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J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
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logical advances are only really good when they help sat-
isfy these basic needs and create jobs. Nothing works if
you are unemployed and constantly hungry.
One factor that has always existed on the continent and
continues to grow is spirituality. Harnessing that deep
reservoir and directing it toward achieving good works
would be a great boon to development. Unfortunately,
much of this spiritual activity is misdirected. There are still
places where more money is paid to witch doctors than on
the education of children. The same can also be said of the
amount of money spent on ostentatious funerals and on al-
coholic beverages. In some areas, excessive alcohol con-
sumption and the use of traditional narcotic plants (e.g., qat
in Somalia) have created dysfunctional societies.
To remind myself of just how complex and fragile
human societies are, I also keep in my office a 1958 novel,
Things Fall Apart
, by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe.
And next to my computer, I’ve posted the 1919 poem, “The
Second Coming,” by W.B. Yeats, fromwhich Achebe drew
his title phrase.
Development is, after all, about muchmore thanmoney.
If a country needs loads of external aid to develop, it prob-
ably can never do so. A closer examination is needed of
those key things that keep people poor, but do not require
outside funding to be fixed. In the meantime, it is likely
that the poor will always be with us and, thus, the aid
worker will always have work to do. We often overlook that
culture, values and work ethic matter a great deal, and that
you cannot re-engineer entire societies overnight.
Born in Kansas, “Made” in Africa
Still, I long for the “old” Africa, where a good harvest
filled the family granary and lasted until the next harvest
(that is rarely the case today). HIV/AIDS was unknown,
aquatic weeds had not clogged all of Africa’s waterways and
plastic bags had not yet littered the landscape. Climate
change was not a consideration, and human trafficking, the
drug trade and terrorist acts were also unknown.
I am glad that I got to know the continent when I was
able to see many things that no longer exist
like the now-
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