American Engagement with African Countries: No Frame, No Gain

Here’s a question missing from the U.S. presidential candidate debates: Why should Americans involve their money, political capital and other resources in an African country’s challenges when there are so many problems at home demanding attention?

As Americans, we’re inundated with images of hungry African children, but what about the plight of children in this country? Our child poverty rate is at its highest level in 20 years, with nearly one in four children living in homes without enough food. Among our homeless population, there are nearly 2.5 million children. [T]he staggering rate of incarceration for African-American men […] is nearly six times the rate for white men.

The excerpt above comes not from a concerned American taxpayer but from Cassandra Herman’s upcoming documentary “Framed”, in which Kenyan activist Boniface Mwangi asks an American college classroom what attracts them to ‘save’ Africa when they have their own crises at home, whether their international do-goodery is just an exclusive hobby or career for privileged White Americans, and whether their beloved “interventions” do more harm than good. (Source: “An African’s Message for America”,

Why work on an African country’s problems instead of American problems at home? I enjoy this question every time it’s put to me by plenty of folks from American states and African countries. My answer is always the same: economics.

I don’t care about “saving Africa”, I don’t work and invest in African countries for charitable reasons, and I don’t think USAID and any major U.S. charity does either. I’ll leave it to scientists to untangle the necessary self-interest from an individual’s motives of altruism, faith or moral orientation.

I want to work with my partners in African countries to make or do something we can all get paid for.

More than that, I truly believe that all of humanity benefits when there are more people who can more freely create and exchange more things: art, ideas, goods, services, etc.

When that happens then even domestic problems of jobs, economic growth and social services become easier, not harder. Tell me what today’s telecommunications, art, medicine, renewable energy, transportation etc. would look like without the participation of China and India, South America and Asia, or an America-bound immigrant family from Syria.

And on the flipside I believe that the fewer people with less freedom to do the above (and the longer we go without it), the more humanity risks the a global catastrophic destruction of lives and property. Economic and social/political exclusion means minds and resources and bodies that *cannot help us* stay ahead of the game Nature is constantly playing against us — disease, environmental changes, food availability, etc.

That’s a much stronger imperative and a more reliable moral compass than a cultural convention to “be charitable”.

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