The Uncertain Business of Doing Good

Outsiders in Africa

Larry Krotz (Author)

The relationship between Westerners and Africa has long been conflicted and complicated. Frequently exploitative, it is also just as often propelled by an almost irresistible urge to ‘do good’. The persistence of this impulse is intriguing. From Doctor Livingstone 150 years ago to the rock star Bono today, outsiders have championed foreign intervention in Africa in political, social, economic, and health care reforms. But underlying all these good intentions, isn’t there a hierarchical belief that we, as outsiders, somehow know what’s best for Africa?

As a journalist and documentary filmmaker, Larry Krotz follows the projects of Canadian, American, British and European scientists, NGOs, lawyers, and peacekeepers, all motivated in some manner by the desire to ‘do good’ in Africa. He focuses specifically on people involved in trying to end the Angolan civil war, AIDS research in Kenya, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the UNIM circumcision research project in Kenya. Along with telling their stories, he examines the ethical and social implications of humanitarian and research projects in Africa, raising many difficult, yet critically important, questions. How have we come to think the way we do about Africa and its people? What has motivated us to action, for good or ill? And, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, is there a choice between doing nothing and doing the well-intended, but, perhaps, wrong thing?


“His accounts are interesting, his reactions are thoughtful, and the core question he asks about the role of outsiders in Africa – how does one balance the fact that ostensibly “doing good” is so much fun? – is provocative and relevant…Both Newington and Krotz embrace the risk of writing as outsiders about a continent and its people often reduced to generalization and cliché, and their sensitivity, sincerity, and clearly delineated focus make their works engaging and occasionally provocative.”

– Suzanne James, Canadian Literature

“Krotz understands that modern aid workers are people who would not explicitly condescend to their developing world counterparts, whom they often call partners. But their impact, he argues, can be condescending nonetheless. Are westerners racing around in ‘fleets of white four-wheel-drive Land Rovers’ any different from ‘their pith helmet-wearing antecedents of a century ago?’ For those on the receiving end, the message can seem ‘ambiguous’. While the book, at once reportage and a kind of meditation, is larger in scope than this, it is puctuated by numerous vignettes that vividly illustrate the unintentional clashes between first and third worlds.”

– Literary Review of Canada, June 2009

“This is a thoughtful book written by someone committed to forging new and more meaningful ways of relating to the peoples of Africa.”

– United Church Observer, April 2009

“The book poses difficult questions but shies away from easy answers. He doesn’t claim to know it all. That’s why he has written a useful book. His narrative style, humorous anecdotes and Canadian perspective make for a very engaging read. … Whether you are a scientist, student intern, international aid worker or traveller, the book forces one to ask: Who benefits?”

– Winnipeg Free Press, Sept 7, 2008

About the Author

Larry Krotz has, as writer and filmmaker, explored the ways our actions affect our world from Africa to Canada’s North. He is the author of five books, including Piecing the Puzzle: the Genesis of AIDS Research in AfricaVisit Larry’s website.

Book Details

  • The Uncertain Business of Doing Good: Outsiders in Africa
  • Larry Krotz (Author)
  • Published September 2008, 232 pages
  • Paper, ISBN: 9780887557071, 6 × 9, $24.95

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