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.