Am I a “Do Gooder”? Assessing my “East Africa” Footprint

The VOA has a worthwhile five part series on increasing Western investment in Africa–start here.

A friend of mine recently suggested that I had become something of a “do gooder” while she had become more of a believer in free markets from a background more on the left politically.  Got me thinking about the totality of my interactions with East Africa.  I invest retirement savings in a U.S. traded fund of the stocks of companies with predominantly African business and the stocks of a few individual African companies and companies with significant African business.  Some of my retirement money is invested, outside of my desire or control, in the companies that market cigarettes in East Africa.  My wife and I make some private efforts to help with needs associated with a non-profit program serving underprivileged children in Nairobi, and helped raise some additional money for this through our church, where we also support the regular “mainstream” mission work.  We give a little bit of money to one of the big humanitarian relief organizations where I had some personal contact and a little bit of money to “The One Acre Fund“.  I pay my taxes toward the salary and benefits of the full spectrum of U.S. government employees and contractors living in Kenya from the Ambassador on down and all the infrastructure supporting them.  As a lawyer, my “day job” which I don’t write about here, is a matter of public record:  I work in a part of the “defense industry” in which we make the majority of the ships typically used to make up the U.S. Navy’s anti-piracy task force off the Horn of Africa.

When I lived in Kenya I tried to take advantage of the time I had to be among Kenyans rather than spending too much time among the expats, but my family and I did participate in a fair bit of tourism and patronized the usual Nairobi businesses that I have learned are to a substantial extent owned by people who got them through misuse of public office rather than through competition in a “free market”.  I do like the concept of free markets and will hope for more of them in Kenya in the future.

And I moralize on this blog, which is free.

So, on balance, I don’t think I make bona-fide “do gooder” status.   I will say that of all the problems and challenges at large in the world, the unintended consequences of the actions of “do gooders” don’t make it very high on my list at present.  I am all for skepticism and evaluation of effectiveness in aid programs, for instance, but I think ulterior or conflicting interests, and your basic greed and venality are much bigger problems than the negatives associated with well-intentioned but misguided or otherwise unsuccessful attempts to help people.  (Note that I don’t take responsibility for Government to Government assistance in my category of things that “do gooders” may be accountable for.)

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