MSF’s leadership is almost completely white. The organization has five operational centers, all based in Europe. Race is very visible in international development. In public, organizations appear sensitive to race and culture, but in private, individual biases come through. The following example was provided by a female doctor employed as national staff in South Africa.
I was once in a meeting with a few senior managers from MSF in Brussels, discussing plans for a survey in KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), when one of the highly respected directors who’s spent more than 10 years working in Khayelitsha burst into a racist rant about how South African national staff are all “victims” and how “everyone wants something”. He went on to compare South African nationals to Kenyans and Malawians saying that we have no work ethic, this was to make the point that employing staff for the survey was not going to be easy. Sadly, I was the only South African national of colour at the table and I was so shocked that I didn’t say anything. The incident was never discussed or mentioned again. But if this is the attitude from someone who’s spent so long working in the country, what can we expect from people who come there for a few months at a time?