Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .

A Culture of Corruption
at Amazon

Read David Strain’s review of A Culture of Corruption

Brown U. webpage

An interview by John Coyne

ONE THING THE PEACE CORPS HAS produced (besides writers) is a good manyPrinter friendly version academics, especially RPCVs who have come home to earn additional degrees and become professors of international studies, medicine, or anthropology. Dan Smith (Sierra Leone 1984–87) has done that and more. His book, A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria published by Princeton University Press looks at fraud in Nigeria, the largest source, after oil, of foreign revenue. Having lived and worked in Nigeria, and being married to a Nigerian, Dan draws on his firsthand experiences to give us an insightful and well written account of “the Nigerian factor” as Nigerians call corruption in their country. As Dan points out, “they [Nigerians] are painfully aware of the damage corruption does to their country and see themselves as their own worst enemies.” This book, as the jacket says, “is a profound and sympathetic attempt to understand the dilemmas average Nigerians face every day as they try to get ahead — or just survive — in a society riddled with corruption.”
     Over the last few months I have interviewed Dan (who is on the faculty at Brown University) about his work in the Peace Corps, his book on Nigeria, and what he sees for the future of Africa.

Where are you from in the States, Dan?

I grew up in northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., but I went to high school in New Hampshire, and to Harvard for college.

What was your Peace Corps assignment in Sierra Leone?

I was a health Volunteer assigned to assist in extending and improving the primary health care program in the chiefdom where I was posted. I spent a lot of time working with primary health care staff and Village Health Workers. I also worked with another Volunteer to upgrade local water wells and provide complementary health and sanitation education.

I presume you went on to graduate school after the Peace Corps.

Yes, that’s right. I first got a master’s degree in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, and later a Ph.D. in Anthropology at Emory University.
How did the Peace Corps experience influence what you studied?
The Peace Corps had a profound impact on what I decided to study and on my career path. I first chose to do an MPH because I had been a health Volunteer and wanted to continue to work in international health and development, especially in Africa. After the MPH program I got my first public health job working as a Project Advisor on a Child Survival Program in Nigeria run by an American non-governmental organization called Africare. I spent three years in Nigeria with Africare, and in many ways Peace Corps both predisposed me and prepared me for this kind of work.
     But along the way I had certain questions and frustrations with public health and development work and I thought that Anthropology might offer a useful and illuminating perspective about the kinds of things I was worrying about while also allowing me to continue to pursue my interests in and commitment to Africa. In retrospect, three and a half years in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone prepared me very well for doing anthropological research, because many of the challenges of adapting to and understanding another society while in the Peace Corps are akin to what one faces doing fieldwork as a cultural anthropologist. I’ve done all my anthropological research in and writing about Nigeria, but I feel like I owe a great deal to my Peace Corps experience. Indeed, I hope that in the future I will do research in Sierra Leone.
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