THE BLOG
10/24/2013 05:11 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Big Seven African Aid Species -- Capitalists and Documenters

Type 3: The Capitalist. Occasionally one still spots, skulking in the high grass, the leather-skinned Westerner in multi-pocket safari jacket. His passport, stashed billfold, hat collection and 175cc Yamaha are always handy. Still referring fondly to his time in 'Zaire', he is divorced at least twice, alcoholic, nicotine-stained, heavily in debt and so takes short-term high-paying gigs in dangerous countries, with various expenses and per diems added to his base pay.

He might be working for a Swiss media development NGO producing an educational soap opera on, ironically, personal finances. To him, the UN Mission staff he deals with daily are pencil-pushers and he has little faith in the Bangladeshi peacekeepers assigned to keep him safe. He stays in his 'hooch', eats Chinese-made Scottish shortbread cookies.

He talks only to other Westerners, though his bosses in Geneva forbid him interacting with donors. He avoids Africans, except to ask 'Juma' the situation with the eastern rebels. In the countries where he takes on assignments, there are always 'eastern rebels'. He has never asked about Juma's life or personal situation, but assumes he has six wives (and pities him for it).

When he gets to the country's capital he unashamedly holes up at expat restaurants behind high walls with broken glass on top, and remains a stool fixture until the Guinness or Heineken runs dry.

Type 4: The Documenters. Oral history is very important in Africa. Africans do not write things down. Aid workers, and not only monitoring and evaluation specialists, like to document their African experiences. They write down their thoughtful observations in longhand while being driven about in the NGO Land-Cruiser, looking up angrily only when the driver Muhammad seemingly deliberately plunges into a pothole on the unpaved road, breaking the nib off the aid worker's expensive calligraphic pen.

Program officers compose interactive video diaries, make mini-documentaries. Some of this is captured for public relations and fundraising purposes. They photograph fishermen working on their rainbow-colored boats, or mending nets. A lion asleep across a dirt track. A Masai warrior in native dress is an absolute must; delete the image if a Masai in Abercrombie & Fitch selfishly wanders into the frame.

Very important too is to photograph Doors of No Return. In terms of staging and lighting these should look like 'destination wedding' photos - project managers should be peeking out around doorframes and porticos. The beach and sea are in the background. But the message must be somber to reflect the dire subject-matter of slavery - this is a destination wedding where the bride or groom never boarded the flight down, so that the other party stands jilted at the altar. Photos should include an image of the election monitor looking out pensively to sea, glowering across the gloomy Atlantic, storm clouds gathering, alone like Eisenhower contemplating postponing D-Day by 24 hours.

Africans lend themselves well to extreme facial close-ups. Especially the children, though sometimes also the elderly if sufficiently wrinkled or toothless. In photos, the children are often seen in their cast-off American sporting jerseys celebrating spurious claims to a recent Chicago Cubs World Series victory, a fraternal arm around the shoulder of a sibling, or frolicking in water from the new well the aid worker arranged to be dug. Less desirable are photographs of Africans emerging from H&M, or eating nachos while watching sports on the big screen.

African kids have incredibly straight teeth. Unless they are child-soldiers. Then teeth are forgotten and instead eyes are described, usually as 'haunted.' But child-soldiers are the exception. Except for SIM cards and the occasional English Premiership game at the Internet café, African children have few luxuries. Despite this, the photogenic kids are happy, smiling, strong-limbed. In short, adopt-able. UNICEF celebrity goodwill ambassadors are especially prone to their charms. Friends and family back home see the photos on social media and make comments like: "The kids seem so well-adjusted, so optimistic!! They still play outside, not like ours sitting around the house all day on Grand Theft Auto!!!"

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