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It had started off simple enough.

Two weeks ago, still relatively new in my position as a Northeast Regional Coordinator with AIDemocracy, I spent a few hours trawling through Social Edge and twitter. With an eye on global development and security, my goal was to discover what was being done already in the non-profit world, who was doing it best and who among these folk were the most open to collaboration.

I made a number of new friends: the people at Acumen Fund, Water Charity (not to be confused with charity:water), Be Unreasonable, Sangam India, CORD and Open Society Institute were fantastic right off the bat– They were engaging, interested and human. It was like a Utopian first day at school.

In the context of my new job and projects I had in mind, I needed to know what was being done in terms of technology support for non-profit outreach and education services. One name that came up regularly was Ken Banks, founder of

I had heard of Kiwanja in passing before, but didn’t know much about it’s main project FrontlineSMS, otherwise known as \o/ (Which, btw, is a design based on this fantastic visual here).

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Before this Saturday, I had no idea who Ken Banks is as a person, and was as wary as a product of post-post-colonialism can be of anybody who does “non-profit work” in “Africa”. I was afraid I might run into yet another individual who’s working to “save Africa” just because that’s what Bono, the UN and everyone else is talking about right now.

[And if this is something that bothers you, Aid Watch has a great post on the issue here.]

I sent an email to Ken, one of those self-introduction/basic outline of project/can we chat sometime emails. You must remember that I moonlight as a writer: after all my experiences writing lit mag queries, I was prepared to face rejection or silence.

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It was last December, in a cozy Ann Arbor bookstore, that I first came across the book “The Shadow of the Sun.” I had finished all the previous books on my list (even succumbing to the chick-lit turned spiritual journey chronicle, “Eat Pray Love”) and decided to pick this one up and read it.

I was floored by its depth and detail. Written by famed Polish journalist, Ryzard Kapuscinski, “The Shadow of the Sun” outlines the tumultuous growing pains of the African continent in wrenching itself from the jaws of colonialism. In the mid-late 20th century, African leaders from Senegal to Ethiopia, from Eritrea to Mauritania, and Sudan to South Africa forged independent states through  armed uprisings and bloody coups. The tragedy being that many of these liberation struggles did not result in emancipation from greed, exploitation, and poverty. Instead, colonial leaders were merely supplanted by corrupt natives.

What I found most fascinating about this book was the author’s descriptions of the sometidead_aidmes detrimental role played by foreign aid. Wars were waged over grains of rice and packets of dry milk. Hungry adolescents were easily convinced by powerful warlords to snatch aid away from the neediest to fuel their armies.

Apparently, not too much has changed.  This very debate about the efficacy of aid has recently been raging through foreign policy blogs, online newspapers, and even talk shows. The ignitor of this debate is Zambian businesswoman, Dambisa Moyo, who argues in her new book,”Dead Aid,” that foreign aid has plunged Africa into a state of permanent dependency and painful inefficiency. Moyo’s primary arguement – over the past 60 years, a whopping 1 trillion dollars have graced the continent in the form of aid, ultimately, to amount to nothing.

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