Aid and the Help
International Development and the Transnational Extraction of Care
Dinah Hannaford




We are leaving Senegal and wish we could take our amazing, sweet and reliable nanny Marietou.1 She just radiates joy and genuinely enjoys working with babies and kids. She is creative in inventing games and activities, is very patient and great at making my son giggle and roll over with laughter. Marietou has worked with us for a year, taking excellent care of our baby boy since he was 4 months old. Before us, she worked with an American family for 4 years and did US embassy courses on hygiene, safety, etc. Before that, she was employed by a Dutch family for 7 years. Marietou is so sweet, smart, and trustworthy that I have not once worried when I had to leave my baby with her and go to the office. Not once! She goes on and organizes playdates, goes out to the market, cleans while baby naps, and cooks upon request and can stay occasional nights for babysitting. She makes our lives so much easier without us really noticing.

This ad, posted by an international aid worker in a newsletter for people looking to hire domestic workers in Dakar, Senegal, is typical of the kinds of classifieds that expat development workers consult upon arrival to Dakar and post upon their departure. In my years in and alongside the development industry in Senegal, I rarely met an international aid worker who did not employ domestic workers—at the very least a maid or a guard but often a nanny, a cook, a driver, or a gardener as well. In this regard, development workers are no different from expats in Africa who work in the mining industry, in business and telecommunications, or in diplomatic roles.

Hiring domestic workers is a routine part of the expat development lifestyle, not just in Senegal, where my research takes place, but in nearly all locations in which development workers are posted abroad. Expat development workers I knew in Dakar compared experiences hiring nannies in Thailand and Ethiopia, told stories of their guards in Tanzania and their maids in Myanmar. Though nearly every expat aid worker in the developing world has local people working within the intimate sphere of their homes, these relationships are rarely if ever discussed in analyses of the development paradigm and its praxis. Even the studies that focus explicitly on the lived experience of development work rarely ever mention this arrangement or the dynamics surrounding it.2 Within the context of the notable “parochial cosmopolitanism” (Rajak and Stirrat 2011) of aid workers, who live only a few years in any one location and often spend that time in a “bubble,” which Raymond Apthorpe (2005) called “Aidland” to describe how “aid workers inhabit a separate world with its own time, space, and economics,” it is remarkable that such reliable and intimate associations with local people could go ignored. Remarkable, but also consistent with how domestic labor itself has been largely invisible to states and policy analysts.3

This book addresses this lacuna in studies of international development through an ethnographic analysis of the intersection of development work and domestic work. The relationship between aid workers and their domestic employees, the connection between development work and domestic work, is an apt prism for studying essential realities about the racial, gendered, and classed aspects of the development industry. Examining aid workers as employers of domestic labor provides an opportunity to reach a deeper understanding about the function of development as an orienting framework in our contemporary world, as well as a means to consider the role of aid workers as postcolonial subjects in Africa.

Arlie Hochschild has used the metaphor of extraction in her writing about the global care chain, drawing a parallel between the imperialist extraction of resources like gold and rubber and the current migration of care workers from the developing world to the West. She refers to love as “the new gold” and describes it as being fetishized, in Marx’s sense of the term, in that “we unwittingly separate the love between nanny and child from the global capitalist order of love to which it very much belongs” (2003, 26). Spotlighting the outsourcing of reproductive labor—the extraction of care that occurs so regularly in the practice of international development work, the rewards it brings for expats, and the sacrifices and ambivalent opportunities it entails on the part of domestic workers—is an invitation to identify the other multiple ways that the ostensibly “giving” industry of development can be an extractive industry as well.

Following Hannah Appel’s recent call to “shift our critical understanding of capitalism from one in which ‘markets’ merely deepen or respond to postcolonial inequality, to one in which markets are made by that inequality” (2019, 2; italics in the original), I align with critical perspectives of the development industry that see it not as an industry that resulted from postcolonial inequity but one that is sustained by and sustains postcolonial inequity. This book is a contribution to efforts to render this critique more tangible and visible.


1. Names of all domestic workers and expat employers have been changed to protect their privacy.

2. One notable exception is Christian and Namaganda 2018.

3. Cf. Chin 2003; Lutz 2011; Lutz 2017.