Monday, September 05, 2005

Niger, "famine" and the media

Niger's ongoing difficulties with malnutrition, so prevalent in the broadsheets just a couple of weeks ago, are no longer getting anything like the same level of news coverage. Things came to something of a head when then President, Mamadou Tandja, launched a startling attack on the manner in which it was being reported, and in particular on the use and imagery of the term "famine". Tandja's insistence that things were not as bad, and certainly not as simple, as they were being portrayed elicited many indignant responses, such as this one from the Independent.

However, as this interesting BBC article, provocatively entitled "Can aid do more harm than good" argues, as other news pushed Niger from the front pages, some aid and development experts are suggesting that Tandja may have had a point. The article, well worth a read, raises the prospect that dramatic aid appeals can actually be counter-productive, focusing attention away from chronic, long term structural problems in favour of short term solutions; not to mention the sometimes perverse incentives for aid agencies to simplify and exaggerate situations for their own ends.

Again, this is not to cast aspersions on the worthiness of the goals that aid agencies pursue; it does, however, as I have suggested before, provide us with another reason not to accept the image of aid and development that we are so accustomed to, and comfortable with, without a good deal more critical inquiry.

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