In March 2012, human rights organization Invisible Children launched a viral video about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, putting a spotlight on the acts of violence he committed for the past 20 years. Their video received millions of views on Youtube, millions of retweets of the ‘STOPKONY’ hashtag as well as a whole lot of criticism from Ugandans and other minorities for its neo-colonialism undertones and misinformation.
This is not the first time an organization’s seemingly noble quest to right the wrongs in (insert African country) has resulted in a collective eyeroll from us.
What is it about these organizations that we find so annoying? Why do campaigns like ‘STOPKONY’ rub the African Diaspora the wrong way?
Perhaps it’s because we find them insulting. Whether it’s Alicia Keys’ “Keep a Child Alive”, Bono and “Product (Red)”, or the many other organizations out there ‘saving’ Africa, we are never always comfortable with the”help”(shielded with equal measures of good intentions, ignorance and self-righteousness) because their aid usually comes with “I’m here to save you” attitudes that can be degrading and undermining of all Africans.
As the blogger behind Doused in Pan-African Thought put it, “I support collaboration NOT savior projects.” But they all seem like savior projects, don’t they?
We live in a world where the general consensus – perpetuated by the media – is that Africans cannot cope without aid. This reinforces the belief that Africans are somehow inferior and therefore need the assistance of our more gifted and capable neighbors to the west. In reality, Africa is home to countries with men and women who are smart, strong and very capable. But one infomercial and our continent of cultural wonder and diversity is reduced to a village swarming with flies and malnourished children who need Americans to help them access clean water and shoes.
To add to an already frustrating situation, despite all the attention directed at our continent, the real problems each of our countries face still never seem to be addressed.
When covering the Kony controversy, the Huffington Post quoted Musa Okwongo, a commentator for The Independent, who wrote:
“Invisible Children asked viewers to seek the engagement of American policymakers and celebrities, but – and this is a major red flag – it didn’t introduce them to the many Northern Ugandans already doing fantastic work both in their local communities and in the diaspora. It didn’t ask its viewers to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration.”
Okwongo brought up some good points. Why don’t these organizations rallying for Africa never seem to include any, um, Africans? Why are these organizations reaching out to those who live thousands of miles away instead of collaborating with the citizens of (insert African country) trying to make a difference in their communities? Why aren’t they seeking to engage the African policymakers?
Could it be because charities and organizations fighting the good fight in Africa, are not in the business of actually empowering African citizens?
That’s just silly. Forget I asked that question.