Over the past few weeks, government regulators have been tapping into this sentiment by criticizing the international NGO community for not hiring Kenyans and paying foreign staff more than local employees.
“Kenya doesn’t need your help if the only thing you see here is filth.” Kenya, with its good weather, political stability, and English-speaking population, is a popular destination for aid workers, volunteers, and NGOs. An estimated 12,000 expat NGO workers live in the country working on issues from human rights to maternal health and conservation, according to figures from the NGO Coordination Board, a government body that regulates the sector.
These organizations aren’t contributing as much to the country as they should be, according to the NGO Board. The agency released a circular last month claiming foreign NGO workers of earning on average four times as much as their Kenyan peers. They fail to transfer jobs to local workers, and instead stay on in Kenya as lifelong “career expats,” the regulator said.
When Madonna visited Kenya last week, she snapped a photo of a murky, trash-filled stream in a slum in Nairobi. “Imagine this is where your water comes from!” she wrote on Instagram, plugging a local NGO that works on water sanitation in Kibera, one of the largest informal settlements in Africa.
The image soon had over a thousand comments, most of them critical. “Next time do your research before you disrespect a whole community like that,” wrote Octopizzo, a hip hop artist from Kibera, who identified the stream as an open sewer that, he claimed, few Kenyans would ever drink from.
Madonna’s unsuccessful publicity attempt comes at a time when the Kenyan government is threatening to send thousands of expats who work in the NGO sector home. A former British colony and one of the largest hubs in Africa for international charities and NGOs, manifestations of the so-called “White Savior complex” strike a particular chord in Kenya.