Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Don't save them just yet! 

Bill Easterly finds the concept of Millennium Villages as tourist attractions where you're not supposed to feed the natives:
I decided to look more into the MV tourism project, not to pile on, but because I believe patronizing attitudes towards Africans is a BIG issue in aid. The web site gives this introduction:

The Millennium Village Tour is a unique experience that introduces the � poverty traps in south-eastern Rwanda and the successful intervention package of the UN Millennium Villages Project.
I agree with Wade that it is dehumanizing that the villagers are just exhibits for tourists teaching them about abstractions like �poverty traps,� and are also to be used as propaganda for the MVs� �successful intervention.�

The brochure that bothered Wade really is cringe-inducing, including also this line:
Please do not eat in drink in public. Many people in Bugesera Distract are still suffering from malnutrition�
If the MV is so successful, why are people still starving? Instead of worrying about hiding their food, why don�t the tourists pitch in on some MV project that helps the starving get food and nutritional supplements?
I think the answer to that might be found in a famous early Sam Kinison sketch (NSFW) about world hunger. Easterly's larger point, to me, ties to a connection he made years ago in which we continue to believe sending foreign aid helps poor countries grow even though the evidence doesn't support that claim any more. Indeed, as Harford and Klein point out, the aid becomes something to fight over, much like the Coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Oh well, it could be worse:

(You have to watch to the end of this for full effect. There's at least one NSFW word in there, but it's not Kinison style.)