I think that it is best summed up in the Bradt Mali guide:
…think of the chains of children sticking out empty hands asking for pens and sweets and money and what not. Who was the first tourist to come up with the brilliant idea to teach these kids to do so?
It is a facet of Africa that I thoroughly, thoroughly dislike, especially given that it was something artificially created by tourists with no clue as to the environment that they are in. The act of dishing out any manner of things from sweets, to clothes, to money has done nothing to uplift the impoverished of the world, especially in Africa. It has only created dependent sects of society who then see those with the same color of skin as potential givers of gifts. It is not sustainable and all it does is make the ignorant believe that they have done something to help someone–which they haven’t.
The amount of times I’ve heard “donne moi” followed by “cadeaux” (which means bluntly, “give me gift”) are too many too count. I have gotten somewhat numb to it as well as the cat calls for “tubab/u” which means white person/people. You can blow off the first day or two of this, but given enough time, it wears you down. Naturally, the initial reaction is to yell, but we found that the better reaction is to tell the kids to give you a gift. That really blows their mind. Some just stand there, dumbfounded as to what to do. And then one or two just try grabbing at you or your near-empty water bottles that they get 25 Francs (about $0.05 USD) for returning. Sadly, “no” has become my most used French word these days and I see a lot of Malian adults very unhappy as to what has happened with their youth.
As the Bradt guide goes on to point out, there is a solution to this. The first step in it is to stop handing out things to the kids. If you feel you need to give, then give to NGOs or other local groups who can actually work to build something for the community. Essentially, this charity mentality of North Americans and Europeans towards Africa is broken. Stop propagating it with tourism so that I can possibly be addressed as monsieur instead of “hey white guy!”