make economic decisions. If you were in their shoes, which would you prefer? . . 

In our personal experience, when we know the recipient is hard-working and and self-motivated, we always try to give them the cash directly. Even when we are only providing a scholarship and could more easily pay the school directly, we prefer to give our friends the cash in hand – giving them the dignity of paying their own bills. Occassionally, the funds don’t get used exactly the way we designated them, but our friends usually have a good reason, and we think they should have that prerogative – even if we wouldn’t quite agree.

A lot of times, we  try to include a little “bonus” and encourage them to spend on something they will enjoy. Don’t we do the same for ourselves when we can?

As the above article pointed out, giving cash directly:

  • It’s simply easier; they handle all the logistics of what to get, where to buy, at what price, etc.
  • It can be empowering (next few points).
  • It shows that you trust them and expect them to manage their own affairs. Expectations are key. (If they need advice on some aspect of the management, they’ll come ask for it. . . if you have that kind of relationship.)
  • It helps level the relational field; it puts us both on the same team. True, I have access to more resources (connections), but we are both about finding ways to solve their problems. I’ll try to do my part; they will do the rest. They reciprocate in other ways that enrich us  – relationship, knowledge in certain areas. 

The key here is  some kind of relationship and track record. For us, this means we have to be involved in peoples lives in ways that take us outside our own comfort zones. Usually these kinds of needs come up in the normal course of real-life conversation. We know that money isn’t the basis of the relationship because most of the time we talk about other things. If we dont’ know the person well, we try to find a trusted person who does know them well.

With some friends, if they even hint at a need, we try to give immediately – no questions asked. (We know they value our relationship too much to let money get in the way.) Others, we find any excuse we can to say, “Sorry, we can’t help you this time” – no matter how heartrending the story sounds. Reasons? We don’t know them well enough, they are showing signs of a “dependance mentality”, they have a poor track record of past financial choices, etc.

Like all of life, you win some; you lose some.

Sometimes in this context, as a “rich white person”, I know it’s better to give money through an intermediary (especially if it is a loan – microenterprise). Some individuals simply feel more accountable to a fellow Kenyan than they do to a mzungu, to whom money obviously means a lot less ;-).

This same dynamic can be true for my wealthier Kenyan friends. Last night, close friends were telling me how overwhelming the requests for money from relatives have become lately. My friends  believe deeply in social justice, but they are also wise to the ways of the world, so I am learning a lot just by watching how they negotiate these tricky situations – especially relationally. 

I don’t envy these friends; their social network is much more deeply embedded in areas of true poverty, and, unlike me, they have to make these tough decisions every day. They have all my respect; they’ve made some huge differences in a lot of people’s lives.

Out of Africa?: 2 African Women on Aid & Politics

In Slate, Francis Fukuyama reviews two important books by Wangari Maathai (Kenya) The Challenge for Africa and Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid .  (HT: Africa Unchained)

Maathai - The Challenge of Africa. . . In The Challenge for Africa, Maathai offers a diffuse array of conclusions. She argues that there is no inherent trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection and that African governments should pursue both. She blames Western colonialism for devaluing African identity and culture but blames Africans as well for their bloody attachment to fractured “micro-nations.” She criticizes aid dependency and yet has no strong objections to the Sachs-Bono agenda of ramping up Western development assistance. She believes that change will have to come through grassroots activism and that Africans must embrace their own traditions.

Moyo - Dead AidMoyo’s book, Dead Aid, by contrast, has a very simple message: that outside development assistance is at the root of Africa’s underdevelopment and ought to be stopped quickly and totally if the continent is to progress. She is in favor of private-sector development, even if it comes from China, and inveighs against agricultural protectionism in the North that prevents trade from becoming an engine of growth. Not surprisingly, her book will appeal to a crowd very different from those who awarded Maathai the Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai and Moyo might indeed seem to be headed for a polarized Sachs-Easterly style shootout over approaches to development.

But the truth is that these books have more in common than their authors may admit. Both women see sub-Saharan Africa’s fundamental problem not as one of resources, human or natural, or as a matter of geography, but, rather, as one of bad government. Far too many regimes in Africa have become patronage machines in which political power is sought by “big men” for the sole purpose of acquiring resources—resources that are funneled either back to the networks of supporters who helped a particular leader come to power or else into the proverbial Swiss bank account. There is no concept of public good; politics has devolved instead into a zero-sum struggle to appropriate the state and whatever assets it can control. . . 

. . .So the question is: If bad politics is at the heart of Africa’s development problem, how did it come to be that way, and how can the region evolve in a different direction? Here the two authors, obviously, differ markedly. . .

. . . But Moyo’s case that Africa would have good government if it weren’t for the influx of aid stretches credulity. The roots of Africa’s political malaise go far deeper than the post-independence foreign-aid regime. Unlike East Asia before its encounter with colonialism, more than half of sub-Saharan Africa was not governed by a state structure at the time of the European scramble for Africa that began in the 1870s. The Europeans built colonial institutions on the cheap, seeking to govern vast tracts of territory with skeleton administrations. The big man of contemporary African politics is in many ways a colonial creation, since Europeans sought to rule indirectly by empowering a series of local dictators to carry out their purposes. And, finally, colonialism imposed a set of irrational borders on their colonies. South Sudan fought a 30-year civil war with the regime in Khartoum only because a long-dead British administrator in Cairo didn’t want to offend Egypt by giving it to Uganda, where it more naturally belonged. . .

Moyo’s blanket condemnation of foreign aid also fails to discriminate between, say, military assistance given to Zaire during the Cold War, and anti-retroviral treatments dispensed by the Global Fund or PEPFARS (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, initiated by the Bush administration), which get virtually no mention in her book. The fact is that the aid business has learned something, particularly since the end of the Cold War

. . . If ending foreign aid will not cure Africa, does Maathai’s Challenge for Africa present a better alternative? Grassroots activism can galvanize local solutions and put pressure on governments to perform better. But civil society is ultimately a complement to strong institutions and not a substitute for them. Toward the end of her book, Maathai points to the need for visionary leadership and nation-building from the center, as Julius Nyerere did when he knit Tanzania’s multiple linguistic and ethnic groups together through the use of Kiswahili as a national language. But historical nation-building projects have often required much stronger medicine than she or most other contemporary Africans are willing to contemplate, including changes of borders and the sometimes forceful incorporation of “micro-nations” into larger wholes. . . 

. . . both at least focus on the real core of the problem, which is the region’s level of political development. In this realm, solutions are going to have to come from within the region itself. It is a positive first step for the discussion to shift away from what the outside world owes Africa and towardwhat Africans owe themselves. [Links to other posts by Okafor –Africa Unchained

Read Fukuyama’s Slate Review

What are we doing here? The multimillion dollar relief industry . . . results?

4 brothers film the multimillion $$ relief industry (promo video.) We’ve raised similar topics a number of times.

HT: Kruse Kronicle

BTW: This is my first attempt at a video embed. (It’s a holiday here, so the internet is actually working.)

UPDATE: Whenever I post something, my brain tends to work on it for the rest of the day (which I suppose is why I temporarily quit blogging seriously). Here are some other thoughts I had while I was hanging out with the kids yesterday. 

  • African poverty as a spectacle yet again? (Read What an African Woman Thinks: I went to a zoo and I saw a . . . ). 
  • Is dissing relief work becoming the latest Western fad? (Could it wind up being just as dangerous as throwing money blindly at African problems. Either way our main objective seems to be to feel better about ourselves. Aren’t most wealthy westerners just as happy ignoring the poor wherever they might be? )
  • Could this be just another example of a white folks “making their news” on the backs of the poor Africans? (This really struck me when I went to . Notice where most of the attention is on this site.) Note to self: Am I trying “make my news”  (e.g. on this blog) by painting myself an “Africa expert” to my Western friends? 
  • Whose interests are being served?
  • Need to suspend judgment till we see the full product. 

More info from what are we doing here?

WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE? explores why the charity given to Africa over the last five decades has been largely ineffective and often harmful. The film tells the story of Brandon, Nicholas, Daniel and Tim Klein who travel across Africa in an attempt to understand one of the great problems of our time; the failure to end poverty.

In the film, the Klein family travel 15,000 miles via public transportation from Cairo to Cape Town. They cross war torn and famine-ridden regions where aid workers, politicians, and inspiring individuals tell about the incredibly complex and often misunderstood issues that affect hundreds of millions of people across the continent.

Daring to ask the questions no one else will, the filmmakers invite the world to rethink the fight against poverty in Africa.  Could our good intentions be causing more harm than good?  Have humanitarian interventions prolonged suffering? Who is actually benefiting from our good intentions? These questions and many more are addressed for the first time ever in this groundbreaking feature length film.  If you ever wanted to know what happened to the $10 dollars you donated to charity last year, look no further.  This film will change the way you look at charity in Africa forever.

The petition:

. . . The United States of America has a long history of giving aid to African nations in various forms. A bulk of this aid has been given in the form of food aid from U.S. farmers and transported on U.S. carriers. We the undersigned believe that this strategy not only is ineffective in reducing hunger and poverty but is often harmful to African agriculture markets and should be changed.

We the Undersigned request that USAID food aid be delivered in the form of food purchased from within the recipient African country. If the country receiving the food aid is not able to produce the needed food, then food should be purchased from neighboring countries that have a food surplus. The costs of growing and transporting U.S. grain can be reallocated towards greater purchase of food in the recipient country or put toward other areas of development particularly those that strengthen local agriculture.

We believe that the age of allocating aid dollars towards a strategy that has proven to be ineffective is over. The time is now to promote real change in Africa and that means empowering and supporting African farmers and their markets through local purchase of food aid.

My Prejudgment: It looks like an important expose of the “Relief Industry”, which is often (usually?) a self-serving venture.  It’s an important conversation; complexities are apparent to all who are genuinely involved.

It raises some important questions (from the teacher’s guide – pdf):

• Has foreign aid helped or hurt Africa?
• What are the root causes of poverty in Africa?
• What should the role of the West be in Africa?
• Are good intentions enough?
• Why has western aid failed to reduce poverty in Africa?
  1. Is foreign aid helping or hurting Africa? Should aid be increased or decreased?
  2. If aid should be decreased or stopped, what should the role of the US be in Africa and how should we respond to the millions of people living in poverty? 
  3. If aid should be increased, how can we make sure that it isn’t wasted or doesn’t cause harm?
  4. What do you think should be done about poverty in Africa?
  5. If someone has good intentions and is trying to help, is it correct to criticize their efforts and say that they are hurting instead of helping?
  6. Would you ever give money or work for an NGO/charity fighting poverty in Africa? Why or why not? 
  7. Do Africans need foreign aid?
  8. doesn’t the USA have the same level of poverty that Africa has? How is poverty in Africa different from poverty in USA? What does our government do to help people get out of poverty?

Related Resources:


  • – Global Issues has information on poverty and development around the world, including Africa. Facts, studies, statistics, articles on the root causes of poverty, food aid,corruption, foreign aid, and world hunger. Full of short articles that are easy to read.
  • – International Crisis Group has up to date information and analysis on conflicts around the world. Some of the most in-depth information available, but is written at a slightly more advanced level.
  • – Africa Unchained is a platform for analyzing and contributing to the issues and solutions surrounding Africa. The discussion focuses on the issues raised by George Ayittey’s latest book ‘Africa Unchained’.
  • – BBC Africa page – there is a lot of general information on individual African countries, good for basic background information.


Cinderella and her missionary prince, a personal story

Back in August, while I was in Western Kenya at the pastor’s conference, I realized that I was only about an hour away from where Patrick and Violet Nabwera’s rural home near Kakamega. [I’ve written about Patrick and Violet before. They were our next door neighbors last year – and their daughter Joy (Kiara’s best friend last year) was part of our family for a few months. This past week they moved to Mozambique to begin language study.]

Patrick at homeWhen I realized I was this close, I called them and when I was done with my portion of the conference and caught a matatu to Kakamega. There’s something about visiting the place where a friend spent his childhood; suddenly all the family details take on a new concreteness. Here, meet my mother and my brother. These are the two cows he owns.

This is the field of sugar cane that provides a little income, and here is how the sugar company collects it. There is the little primary school school I went to as a kid. Here is Continue reading

The global middle class: economics changes values, reduces religiosity – except in the US (Pew)

The Economist: Special poll on middle class attitudes and Pew: Global Middle Class:

As economically developing countries grow prosperous, their middle classes understandably become more satisfied with their lives. But many of their basic values also appear to change.
middle-class-life-satisfactionOver time, the values of the middle classes in emerging countries become more like those of the publics of advanced nations. This is the overall conclusion of a new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Pew Global Attitudes Project, conducted in partnership with The Economist magazine. . .
The study finds that in 13 middle-income nations from regions around the globe, people tend to hold different opinions about democracy and social issues once they reach a certain level of wealth.

Compared with poorer people in emerging countries, members of the middle class assign more importance to democratic institutions and individual liberties, consider religion less central to their lives, hold more liberal social values and express more concern about the environment . . .

. . . previous Pew Global Attitudes research has shown a clear link between wealth and religiosity at the country level – as a country’s overall wealth increases, its level of religiosity generally declines. There are, however, some exceptions, most notably the United States, which is both wealthy and a religious nation. What this new analysis illustrates is that within countries, wealthier individuals are often less religious. . .

The dilemma of presenting “Africa” to “the West”; the image trap

In light of our previous posts on the the power of positive portrayals, here’s the dilemma of presenting “Africa” to “the West”:

  1. More money is available in the West than in Africa (even when the Western stock markets have crashed and the economies of the West are in recession).
  2. Africa has lots of places to put that money to good use.
  3. The West is more likely to give money to Africa, when Africa pulls on its heartstrings.
  4. To pull on the heartstrings of the West, Africa presents its many “dire” needs (and there is no shortage really “dire” needs).
  5. In the presentation of Africa’s dire needs, the positive Africa gets lost – usually totally lost.
  6. Compassion fatigue and cynicism sets in; but see #1, #2, and #3 again . . . try harder at #4?

It’s a vicious cycle, and we all fall into this trap.

What can we do about this dilemma?

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Scrooge Lives! and the poor give more than the rich

From yet another review (Moll, CT) of Passing the Plate (Oxford University Press).

. . . America’s biggest givers—as a percentage of their income—are its lowest income earners. The widow who gave out of her poverty rather than her wealth (Mark 12:42; Luke 21:1-4) has a lot of company, it seems. Yet so does the rich young ruler.

“Americans who earn less than $10,000 gave 2.3 percent of their income to religious organizations,” Smith, Emerson, and Snell write, “whereas those who earn $70,000 or more gave only 1.2 percent.” While the actual percentages are slightly higher for Christians who regularly attend church, the pattern is similar. Households of committed Christians making less than $12,500 per year give away roughly 7 percent of their income, a figure no other income bracket beats until incomes rise above $90,000 (they give away 8.8 percent).

In fact, in absolute terms, the poorest Christians give away more dollars than all but the wealthiest Christians. We see the pattern in recent history as well: When Americans earned less money following the Great Depression, they gave more. When income went up, they began to give less of it away. . .

Why Americans don’t give more:

  1. They can’t; too much is tied up in houses and cars.
  2. They don’t trust the churches and organizations.
  3. The churches and organizations aren’t giving away much either’ it’s all spent on themselves.
  4. They aren’t asked to.

The Cheerful giver dilemma: “Offering money, many Christians believe, should be like Hollywood’s version of romance: spontaneous, exuberant, and impulsive.” . . . “So we give our money like we spend it: haphazardly and without intention.”

Boring is better: planned, once-a-year, automatic withdrawal.

Other interesting quotes from the review;

American Christians’ lack of generosity might not be as shocking if it didn’t contrast so starkly with their astounding wealth.

. . . A man’s pocketbook, Martin Luther said, is the last piece of him to be converted. Money has a strange power . . .

I know a lot of very generous people, but according to this review, they appear to be in the minority.

Read it all in Scrooge lives!

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