Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Helping Africa

US Speedskater Joey Cheek has announced that he will donate the $25,000 bonus he will receive from the US Olympic Committe for winning the gold in the 500m race to an organization that provides relief to children in Darfur. One must admire Cheek's cheek...speedskaters certainly don't make the big bucks, and one has to imagine that for him, $25,000 is a lot of money (as opposed to, say, hockey players, or even the big time skiiers and snowboarders with their endorsements). Furthermore, Cheek's action could go a long way in raising awareness of the problems in Sudan and encouraging even more people to help.

Still, one cannot help but think about (or at least I couldn't) this op-ed in the Washington Post by William Easterly, an NYU economist. Easterly writes that while things like the genocide in Darfur or the problem of AIDS and other infectious diseases are "tragedies that deserve attention, the obsessive and almost exclusive Western focus on them is less relevant to the vast majority of Africans -- the hundreds of millions not fleeing from homicidal minors, not HIV-positive, not starving to death, and not helpless wards waiting for actors and rock stars to rescue them. Angelina [Jolie, but feel free to insert Joey Cheek], the continent has problems but it is not being destroyed. This is not to say that all Western aid efforts in Africa are condemned to fail. Aid groups could search for achievable tasks with high potential for poor individuals to help themselves. To do so, they would have to subject themselves to independent evaluation and be accountable to the intended beneficiaries for the results. Such an approach would contrast with the prevailing norm of never holding anyone individually accountable for the results of traditional government-to-government aid programs aimed at feeding the hubristic fantasies of outside transformation of whole societies."

Good stuff.

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