Of all the places in the world, Africa is the most clearly in need of help. Yet our concept of Africa is dreadfully simplistic: a dark exotic continent about which we presume a great deal and assume a certain ownership. So says Larry Krotz, Glendon graduate (Political Science and History, BA 1972) and author of a recently published book with the title The Uncertain Business of Doing Good: Outsiders in Africa (University of Manitoba Press/Michigan State University Press, 2008).
Right: l-r: Professor Michael Barutciski, host of the MPIA colloquium series with Larry Krotz
Krotz is a freelance writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker with a distinguished career. He explored this topic on February 26th as the invited speaker at the weekly colloquium series Canada and its Place in the World, which is part of the new Masters of Public and International Affairs (MPIA) program within Glendon’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA).
“My book is a reflective memoir rather than a polemic”, said Krotz, “and it is also more about us [in the Western world], than about Africa.” Krotz talked about the prejudices held by people wanting to ‘do good’, and their often limited view of possible outcomes resulting from their help.
Whether ‘doing good’ happens in response to requests for aid or offered voluntarily, the resulting relationships are always very complicated. Asking for help while maintaining one’s dignity is as difficult for an individual as for a country. On the other hand, when help is offered unbidden, the assessment of the situation on which the needs are based could be unrealistic.
“We find it hard to ignore need”, explained Krotz. “There is a moral instinct and a historical imperative at the core of what is best in us.” He pointed to different relationships between Africa and other societies, holding up China as an interesting example. The Chinese have a large presence in Africa, but unlike the Europeans, they have no colonial past, no missionizing, no moralizing, no prejudice. They are merely there to make the best deals possible for the natural resources they need so desperately.
Many Western organizations operating in African countries have rules and expectations that don’t work. For serious outsiders, such as Canadians Stephen Lewis and Romeo Dallaire, Africa is frustrating because they recognize the urgency of need for help but find our actions hesitant and unfocused. Among the many difficulties faced by several African countries, their chief agricultural products - namely cotton and coffee - are kept out of Western markets as a result of protection laws.
“We perpetrate the notion that Africa is a victim and helpless, that chaos rules there”, said Krotz. “And while there is a kernel of truth in all these assumptions, lumping an entire continent into one undistinguished mass is a common mistake. We treat Africa as a child which needs to be managed, looked after, done to.”
The MPIA’s weekly colloquium series Canada and its Place in the World has welcomed a number of high-profile speakers to date, among them US Consul General John Nay, former federal Liberal cabinet ministers David Collenette and Pierre Pettigrew, Svetlana Ageeva of the Canadian Red Cross Society, Ambassadors James Bissett and Allan Gotlieb, and former Deputy Secreterary-General of Amnesty International Vince Del Buono.
Submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny