New East African Mockumentary Takes Aim at the Billion-Dollar Aid World

Drugs, alcohol, misogyny and hapless leadership are just a few issues surrounding the everyday affairs of a fictitious NGO office in a comedic TV show.
By @LesNeuhaus |
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    Screenshot from the new television series: The Samaritans.

    Screenshot from the new television series: The Samaritans.

    A young, arrogant country director from America has arrived to the field office in Nairobi, Kenya, and asks one of his local-national employees to get him some weed because he is running low. An office manager has her subordinate gather her “usual” post-work supplies:  vodka, several valium and a crack pipe. More than one of the men in the office are misogynistic creeps.

    These are a few of the TV characters working for a faux charity group, Aid for Aid. The East African bureau is more akin to the office setting of a hipster Silicon Valley Internet upstart than a vessel for helping poor, war-afflicted Africans suffering en masse throughout the region. Saving Africa is their fashionable higher cause, but these “aid workers” are hardly doing any of the dirty work. Meetings center around coming up with good acronyms for funding applications.

    The Samaritans,” created by Hussein Kurji of Xeinium Productions, takes the aid world and stands it on its head. According to an interview Kurji gave, over 4,000 non-governmental organizations are registered in Kenya, most of them in the country’s bustling cosmopolitan capital city, Nairobi. It is a metropolis that in real life plays host to a high number of diplomatic missions, which often interact with the NGOs in the country.

    Taking swipes at the aid world is not necessarily new. Graham Hancock’s 1989 book, “The Lords of Poverty,” was published with the intent to expose the underbelly of a billion-dollar aid industry that was corrupt with power and prestige down to its core — an international mix of people often more concerned with raising funds and living the good life than actually saving lives.

    But this would be the first time an entire TV show has been dedicated to the topic. According to Kurji in the interview, the show has been in production for two years.

    His team pitched the idea at a “TV expo that was held in South Africa, and we won,” he said. “We got good responses from networks and distributors, but they all wanted to see a full pilot. To raise funds, we used Kickstarter. Also an NGO – ironically – contacted us, said they loved the show and wanted to highlight the issues it raised – so they gave us some money for production as well.”

    Apparently several of the actors aren’t professionals. “Scott,” the new country director played by Liam Acton, has exposure to the NGO world in real life. He’s worked behind the scenes as a documentary filmmaker and is originally from England, so in the show he’s faking an American accent. Several of the actresses have worked professionally, Kurji said, and the character who plays the office driver has acted in “Out Of Africa.” A common practice of NGOs is to employ full-time local drivers who stand by during business hours to ferry employees to various meetings and functions.

    “In the first episodes we introduce a rival NGO – the guys next door,” Kurji said. “This NGO is the complete opposite of Aid for Aid – so we show that they have good governance and are actually accountable to their stakeholders. We show how this works well for everyone.”

    The show still doesn’t have a dedicated airing network yet and ever since they went “live,” they’ve had a lot of interest in how viewers can watch full episodes, but Kurji said they are still underfunded and haven’t finished production of the full season. They also need an outlet for distribution, however, segments and clips can be seen on Vimeo and their website.

    But Kurji recognizes these hitches.

    “We may make it available for rent online, but Amazon takes six months to put it online, and Vimeo is expensive, and not everyone can access it,” he said.

    An attempt to reach Xeinium Productions for comment was not immediately returned.

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