African dependence and how Africa is portrayed by the media

I came across these insightful videos when I was scrolling through Chris Blattman‘s syllabus for his Political Economy of Development class at Columbia.

Wainaina created these three videos as a response to his essay “How to write about Africa.” He offers an emotionally charged, but well supported take on how many NGOs and donors are affecting Africa. This is a 100% must-watch set of short clips if you want to understand how to best help those in developing nations. As Wainaina implies, helping in itself may not be the best method of creating positive change for the poor. Helping to provide opportunity for someone to make their own change may be the best practice in poverty alleviation.

Wainaina stresses the importance of African agency – the reality that Africans have the ability to express what they need and want, and to make changes for themselves. I will continually remind myself of this while I am trying to create an opportunity for the women at the Red Cross. What they want matters more than what I want for them.

Check out the videos here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

African dependence and how Africa is portrayed by the media

Informal City Dialogues

Check out this video trailer for Next City Magazine’s Informal City Dialogues project. They have contributors in Accra, Bangkok, Chennai, Lima, Manila, and Nairobi who write regularly about the informal economies of these six cities.

Whoever they have posted in Nairobi is a schmuck. Regardless, it’d be cool if you read and shared his stories every week.


How should we deal with beggars in developing countries?

A lot of people have told me not to give to beggars under any circumstance. I’ve heard that they are liars, they spend your money on drugs and alcohol, giving them money discourages them from trying to get a job and that once you give to one beggar, you should be prepared for more to come. 

I won’t give money to the beggars who are visibly drunk or high, and I don’t normally give to beggars (like on the train here) who drag a blind or crippled person behind them while they ask for money.

Here are two personal experiences that made me think more about how to deal with beggars in Cape Town. 



Yesterday a man came up to me who looked like he was in his early thirties. Speaking very good english and looking clean, he introduced himself as Jonathan and shook my hand.  He explained that he was out of work and staying at a shelter with his girlfriend and baby. He asked for 5 Rand (about 60 cents) so that he could buy some food for them. I heard his story, but in the end I told him I couldn’t give him any money. He gave me this look like he couldn’t believe how selfish I was. “Really, you can’t help another guy out who is going through such a hard time in life?”  As I walked away I felt awful that I chose not to give him money but I tried to justify it in my head , telling myself that my decision will encourage him to get a job and that he may have just been lying to me in an effort to get money for something else. Despite my effort to convince myself I did the right thing I had this terrible pit in my stomach as I walked into the grocery store.

Then, just now a man came and rang my doorbell. I went to the door and he asked if I could spare any food. He said that he was from Darfur, Sudan and had snuck onto a boat to get to Cape Town. Now he had nowhere to stay and no money. I went to the fridge and pulled out four or five pieces of bread and some juice. Afraid of the rumor about flocking beggars, I gave it to him and said I’ll give you this but you can’t come back here asking for more, you have to go out and find your way. He said he understood that we were students and we didn’t have a lot of money to give out so he wouldn’t be back. I wished him good luck and he went on down the street, eating the bread and washing it down with juice as he walked. 

Now I’m sitting on the patio wondering if I did the right thing today, yesterday, or if I failed twice to make the right decision. Was Jonathan telling the truth yesterday and the other man lying today? I don’t know but what I should have done I think was ask him to tell me more about Sudan. Its an interesting story to learn about and if he was telling me the truth, I had a man who had lived in Darfur at my front door. I could’ve learned more about his circumstances and then decided whether or not to give him food. 

Part of me thinks that I’m over-thinking the whole issue, but since I’m here working to give poor women an opportunity to earn an income, I doesn’t seem right to ignore the poor beggars I pass on my way to work. I feel like at least they deserve the respect of a second thought, but thinking more about it I haven’t really come up with a good answer

What do you think? Do you give to beggars? Would love to hear some stories or get some advice.


How should we deal with beggars in developing countries?

First day at work – A lesson on africa time… and pb and j sandwiches

After months of emailing back and forth, Seipati and I set a meeting time. I was to come to her office for 1:30 on Friday to discuss the employment program that I am here to help establish. I was really excited to get things going and I arrived at the office at around 1:15.

When I went to the receptionist’s desk, I was told that Seipati was out in the country doing an assessment and wouldn’t be back until around 3. I talked to her on the phone and she asked if I could wait a bit. She said she would be back before 2.

Betsy the receptionist showed me around and introduced me to some of the characters in the office. In the parking lot behind the building there were about ten volunteers who were preparing food for the 4000 Khayelitsha residents who were displaced from their homes due to of a New Year’s Day fire. I recognized some of the women because they had volunteered at the centers in Nyanga and Khayelitsha that we visited in July. So while I waited for Seipati to get back I decided to hop in and help them make pb an j sandwiches for the fire victims. As we made sandwiches they asked me questions about where I am from and about my family, and I did the same to them. They told me how none of their husbands were still around, only their children. None of the ladies were employed but they volunteered to fill their time when they weren’t busy being mothers and grandmothers.

2 o’clock passed and Seipati was nowhere to be found, 3 o’clock and she still wasn’t back. When we ran out of bread after making well over a thousand pb and js it was almost 4:30. At that point I went to go ask Betsy if Seipati had been back and she said that she was stuck out in De Doorns, a rural town where thousands of farmers have been protesting for higher wages. I had heard about the protests but figured that even given her location, being 3 hours late for our meeting was a prime example of “Africa time”, then the next day I saw this picture on the front of the Cape Times.



Seipati told me that her car was actually trying to drive through these mobs.

So, while I wasn’t planning on coming here to sharpen my sandwich making skills, I had a blast making pb and js with the volunteers, and then on Monday I ended up having a great meeting with Seipati. She is really excited to start the sewing project and told me that now that I am here it is her  first priority. I could not have heard more encouraging news! I can’t wait to get this thing rolling and see these women start earning some income for their families. Today we are going shopping for sewing tables and some chairs and tomorrow I am going to work with Christopher (a worker at the Red Cross in Wynberg) to clean out the future sewing venue (pictured below). We are aiming to hold our first meeting with the women during the first week of February and to have them sewing clothes and blankets by the middle of the month!



First day at work – A lesson on africa time… and pb and j sandwiches

Story of House Music Culture in South Africa

This is a really cool video about the obsession with house music in South Africa, especially in Johannesburg. My housemate Reggie is from Jo’burg and was going crazy when I showed him this video. He said this is a completely accurate description of the social scene in the city and he is a huge fan of Black Coffee, Black Motion, and some of the other DJs featured in this video.

Today I met an entrepreneur/music producer who goes by “Smokey.” He is trying to establish a music club/restaurant/bookstore/creative arts center in Gugulethu, a township of Cape Town. He said they primarily have hip hop artists come in, but they play house music as well. He and his girlfriend were some of the coolest people I’ve met this time around in Cape Town. We exchanged numbers and I might go check out a show on Sunday if I can get some people interested.

Check this video out to get a taste of modern South African culture.


Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenyan Presidential Candidate Accused of War Crimes talks to Al Jazeera

This is a pretty revealing interview. How can two people who will be on trial for inciting mass violence allow themselves to run for President and Vice President of their country? The scarier thing is that they have a legitimate chance of winning the election and “leading” the country from the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands. It will be interesting to see how things unfold on March 4th. Check out my article in the Northeastern Political Review for a brief overview of the climate around the upcoming election in Kenya.