What not to read on a Kenyan matatu


Can I recommend that if you decide to read a book called ‘The White Man’s Burden’ you don’t sit on a Kenyan matatu (another name for minibus) with it on your lap face-up. “White Man’s Burden. What’s that about?” “Well – um,” said I, trying to hide the cover which includes the title in bold and then a picture of Africans queuing for free healthcare. “It’s about development. It’s written by this guy who was at the World Bank for years and became convinced that giving poor countries lots of development aid to implement grand ‘save the world’ plans didn’t actually make them any richer. In fact it just helped bad government stay in power while making rich donors look generous.” My smartly suited questioner is beginning to think I might not be a closet racist after all – just a big geek. “Yeah,” I blunder on, “he thinks it would be better if the money went to support lots of bottom-up less-glamorous things.” “What sort of stuff?” “I don’t know really. I guess stuff a bit like the organisation I am working for does. Like lending people in slums money so that they can earn a living selling fruit. It might not make the front-page of the newspaper, but over time it might actually change some lives.”

One Response to “What not to read on a Kenyan matatu”

  1. robertkatz Says:

    I wonder if Bill Easterly ever asked the passengers on a matatu their opinion on the aid debate…that would make for an interesting ride! (If you could hear him over the loud music) In fact, in light of the music on most matatus, I’m shocked you could read on a one, Jon!

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