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Good Fortune cover image

Good Fortune 2009


Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 202-808-4980
Produced by Jeremy Levine
Directed by Landon Van Soest
DVD, color, 73 min., In English, Swahili, and Dholuo with English subtitles

Sr. High - Adult
African Studies, Agriculture, Economics, Environmental Studies, Postcolonialism, Urban Studies

Date Entered: 05/02/2011

Reviewed by Wendy Highby, University of Northern Colorado

Good Fortune examines the efficacy of international aid and corporate investment programs in two African communities. The development programs featured in the film are large-scale, top-down projects that impose Western perceptions of poverty and living standards on the residents of the two Kenyan communities. A member of each of the affected communities is profiled—one rural (Jackson, a farmer), the other urban (Silva, a midwife). Jackson and Silva both struggle to maintain their livelihoods and organize against the projects. While the film revealingly touches on the intentions of the benefactors, it chiefly focuses on the experiences of the recipients of the foreign aid. This edition of the documentary includes two discs: one disc contains the original film, wherein Jackson’s and Silva’s stories are interwoven; the other disc is an educational cut, edited to separate the stories.

Part 1 of the film, Jackson and Dominion Farms, runs 34 minutes. Jackson Omondi is a pastoralist, farmer, and schoolteacher in Yala Swamp in the Bondo region of western Kenya. Yala Swamp is an ecologically crucial and sensitive area located along Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world. A private U.S. corporation, Dominion Farms Limited, has obtained a long-term lease of 17,000 acres of the swampland from the Kenyan government and invested $26 million in creating a state-of-the-art rice farm. Dominion dams the Yala River, building an 1100-acre reservoir that floods the land and homes of over 500 families. The documentary chronicles the corporate farm’s negative environmental impact upon Jackson’s livelihood and his efforts to fight against it. Brief interviews reveal the paternalistic intentions of Calvin Burgess, CEO of Dominion. The promised wealth does not trickle down to Jackson. Both people and livestock suffer the effects of flooding, pesticide applications, and unfulfilled promises.

Part II of the film, Silva and the Slum Upgrading Project, runs 39 minutes. The upgrading project’s goal is to improve the living standards of residents of Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Kibera is the third largest slum in the world, with a population estimated between 500,000 and 1 million people. The urban development project is funded jointly by the Kenyan government, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), and the World Bank Cities Alliance. Kibera lacks the infrastructure and sanitation considered basic in the Western world. The upgrade entails replacement of the shacks with modern housing; the initial phase requires temporary relocation of 20,000 slum residents. The documentary’s compelling cinematography takes us into the life of Silva Adhiambo, a midwife who has lived in Kibera for about 15 years. She faces the threat of eviction and subsequent demolition of her home and place of business. Because of her past experience with government corruption, Silva distrusts the Kenyan government’s involvement. She is skeptical that the promised housing will be affordable and doubts that it will ultimately be given to current residents of Kibera. Some screen time is devoted to interviews with United Nations representatives. The film also examines the political context by documenting community reactions to Kenya's 2007 presidential elections.

The ironically-titled Good Fortune effectively reveals the underside of foreign aid. It exposes the disenfranchisement experienced by Jackson and Silva and underscores the need for community involvement, control, and grassroots leadership in development projects. These two case studies could spark lively discussions if used in courses covering the subject areas of African studies, agriculture, economics, environmental studies, policy studies, postcolonialism, and urban studies.