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Monthly Archives: August 2009

In which I don’t care about genocides that kill only .01 percent of the population

My WSJ review on Tracy Kidder’s book on the Burundian genocide survivor generated this comment from a reader (abbreviated here, the full version is posted as a comment on the blog):

Mr. Easterly,

You point out that “only” 0.01% of Africans have been killed by war and genocide… each year… for the past four decades. This is only slightly higher than the percentage of Europeans who died in the Holocaust each year between 1940 and…

Posted in Aid debates, Books and book reviews, Meta | 12 Comments

Burundi-based aid worker pushes back further on Burundi stereotype

Dear Professor Easterly,

A former colleague from Wellesley forwarded me your WSJ review of Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains.

I live in rural Burundi, and wanted to thank you for challenging the apparent depiction of this beautiful and complex nation as “a place of unrelieved poverty, violence, disease and human degradation.” Burundi is certainly very poor, and I am working with the landless Batwa, by far the poorest of the poor. But I…

Posted in Books and book reviews, Democracy and freedom, Maps | 2 Comments

In Which MSF Follows Our Fake Principles from Our Satirical Advocacy Video Guide

When we wrote a satirical guide to making advocacy videos about Africa, we didn’t expect anyone to actually make a video using some of our (fake) principles! But the people at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) UK apparently did so, with their new controversial cinema ad campaign, entitled “Boy.”*

In the new ad, the camera is locked on a single shot: a concrete, bullet-ridden hut, with the graffiti images of war, the front door left…

Posted in Badvocacy and celebs | 29 Comments

Strength in What Remains: Healing in a Post-Genocidal World

An individual overcomes unbelievable odds, in a tale so implausible that it might well be rejected if it were a mere movie script, but it is a true story. In “Strength in What Remains,” Tracy Kidder tells us about a member of the Tutsi ethnic group in Burundi named Deogratias, or Deo, who barely escapes the Hutu slaughter of Tutsis in a harrowing journey on foot out of Burundi and Rwanda in central Africa during

Posted in Academic research | 3 Comments

Guess the source of this British aid document on Country Ownership

However able their government…many countries cannot finance out of their own resources the research and survey work, the schemes of major capital enterprise… which are necessary for their development.

Assistance from United Kingdom funds should be related to what countries can do for themselves…There is a need for machinery to provide complete coordination between the efforts of these separate departmental staffs so as to ensure that development proceeds on a balanced and comprehensive plan…With the

Posted in History | 7 Comments

Giving Us Idiots More Credit than We Deserve


While not a complete idiot, I still find books in the “Complete Idiot’s Guide” series amusing and occasionally useful. So when The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Giving Back came out recently, I was curious to read the book’s recommendations.

The author outlines a process for deciding which causes to support, how much to give, and other factors to consider before giving a not-for-profit your hard-earned cash. Unfortunately, most idiots, and many other well-meaning…

Posted in Academic research | Comments Off

Links to make you Think

1. Is Nobody Safe? Foreign Policy article questions sainthood for Mohammed Yunus and Hernando de Soto.

2. Nobody is trying too hard to promote circumcision for heterosexual AIDS prevention in Africa, but we’ll do universal circumcision in the US, which doesn’t have much heterosexual AIDS

3. Right-wingers for foreign aid

4. Radical priest harshly criticizes patronizing American volunteers in Mexico — in 1969.

5. Trying to find Chris Blattman a…

Posted in In the news | 12 Comments

Institutions are the secret to development, if only we knew what they were

no-shoes-no-shirt-no-service.png Here’s an example of a simple rule. But is it as simple as it seems? A literal reading of the rule would ban a woman wearing a dress and sandals from entering the store, while it would allow either gender to wear a shirt, shoes, and nothing else. In a Northern beach town in the winter, this rule would be irrelevant. In the same beach town during the summer, if it were particularly carefree,…

Posted in Big ideas, Data and statistics | 3 Comments

How to Make an Advocacy Video about Africa, Take II

Dear Readers,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Reasonable people may argue that if Emmanuelle Chriqui sucking on a Popsicle is what it takes to make some people care that there is a country called the Democratic Republic of Congo, then, well, that’s a good thing. And if Nicole Ritchie babbling nonsense about mothers eating their babies increases attention to Darfur, that’s a good thing too. I’m not so sure.

When these videos “educate” Americans that…

Posted in Badvocacy and celebs, Cognitive biases | 11 Comments

How to Make an Advocacy Video about Africa

Photo credit

1. Assume that the people watching your video know nothing about your cause.* In fact, as far as you are concerned, their brains are completely devoid of content and unable to grasp any complexity.

2. When it comes to death, violence, and sickness, use the biggest, most impressive figures you can find, whether or not they are true. As long as the figure was once cited by someone, somewhere, you’re…

Posted in Badvocacy and celebs, Cognitive biases | 21 Comments