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Should starving people be tourist attractions?


Senegalese entrepreneur Magatte Wade on the Huffington Post touched a raw nerve about condescension towards Africans. She noted that a tourism operator was marketing one of Jeff Sachs’ Millennium Villages (MVs) as a vacation destination and quoted from the brochure “Please do not give anything to the villagers — no sweets.”

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 or drink in public. Many people in Bugesera District 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?

The tourism company offering the Rwanda MV tour is called EOS Visions and is headed by some German professionals. They have country subsidiaries, and it was the Rwanda one (staffed by Rwandans) that offered the MV tour. There are some benefits for the villagers as the company advertises 70 percent profit sharing with the local community. Obviously, there were some good intentions here. It’s never easy to negotiate encounters between very rich and very poor people, and some might think that these quotes from a tourist project are a minor issue.

The real problem is that patronizing attitudes towards the African beneficiaries of the MVs follow naturally from the ideas that inspire the MVs – that the poor are helpless victims and it is up to foreigners with superior expertise and funds to rescue them. Condescension towards Africans is both offensive AND a sign of a counterproductive approach to development.

Try looking at the poor Rwandans living in the MV not as anonymous and interchangeable exhibits for a “poverty trap,” but as individuals who possess rights and human dignity just like us. Then we maybe we will understand that the most impressive, knowledgeable, and motivated soldiers in the war on poverty are usually poor individuals themselves.

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  1. Justin Ross wrote:

    This reminds me of the EconTalk where Mike Munger worried that people implicitly think of third world countries as “people zoos” that served as the basis of their support for Fair Trade Agreements.

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  2. Adam Hooper wrote:

    I’ll play devil’s advocate here:

    – Let’s assume tourism is meant to educate people about poverty in developing nations;

    – From this, we should assume that the intended audiences are unaware of what poverty is like;

    – We can then further assume that these tourists want to know how they should act around poor people;

    – Therefore, the pamphlets should target the most urgent “stupid mistakes” ignorant white people are wont to make.

    If you were in a bus with a white tourist unacquainted with poverty and about to visit a development project (indulge me), and you had ten minutes’ worth of their attention span before they were thrust into rural Africa, how would you tell them to behave?

    Yes, the premise is painful; but I argue that the pamphlet is logical in a tourism context.

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink
  3. Magatte’s piece was fantastic – really hit the spot. Once Sachs/Geldof/Bono et al start investing in some companies here, run them/sit on the board, start playing concerts across Africa (well, maybe not Sachs), then I’ll listen to them again.

    Several years ago, I came across an ‘exposure tour’ organised by an international microfinance NGO to East Africa. They charged several thousand dollars for it so that interested people could go and visit poor entrepreneurs in their ‘projects’. I had a fairly good idea of the prices in that region, so emailed them asking for an explanation why they had this MASSIVE mark up. Of course I never got a reply. But a bit later, I also couldn’t find the ‘exposure tour’ on their website anymore. Now if I could only remember their name ….

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  4. SS wrote:


    Why won’t the World Bank or donor aid programs sponsor informational radio in developing world where issues like health, business regs, agricultural info and basic education could be disseminated. More fun having a few aid workers parade around reaching a few hundred poorly when informational radio could reach millions? A patronizing attitude or a project meant to fail, take your pick.


    Posted June 22, 2009 at 10:51 am | Permalink
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    Adam, the general idea of ‘poverty tourism’ sits uneasily with me – people paying money to go look at some poor, find out (surprise surprise) that they are normal people who guy about their lives and work and look after their family and have a sense of humour (‘just like us’). And then leave again. ‘Awareness raising’ is all good, but once your awareness is raised – what next? Donate money to a charity? Set up a foundation? Perpetuate the whole idea of Africa as a charity case?

    ‘Poverty’ and ‘development’ are incredibly complex, so I’m always amazed at people having all sorts of definite opinions on it after some awareness raising. Nobody would tell a Mercedes engineer how to improve their cars after touring the factory.

    Plus – if there are hungry or thirsty people, why on earth not give them your bottle of water??

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 10:56 am | Permalink
  6. Ah, clicked ‘post’ too quickly – anonymous above was me.

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink
  7. Hamish Banks wrote:

    When I picked up the brochure in a Kigali hotel, my immediate association was with a zoo – and then, more uncharitably, having read the pricing options, that it was a kind of Poverty Disneyland. If nothing else, this was a poor choice of words.

    Josh Ruxin (who does wonderful work for us on NTDs) has argued recently in favor of the MDV and one can make a case for creating a showcase for what is possible. It would be hard, also, to argue against the intentions of the Millenium Development Goals, and there is some merit in how many of them have been addressed n the MDV.

    But…two questions: first, is this remotely possible to scale up in a meaningful sense; and secondly, what of the other villagers of Bugesera just a few miles away? Is it possible for them to leave their villages to join the MDV? I believe not. In which case, the MDV is some way from offering a realistic solution.

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  8. This is typical of the “poverty porn” that is perpetuated by well-meaning individuals and organizations that disregard the dignity of people.

    por·nog·ra·phy(n): the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  9. Adam Hooper wrote:

    Andrea: agreed about poverty tourism. My form of devil’s advocacy is defense of the website and pamphlet, not defense of the premise.

    I definitely agree wholeheartedly with Easterly’s closing paragraphs on this post, which relate to the entire issue of poverty tourism; but I hope we can all avoid falling into our own trap of emotionally gasping at pamphlets which are directed at people who are absolutely, certainly not us. (I’m imagining the sickening African tourism hot-spots I’ve seen, where children skip school to crowd around ignorant white people for the now-expected lollipops and pens.) Food for thought: would a tourism company without this pamphlet be less responsible to its village? (While, ironically enough, maybe attracting less criticism?)

    In my opinion, the pamphlet paints a patronizing picture and the whole poverty tourism concept paints another; but the validity of each should be a separate debate. I feel completely sane arguing the merits of the pamphlet while questioning the business plan.

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  10. Poverty Disneyland … snigger.

    I don’t think there’s much difference between the integrated rural development approaches of the 70s (later abandoned) and the MDVs. I would like to see the real costs behind each MDV (including all the consultant fees, per diems, travel costs etc) and yes, I doubt any of this is really scale-able.

    But it sure sounds nice, doesn’t it?

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  11. I think there is poverty porn, and I think there are legitimate ways to bring “rich” and “poor” together.

    I’m an admirer of this blog, and my copy of The White Man’s Burden is currently 15 inches from my left eye (and noticeably creased). This point hits close to home, because I bring people from a wealthy country to a poor country (using the terms loosely). What I do looks very different than what was described above, but I can’t deny similarities.

    I see the complexity of poverty, and I see the simplicity of things like self deception and fear that lie behind most arrogance. I’m not a fan of NGO’s in general, or a promoter of organized efforts to save the world. My hope is to be a searcher and to help mobilize searchers for the sake of solving simple problems and encouraging business among people as equals. I have no desire to send people back home with another experience in their belt. That kind of BS is prevalent everywhere, and it’s the very opposite of what I’m after.

    I say this hits close to home, but I welcome that. I don’t want to ever treat my friends with anything less than dignity as equals. If anyone shines a light on me that reveals otherwise I accept it and hope to learn from it.

    Finally, just to echo a valid point, common sense says to remind clueless people, Leave your Ipod at home or at least in your bag, along with your digital camera. And don’t start passing out candy to every “poor kid” you meet as if you’re the Jesus of gum. And most people ARE clueless at the start, and probably remain that way for a long time.

    Now I bet Mr. Easterly could entertain us with stories of when he was clueless. In fact, I’d like to hear some of those stories.

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm | Permalink
  12. Wafa wrote:

    “Please don’t eat in public?” You know, if some of the villagers were able to set up food stalls & sell food, this might not be such an issue…

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  13. Angela Salva wrote:

    Without defending this particular brochure, I would argue that raising awareness is a feat in itself, considering the total lack of meaningful news and information available to the general public. Millions of people are blissfully unaware of the extent of poverty and other man made catastrophes. If Brangelina inspires them to want to “make a difference”, that’s definitely a step up from an entirely individualistic entertainment-obsessed lifestyle.

    The question then becomes, what types of outreach efforts exist to further educate a well-meaning, newly-informed group of people eager who don’t necessarily understand why their efforts might be viewed derisively? What is being done to help shape a new movement of “change” and volunteerism?

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  14. geckonomist wrote:

    70% of profits benefit the locals…

    That assumes there are any profits in the first place.

    In a neighbouring country one coffee trader markets his coffee that way: 50% of profits are reinvested in the farmer groups.

    Taking into account that his coffee is first roasted and packed in Ireland and then returned to the country of origin, and that making money from coffee trading is damn hard anyway,

    the prospect of any reinvestment may remain remote.

    Nobody checks it anyway.

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  15. geckonomist wrote:

    That Magatte Wade article is excellent!

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  16. The levels to which the Starving African Child had been turned into a commercially viable brand didn’t shock me until a Japanese firm shot a porno film in Kenya to support charity.

    But that aside, the Millennium Village in Sauri, Kenya is not even as much an attraction as the Kibera slum.

    Taking pride of place as the second largest slum in Africa, Kibera slum is a ‘must see’ destination even in a city (Nairobi) with a game park and other ‘0ut of Africa’ attractions.

    0ne company, Victoria Safaris (for the ultimate African Adventure), sells what it calls a ‘Pro Poor’ package as:

    “… a four hour excursion tour of Kibera slums. This tour is recommended for a business traveler(s), church missionary, a journalist(s), and a business executive who would like to have a quick feel of slum life in Kenya. Or it can be done before or after a normal safari as part of a City Tour. This excursion is famous for those who would like to visit Kibera slums as first visitors and it is preferred for both the foreigners and the Kenyan populace who have never visited the Kibera Slums or those who will want a repeat of the Kibera Slums”

    As you enter this guided tour and experience the thrill of ogling at the hapless poor, you will

    “Proceed to the other homesteads including those of the tour guides and security team members and witness their life styles in the slums. Pass by a popular pub within the slum for a drink, if you so wish, and pass over the bridge unto the Railway line. You may be lucky to witness the train pass on the railway line amidst the tin roofed houses with human beings and animals (goats, dogs, chickens crossing the railway line at the same time). Cross the railway line into the Centre housing the sick and share your moment with these deserving mothers and children of the slum.”

    But even the best safaris must come to an end. The only difference with Victoria Safaris, guided safari through Kibera is that you end it

    “with your decision as to where you will donate the profits of your tour. Our tour manager and tour guide will then hand over to you the profits for you to donate to a deserving project/activity of your choice.”

    And your conscience purged you,

    “Return to the City Centre or your hotel ready for lunch before your formal departure to the next destination.

    End of services.”

    And in case you cannot have enough of a good time…

    “(This Tour can be tailor made and extended as per the requirement of the client)”

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  17. Anonymous wrote:

    Reminds me a lot of the “Refugee Run” at this year Davos, which you wrote about earlier this year.

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  18. Josh Ruxin wrote:


    You’ve got this piece wrong, mainly because your most critical comments are built on Wade’s utterly misguided, misinformed, and malicious comments. The country director, Donald Ndahiro, will respond to Wade but for those who don’t click through, allow me to correct the key misconception here. The Millennium Village tour is not affiliated with Sachs or the project. It’s a true public/private sector partnership between EOS and a cooperative which the community formed to cultivate tourism. Mistakes in brochure language and their pejorative interpretation is something EOS and the community can no doubt respond to -but I can assure you that what you’ve quoted does not accurately represent what happens on the tour in the least. The community formed the cooperative because it wanted to control the visitors’ experience and set ground rules. Public eating is considered in poor taste throughout Rwanda. The community is incredibly proud of its achievements – -there was a famine there back late in 2005/early 2006 in addition to no functional health facility, no bednets, crumbling educational infrastructure, and no economy to speak of. Today it’s a vibrant place making enormous economic progress. I’m happy to discuss in greater detail.

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Permalink
  19. Njoroge, is that for real?? I realised that doing Kibera is kinda de rigueur now for celebs and eminent personalities (wonder why Angelina hasn’t done that yet – or not enough refugees?), but I didn’t know that it’s becoming part of the Safari circuit.

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
  20. Dear William,

    While it is generally a pleasure to get to know you, the circumstances are rather sad. I thank you, nevertheless, for inviting me personally to respond to your blog. I’m the Director of the Eos Visions network that got under fire here and – and I’m happy to admit it – the author of the brochure that you and several of your commentators criticize to a point that verges on insult.

    I read Ms. Wade’s article closely (and will post a response there as well). As a fellow entrepreneur, I can certainly understand her personal problem with the way she was apparently approached by an MVP representative. In fact, our tourism project is doing exactly the opposite – responding to a market demand as I will explain below and just as she does business herself. On top of that – especially as the part-time academic that I also am – I can also understand her general feelings about the MVP approach as a whole (I’ll get back to this point later because it is also relevant to your own blog). I also have my doubts about the general sustainability, even though “having doubts” does not necessarily mean “being ready to judge”. Where Ms. Wade goes totally wrong, however, is the jumping to conclusions when it comes to our tourism project and the related brochure. Josh Ruxin has already pointed out in his response above that Ms. Wade was totally misguided and misinformed, and used her personal grudge against the MVP to maliciously attack our tourism project and, thereby, our work as a whole.

    And, unfortunately, I believe that your blog has taken this even further. Have you ever thought about the reasons why our brochure might display the rules that it displays? Have you ever even tried to understand what the entire tourism project is all about? Well, my first reaction to your blog was total disbelief and rising anger. By now I’m actually grateful for this opportunity to explain our concepts (and the results!) to an audience that – as several of the commentators have pointed out – is certainly not the audience we intended for the brochure. And I can already say at this point: I’d like to officially invite you (and everybody else who was happily throwing criticism around without ever having been on the tour or having talked to those involved) to join one of our tours in the future. You’d be surprised! We even talk about general MVP critics like yourself and their arguments on our tour…

    But please allow me to provide a bit more information, adding on what Josh has already written above. When I first visited Mayange, the site of Rwanda’s Millennium Village, in 2006, it was a totally desperate area. Among the many obvious problems, one stood out for me, the young social entrepreneur: There was not a single shop to be seen anywhere in the entire area. I was not able to buy anything. The mentality of the community members was entirely relying on hand-outs. My Rwandan (!) partners were equally astonished, and we vowed that we would try to play our role as a private sector company to contribute to a mentality change and allow the community members to help themselves. I then got to know Josh who invited our Rwandan team to get involved and to work with the community members so that they could essentially shape an experience that was, after all, in growing demand. Why? Well, a lot of people (both supporters and critics alike) wanted to learn more about the MVP and its concepts – if only to understand if they really make sense or not. This demand came to Josh and his team, and they basically took a variety of people to the Village, without any real structure and without any coherent way of allowing the community members to participate, to shape the visit and (!) to benefit from it! It was rather clear from the outset that our company as such did not seek any material benefits out of this work – but we were more than happy to become involved because we are a social enterprise and because similar projects are part and parcel of our daily (social) activities. Hence, there was a market (people interested in learning about the MVP approach) and there was a community that was in strong need of an experienced partner in order to help them structure the visits and benefit from them.

    Over the course of various months, our Rwandan team facilitated a process of founding a tourism cooperative that now has over 200 members and is entirely managed and run by the community members themselves. We signed MOUs with the cooperative and with the local authorities who vowed to provide their support. We worked with the cooperative members, trained them on a variety of issues (general introductions, presentation skills, guiding skills, language skills, hospitality and customer care, hygiene, environmental management and so on) and also asked them to discuss in participatory ways what we should pass on to the visitors in terms of do’s and don’ts. Well, the rules that Ms. Wade, you and some of your commentators are finding so appalling are actually a result of this. The community members found it important to discourage any kind of hand-outs because they knew that they would only encourage more begging and would never achieve the desired mentality change towards more entrepreneurship. They found it equally important to hint to the general cultural issue that it is contrary to local traditions everywhere in Rwanda (and specifically in this region because of the recurrent incidences of malnutrition) to eat or drink in public. You will certainly agree that we – and our clients – should respect the local culture and especially the express wishes of the community. You will hopefully admit that claiming that we do not look at Rwandans living in the MV as “individuals who possess rights and human dignity” BECAUSE of these rules, is outrageous. It would certainly have been better to inform yourself before attacking us and our reputation…

    And since you and, even stronger, one of the commentators mentioned that the results are merely good intentions (our “self-proclaimed” 70% profit sharing etc), I’m happy to share the full statistics with you and to show that our little contribution has been well documented and is actually rather significant – contrary to what especially the commentator seems to believe. Over the first 18 months of the project, there were 488 visitors taking a tour of the MV, organized, run and guided by the community members (!!!), with our own guide facilitating the visit and providing additional introductions and information. The experience did expressly NOT include “viewing” the life of the villagers or anything related to poverty or the like. Visitors don’t enter homes, and there are absolutely no “voyeuristic” elements involved anywhere. On the contrary, community members take the visitors to various interventions sites where they explain MVP interventions through their own eyes, how the situation used to be before the MVP arrived, what the MVP taught them and how the situation has changed since them. The “tourism product” (if you allow me to use this term) therefore becomes the set of interventions through the local eyes – nothing else, not “poverty porn”, no “zoo” and so on. Back to the figures: The 488 visitors paid an average of just below USD 67, a total of USD 33,085. Roughly USD 17,540 were spent on various costs related to the tour, so that a profit remained of roughly USD 15,545. Of this, the community received no less than USD 12,328 or 79.3% (i.e. even more than our promised 70%). I don’t know what you think about this, but I believe that over USD 12,000 in 18 months earned through entrepreneurial ventures by a local community that previously did not even have a shop to sell anything is a huge success!! On top of this comes another significant amount for the sale of handicrafts and food items. How was the money disseminated? Well, again we merely facilitated the decision making of the community. They decided that those villagers who are actively involved in presenting and guiding some of the interventions should receive individual remuneration for their service. Groups involved in the activities are paid as groups. Additionally, the community has installed funds for education, health care and general community development (the latter being used e.g. for the construction of homes for the most vulnerable members of the community). Everything is completely accounted for and I could give you exact figures broken down into all these various dissemination mechanisms. Equally importantly, we can see a huge amount of positive immaterial impacts. These include, among many others, the desired mentality change towards more entrepreneurship, stronger local ownership of the entire MVP approach, cultural benefits through a revitalization of arts, crafts, dance and music, and even reconciliation and peace building on a small level.

    I truly hope, William, that you are now able to acknowledge that you based your judgment on false conceptions and missing information about our work. You will have noted that I did not attempt to protect or justify the MVP as a whole. As mentioned in the beginning, we have as many doubts as you have. But we still believe that the concept deserves a chance and that it has to prove itself right or wrong. The tourism project has nothing to do with Jeffrey Sachs and his team – they merely invited us to work with the MV community and provided some support (we especially worked with their own community mobilizers). Beyond this, the MVP concepts are not important to us and we ensure that the visitors receive an unbiased view that even talks about criticism from the likes of you. The tour is truly educational and informative – and it provides wonderful opportunities for the local community. I do hope that also the very critical commentators will have found a different perspective on what they call “poverty tourism” or even “poverty porn”. Our project is anything but an excursion to the zoo. And calling us “condescending” is a real insult if you really understand our concepts and philosophies.

    Let me finish once again by inviting you to visit the project with us. Who knows, you might even learn something yourself about the MVP approach. Apart from that, I strongly encourage you to keep in touch and to do more research on tourism related to development. I may add that I gained my PhD looking at the question how we can “maximize the poverty-reducing impacts of tourism in Rwanda”. Much of our current work under the Eos Visions umbrella relates to this. I’d be more than happy to interact more frequently with you on related matters. I also plan to publish our experiences and related statistics in the future in academic journals.

    Kind regards,


    Posted June 22, 2009 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
  21. Anonymous wrote:

    What’s extremely interesting in this whole debate is that the people associated with the project have gone on the defensive, explained this is an opportunity to “explain their concepts to a new audience” (of donors?).

    What about stepping back and taking a moment to say “thanks for sharing your perspective” and treating this as an opportunity to learn and listen, rather than talk?

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Permalink
  22. Andrea,

    When [Insert sports goods firm] is looking for East African athletes to push their brand, it is a tough contest between Kenya and Ethiopia. But Ethiopia wins.

    And when Angelina Jolie comes calling… Ethiopia wins again!

    Not even Sachs playing tour guide and an MTV documentary can earn us a celebrity adoption. And from the look of things, with Madonna too focused on the Malawian tree to see the African forest, there is no one to ‘save’ Kenyan children.

    As for Kibera Safaris, but why, they are just a google search away. And what do you know… some, like Helping Hand Tours, come with testimonials:

    “Lions, Cheetas and Elephants are cool, but something that I will never forget about my stay in Kenya is my weekend in Kibera, the largest slum in sub-saharan Africa! Helping hands organized this weekend and a tour through this slum. I knew the stories about this place, but after being here, I’ll never forget anymore how much these people need help. on the other hand I experienced how happy these people can be with little… something we probably have forgotten in Europe.”

    Posted June 22, 2009 at 9:20 pm | Permalink
  23. Filip wrote:

    I’m fine with all of this, but I just hope you don’t intend to imply that poverty traps do not exist. I personally think they do exist, but I would be happy to hear you argue against them if you think you should.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:12 am | Permalink
  24. Poverty in Africa is an industry, and not a shabby one: Aid agencies have jobs, portfolios, influence to worry about, as have NGOs. Consulting firms and individual consultants have good money to make. There is a whole secondary group of business riding on the poverty eradicators: Hotels, taxi firms, restaurants, real estate agencies, prostitutes. And travel/tour agencies, too.

    I can’t yet quite put my finger on it, but there’s something off about this still – the artificiality of the MV, and the village residents earning an income from tour-guiding through their poverty …

    Michael, is there an accompanying programme to show the African middle class family, the African arty family, the African rich family, the African industrialist family, the African lawyer family, the African political family, etc?

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  25. Andrea,

    I agree with your assessment of the aid industry. When you threaten someone’s income they become incredibly defensive and entrenched in the status quo.

    The accompanying program that you pondered does exist in Africa. However it is not prefabricated like a Disney theme park. The African middle class family, the African arty family, the African rich family, the African industrialist family, the African lawyer family, and the African political family can be witnessed if people would take the time to build personal sustainable relationships with Africans. Everyone wants to make a difference in this world but unfortunately most people do not want to invest the time that it takes to get to know people at the grassroots level.

    My travels in Africa have enlightened me to all the segments of African society that you have mentioned. My most recent trips have exposed me to a thriving creative arts community. Here’s the website for my friend, Ugandan artist Fred Mutebi:

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink
  26. Stephen Jones wrote:

    How is a tourist guide explaining the millenium village goals any different from one showing you the traditional dancing girls, or taking you to a Bangkok bar?

    As the guy behind the idea explained it is market driven. People don’t go on holiday to see things. They go on holiday to get something to talk about at dinner parties back home, or to twit to their friends about, or chat and send photos via Facebook.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  27. Stephen Jones wrote:

    I’ve just read Magatte Wade’s article.

    The part I really find interesting is when she talks about a representative of Sachs’ foundation coming to her and expecting her to help sell the Millenium Villages products. This idea of getting people to produce things without having the least idea if there’s a market for them appears to be endemic amongst aid activists. It’s an extension of ‘give the man a fish and you feed him for a day, but give him a fishing rod and …’ to “and if there aren’t enough fish get him to make fishing rods and hope somebody somewhere might be vaguely interested in buying one.”

    Now the only way you can be sure you’ll sell something is if there is a market near you, or alternatively somebody comes along and promises to buy the whole supply. Where I live in Sri Lanka there is a flourishing trade in clay pots, not for tourists or craft shops but for use, either as cooking utensils or for holding water to irrigate coconut trees (you bury them full of water next to the tree). There’s no market for wicker baskets because plastic ones are better and cheaper, and no market for making clothes (except by contract for garment factories supplying multinationals) because it’s actually cheaper to buy one ready made.

    And where there is a market, such as for fair trade coffee, then everything gets spoiled because they neglect the product. All I need to know to buy fair trade coffee is that it tastes as good as what I can buy from my speciality coffee shop. It doesn’t.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  28. Jeff Barnes wrote:

    Fascinating exchange of posts. I have refrained from commenting because I have been in too many situations as a field development worker with US based donors or support staff that felt like development tourism to me. As Bill says there is an implicit (and sometimes explicit) condescension when you decide to “save” someone. I am therefore reluctant to condemn a tour– if the tour treats people with dignity and provides some benefit. Is this an exploitation of the poor? Maybe. But I have heard people saying investing in Africa for the cheap labor is also exploitation. Or interviewing poor Africans to get data for yet another Phd thesis….etc. Or using pictures of skinny naken children to fundraise for your favorite cause. I think we all need to be careful about misusing our undue power as wealthy foreigners when working in Africa.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  29. Michael Kirkpatrick, my question was actually for Michael Grosspietsch, but thanks for your reply regardless! I work as an analyst in Nairobi, so I get the full programme. Thanks for the Mutebi website – his work looks interesting.

    Stephen, so true!

    In terms of poverty tourism, there’s also the huge travel industry of the fly-in-fly-out consultant, touching down to do another stock-taking, evaluation, report. It’s inevitably a ‘mission’ to the ‘field’.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  30. Some thoughts:

    – In the case of Rwanda, which is pointed to here as the presumptive “best case” (perhaps not?), tourism as an industry has been targeted at the highest levels – its seen as a big part of Rwanda’s future. Great recent Fast Company article:

    Thus MVs are bit players (hopefully) in a competitive tourism sector.

    – The problem that I have with this kind of tourism is related to the problem I have with many development endeavors: the central actors have no vested stake in the outcomes. In other words, the quality of outcomes doesn’t drive the quality of our lives. We, and our children, are not stuck with the failure. Its fundamentally unjust.

    – Because an area is desperate, does that mean any kind of blatant exploitation that provides improvements is justified? At the same time, what’s the sustainability model eg once the desperation goes away, doesn’t the appeal of development rubbernecking also diminish? What new curiosities lay in store for the ever-hungry, adventure-seeking tourist? It would be nice to see what the vision is for a Millennium Village post suffering. Most of what I read on the site is a celebration of either misery on the one hand or hallelujah MV on the other.

    – Here’s the rub: if communities involved in the MV enterprise have really (through discussion, participatory assessment, etc) identified tourism and crafts as an area where they feel they can compete, and from it improve the quality of their lives and their children’s lives, I’m not sure how much right I have to gripe.

    I am impressed by the responses of the two gentlemen representing the EOS company. What I would like to see is more thought around the basic premise of opening new tourism markets:

    Aren’t we at a stage at which the well-intentioned tourist might do better by our planet to stay home for a decade or two while we cool a bit?

    Thanks for the discussion – I look forward to reading/learning more.

    Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Permalink
  31. Rebecca wrote:

    More than a year ago, while searching for companies doing innovative work in community-based tourism development, I found Dr. Michael Grosspietsch and New Dawn Associates on the web. As someone who was uncomfortable with many of the slum or village-based excursions I’d encountered in developing countries, I wanted to know if responsible tourism was possible. Could a for-profit tour operator, driven by demand, successfully partner with a community to ensure self-determined cultural representation, dignified cross-cultural interaction, and a sustainable source of income distributed in a way that was deemed fair? Or, like Lars wonders, should we all just stay at home? I moved to Rwanda in August 2008 to work for NDA and try to answer this question.

    After ten months with the company and many MV tours, I do believe that it is possible, and I’ve learned a lot from NDA about industry best practices. NDA/Eos makes every effort to empower its partners and educate its clients, and the rules that have been so harshly criticized actually go a long way towards helping both parties avoid situations that could be viewed as de-humanizing. While it may be cringe-inducing to see NDA’s guidelines on paper, it is decidedly more painful to watch a group of fifteen children fighting over a tourist’s empty water bottle in person, an event I witnessed elsewhere in Rwanda just a few weeks ago.

    Does that particular event mean the world’s predominant strategies for poverty reduction are ineffective? Maybe. Is it possible that a trip to the Millennium Village might not be the most ridiculous way to try to find out?

    We welcome your feedback, suggestions and, if possible, participation. With your constructive criticism, we can always improve our projects.

    Posted June 24, 2009 at 4:34 am | Permalink
  32. Maria wrote:

    – Here’s the rub: if communities involved in the MV enterprise have really (through discussion, participatory assessment, etc) identified tourism and crafts as an area where they feel they can compete, and from it improve the quality of their lives and their children’s lives, I’m not sure how much right I have to gripe

    I agree with you

    Posted June 25, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  33. Maria wrote:

    I have never understood why people who barely know about poverty, apart from their studies, development work, or some short experience in the “Poor Africa” can take their time to criticize people like Sachs who is behind this most successful development project. Before exposing your brilliants ideas and fighting around, I would ask you to be more constructive, and suggest what the best ways of fighting poverty are than spending your time looking at what is going wrong in somebody’s initiative.

    Posted June 25, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  34. Ray Pereda wrote:

    The root of the problem is an out of control population size.

    Malnutrition and starvation are natural birth controls.

    Condoms are a more gentle form of birth control.

    Of the two choices, the Pope prefers malnutrition and starvation.

    Posted June 26, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
  35. I have followed this debate due to the fact that am an African who has witnessed poverty unfortunately most people don’t know that criticising the situation doesn’t help.

    it is often said knowledge is power and thats what people need education like the saying goes teach a man how to fish don’t just give him the fish.

    Posted June 29, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink
  36. Rasna Warah wrote:

    The Victoria Safaris Tour and other condescending and totally misguided (pun intended) tours and activities are elaborated in Missionaries, Mercenaries and Misfits, an anthology I edited. For those interested, available on Amazon. The book critiques the way “development” is practised in East Africa, with essays by some of East Africa’s leading voices. Jeffrey Sachs’s Sauri Village also featured.

    Posted July 10, 2009 at 3:23 am | Permalink
  37. Peter Ongera wrote:

    …Poverty in Africa is big business and profession for many.

    Posted August 18, 2009 at 3:57 am | Permalink
  38. joe wrote:

    I find it very interesting that Dr. Easterly has not (apparently) posted any reply to the comments posted by the CEO of the tour company here: He appears to have just jumped to conclusions from virtually no research at all. I’m embarrassed for you Bill.

    The tour appears to have been a market-driven enterprise involving a public-private partnership that has delivered significant profit to the community. Am I missing something or is this not a good enterprise? I’ve been to lots of African villages and lived in one for 3 years. I highly doubt the residents of the village in question would find offensive the fact that gawking tourists need some guidance on their behavior. The CIA routinely advises Americans on their behavior when they travel in foreign countries; it often sounds funny but offensive? Why is it that so many Americans and others in the West are so sensitive about being advised how to behave in a cross-cultural situation? Trust me, the villagers are not and probably would get a good laugh from all this hand-wringing.

    Until anyone posting here actually goes on this tour, I should think they ought to reserve any harsh judgments – unless, of course, they have an axe to grind. But that surely says more about their “axe” than about this tour.

    As for Ms. Wade’s article, boy did she miss an opportunity or what? What kind of entrepreneur would pass on adding the Columbia University brand to her arsenal? A little too proud their Magatte. You should have co-opted that brand to better effect than a highly redundant and, dare I say useless attack on the aid industry (which I would agree deserves one – but from entrepreneurs who should be spending their time trying to sell, sell, sell???).

    Posted August 25, 2009 at 8:43 pm | Permalink
  39. Bill Easterly wrote:

    Joe, I am puzzled at your comment. If you will look at the blog, the comment by the tourism operator was posted as a blog entry in itself, and then my response was posted. Please read the blog carefully yourself before jumping to conclusions! Best, Bill

    Posted August 26, 2009 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  40. Mercy M wrote:

    I am Kenyan (African) and i work in Kibera. The views i will express are those of an African, and those of a person who works in a slum. The use of YOU in my post generally refers to the critics.

    I am a film maker and a while back, i travelled to Gulu, a town in N. Uganda to do a music video for an alternative rock band from the US in support of Invisible Children. One of the things that we were advised against, while working in the refugee camps, was eating in full view of the children, who would always crowd around the filming vans. I do not think that one needs to be a rocket scientist to figure out why. You must be the most unfeeling, selfish human being on earth, if you would even find the heart to walk around munching your apple while 20+ kids with extended bellies and flies all over their little faces stare at you. Now, I cannot afford to feed all of them. How can you even bring yourself to do it? But maybe, we do have people in this world who are that callous, hence the warning. When you go to holiday destination like Lamu, an predominantly Islamic, and oh-so beautiful island off the Kenyan cost, esp during Ramadan, you are advised to, esp for women, wear long trousers or shorts that go up to your knees, wear a top over your bikini tops while walking around the town…why, because there are customs to be observed and followed. Because it is offensive to not do that.

    So if anyone does not find it a bit, scratch that, a whole load uncomfortable to eat while starving kids stares at you, I have no words to describe you.

    Magatte does not live in Senegal. She only goes home a couple of times a year. She left her home when she was a child. What does she know of the realities that the people in the slums live with? She is helping farmers by buying their produce, how about those who have no farms? What would she give them as an alternative? Yes, those who live, about 1 million of them in a land the size of NY Central Park? I think the entrepreneurships ideas there do become reduced. I digress…

    There are a lot of street kids in Nairobi, the city i live in. And whenever one walks up to me asking for spare change, if I have it, I walk into a restaurant and buy him/ her food instead of giving him / her money. Why? Because they don’t spend that money on food. They spend it on drugs. I’m I being patronizing or condescending by buying them food. Is it better to just walk away? Or, is it okay since i am African?

    About the tours – the slum dwellers live in constant fear, esp here in Kenya of eviction. They pay taxes like everybody else and get no service from the same govt that collect the taxes ever-so-faithfully every month. But of course you know that already, otherwise, the slums would not be. It is rather obvious that that govt will not do anything to support them. So in comes the multinationals NGOs that are willing to pay 100s and 1000s of $ to foreign nationals to work in the local branches of their NGOs. These people go to the slums they are supposed to be working in and with once every 4 years, maybe where the new guys comes in and needs to be shown around. After that, back to their offices in the leafy parts of town. But again, you know that. So who is left to help the so called slum dwellers improve their way of life? the individuals who are tired of leaving it the NGOs and govts. BUT, they don’t have money to help so, they look for ways to raise that money. But first, as we all know, you have to create awareness about your cause to get more people to support the cause. And what better way than to invite them round to see what you are trying to achieve and what you are actually working with, and for! If taking the tourist off the touristy path to show them the other side of the coin, the side that does not have 5 star hotels with damp mint-scented hand towels, buffets and game drives, then so be it. If those are the people who are going to champion the change and stop the ignorance as to the plight of the slum dwellers, then so be it.

    It is easy to sit at your lavish flat or office or the coffee shop with free internet sipping your cappuccinos and write a long criticisms about the people who are ACTUALLY doing something to alleviate poverty, poor sanitation, lack of education etc. I believe that every time I open my mouth (or lift my pen) to give criticism, i should be prepared to give a better solution. Otherwise, I am part of the disease and not part of the cure. I am the parasite sucking off the energy of people who are working towards change, sitting on my high horse, being holier-than-thou.

    Posted September 7, 2009 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  41. Mercy M wrote:

    I cant seem to post a longer post…but will post it on my blog and link it here.

    I have spent a couple of hours reading Magatte, and i came across this :

    So how can we help Africans develop companies that produce some of the coolest products…

    …. 3. Mentor African entrepreneurs, inventors, and designers so that they can produce such goods and create such companies.

    4. Support high-end creative and entrepreneurial education programs so that the next generation of Africans can compete globally.

    Point no. 3 , i dont get why she is so incensed about the professors working in the MV’s! She literally asks for it too?

    Posted September 7, 2009 at 12:00 pm | Permalink
  • About Aid Watch

    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

    "Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking." - H.L. Mencken

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