Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tainted views of Africa

"if, as a westerner, you are going to visit Africa, the earlier in your life you
do it, the better. By the time you are in your twenties, your head is so stuffed
with preconceived opinions, mostly of the ethic ally self-flagellating variety,
you can barely see, let alone interpret, what is going on outside you."

Interesting notion about visiting Africa - more here.

When I went to South Africa this summer through my graduate school, we discussed the ethics of "disaster tourism." We were riding on the bus back to Pretoria after a daytrip to Soweto - the famous shanty town outside of Joburg. Someone living in a tin shack had organized a tour for us. Apparently, there is an informal community organization in Soweto that accommodates groups of tourists like ourselves to gawk at them in their squalid poverty. They assurred us that they wanted us to be there and they wanted us to ask questions, but you can't help but feel awkward doing so. I wish I had taken more pictures, but at the time I felt guilty. In economic terms, I was consuming their poverty. In a wierd way, being entertained/educated by it. But good comes of it. There was a brand new preschool that had apparently been built with funds from a church group who had visited from Atlanta, Georgia. The problem is that as Africans become less poor, we will be less interested in them. So in order to maintain the interest of disaster tourists, they have to stay poor. However, I don't see this as a problem. Once they are at the point that they are less interesting to us, they should have running water, solid shelters, and enough resources to hopefully lift themselves up out of poverty.

Hat tip: Tyler Cowen

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