Stop trying to “save” Africa

Stop Trying to ‘Save’ Africa is the challenge by Uzodinma Iweala, writing in this past Sunday’s Washington Post. Although thankful for all assistance from the wider world, Africans “…do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one’s cultural superiority.”

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.

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.”

The author asks questions such as why Africans are not shown for the work they do supporting one another, or why the western press usually says countries in Africa were “granted independence” when often they had to fight and shed their blood for it? This article calls into question not so much the work that churches and other organizations do in Africa but our motives and how we present our assistance.

Read it all here.

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