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

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.