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Thread: Stop trying to save Africa -- says an African

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    Hit By Ban Bus! pacific breeze's Avatar
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    Default Stop trying to save Africa -- says an African

    Stop Trying To 'Save' Africa
    washingtonpost.com
    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.

    2007 The Washington Post Company

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    I can quite understand their frustration. Africa is often reffered to as one of the "darkest" parts of the world. The funny thing is tho, that the people in Africa are actually said to be one of the happiest in the world since for them happiness doesn't equal having alot of money so they can buy the newest cars, computer games, clothes or whatever.

    The fact is tho, that Africa can't get it's countries in order without the help of the western countries. And by help, I don't mean that we should interfere with their politics or things like that but we should provide them for example financial help in farming by buying certain machines so the farmers are able to produce more food and also for example save water.

    It is sad that the western people help only to promote themselves but then again, you can't deny the fact that it increases the awarness of the need in Africa :/

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    I can definitely see this guy's point. I think help has to be provided but we don't have to "save" Africa (which is a big friggin continent, with many countries thriving).

    I have several friends from various parts of that continent. When one of them mentions she from Sudan, people immediately draw up an image of a woman fleeing a war torn country, only minutes away from slaughter, uneducated, illiterate and certainly someone who needs saving. She actually has a degree, is a nutritionist, comes from a family where her mother was a university prof, her father a vet, and she left her country, not because of war, but because she wanted to try her hand in Canada. Now, her life isn't idyllic, her degree isn't recognised here, and they've had a rough go, but instead of people trying to direct her to the nearest centre for torture victims to save her, they should probably talk to her and bug the gov't to start recognising some degrees from brown countries.

    I doubt a lot of these celebrities know the histories of the people other than the Cole's notes version that they're trying to save. They wouldn't be able to name a notable figure in that country's history, nor the major languages. Saving someone assumes they are helpless in the situation, assisting them assumes that they are either working on the problem and need a boost, or are willing to.

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    Elite Member Grimmlok's Avatar
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    i know someone who went to 'save' africa, joining one of those missions.. he says that we've created such a culture of dependency over there that the people don't know how to take care of themselves.. they dont know how to farm properly, or dig for water, or whatever because they keep getting handouts.

    Is africa ever going to save itself?
    I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.

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