Category Archives: Africa

Perspectives of Poverty

I came across the following photography project, that attempts to address the issue of representation and poverty in rural Africa. Duncan McNicoll,the photographer and an Engineers Without Borders employee, uses two different photographs of the same individual to illustrate how the construction of images can so greatly alter the way people and places are represented. Whether two opposing images are able to adequately address the complexities of poverty and representation is debatable. However, it is great to see individuals working in the development field, attempting to draw attention to problems of representation. I especially like how Edward Kabzela’s ‘poor’ photograph, and the way his community members were able to articulate how to look poorer, points to the economy of images that have become so common place between non-profit organizations and the communities they work with.

Perspectives of Poverty We’ve all seen it: the photo of a teary-eyed African child, dressed in rags, smothered in flies, with a look of desperation that the caption all too readily points out.  Some organization has made a poster that tells you about the realities of poverty, what they are doing about it, and how your donation will change things. I reacted very strongly to these kinds of photos when I returned from Africa in 2008.  I compared these photos to m … Read More

via Water Wellness

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“At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities”

Since my first Mad Magazine at age 6, I have always been a huge fan of satire. A variety of satirical sources have become incredibly popular, more prominently The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and the Onion. These programs and publications, humorously illustrate the inadequacies of our news sources, while drawing our attention to the absurdities of our society. ‘How to write about Africa’ is a satirical piece that is able to address the overabundance of problematic representations of Africa in literature and print. Binyavanga Wainaina’s piece may not have received such attention if it had been written in a journalistic or academic style of writing. Perhaps appealing to the shared human experience that is humour and laughter makes satire so popular, compared to appealing to intellect.

Satire may be great for a good laugh, and to numb the anger that Fox News or The Star can so easily induce. However, there are those that contend that satire is another source of misinformation and results in cynicism rather than action. If this is the case, then we are breeding many sceptics and cynical individuals.  In the United States, more people are currently watching ‘fake news’,

“In the US, a poll for Time magazine asked who was America’s most trusted newscaster following Walter Cronkite’s death. More than two fifths said Jon Stewart, the host of fake news show The Daily Show. Stewart beat more established news anchors including Katie Couric. Stewart’s show attracts 1.8 million viewers a night compared to 1.2 million for CNN’s highest-rate politics show’.

(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/6155175/How-much-influence-does-satire-have-on-current-affairs.html)

It is difficult to differentiate whether The Daily Show’s popularity reflects Jon Stewart’s likeability, or citizens’ fatigue of the awful news sources in the US, or an inability to take current issues seriously. Whatever the case, with so many people consuming political satire, it is worth pondering the implications.

  • Is political satire’s main value merely its humour and in order to be ‘effective’ it must be supplemented with ‘real’ news?
  • Is satirical news replacing ‘real’ news?
  • Does satire spread misinformation to a population who does not have adequate news sources?
  • Does a source that ridicules the current state of affairs lead people to be cynical and complacent or does it challenge them to think about the world in more creative ways?

For myself, I find satire is a means of illustrating that at the basis of the many crises in our society are deep routed systemic issues. While the Daily Show ridicules the individual actions of politicians and news commentators, it also more profoundly attacks the current state of journalism, politics and education in the United States.

As a viewer of satire, I no doubt bring my background into my viewing experience, and thus satire obviously resonates differently with various individuals. Perhaps what irritates critics of satire is that no solution, or avenue for action is offered. But quite rightly there is no single solution, to the multitude of national and international issues we.  While we are barraged with complex issues daily, sometimes it is necessary to laugh at how screwed up everything is.

To end this blog post I would like to include a bit of satire. Please enjoy the following video from the Onion that challenges the ultraistic nature of development work and the role of celebrities in development.

How Can We Let Darfur Know How Much We’re Doing For Them?


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Filed under Africa, Binyavanga Wainaina, Celebrity, Consumerism, Current Events, How to write about Africa, Politics

Most common search terms- Update

Here is an update about the most common search engine terms used to view my blog:

Search Views
naked african tribes 63
african tribal dress 47
tall african tribes 33
african sunsets 28
african tribal woman 27
naked african tribe 27
african tribal breasts 25
how to write about africa 22
african tribal women 18
african breasts 17

 

Definitely not what I was hoping for, all of these wonderful stereotypical ideas of Africans. If you are one of these people that came upon my blog using these terms I’d love for you to comment on something. I would also love the obsession with African nakedness to be explained. In fact if you used African and naked, or some variation of this, in your search engine terms and you do not post a comment explaining why, my computer will infect yours with a virus. So please prepare your explanation, thanks.

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And the award for the most offensive development ad goes to…

I recently had to search for non-profit advertisements to display at an event. Sifting through the various advertisements I came across the ‘crying hungry child’ vs. ‘beautiful smiling child’, that are often associated with non-profit advertisements.

However, it was not long before I spotted the pictures, hiding within the images of google search, it was the gem of non-profit advertising, which can only be described as the most ridiculous advertisement of all time.

The advertisement shown above was part of a Unicef Germany campaign raising funds for education in Africa. As if the pictures themselves are not offensive enough the text on the ads can be translated to:

First kid: “I’m waiting for my last day in school, the children in africa still for their first one.”

Second kid: “In africa, many kids would be glad to worry about school”

Third kid: “In africa, kids don’t come to school late, but not at all”

Fourth kid: “Some teachers suck. no teachers sucks even more.”

My initial reaction can be best described as:

1)     What the f*ck?????????????????

2)     Africa is not a f*cking country.

3)     Where in Africa are they talking about?

4)     Do they not think children in whatever part of Africa they are talking about go to school?

5)     Who at unicef okay’d these ads?????????

After getting over my initial disbelief I rapidly searched google for others as shocked as I was with these advertisements. I came across the following blog posting, that helped ease my sense of isolated anger:

Besides claiming that every single person in “Africa” isn’t educated, and doing so in an extremely patronising way, it is also disturbing that this organisation thinks blackfacing kids with mud (!) equals “relating to african children”. Also, the kids’ statements ignore the existence of millions of african academics and regular people and one again reduces a whole continent to a village of muddy uneducated uncivilized people who need to be educated (probably by any random westerner). This a really sad regression.

Bottom lines of this campaign are: Black = mud = African = uneducated. White = educated. We feel this campaign might do just as much harm as it does any good.

The above post by Mulatto Diaries perfectly summarized my sentiments.

Also found on this blog was a statement from Unicef:

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We agree — these advertisements are not appropriate and run against UNICEF’s mission. They have been dropped from the UNICEF German National Committee’s website and there are no plans to use them in the future. We apologize for any offence caused.

As a UNICEF supporter, you may be interested to know a little more about the German National Committee’s campaign to promote child-friendly schools in six African countries. Launched in late 2004, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the fact that nearly half of all children in Africa lack even primary education.

With funds from private donors, 350 schools have been repaired or newly constructed. In addition, several thousand teachers have been trained and school management improved. In total, around 100,000 children and young people have benefited from this campaign since 2004. The right to education for all children is a prerequisite to develop their full potential and a basis for social and economic development. Again, we apologize for any offense caused’.

While it is great Unicef responded to their critics by pulling the ads, let us keep in mind that  the communication/marketing team from Unicef Germany worked with their ad. agency to come up with the concept for this advertisement and then thought it was acceptable to launch alongside a campaign to raise funds for schools in ‘Africa’. It could be overlooked if it was only Unicef creating these highly offensive advertisements, or if these ads were acknowledged as the sad ‘regression’ Mulatto Diaries claims them as. Unfortunatly, what struck me while searching through online advertisements was the trend within the development community in their use of these sort of ‘creative advertisements’. In perhaps an attempt to move away from the sad child vs. happy child ad paradigm, many non-profits have been using advertising agencies to create ‘satirical type’ ads.

Here are a few more examples:

Ads by People in Need- You spend so much money on products why not buy some Africa hapiness?

Ad by War Child Canada- Send weapons to Uganda, no wait don’t, give War Child money to take away weapons from Uganda?

I have spent a great deal of time researching and articulating what I perceive as a continued discourse of development between the sad child,  happy child, and satirical ads. However, explaining my findings would be too lengthy. What I want to pose through this blog post is what ideas of the ‘developing world’ and ‘development’ these various advertisements project? Do the three different type of ads project various ideas? How are they similar? How are they different?

When viewing the advertisements and the campaigns they are attached to, how are the following questions answered?

Who must be helped?

Who must do the helping?

What does this help mean?

In my own opinion, while these advertisements may use different images, they all can be understood as answering these questions in the same way. As they are all connected to non-profit organizations that are involved in the business of development, it cannot come as a surprise. Ads are merely a quick glimpse into how confined and restricted our ideas and methods of ‘development’ are. It is not until our notions of development are changed, or until we finally discard development as a viable option that images linked to development discourses are likely to change. Advertisements such as the one by unicef germany, while extremely offensive, may be useful in illustrating just how problematic development practices currently are.

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Filed under Africa, Consumerism, Development, International Development, Uncategorized

Enjoy Poverty

Last week, I was compiling a list of ‘international development’ related documentaries and films. Going over the numerous films, I remembered one of my favourite films titled Enjoy Poverty. The film by Renzo Martens, has rightfully received much attention. In the documentary, Martens travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In the Congo, Martens ‘educates’ Congolese citizens about their most valuable resource- their poverty. Proof of the value of Congolese poverty, Martens claims, is the billions of dollars in aid money nations give annually, in the name of eradicating poverty. Martens also argues that western journalists make a steady income by taking photographs of, and writing articles about poverty. It is this evidence that allows Martens to play a role in helping some Congolese friends recognize poverty as their most useful ‘natural’ resource. Martens trains local photographers to take pictures of disaster and poverty. There is a striking scene, in which the Congolese photographers go into a house with malnourished children and women. If my memory is correct (as I watched the film a year ago), Martens tells the photographers to make sure the children are unclothed and look as sick as possible.

Ultimately the photographers are unable to enjoy this poverty, when their photographs cannot compete with those of western journalists. While Martens has received criticism for the arrogant, white saviour role, he takes on in the film, it is exactly this character that is so effective in making the connection between colonial administers and current development workers. I think this film is able to challenge current development methods, especially the idea of international aid. It also effectively confronts the way westerners think about the continent of Africa, depict it, and make a living off of its poverty. If you are interested in satirical documentaries, you should definitely watch this film.

Below is a trailer in French as I was unable to find one in English.

Enjoy.

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The Danger of A Single Story

I recently finished the novel Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I was introduced to Adichie when I came across one of her lectures titled ‘The Danger of a Single Story”. Purple Hibiscus follows the life of Kambili, a fifteen-year-old living in Nigeria.  The novel describes Kambili’s relationship with her family, friends and how the overall political/social state of Nigeria influences their existence. I found the novel beautifully descriptive, interesting and complex. Adichie was able to describe historically rooted layers of power, while intertwining them in the everyday experience of a fifteen-year-old female.  This novel was Adichie’s first, and received excellent reviews. One of the reasons this novel received such positive attention was because it created a complex narrative of Nigerian people. Rather than focusing solely on the disparity in the country, it illustrated, that similar to families from other regions, Kambilis’ family had a loving, tumultuous, contradictory relationship.

A review from the Boston Globe proclaims: ‘Adichie’s understanding of a young girl’s heart is so acute that her story ultimately rises above its setting and makes her little part of Nigeria seem as close and vivid as Eudora Welty’s Mississippi’

This review helps to outline how welcomed Adichie’s ability to convey such an identifiable narrative is from an audience that so often only receives a single narrative about African nations.

In her lecture ‘The Danger of a Single Story’, Adichie eloquently addresses the single narrative that Africans and North Americans have been receiving of ‘Africa’. Adichie recalls how reading British and American novels in her childhood subsequently shaped her own writing and made her believe people like her (Africans) could not exist in literature. She also discusses the single story of ‘poverty’, which resulted in her American roommates surprise in Adichie’s ability to speak English and the non- tribal music she listened to.

This single story that Adichie discusses is extremely relevant when reviewing North American ideas of ‘development’. As addressed in previous posts, the single form of ‘development’ recognized in North America is often the idea that  ‘the first world helps the third world’.  Adichie’s lecture speaks to this point, as she outlines how power relations and complex narratives are intertwined. While Adichie read complex stories about American and British individuals, western individuals rarely read complex stories about Africans.

She illustrates this point with the story of a student that came to her and said:

‘It was is a shame that Nigerian men are all physical abusers like the father in your novel’.

Adichie responded that she has just read a novel called American Psycho and that:  ‘It was such a shame that young Americans were all serial murderers’.

Adichie goes on to explain that she would never think one character from an American novel would define an entire population, because she had read a variety of American novels, with a variety of complex characters.  The student however had rarely come in contact with complex narratives about Africans. Adichie claims her familiarity with American stories is related to America’s position of power in the world, and ability to spread their stories/cultural products. She outlines in contrast to these complex American stories, narratives about Africans that North Americans receive, only focus on poverty and catastrophe.

This single narrative is difficult to dispute when reviewing Africa in North American news coverage, documentaries, best sellers etc. Adichie contends: ‘show a people as one thing over and over again and they become it’. North Americans understanding of individuals in the ‘third world’ has been shaped by this single story of poverty/chaos and consequently so too have our understandings of methods of development. If all we see are images and stories of poor, helpless and dying people in the ‘third world’ then of course we are going to understand in our position as a monetarily wealthy nation we should help them. Like Adichie, I do not believe denying stories of poverty and death in the ‘third world’ is the answer, but creating a more complex understanding and thus hopefully influencing ideas of development. With more complex narratives about the ‘third world’ hopefully more complex methods of development will follow.

If you have not already watched her lecture ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ I would highly recommend watching the entire video.

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Filed under Africa, Aid, Charity, Current Events, Development, How to write about Africa, International Development, Journalism, The First World, The Third World

Mugabe and the White African- A Film Review

I recently came across a trailer online for the documentary Mugabe and the White African. I am very interested in how African societies, peoples and the idea of African ‘development’ are presented to a ‘western’ audience. Therefore, a film that focused on ‘white Africans’ intrigued me. The film has recently garnered attention from various documentary communities and has won a variety of awards including the winner of the best documentary by the British independent film awards.

It is impossible to generalize how an audience who comes from diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives will receive films and images. I think it is often equally as difficult to understand why the director, writer, cinematographer etc. chose specific images or used certain language. However, I think there is some value in analyzing films for their educational significance when they claim to be documentaries.  While the medium of film can be argued to be incapable of presenting any sort of ‘truth’ due to necessary manipulations of reality (ie- editing shots, adding sound), I would argue many individuals, including myself, still view documentaries as a valid source of information (and documentary makers present them as such). Watching Mugabe and the White African, I was astounded at the lack of contextual information and the one-sided story that was being presented in the guise of information on the current situation in Zimbabwe.

Briefly, the film follows a family of white Zimbabwean farmers as they attempt to legally challenge Mugabe’s land reform program.  Viewers witness Mike Campbell, his son in law, their entire family and fellow white Africans, as they endure threats and violence, while legally attempting to stop Mugabe’s government from ceasing their farmland.  During the film I scribbled down my thoughts regarding the film’s portrayal of Africa(ns), and the narrative relation to common stereotypes. Rather than writing a blog entry on the immense lack of information in this film, I will share what I perceived as the positive and negative aspects of it.

Positives:

  • As the Campbell’s went back and forth from Zimbabwe to Namibia, it was refreshing to witness the different countries in Africa portrayed as their own nations, with different cultures/rules.
  • Rather than the regular rural ‘Africa’ scenes of large/bustling cities were shown.
  • The inclusion of educated black Africans (although in some scenes the narrative seemed to imply they were working in conjunction with Mugabe’s government) was welcomed.
  • The white Africans’ devote religious beliefs broke the mould of ‘uber religious black people’.
  • The question of must you be black to be ‘African’? I think this is an important question to think about, in breaking down preconceived notions of ‘Africans’. I enjoyed watching white individuals in Africa that did not consider themselves Europeans (although this point was kind of ruined when combined with scenes of their parents in England). I feel there is a common understanding that South Africa has white Africans, but when it comes to other Southern African countries white Africans do not exist. Raising the question of African identity in reference to race was valuable, although could have been taken further if the binaries of white/black were challenged.
  • It was interesting to see the camera itself used in the form of a shield/weapon.

Negatives:

  • The most striking negative was the lack of contextual information. I was hoping to be presented with information about Mugabe’s rise to power and fall into his current political policies/state. I do not recall one reference to the impact of colonialism on Zimbabwe and how that directly influences Mugabe’s policies. The lack of information made this film extremely biased, and more of a personal narrative than having a connection to the greater political circumstances.
  • While it was innovative in the sense it looked at ‘white Africans’, it was the same old story of African corruption/ ‘these people cannot rule themselves’. While I am not claiming to be a fan of Mugabe, it is unprofessional to present this type of narrative with no real historical/social context.
  • Throughout the entire film the white farmers talk on behalf of their workers and in their dialogue come off as ‘saviours’ of the poor black farmers. While the black farmers are probably appreciative of having employment and a place to live, I would have liked to hear them verbalize how the land reform would have affected them, or how they felt about Mugabe’s government etc.
  • The black Africans that were able to speak on camera were the ‘educated’ ones, so perhaps while the films somewhat challenged ideas of race, it relied on barriers of class to sculpt the narrative.
  • I always find it irritating when subtitles are given to a certain group of people (in this case black Africans) that the western audience is presumed as not capable of understanding. Also if you are making a documentary about a specific location, you should want people from that region or country to be able to access it and they might have difficulty understanding accents that westerners are ‘supposed’ to understand. I believe in subtitles for all or none.

I’d love to hear other opinions on this film.  I think it would be an interesting (or potentially frustrating) film for viewers who have a great deal of background knowledge regarding the state of Zimbabwe and past/current conditions. I fear that this film may only reinstate stereotypical ideas of Africa, and corrupt African governments, to those whose understanding of Africa’s current condition comes from news and popular broadcasting shows. Watching the film you do feel for the Campbell family and the circumstances they are in and I believe the film is interesting as a narrative about a family struggle.

I will leave you with what I think is the most insightful line in the entire film. It comes from a government official, as he arguing with the white farmer: ‘We want to deal with friendlier people – the Chinamen, the Indians. We don’t want anything to do with you [white] people, we don’t need you’.

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