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272 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 2013
The term "rural development tourism" was coined by the scholar Robert Chambers in Rural Development, his influential 1983 book about why outsiders remain ignorant about rural poverty. His thesis, in short, is this: with their “hectic excursions from the urban center,” development experts don’t see behind the facade. The more distinguished a visitor happens to be, the greater his ignorance and self-deception. “They come, and they sign the book, and they go. They only talk with the buildings, writes Chambers, quoting destitute Africans. “They don’t realize there are living people here.”
Jeffrey Sachs’s observations on the ground were necessarily limited — by the pressures of time, by language, culture, education, background, preconceptions, and ingrained models of thought. Wherever he went in Africa, he was greeted by a spectacle: villagers danced for him, dignitaries put on their Sunday suits and praised him, dozens of photos were snapped, and just before his arrival, schools and clinics were scrubbed clean. His view of what was happening in the [Millenium Villages] wasn’t wrong; it was incomplete. Real progress had been made, by all means; nevertheless, the villages had serious, deep-rooted problems, problems that for one reason or another Sachs received to acknowledge.