Clanking Heels Yet No Good Meals

The clanking of elegant heels envelops the marble hallway. Small clusters of men in gray suits and blue ties shake hands and pose for the television cameras. Satisfied smirks are in order and the huddle masses can rest assured, now that the latest international humanitarian aid deal has been signed. The negotiators of the P5+1 deserve to be praised for their generosity and feel accomplished. Though on the other side of the world, the feeling of dread drowns those who will soon be subjected to the implementation of the new “aid” package. The grief and need will surely be alleviated temporarily, but in the future there will be no meals.

Fig. 1. “You You.” Available from: Christian Louboutin, (accessed December 10, 2015).

Fig. 1. “You You.” Available from: Christian Louboutin, (accessed December 10, 2015).

Following the Spanish-American War, media campaigns were launch to persuade the United States public to “take up the White Man’s burden” and governhe Philippines as a colony.[1] Though most Americans today would reject the campaign’s description of non-European foreigners as “[our] new-caught, sullen peoples/Half-devil and half-child,” the supposed goals of US intervention to “fill full the mouth of Famine/And bid the sickness cease” still strongly resonate with us.[2] While in principle most citizens of Western liberal democracies believe that people of foreign countries are their equal, it cannot be denied that the US presence on the world stage and foreign intervention in less developed countries (LDCs) has increased exponentially since World War II and continues today. As a developed nation, we hold compassion as a virtue; this is exemplified by Martin Luther King Jr.’s recount of the parable of the Good Samaritan as “finally, a man of another race came by… he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need… this was the great man because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.” [3] We are compelled to follow the moral lesson and strive to be a great country. In that vein, when western nations observe tragedy or despair in LDCs, they often race to administer aid. This phenomenon has led me to ask how does Western intervention in African nations affect the freedom of the indigenous people of the affected nation? The exemplary work of Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, as well as numerous philosophical and journalistic works, illustrate that Western intervention, particularly colonialism, negatively impacts the freedom of indigenous people because this intervention leads to the establishment of unsustainable infrastructure that infringes on the customs of suffering people.

Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country is a narrative on the conditions of South Africa that eventually resulted in the codified system of racial segregation, Apartheid, from 1948 to 1994. It exposes the unfair and problematic relationship between the imperial powers which governed South Africa, the British and Dutch, and those of native South African ethnics groups. The novel opens with a description of the landscape in rural South Africa; the land occupied by white foreigners and their descendants include “hills [that] are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it… You look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa,” but while approaching the land occupied by black natives “they fall to the valley below… changing their nature… they cannot hold the rain and the mist.”[4] The shocking contrast between the lifestyles of foreigners and natives is overtly established. The colonizing powers in South Africa established segregated communities which had devastating impacts on the nation. The widespread implications of this action is emphasized by the narrator’s observation that “the ground is holy… Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed.”[5] Western interference results in the demise of the traditional tribal society in South Africa, leaving millions of inhabitants in unfamiliar and distressing communities. The consequences of this infringement on customs and the artificial implantation of incompatible institutions in South Africa are illustrated by the treatment of a young Zulu man, Absalom, following the accidental shooting of a white man, Arthur Jarvis. During the trial, Absalom explains that he did not mean to kill anyone when he entered Jarvis’ residence with two friends. He recounts how their weapons were merely for intimidation in their pursuit of “money and clothes,” and how he prayed strongly for forgiveness.[6] The Judge explicitly acknowledges that Absalom “is shocked and overwhelmed… [by] the disastrous effect of a great and wicked city on… [his] character… He has dealt profoundly with the disaster that has overwhelmed our native tribal society, and has argued cogently the case of our own complicity in this disaster.”[7] Though Absalom’s counsel provided a logical and verified account of the crime, the Judge unquestionably conforms to the rules of the unforgiving and racist justice system, that was transplanted to South Africa by Western powers, proclaiming that “even if it be true that we have, out of fear and selfishness and thoughtlessness, wrought a destruction that we have done little to repair, even if… we should be ashamed of it… there is nevertheless a law, and it is one of the most monumental achievements of this defective society that it has made a law, and has set judges to administer it, and has freed those judges from any obligation whatsoever but to administer the law.”[8] He attempts to free himself of any guilt from his irrational verdict, by citing the necessity of following the procedures of the “South African” legal system. He continues to justify his actions and claims that “if the law is the law of a society that some feel to be unjust, it is the law and the society that must be changed… a Judge cannot, must not, dare not allow the existing defects of society to influence him to do anything but administer the law.”[9] To this end, the Judge is similar to the “serious man,” described by Simone De Beauvoir, who loses the freedom to make decision based on his conscious. He ignores the subjective nature of his ruling and devotes himself to the “higher power” of a detrimental and foreign legal system. De Beauvoir vehemently rejects this type of unquestioned commitment and declares that when we “[pretend] that the unconditioned value of [an] object is being asserted through [us]… [we persuade ourselves] that what [we are] sacrificing is nothing.”[10] When he begins to see ourselves as lacking free will and bound by a higher purpose or concept, he becomes willing to sacrifice others in the name of arbitrary beliefs. As a result of the Judge’s determination to the legal system, Absalom’s freedom is stripped from him and he is hung for a crime without mercy, though the crime occurred as a result of the economic turmoil precipitated by segregation, the subjugation of black people to white people and the eradication of the former tribal system.

Fig. 2. Victor Gillam, The White Man’s Burden (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling). April 1, 1899. Available from: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (accessed December 10, 2015).

Fig. 2. Victor Gillam, The White Man’s Burden (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling). April 1, 1899. Available from: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (accessed December 10, 2015).

The lose of freedom from the incompatibility of the ruling with South African traditions may seem like an issue that could be easily remedied by an activist judge, especially considering that “in South Africa men are proud of their Judges, because they believe they are incorruptible. Even the black men have faith in them, though they do not always have faith in the Law.”[11] This assumption is largely incorrect. While the Judge has a more substantial role in society than ordinary citizens such as Absalom, he is similarly experiencing a loss of freedom under the institutions established by Western agents. In “A Report to an Academy,” Franz Kafka describes the painful process through which an ape is captured, confined and eventually conforms to human behaviors. This allegory reveals the cruel process of forcing unsuitable institutions on African citizens forces them to conform to the new societal norms. Kafka recounts that “there was no attraction for me in imitation human beings; I imitated them because I needed a way out, and for no other reason… But the line I was to follow had in any case been decided, once for all.”[12] It is to this purpose that the Judge enforces the laws of an unjust society and experiences a loss of freedom similar to that of Absalom.

The second major instance in which Western intervention strips the natives of freedom occurs, when the white people plan to construct a dam to revive the depleted land on which the black citizens live. With complete disregard for the traditional hierarchical and agricultural systems, the Afrikaners begin preparation for construction without consulting the local chief or even informing the affected inhabitants. The Zulus simply observe as “the sticks stood for days in the places where the men had put them, but no one came to the valley. It was rumored that a dam was to be built there, but no one knew how it would be filled…”[13] The mystery continues as the natives remain “waiting for news of Jarvis’s return, so that the people might know what plans were afoot… [but] more and more… [they] found… [themselves] thinking that it was Jarvis and Jarvis alone that could perform” the task. [14] The tribal system is further strained as the chief, who is the figurehead of his community, is relegated to monitoring the sticks to ensure that they are not disturbed, while outsiders made important administrative decisions with widespread impacts. Though the Afrikaner authorities claim that they are not there “to make trouble in your valley… [and only] desire to restore it,” through bypassing native institutions in order to fix the poor land- which was devastated by their prior actions- the entire existing agricultural and economic systems are threated by the construction of the dam. [15] The economic freedom and livelihood of natives are threatened when “some men must give up their ground for trees, and some for pastures. And… [the most detrimental change] of all would be the custom of lobola, by which a man pays for his wife in cattle, for people kept too many cattle for this purpose, and counted all their wealth in cattle…”[16]  As their self-determination is stripped from them in order for Western institutions to be created, the mood of the village deteriorates. It is observed that “all [of the work] … was not done by magic. There have been meetings, and much silence, and much sullenness… No one was more dissatisfied than those who had to give up their fields. Kuluse’s brother was silent for days because the dam was to eat up his land, and he was dissatisfied with the poor piece of land they gave him.”[17]

Though “the tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that things are not mended again.”[18] The white and privileged segment of South African society had no interest in investing in institutions that would be beneficial to the native population, but only established systems that advanced their position and subjugated and bound their indigenous counterparts to Western traditions and values. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently explained how “…many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our [black] destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom…”[19] As the British Empire began to recognize that in South Africa, as in all countries, white freedom is not inversely proportion to black freedom, the imperialist customs were fazed out and independence was gained. Those left in the horrific and ravaged aftermath of colonialism implored people to “cry for the broken tribe, for the law and the custom that is gone,” but knew to “cry [for] the beloved country, [for] these things are not yet at an end.”[20]

Modern humanitarian aid is often cited as a “heroic undertaking, and a stunning technical success for a rising humanitarian generation, eager to atone for the legacies of colonialism,” though its effects are akin to those of colonialism.[21] One of the main impacts of colonialism was the imposition of unsustainable political systems that transformed local customs. It is well established that “the humanitarian claim of political neutrality is a fiction: humanitarian action always has a political consequence, and one cannot deny responsibility for it.”[22] Thus, this aid can have the same tragic consequences as colonialist intervention. Numerous works, including Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, analyze the ways in which the media coverage of tragedies in LDCs leads to increased public interest and support. Contrary to popular belief, it does not often have positive effects. “This phenomenon… [which] Polman cutely calls the MONGO (My Own N.G.O.) … [also known as “voluntourism”] can often have dire consequences.”[23] Intense media profiling of the 1968 crisis in Biafra led to “Biafra’s hunger… [becoming] one of the defining stories of the age—the graphic suffering of innocents made an inescapable appeal to conscience.”[24] As the public of wealthy Western countries becomes more outraged and generous, Western intervention in LDCs exponentially increases. For example, “in 1967, the International Committee of the Red Cross… had a total annual budget of just half a million dollars. A year later, the Red Cross was spending about a million and a half dollars a month in Biafra alone.”[25] An outpouring of support and revenue to further Western efforts naturally intensifies the pervasiveness of unsustainable institutions and “relief” that were a signature of colonialism and the lose of native freedom. It is important to note that the trendiness of volunteerism and service trips, not only infringes on the freedom of indigenous people, but often precipitates more violence and tragedies in order to continue to sensationalize the crisis and “extraordinary results” of humanitarian aid organizations. It has been reported that “in the obscene circus of self-regarding charity… vacationing American doctors turned up, sponsored by their churches, and performed life-threatening (sometimes life-taking) operations without proper aftercare, while other Americans persuaded amputee parents to give up amputee children for adoption in a manner that seemed to combine aspects of bribery and kidnapping.”[26] These issues are greatly enhanced by the moral hazard that “humanitarian agencies are almost never held to account for doing wrong, even as they do not hesitate to take credit when they do good.”[27]

As world leaders consider NGOs as essential partners in their crusade for peace and stability, we must recognize the wrongness of assuming they have sound practices and motives. In an article published in The New Yorker, Gourevitch declares that “to treat humanitarian or human-rights organizations with automatic deference, as if they were disinterested higher authorities rather than activists and lobbyists with political and institutional interests and biases, and with uneven histories of reliability or success, is to do ourselves, and them, a disservice.”[28] While many contemporary aid workers believe themselves to be undoing the sins of colonialism, it is undeniable that their insincere and temporary actions have similar negative implications for the freedom of the citizens of LDCs receiving the aid. It is imperative to recognize that, while the motives of eighteenth century merchants and twenty-first century activists widely differ, “the great good will of those who volunteered their aid could not make up for their incapacity and incompetence” [29] and “noble intentions…are not a credible alibi”[30] or excuse for their frequently horrendous impact.

The proper role of humanitarian aid organizations is not simply an issue of practicality but essentially of philosophy. French Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre argues that a man “is not only the individual that he chooses to be, but also a legislator choosing at the same time what humanity as a whole should be…”[31]  Our actions must be viewed in relation to their affect on other individuals, especially since there is no a priori or universal code of ethics. The Judge, tribal Chief and current native citizens are consigned by the actions of imperialists and humanitarian powers to operate within these institutions that are not compatible with their social customs. They are forced to act “in bad faith… [since they] declare that [they] am bound to uphold certain values because it is a contradiction to embrace these values while at the same time affirming… [to be] bound by them.”[32] The social situation in which they are placed deprives them of “the ultimate significance of the actions of men of good faith [which] is the quest of freedom in itself.”[33] The ramifications of this cannot be overstated. While Sartre claims that we cannot blame circumstances for the outcomes of our lives, he recognizes that we find ourselves in committed situations. In this argument, he fails to recognize the inability of restrained people to seek freedom.

As foreign domination continues to expand over the indigenous people, the natives become more easily subjugated because, similar to Kafka’s ape who is subjected to a painful transformation they enter a state of mind in which they believe “no, freedom was not what I wanted. Only a way out; right or left, or in any direction; I made no other demand; even should the way out prove to be an illusion; the demand was a small one, the disappointment could be no bigger. To get out somewhere, to get out! Only not to stay motionless with raised arms, crushed against a wooden wall.”[34] Kafka’s ape is an example of how situations force us to conform to customs of others and push freedom and liberties into the background; “one learns when one has to; one learns when one needs a way out; one learns at all costs. One stands over oneself with a whip; one flays oneself at the slightest opposition. My ape nature fled out of me, head over heels and away…”[35] In Kafka’s speech, there seems to be no sincere interest or investment in the ape by outsiders. He is paraded around, merely to epitomize the possibilities and miracles resulting from intervention and training. Similarly, humanitarian aid organizations and citizens of Western nations often provide aid for temporary publicity or feeling of achievement. Formerly colonialism and current humanitarian aid organizations force indigenous people who they are supposedly helping to metaphorically flay themselves until their native customs are destroyed. They are restricted to operate within a Western framework, in order to survive in the reality of their societies, which strips them of their most fundamental right to action and the loss of “the eminent dignity of the individual.”[36] The reception of aid for a temporary period of time is not worth the lose of dignity, freedom and good faith that accompanies most current humanitarian aid operations. We – as citizens of Western countries who are in a position of power with regard to foreign aid and global politics – must feel the anguish of our freedom. We have a “direct responsibility toward the other men who will be affected” by our actions.[37]

Fig. 3. Available from: (accessed December 10, 2015).

Fig. 3. Available from: (accessed December 10, 2015).

The devastation and irreversible change that plagues the land and characters of Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country illustrates how colonialism can lead to the enforcement of incompatible institutions on indigenous people and their subsequent loss of freedom. The opinions of philosophers and contemporary critiques reveal that this issue is not solely historical. At this time, “it would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”[38] Through the history of this nation, it has been repeatedly affirmed that our founding credence, “all men are created equal,” is unconditionally true. We have fought wars over this principle and witnessed innumerable protests, horrors and successes. This credence must apply to all people of the Earth. Though we are inclined to “aid” those in need across the globe, it is imperative that we reevaluate the purpose of Western intervention and method of providing humanitarian aid. Past and many current methods simply lead to unsustainable handouts or the creation of infeasible political, economic and social institutions. Though we would prefer to believe differently, there is no difference in the results of the campaign promoting the white man’s burden and the Western aid and intervention in several African nations today. The insistence of Western nations to impose their optimal methods on societies with alternative customs restricts the local people’s rights and “even as they yearn for help, they may often wish that most of the current crop of self-appointed helpers would just leave them alone;”[39] For the bustle of politicians and aid workers does not lead to prolonged safety and quality of life. In the end aid organizations withdraw from the region and the natives are left with no more meals and a much more devastating loss of freedom and autonomy. According to Sartre, we are all burdened to make a choice and hold an opinion on this topic. If we ignore the issue or continue in our current path, people will continue to “cry [for] the beloved country [and] for the unborn child that is the inheritor” of our negligence.[40]

[1] Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden,” Modern History Sourcebook,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Martin Luther King Jr, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” (Speech, Mason Temple, Memphis, TN, April 3, 1968).

[4] Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country (New York: Scribner, 1987), (33).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 193.

[7] Ibid., 233-234.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity (New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 1976), 48.

[11] Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country, 191.

[12] Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories (New York: Schocken Book, 1948), 182.

[13] Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country, 281.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 303.

[16] Ibid., 287.

[17] Ibid., 33.

[18] Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country, 56.

[19] Martin Luther King Jr, “I Have a Dream” (Speech, March on Washington, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963), 3.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Philip Gourevitch, “Alms Dealers,” The New Yorker, October 11, 2010,

[22] Philip Gourevitch, “The Moral Hazards of Humanitarian Aid: What is to be Done?” The New Yorker, November 3, 2010,

[23] Ibid.

[24] Gourevitch, “Alms Dealers.”

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Gourevitch, “The Moral Hazards of Humanitarian Aid: What is to be Done?”

[28] Ibid.

[29] Gourevitch, “Alms Dealers.”

[30] Gourevitch, “The Moral Hazards of Humanitarian Aid: What is to be Done?”

[31] Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2007), 25.

[32] Ibid., 48.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Kafka, The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories, 177-178.

[35] Kafka, The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories, 183.

[36] Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism, 58.

[37] Ibid., 27.

[38] Martin Luther King Jr, “I Have a Dream” (Speech, March on Washington, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963), 2.

[39] Gourevitch, “The Moral Hazards of Humanitarian Aid: What is to be Done?”

[40] Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country, 111.


De Beauvoir, Simone. The Ethics of Ambiguity. New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 1976.

Gourevitch, Philip. “Alms Dealers.” The New Yorker, October 11, 2010.

Gourevitch, Philip. “The Moral Hazards of Humanitarian Aid: What is to be Done?” The New Yorker, November 3, 2010.

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories. New York: Schocken, 1948.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “I Have a Dream.” Speech at the March on Washington, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Speech at the Mason Temple, Memphis, TN, April 3, 1968.

Kipling, Rudyard. “The White Man’s Burden.” Modern History Sourcebook.

Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country. New York: Scribner, 1987.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism is a Humanism. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2007.