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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 2
nearly-extinct oryx of Niger, a full Lake Chad, Mount Kili-
manjaro’s peak fully covered by snow, and so much more.
In the Africa I first knew, facial scarification and permanent
ceremonial marks could tell you much about a person.
Now that, too, is mostly all gone.
In almost every country I worked, I was christened with
a nickname. In Tanzania I was called “mwasawali mingi”—
Kiswahili for “too many questions.” In Niger, I was called
“rigide et sec” (rigid and dry), as sometimes I could not bear
the long African palaver and simply said things as I saw
them. My favorite appellation was “rainmaker” — a nick-
name I wasn’t even aware of until 2004, when someone I
hardly knew introduced me that way at a meeting in Kin-
shasa. Later I asked why, and was told that many people
across Africa call me this because everywhere I go, assis-
tance funding flows.
Recently, the minister of education in Burkina Faso re-
ferred to me as “Baobab,” an African tree that symbolizes
wisdom and knowledge. I think that is the one I will have
engraved on my tombstone.
For better or worse, my marriage to Africa is until death
do us part. Though born and raised in Kansas, I was
“made” in Africa. Yet after four decades of working for the
betterment of the continent, I ammore confused than ever
over what the United States’ interests are there. I think our
main interest is humanitarian, but the way U.S. country
missions are structured belies this priority.
Often the approach the United States has taken in Africa
reminds me of my first plane ride to the continent in 1970.
We left New York on a Pan American flight to Dakar. Dur-
ing a brief stopover there, a team of people climbed onto
the plane and pasted huge Air Afrique decals over all the
Pan Am markings. For the rest of our trip to Lome, we
were officially on an Air Afrique flight.
It will take more than development decals manufac-
tured by outsiders to achieve sustainable development in
Africa, however. True developmental transformation
comes from within; it is not something external actors can
impose. Africans need to do all they can to help themselves
first before calling for external assistance.