The “Developing Country” Double Standard

This is a guest post by three authors: Tom Murphy, David Week, and myself. It came from a conversation, which I am retelling briefly below:


Once upon a time, David Week read an article in the Washington Post which revealed that Washington lawmakers not only accepted donations from contributors with a stake in the passing of certain laws, but did so while in the process of actually drafting such legislation. Frustrated, he tweeted: “Why is this not called ‘corruption’?” Carol Gallo enlightened him: because it’s not Africa.

David and Carol, then and there, resolved to enlist the help of Tom Murphy and make a list of how the same behaviour is described differently depending on whether it occurs in Washington or in Africa. You know, like those lists of gender double standards in which the same behaviour might be described as “confident” in men and “pushy” in women.

In fact, all kinds of things are framed differently by Westerners depending on whether they occur in the “developed” world or that weird, dark, backward abyss. As Binyavanga Wainaina has famously demonstrated, the Dark Continent is still alive and well in the Western imagination.

So David, Carol, and Tom are pleased to poke fun at this whole farcical epistemology and present a short list of Washington-Africa double standards. Can you think of any others…?

What people might normally call it

When it happens in Washington

When it happens in Africa

Money received from political sponsors Campaign contributions Bribes
Uneven spending on public services in different ethnic communities Social injustice Tribalism
Seeking money in exchange for political influence Campaign fundraising Rent seeking
Subservience to oil companies Energy policy Control by foreign interests
Political appointees The new administration’s team Cronyism
Political families Tradition of public service Nepotism
People driven from their homes Homelessness Displacement
No bid contracts Necessary expedience Corrupt procurement
Government secrecy National security Lack of transparency
Assistance to the poor Welfare Aid
Internal security apparatus Homeland security Secret police
Not funding public schools, health system, infrastructure Small government Underdevelopment

@WhiteAfrican, by chance, tweeted another good one (and happens to have a very excellent blog post of his own on “ICT4D,” which exists in Africa but becomes “civil society innovation” in the US, here):

About Carol Jean Gallo

PhD student at Cambridge. Interested in local context and global affairs and the crossroads and misinterpretations between them.
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