Nicholas Kristof Saves Another Woman

By Dan Moshenberg

He’s ba-a-a-ack! After a decade or so of “saving” South East Asian sex workers from “slavery”, sometimes by actually purchasing them, Nicholas Kristof has found Africa. Kenya, to be specific, and there too, sex workers, or in his words “prostitutes”, await.

Kristof tells the story of Jane Ngoiri, a 38-year-old single mother of two, former slum dweller, now “prostitute-turned-businesswoman.” With the help of a group called Jamii Bora, formed initially by 50 “street beggars”, Ngoiri developed skills, learned to save, grew.

Then “catastrophe struck”. Ngoiri’s daughter was in an accident. Medical expenses were crushing. She had to take her son out of school. Fortunately, Kristof was there! He and his peeps collected money, and without having to resort to “street begging” or “prostitution”, and Ngoiri’s son is now back in school.

Kristof’s takeaway. Life for the poor in Kenya is terribly “fragile”.

But what is Kenya?

From Kristof’s account, it’s just another Third World site of pathos, despair, degradation, and fallen women waiting to be saved.

Kristof’s article couldn’t come at a more ironic moment. In Kenya, this past week has been described as “a week of tears.” A pipeline exploded, killing scores. It turns out, experts had warned about this very possibility. And who dies, or better who is killed? The poor. And who is culpable? The oil and gas companies and the State that conspire to not care about safety precautions. And so now, the stories emerge of the tally of the dead, of the tearful reunions of the survivors and their grateful loved ones.

These past couple days in Kenya have seen fires, violence against girls, drought. And more …

Kenyan small hold farmers, for example, are the vanguard of African agricultural development, as they are warriors in the various battles to combat climate change. And who are those small hold farmers? Women. Women like Wayua Mwanza, 36-years-old, and a mother of three. Kenyan women farmers teaching and learning from … Kenyan women farmers!

As Somali women refugees move into Kenya, and in particular Dadaab, reputed by some to be the largest refugee camp or settlement in the world, many of them encounter antenatal clinics for the first time. That antenatal treatment is provided by Kenyan women, in ngo’s and in State agencies, as well as by non-Kenyans in various multinational ngo’s. Kenyan women teaching and working with … Somali women!

Earlier this week Cecillia Ng’etich, a candidate for public office in the Rift Valley, argued forcefully for women’s right to return to school, and for their partners’ responsibility to support them in that endeavor.

Life for the working poor, and especially for low- and no-income women, is always fragile … everywhere. And women cannot and are not waiting for some prince in shining white armor to come and rescue them. Women are organizing, at home, in the streets, in the shops, on the farms, in the refugee and IDP camps, in government, everywhere. Tell the story, but tell it right.

* And, yes that is Kristof with an African tribesman. It’s from his own collection.



Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an Associate Professor at George Washington University.

  1. As much as I dislike the 'white savior' archetype and the people who portray themselves as that–and Nicholas Kristoff does quite often it seems–I have to think that most people who read the NY Times are better off after reading a story like that, knowing that information and having some small insight into that area. (Granted, there are some very well-informed people, like the readers and writers of this blog, that wouldn't find it very informative.)

    Also it's probably good publicity for a group Jamii Bora.

  2. I couldn't understand what the point of the article was – other than to act as an advert for a small NGO. I don't think we got any special insight or information about anything. Why do things always have to come down to whether a Kristoff's protagonist is either a victim or a hero?

    1. Don't forget that Kristof's central goal is make these issues accessible to "typical" Americans (whatever that means) in the way he knows how — writing. Empathy is a great first step. I would love to see you guys engage him somehow (an interview on this blog?) His motivations are pure and he has a powerful voice. Unfortunately, he (like many Americans) have a very superficial understanding of these issues. P.S., As always, still loved the post. Cheers,

  3. Kristof spoke here at university hell after Half the Sky came out. Um, as usual, I sat back-left and took him to task about this white savior thing. His face went blank — there must be something unnerving to some African man taking you to task about your "portrayal" of poor people, mostly women, from Africa and the rest of the Global South. Because we Africans are supposed to just thank him, no?

    He didn't answer me at all. He just jumped to the next question from the audience.

    Anyway, because Kristof had been "briefing" us on Afghanistan and his mission there, halfway into the Q and A, some woman goes into a rant about how she's scared of getting into planes when she sees Muslim women wearing religious garb boarding. And Kristof proceeds to not call her out on her racism (by this time I'm pulling my hair out, of course) until my girl T jumps in and gives our good lady there a tongue whooping.

    And then we walk out of the event. In some kind of meaningless protest.

  4. And not a minute too soon for you, Dan. Oh, Lord, praise Kristof. Let's give thanks for the opportunity to you and in general the Africa is A Country blog to engage/reiterate facile reactions and critiques to mainstream new media. Really, thanks for the snarky and easy position vis-a-vis Kristof, or else you would have to contemplate more engaged and sophisticated understandings of gendered discourses and practices, nevermind a more subtle understanding of the economics of poverty in the subcontinent. Dan, women does not equal gender. For example, Dan, please tell us your understanding of how poverty and prostitution affect gender in Kenya, in both its forms, that is, feminity and masculinity in urban Kenya vis-a-vis conditions to affect gender?

    More a propos the blog, Sean, kindly cease with the facile critiques of Western media coverage of Africa. You have by now made your point. Time to more on. Might we be able to grasp some further complexity and nuance within a critique rather than wait for in reaction to a posting by a mainstream journalist? Kinda old hat, you have become true reactionnaries, beating the same drum. We probably have differences in the role of critique, and I am amenable to hearing your views.

  5. When I thought up the term Rescue Industry years ago I did not imagine it would become such an apt one (in the title of my book Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry). Kristof is a sterling example of rescue behaviour and ideology whether he leaves his country or not. On Africa, I was chuffed to see that EU-funded webzine This is Africa showed so much understanding of migration and sex work in a recent entry that does not centre Rescuers or imperialists' point of view:

    This related back to an Al Jazeera webtv series I then wrote about, where Africans are the centre, whatever country they happen to be connected to:

  6. Photo of the North American suburbman with an Sudanese hunter got me curious… Kristoff gave it this caption "me last year in South Sudan with a barefoot hunter I stumbled across in the middle of the bush" (How does 'barefoot' fit into this description?)
    So they don't know each other (didn't look like it either in the photo)
    Now I ask myself "Why would you want a photo of yourself with a complete stranger ? Obviously he wanted a photo to put on his blogg so all his readers could see this funny shod white man he found toodling round in an air con range rover in the Sudan.
    Fair enough, but why on earth did Kristoff let him take it?

  7. Am yet to read 'Half the sky' i know it is very archetypical and Kristof might be another sort of Bob Geldof and 50 cent has joined this bandwagon claiming to feed a billion kids in Africa.Already this form of 'humanitarianism' is as nauseam.

  8. I saw that you are doing a show on islamaphobia and how somalia has been helped by islam. That’s all fine and good and I’m glad that parts of somalia have been helped by islam. But you forgot to point out that islam enslaves women, kills gays by hanging or stoning, is responsible for countless deaths and is still responsible for the slaughter of thousands of assyrians and is still killing them day by day, and the countless other crimes this farce commits against humanity. Glad it helped the somalians. Feel bad for the rest of the planet as Mohammed himself was a rapist, a thief, and a killer. Keep buliding it up. We know the plan to take over america.

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