Nicholas Kristof Discovers Angola

This is now our eleventh piece on Nicholas Kristof. This needs to end. He has to stop somehow.

Nicholas Kristof speaking on a panel at the Aspen Institute in July 2010. Credit: Aspen Institute.

The New York Times’s white savior extraordinaire is at again! The man we love to hate to write about has discovered Angola and Isabel dos Santos (never mind that much had already been written about her long before Forbes magazine exposed her dirty billions, but no sour grapes here).

Kristof’s two recent posts on Angola make me feel a whole lot better about still teaching Binyavanga Wainaina’s How to Write About Africa. I recently worried that Wainaina’s 2005 brilliant satirical essay was dated. But Kristof’s latest piece “Two Women, Opposite Fortunes” is the very caricature described in Wainaina’s piece. Wainaina is as fresh as ever.

Like Kathryn Mathers, I really don’t want to write about Kristof. His first piece, Deadliest Country for Kids, offered the usual drivel, just that it was located in Angola. Poor Africans, rutted dirt roads, pitiful indexes of poverty, health, and education coupled with skyrocketing oil revenues and equally high marks for corruption (and Porsches). Welcome to the journalistic boilerplate on Angola that’s been circulating since at least 2002.

Where have you been, Nicholas Kristof? (Oh, right … saving young, Southeast Asian prostitutes, I nearly forgot.) But now that he has discovered Angola, for Kristof, this is a genocide-size atrocity. Yank the aid! Wag a finger! And don’t forget to make a cameo: leading the woman with a dying child in her arms into the hands of the over-burdened health clinic doctors casting an aside on the wailing of mothers over dying infants as the background chorus of Angola.

If the first piece wasn’t quite enough to get me to the computer to vent, “Two Women, Opposite Fortunes” was. Kristof rockets to a zenith of Conradian description that perhaps only Jeffrey Gettleman could approximate. So, here I am.

One of the two women in the piece is Isabel dos Santos, daughter of long-time Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, and one of the continent’s few female billionaires. She’s fancy. And corrupt. The other woman, is Delfina Fernandes. She’s ‘hospitable’ and ‘stoical.’ A vision of misery: 50 years old, blind in one eye, lost 10 of her 15 children, doesn’t know that mosquitos cause malaria (a sound byte so dear NK repeats it in the other piece), and rinses her mouth with gasoline when she can afford it to kill the pain of rotting teeth (which she didn’t mention, ‘stoical’ as she is, until NK asked her – hey lady, did you know your teeth are rotting?). He describes her life as not “that different than a few hundred years ago” (like he would know?), confirmed by Dr. Stephen Foster who claims “They’re still getting what the traditional healer would have given them if they’d come by in the 17th century.” Safe to say, they haven’t read Johannes Fabian’s Time and the Other, or the sizeable bibliography on Angola that describes life in the 17th century.

Here’s the problem. Life in Angola is no cake-walk for lots of people. We’ve talked about that before. That’s why young folks have been protesting since 2011. That’s why Rafael Marques is on trial now. But with the exception of Marques, Kristof prefers expats and the avatars of misery as his interlocutors. They re-confirm his 19th century mise-en-scene and add a little poof of air under his super-hero cape. If he actually spoke to Angolans who work to improve their own lives and situations, he’d write himself and the aid project out of business.

Nick, we’re on to you. We have something called the Bullshit Files. This is now our eleventh piece on you. This needs to end. Or else we’ll have to inaugurate the “Your White Saviour Sh*% Stinks” Files.

Further Reading

The skeleton in the closet

The novelist Nadifa Mohamed complicates Britain’s troubled, racist legal history through the personal tale of one otherwise insignificant person, a Somali immigrant to Cardiff in Wales.

Life to the sound of gunfire

Nigerians fleeing extremist violence at home take refuge across the border in Niger among an already fragile population. Together they proceed to carve out a way to live better lives for now.

Democraticizing money

Cameroonian economist Joseph Tchundjang Pouemi died in 1984, either poisoned or by suicide. His ideas about the international monetary system and the CFA franc are worth revisiting.