What Would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Think of The Expat Life?

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deutsch: 1964: Martin Luther King Português: Martin Luther King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On this day 44 years ago, April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed.

It is interesting reflecting on this sitting here in Uganda where sometimes it is hard to tell he ever lived.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the unfairness of the ex-pat life. There are times it feels like the old south – you go to an expat party and the only black faces you see are those of the servants. We live in nice houses and drive our own cars, spending as much to fill the tank once as we pay our maids for a month of work. We are able to come and go freely between Uganda and our home countries, whereas a Ugandan can spend a lifetime trying to get a visa to enter the United States.

Organizations here even have “local” and “expat” pay rates. I heard from one American woman that she flew back to the US to sign her contract because she would get paid more. A Ugandan wouldn’t have that option. And the benefits packages are often staggering – shipping containers to bring all your possessions from home, flights home for visits for the whole family, private school education for your kids (I must admit, as someone who hasn’t ever had a paying job here in Uganda I am sometimes a little jealous of some of these perks! But then I think about all of the benefits I do have.).

We are given extra – and undeserved – status based on the color of our skin (see my post The Expat/Ugandan Dynamic), and can walk into nearly any venue without being questioned. I have often thought it would be interesting to be a white con-artist here just to see what you could get away with.

I believe all of this undermines the goals of international development, an important one of which is local empowerment. One thing Uganda needs is jobs and business development. Bright, young people with an entrepreneurial spirit that will drive the economy forward. Instead, what they see is that the way to get rich is to work at an international NGO. In the United States, college kids who want to make money go into business. Here, they go into any field that will get them a job at USAID. This leads to thousands of “briefcase NGOs” whose only goal is to come up with a good mission statement and get money without ever delivering any services.

What would Dr. King think if he spent time in the expat world of Kampala (or the capital city of any other nation in the world that has a large foreign-aid industrial complex)? I hope that he would feel there is some good, important work being done with good intentions, but what I see when I imagine the encounter is a look of bewilderment and a tear of discouragement running down his cheek.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

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About Mark D. Jordahl

Mark Jordahl is a writer, trip leader and naturalist who has lived much of the last 7 years in Uganda and currently calls Colorado home.
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3 Responses to What Would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Think of The Expat Life?

  1. Pingback: I Miss Our Heros……. « AfterAmerica's Blog

  2. isaac says:

    Hello, Mark i really thank you for the great article, ur very right ma brother, such things happen, am sure the great man luther would nat be happy about it. thax

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