This is a general criticism of the EA community and my observations of the current trajectory of the community . I intend not belittle the efforts put forth so far, but to embark on  some red-teaming adventure by posting this. It is not about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is about community introspection and a call for course correction. Sometimes, we fail to see not because we don't want to see but because we look beyond what we can see or what we want to see.

For C. K. Prahalad, all of us are prisoners of our own socialization. The lenses through which we perceive the world are colored by our own ideology, experiences, and established management practices. 

 How people in America and Europe see Russia depends on Western universities they attend or the news channels they are fond of. As an African proverb goes, until the lion tells his story, the tale of the hunt will glorify the hunter. I have duly taken note of various attempts to do the most good within the EA space from an African perspective; I am yet to be satisfied with none. From cash transfer, distribution of malaria nets, digging of wells, various empowerment schemes to lift millions out of poverty, none of these seem to address their underpinning causes. I think as an evidence driven community, we should be able to identify the root cause of the problems we are trying to solve. What brought about the need to transfer cash to the people of DRC? Why are we sending mosquito nets to poor people who do not necessarily use them? Why are we fortifying nutrition or resulting to alternative protein in the first place?  For me , to have effective impacts on the lives of these people requires a new approach. An approach that tackles the root causes of the problems, not its symptoms. An approach that addresses systemic problems from broader and various perspectives. Not from the top down hints of people from the Global North. 

First, let's take for instance, cause prioritization. Many African EAs know challenges confronting their communities and countries. But due to the fact that the EA community is guided by the ITN framework, more harm is being done to a large segment of communities for want of initiatives not meeting the ITN requirements. For instance, access to quality education in urban slums is becoming a real challenge for many people in African cities. Smart and intelligent children are lost to the underworld of  crime because of their poor background. Few weeks ago, the Lagos state government celebrated the opening of a British private school in Lagos. Is it a non-profit school? Not definitely. This is a testimony of the degeneration of the education system in Nigeria and the opportunity to have a significant impact in this sector.

My point is : focusing on the general EA cause areas  will do more harm than good in some low and middle income countries, especially in Africa. Therefore, there is a need for the support of localizing cause areas in those countries. The top down approach is likely going to be counterproductive and injurious to the reputation of the community for not being guided by local evidence in its cause-specific interventions. As a matter of fact, meat consumption and animal sufferings in Africa are absolutely the lowest  in the world, but I am wondering why animal welfare and vegetarianism seems be on top of prioritization agenda in Africa. By tradition, African people are vegetarians. Due to cultural imperialism and globalization, Western food systems dethroned African food systems. Instead of taking koko  and akara for breakfast, imported dairy products assail our tables every morning.  But it seems most EAs are more excited about bringing new ideas and starting new charities in Africa than considering their real impact on the overall progress of the continent.

 

Second, it is imperative to decolonize funding in the EA community. There are  more EAs in Europe majorly doing the same thing in different ways at exorbitant and ridiculous costs than in any other part of the world. This makes the EA interventions Eurocentric with less impact, thus exacerbating global apartheid. One might argue that EA movement has not fully grown in Africa, as a result one can't blame its lack of take off and traction on some colonial or systemic ground. Taking into consideration the socio-economic context of many EAs in Africa would allow for more affirmative action in favor of EA movement growth in Africa. For instance, many people want to have an impact with their lives but they lack the conducive environment to do so. For few of us, to be able to take part in the EA community growth in Africa requires extraordinary resilience. The cost of data subscription, access to electricity and some basic needs are serious barriers to getting more impactful EA in Africa. Caveat: I am not supporting the incentivization of becoming an EA in Africa. But I am looking for a median to be able to bring mission driven people onboard the African EA community instead of opportunists.

 Third, attending EA conferences outside Africa might not be a good use of money for someone from low and middle income countries. For instance, I got admitted to attend EA Global London and EA Global Boston. But the cost of flight tickets and others outweigh the expected benefits of participating in the events, at least  from the perspective of an African EA who is earning less than $2 a day. This is not to minimize the benefits of attending EA conferences. I am looking at it from the vantage point of cost-effectiveness. When I got approval to attend EA Global Boston, I estimated the total cost of the trip. I came to the conclusion that it is not a good investment for me currently. Since I am  preparing for the Bar 1 & 2  ,  I calculated the total cost of becoming a lawyer from where I am now. It is far twice below the cost of a trip to Boston. I then concluded that attending the conference does not help achieve my short term goal: becoming a lawyer. It is not therefore cost wise. Given the current socio-economic hardships in which many African EAs find themselves, I concluded that it's not the best use of money for many to attend EA conferences outside Africa. And where it is  those who have means that can only attend EA conferences, then it becomes an elitist thing and thus can produce little impact in the lives of many.

Then comes the overmarketing of Western scholarship. Since my modest involvement in the EA community, most of the ideas and thoughts I encounter are Eurocentric. It is as if civilization started in Europe. Tools , frameworks, ideas and philosophy and philosophers cited are only from that part of the world. This prescriptive scholarship is not only tragic to the understanding of the world but also ethically unhealthy for epistemological pluralism. I find this personally unjust and embarrassing given that  the EA community boasts to promote pluralism. I think promoting pluralistic perspectives is beyond bringing people of various skin colors together in the community. Inclusive pluralism means an unflinching determination to learn about other people, their ideas,  their values, their taboos and their favorites. Have we really made some moral progress? The answer would depend on where one stands and what values one holds dear to heart. Does moral progress mean mainstreaming legal colonialism all over the world? Then, that is not moral progress. That is cultural imperialism, and the EA community and scholars should be very careful when making statements or supporting cause areas: some can be highly controversial. The world is a tapestry of values. We have Muslims, Orthodox Jews and Christians who identify with the EA ideas, not because these ideas are new but because they have been a dormant part of their religious teachings. Since  in the EA, we are evidence driven, many may think of Muslims as intolerant. I think the only remedy for these various biases is to open the EA community to others, beyond its current Eurocentric thrust. The Chinese civilization is rich in ideas and concepts of improving the world. In Africa, Ubuntu epitomizes cooperation, shared responsibility and common destiny of all, the Hindu civilization and Native Indians in America, indigenous peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean are untapped fountains of knowledge that can benefit the global EA community. The original sin of the EA community today is to assume that the community is inclusive and accommodating diversity. But it is not. How many of us in this community would be willing to promote a pro-Russian discussion or pro-BRICS and get impartial support from the community? As long as the EA community allows itself to fuse into this dominant culture, then we are doing more harm. The world is too complex and the challenges are so huge for a group of people to arrogate to themselves the rights to decide for all.

How many of us in this community will support a military takeover in a poorly governed African country? Of course, democracy has become the only yardstick with which we categorize legitimate governments and regular elections have become the vital signs of good democracies. But how much is looted and wasted in our cyclical and farcical elections every four years? I think the time has come to calculate the cost of holding regular elections in Africa and compare it with the cost of running a country under a military regime. Of course, military regimes do not guarantee unending certainty for Western economic and geopolitical interests in Africa. But democracy does that at the expense of the wellbeing of African people. How much does Africa lose to the underworld of illicit financial flows out of the continent? According to the Economic Development in Africa Report 2020 by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Africa loses about US$88.6 billion, 3.7 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), annually in illicit financial flows. For instance, tackling illicit financial flows in Africa can be a high impact intervention as  we all know what US$88.6 billion can do cost-effectively. `

It is time for us in this community to embrace epistemic pluralism not just on the surface but deeper by embracing divergent ideologies, knowledge,  values and perspectives. In this way, by accommodating critical theories and indigenous knowledge, we can stimulate discussions and proffer symbiotic solutions to our common problems. Currently, the community is not tapping into the potential of its diversity. And I think it is a strategic mistake. This is where I agree with @Gideon Futerman  and others , in principle, on the Statement in Pluralism in the Existential Risks Studies. But I am yet to figure out how it can translate into concrete actions for desirable outcomes. 

 

In conclusion, my views are that (a)the current approach to EA community building strategy is not in tandem with exogenous realities. 99 percent of the prospective community members who would have a significant impact in their lives are in low and middle income countries. (b) Attending EA Global conferences from low and middle income countries might not be the best use of money. (c)There is a need to encourage local cause prioritization in low income countries in order to have effective impacts. (d) Funding restrictions are also a great obstacle to EA community growth in Africa. (e)Moreover decolonizing the minds of African EAs is an important step in encouraging divergent ideological and philosophical perspectives. Scholarship and wisdom exist everywhere. To see things from European perspectives is to deny others the opportunity to contribute their own quota in global conversations. It is regrettable the EA Community  is currently  nombrilistic. This has to change! 

To paraphrase President  Akufo-Addo of Ghana, I do not seek to blame outsiders for our problems, but, since we are being urged to find multilateral solutions, I believe it is worth pointing out that embracing  pluralism is key to harnessing the potential of any society.  


 

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Thanks Alimi you make a lot of interesting points, and thanks for venting your frustration,.

One point you make that I agree on, is that I think locally driven cause identification can be really valuable and is heavily underrated by the EA community. People who have lived in a place a long time have the ability to see problems and ideas that can't be easily identified on the internet from afar, and I think EA could generate a lot of value by asking practitioners from low income countries about what causes/interventions might be cost effective.

Where we might disagree though, in that I think that 95%+ of these causes will fail to meet the EA bar for action, but some of them at least will be causes that the EA community could get stuck into funding and working on.

I also agree that dealing with root causes of problems is theoretically better, but there has been a long history of aid and development initiatives which have tried and failed to address many of these causes. I think EAs are very open to "root cause" fixing, but the problem is it is often unclear how to implement tractable change in many of these issues. Maybe you could suggest some possible fixes for root causes for discussion? One interesting solution of fixing a root cause problem for example is e-procurement to reduce corruption, which some African countries are already doing and I think has a lot of potential.

A small question - becoming a lawyer must be cheaper in Nigeria than in Uganda. Travel to Boston from Nigeria + accommodation (cost maybe $2000) would only pay for 1 year of law school here in Uganda, how much is it in Nigeria?

Thanks @NickLaing  for sharing your perspectives. I agree with you all on counts. 

However, I see  we are missing the point where the "EA Bar for action" fail to rake in some highly neglected and promising causes but with low scale or scope. Also, aid and development initiatives  seem to have failed because of the top down approaches employed. For instance, when I was a translator and interpreter working on a JICA sponsored project for the construction and equipment of primary schools in the Republic of Benin, I noticed an innovation in Japanese approach to ODA . It consisted of assisting local people  based on what the communities needed and allowing them to take ownership of the project/assistance. It has a really worked then. Prior to this new approach, schools were built and equiped in remote place without consulting the beneficiaries or engaging local authorities

On possible fixes for root causes discussion, I would welcome the opportunity to have a chat with you some day and even make it a recurring activities if all interested parties find it worthwhile.

About the cost of law school in Nigeria, it depends on where one is running the program( I am having mine in Lagos) and some other factors such as being a special student or regular student. I am a special student given my civil law family background ( having studied law in a Francophone country: Republic of Benin) . And, most importantly to be a high impact lawyer, it is a huge investment.

99 percent of the prospective community members who would have a significant impact in their lives are in low and middle income countries.

I think this is false. According to gapminder (first google hit for the question), 16% of world population lives in high income countries (USA alone has >4%). I do not think that these countries only have 1% of the people who would have a significant impact in their lives.

Thanks you @harfe  for refuting my claim. I think what I meant  is quite ambiguous and debatable. The point is: given the number of people available in those countries willing to dedicate their time and energy to doing the most good and the number of people who would ultimately benefit from such community members, the percentage is higher than the number of people available( in the developed countries)  willing to dedicate the same amount of time and energy and the number of beneficiaries. 

How many of us in this community will support a military takeover in a poorly governed African country? Of course, democracy has become the only yardstick with which we categorize legitimate governments and regular elections have become the vital signs of good democracies. But how much is looted and wasted in our cyclical and farcical elections every four years? I think the time has come to calculate the cost of holding regular elections in Africa and compare it with the cost of running a country under a military regime.

Am I understanding correctly that you wish more EAs would support a military takeover of a poorly governed African country?

If so, I would like to state that EAs putting significant resources into a military takeover of an African country is a bad idea. I might be biased here due to my pro-democracy views, but I would expect that life is on average more unpleasant in a military regime around the globe, not just in the west. You would need to be quite lucky that the military leaders care enough about the country and are competent in running it.

It is fine to do a cost comparison of holding elections and running a military regime, but I have high priors for this case and would prefer that cost effectiveness analyses are run for less obvious questions.

Hi again @harfe thanks for your engaging and stimulating comments. I am by all means not supporting military take over because of the frailty of human nature and its tendency to abuse power absolutely. I believe in the rule of law and I still have some hope in democracy. But the main point here is the word "demo" in democracy is merely a smokescreen meant to hide the real few power holding people in any given country against the interests of the majority. Categorically, EAs putting resources in military takeover is suicidal. I just want to point out that we are currently experiencing democratic backsliding in the whole of Africa not because of military take over but because of some undue influence in our democratic processes.  The current bad democratic lock- I mean where the Executive  arm of the government is overbearingly wielding unrestrained power over other arms of government is worse than a military regime.

 On the other hand, we have seen military regimes in Africa under Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and  Jerry Rawlings of Ghana who cared enough about their countries and the people gave hope to their countrymen.  Finally, I would like to quote STEVEN LEVITSKY & DANIEL ZIBLATT :

Democraices may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders - presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power. Some of the leaders dismantle democracy quickly, as Hitler did in the wake of the 1933 Reichstag fire in Germany.

The above quote captures what I call "bad democratic lock-in" and it takes local military takeover in African context to restore decent democratic processes for the benefits of the people not the elites and their cronies within and without. 

 Support here means not distancing ourselves from discussing the merit or demerits of an usual phenomenon. 

My understanding of history says that usually letting militaries have such power, or initiating violent overthrow via any other means to launch an internal rebellion leads to bad results. Examples include the French, Russian, and English revolutions. Counterexamples possibly include the American Revolution, though notably I struggle to point to anything concrete that would have been different about the world had America had a peaceful break off like Canada later on did.

Do you know of counter-examples, maybe relating to poor developing nations which after the rebellion became rich developed nations?

Thanks @ DOTheMath for sharing your understanding of the history of revolutions and military coups. You mentioned "revolution" which is categorically different from " military coups". Since revolutions usually had the support of both the middle class and the lower class including some portions of the elites, definitely they produced systemic changes and improved governance. Remember, most of the revolutions you mentioned succeeded because they were no or little vested interested to thwart the outcome of such revolutions as we see with the subversive meddling of an international syndicates in African contexts. Burkina Faso under Sankara was on it way to development, but he was coldly assassinated because it would be a bad precedent and insult for pro-democrats in the West to have a military regime offer better alternative for development. In the history of coups in Africa, 60 % of them had been orchestrated by foreign powers ( France in Central African Republic, Chad, Togo, DRC , Gabon while the US seems to be discreet and diplomatic in its support for military takeover see the recent coup in Never Republic). The point about this failure is due to the fact that vested interests would start threatening to sanctions such regimes, thus not allowing them achieve their mission: offer viable alternative. Conclusion , military takeovers are not intrinsically bad as evidenced in the support their received in some cases where what is now called a palace coup is orchestrated to remove a democratically elected president by the support and approval of Western governments. What do you say of the ousting of Muhammad Morsi of Egypt? Overall, the last time I checked, I saw no real democracy anywhere in the world. Let's take the United States of America for instance. How many political parties exist there? How many of them determine the federal policies? How many democracies embrace multiparty system? Majorly, we are having weak coalitions hiding behind single party system draining democracy of its substance.

Finally, I would rather we have revolution in Africa, where African peoples rise up against bad governance and foreign interferences in the domestic affairs of various African countries. Recently, we saw how the United States institutions reacted to Russian meddling in their electoral process under Trump. This same scenario has not allowed development under military takeover or democratic governments in Africa. A question I would love to ask: do you objectively believe that democracy is a gateway to development, of course development is such a vague term with varying definitions? If yes, show me a developed and independent country practicing democracy in developing countries that attained such level as seen in the Global North.

My views are that (a)the current approach to EA community building strategy is not in tandem with exogenous realities. 99 percent of the prospective community members who would have a significant impact in their lives are in low and middle income countries. (b) Attending EA Global conferences from low and middle income countries might not be the best use of money. (c)There is a need to encourage local cause prioritization in low income countries in order to have effective impacts. (d) Funding restrictions are also a great obstacle to EA community growth in Africa. (e)Moreover decolonizing the minds of African EAs is an important step in encouraging divergent ideological and philosophical perspectives. Scholarship and wisdom exist everywhere

I suspect it would be better to separate these points into different posts, or put them under different headings. This is quite a large scope to cover, and it left me not necessarily able to identify key points, cruxes and supporting evidence.

Thank you @ElliotJDavies for the suggestion. I agree with you and I hope to figure it out.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and frustrations - I'm very curious to learn more about LMIC perspectives! I have the following reflections that agree with some aspects of your points while potentially disagreeing with others:

  • It's important to consider how to adapt cause prioritization to the local context. E.g., there may be something to prioritizing basic infrastructure, and the urgency of problems can be very significant. However, some issues seem to be particularly big and of a global scale in a way that are surprisingly weird and hard to fully grasp (certainly took me a long time and I still have a lot to learn). These include existential risks from AI and pandemics that could affect all of us and future generations.
  • Using contextualized sources that communicate the core ideas and claims to a broader audience makes sense. I'm reminded of this curricula. That said, I think ideas should come first. While diversity is important, it shouldn't be prioritized over the core ideas.
     

Thank you @SebastianSchmidt for your reflections. Definitely there are some real big issues that can only be tackled on a global scale while adapting others to local context may significantly make a big difference. As to the primacy of core ideas over diversity , I find it as chicken or the egg dilemma.  Thanks for sharing the curricula. I would be glad to take a virtual coffee with you and chat about my panoramic views on LMIC.