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Monday, October 08, 2007

Stop trying to save Africa!


Read this, read the whole thing. He took the words out my mouth and I'm glad there's other people that feel like I feel.

By Uzodinma Iweala
Sunday, July 15, 2007; Page B07

Last fall, shortly after I returned from Nigeria, I was accosted by a
perky blond college student whose blue eyes seemed to match the
"African" beads around her wrists.

"Save Darfur!" she shouted from behind a table covered with pamphlets
urging students to TAKE ACTION NOW! STOP GENOCIDE IN DARFUR!


My aversion to college kids jumping onto fashionable social causes
nearly caused me to walk on, but her next shout stopped me.

"Don't you want to help us save Africa?" she yelled.

It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis
it has created in the Middle East , the West has turned to Africa for
redemption. Idealistic college students, celebrities such as Bob
Geldof and politicians such as Tony Blair have all made bringing light
to the dark continent their mission. They fly in for internships and
fact-finding missions or to pick out children to adopt in much the
same way my friends and I in New York take the subway to the pound to
adopt stray dogs.

This is the West's new image of itself: a sexy, politically active
generation whose preferred means of spreading the word are magazine
spreads with celebrities pictured in the foreground, forlorn Africans
in the back. Never mind that the stars sent to bring succor to the
natives often are, willingly, as emaciated as those they want to help.

Perhaps most interesting is the language used to describe the Africa
being saved. For example, the Keep a Child Alive/" I am African" ad
campaign features portraits of primarily white, Western celebrities
with painted "tribal markings" on their faces above "I AM AFRICAN" in
bold letters. Below, smaller print says, "help us stop the dying."

Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of
Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly
focus on the continent's corrupt leaders, warlords, "tribal"
conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital
mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like "Can Bono Save
Africa?" or "Will Brangelina Save Africa?" The relationship between
the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but
such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European
colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to
education, Jesus Christ and "civilization."

There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help
of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given
in the spirit of affirming one's cultural superiority. My mood is
dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a
litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually) wealthy,
white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done
for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college
student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for
her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film
about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head --
because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in
the West's fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to
ignore the West's prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate
situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work
Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.

Why do the media frequently refer to African countries as having been
"granted independence from their colonial masters," as opposed to
having fought and shed blood for their freedom? Why do Angelina Jolie
and Bono receive overwhelming attention for their work in Africa while
Nwankwo Kanu or Dikembe Mutombo, Africans both, are hardly ever
mentioned? How is it that a former mid-level U.S. diplomat receives
more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan than do the numerous
African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent
countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in
that crisis?

Two years ago I worked in a camp for internally displaced people in
Nigeria, survivors of an uprising that killed about 1,000 people and
displaced 200,000. True to form, the Western media reported on the
violence but not on the humanitarian work the state and local
governments -- without much international help -- did for the
survivors. Social workers spent their time and in many cases their own
salaries to care for their compatriots. These are the people saving
Africa, and others like them across the continent get no credit for
their work.

Last month the Group of Eight industrialized nations and a host of
celebrities met in Germany to discuss, among other things, how to save
Africa. Before the next such summit, I hope people will realize Africa
doesn't want to be saved. Africa wants the world to acknowledge that
through fair partnerships with other members of the global community,
we ourselves are capable of unprecedented growth.

Uzodinma Iweala is the author of "Beasts of No Nation," a novel about
child soldiers.

Do you agree with the article? Vote to the left.

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6 comments:

A.i. said...

So true! You've given words to thoughts I've had for years, but didn't quite know how to express.

Peace

Dean said...

I think that you have a great point.
There is a lot of good being done in Africa by Africans, there is no doubt about this.
The reason that american headlines contain images of their (often white) celebrities in Africa helping the needy, is because this will get the attention of the people; the Americans and western public as a whole. When celebrities are involved with an issue it is their power to bring knowledge and awareness to issues that they use. They may not necessarily do the most work or the best work out of all the people involved with Africa, however by having celebrities involved, hopefully more people will be attracted to read the article and learn more about the issues and ultimately get involved, whereas if somebody they have never seen before is on the cover they are far less likely to follow through and get involved in the issue. That is what it comes down to: who can get more people involved. This is a positive thing!
Please also remember that even though I do agree with you that Africa has the potential to save itself, I feel that your mentioning that the west should not be involved is very unfair, unappreciative and unrealistic. You said it yourself when you mentioned how great of a job those african leaders did in helping their people after they were displaced and there was only minimal help from the west. It all shows the problems and it comes down to the fact that it is the African leaders who are forced to step it up when the west isn't as involved as usual instead of the more ideal situation where the west is occasionally helping when the leaders need it most. The west is a presence in Africa and without this presence there will be even more issues and far less problems getting solved.
Africa is corrupt. Africa is disease ridden. There is an extremely high level of poverty in Africa. There is also a lot of good being done and a lot of very good people getting involved with the issues. However without the help of the west, I believe that Africa has a far shot of success any time soon. Africa needs the assistance, they need the food and the rallies for cures and the "life straws" which make the unclean water healthy to drink once again. The Assistance of the west is a vital lifeline to the African people and without it, Africa will once again be even farther from freedom and success than we thought possible.
Please understand that people do things because they are to their advantage. Yes the west feels better when they help Africa. This is true and I can understand your standpoint that you don't want Africa to be an issue dealt with by the west. For some reason those college students who are trying to do good seem to upset you so much. Remember that just because somebody does something that is to their advantage does not necessarily mean that it is to the disadvantage of anyone else. Please be appreciative and lower your chin, simply accept these offerings of humanitarianism for what they truly are: help for those who need it most.
-Dean Abramowitz

Anonymous said...

The media does injustice to Africa . All they every show is hungry people,dirty slums but forget the country is very beautiful and not every body is suffering. Americans are very ignorant so the media going to feed the American people with bs and they going to eat it up. I'm so glad you wrote this. People keep forgetting Africa is the richest place in the world in terms of natural resources.They take tons of oil,diamond,gold, etc. it's because Africa why the West is so well off from slave trade to stealing the natural resources but they don't talk about that.They want to save Darfur but America and the Europeans are the one promoting all the bs that's going on and they want to turn around and blame China.

Anonymous said...

im big on helping poverty stricken places mind you...why should innocent people have to be affected bacuse they have a shit government!
im going to ethiopia and im going to go see it for real!
i would like to see you go to a place like that and not feel bad..
oh and you spelt blonde wrong

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I am a part of the movement to assist Africa not because it is trendy or fashionable, as you called it, but because it truly matters to me. I feel so privileged living here and having most everything offered to me on a silver platter and when given the opportunity to make a difference in other people's lives, I took it. Getting people involved is a positive thing and your unnapreciative attitude to the western world's reaching out is certainly uncalled for.

hahaha said...

i do not agree we have to stop poverty now! people are dieing and we need to help! dont belive me go on google type in how does the government help stop poverty and i think its the 4th down and click on it and wach the shows! then you will undersstand! africa needs us!