Category Archives: Aid

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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Filed under Africa, Aid, Current Events, Development, International Development

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

Stop Trying To ‘Save’ Africa

An interesting article regarding the images and language that are continually employed in the ‘West’ to talk about African ‘development’, enjoy.

Stop Trying To ‘Save’ Africa

By Uzodinma Iweala

Washington Post Sunday, July 15, 2007

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.

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Filed under Africa, Aid, Celebrity, Charity, Current Events, Development, International Development, Politics

The More Fashionable Berlin Conference

In Africa, we were around thousands of people who have seen a lot of poverty, but they were fun at the end of the day- Angelina Jolie

I used to assume after watching the movie Blood Diamonds [sic] that diamonds were not acceptable to buy from Africa. However, it is the complete opposite! -Kim Karasian after visiting diamond mines in Botswana

I am overwhelmed and inspired by my trip to Malawi and hope that it helps bring attention to how much more the world needs to do to help the children of Africa- Madonna

I represent a lot of people [in Africa] who have no voice at all… They haven`t asked me to represent them. It’s cheeky but I hope they’re glad I do.’- Bono

And one more quote from Bono, just because I care so deeply for him and his sunglasses:

Africa is sexy and people need to know that – Bono, The New York Times

Celebrity involvement in development has appeared to have exponentially grown over the past few years. Each month there is another story of an international celebrity donating, building, adopting etc. in Africa:

‘Angelina Jolie builds orphanage with her very own hands’

‘Madonna adopts entire African village’

‘Bono cures AIDS’

The idea of ‘African development’ has materialized in the shape of celebrity causes. Since I am attempting to explore the ways in which development is substantiated in North America or the ‘developed’ world, the involvement of celebrities in development is an interesting topic. The argument in favor of celebrity involvement in ‘African development’ usually follows the logic of why should they not do something positive with their fame and fortune? In their positions of influence, why not draw attention to the dire situations around the world?

Well I, along with help from some all-knowing academics, will tell you why not. With the greater involvement of celebrities in development, academics have busted out of their ivory towers and joined forces to squash this idea of this positive altruism. In their article ‘The Downside of Celebrity Diplomacy: The Neglected Complexity of Development’ Heribert Dieter and Rajiv Kumar explore the relationship between celebrities and development in three particular areas :

First, [they] chart the rise of prominent celebrity activists in international affairs, in particular their impact on development policies of the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Second, [they] examine the competence of celebrities to handle development issues and suggest a more nuanced and less paternalistic approach. Third, [they] consider the legitimacy of celebrity activists and whether these nonelected individuals are well positioned to berate democratically elected governments.

In the first page of their article Dieter and Kumar summarize their argument:

The Irish rock star Paul Hewson, better known as Bono, is not only the front man of the band U2 but has also become the champion of an antipoverty movement with worldwide impact. Bono is supported by US economist Jeffrey Sachs, who has become a global spokesperson for poverty reduction, especially in Africa. Surprisingly, the recipes being suggested by Bono and Sachs are breathtakingly one-dimensional and akin to the sweeping propositions of the 1960s: give aid to Africa, waive debt, and provide education, and the continent will develop. While these remedies may look seductive, unfortunately the reality is far more complex and demands attention to the specific circumstance of each individual country or subregion. Grand ideas for development are a dangerous recipe and may in fact worsen the situation of the poor.

In their argument Dieter and Kumar, raise very important issues regarding celebrity knowledge of development and their portrayal of Africa. I do not doubt that most celebrities involved in ‘development’ are legitimately passionate for the causes they are championing. However, the methods in which they go about addressing the so-called issues are problematic. As argued by Dieter and Kumar, celebrities often offer simplistic solutions:

-Angelina Jolie proposes to build more schools, improve conditions in refugee camps

-Kim Khardasian champions more purchasing of diamonds to fuel African economies

-Madonna raises funds to build more orphanages or improves the lives of African children by bringing them to America

-Bono loudly champions more school, education that is more accessible, more condoms

While there seems to be nothing inherently negative about these suggested methods of ‘developing’ Africa, there ineffectiveness has clearly been illustrated with the reversal of development that has happened over the past century in Africa (In her work Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo reviews how the trillions of dollars of aid pumped into Africa have not improved conditions). Many scholars and development practitioners have argued against the effectiveness of the sort of development championed by celebrities (see Kapoor, Ilan “Participatory Development, Complicity and Desire 2005, Giles Mohan and Kristian Stokke “Participatory Development and Empowerment: the Dangers of Localism 2000). The theories presented by these scholars criticize common participatory frameworks of development and suggest rethinking the concept of development. These critical development theories would imply that celebrities are unqualified to suggest methods of ‘developing’ Africa. But why would we expect them to? Why would individuals who devoted their entire lives to careers based on themselves, suddenly be qualified to address one of the most complex international situations? Dieter and Kumar’s argument that celebrities’ “grand suggestions for development…may infact worsen the situation” is an idea I have wrestled with extensively in my own work. I have reviewed the various ways in which the ‘third world’ is portrayed in the North American media and how these visuals are tied to notions of ‘development’ that are unsustainable and may worsen the situation.

The ways in which celebrities often frame Africa and development fall into these categories:

-Africa as a whole or country

-Africa as destitute

-Africa as rural

-Africa as ‘black’ ( Paulette Goudge’s work The Whiteness of Power: Racism in Third World Development and Aid greatly addresses this topic)

-African development as reliant on us (us being the western world)

Without getting into it too extensively (as I would like to address it over various blog entries), I argue that these representations result in the employment of development methods that ignore the complex histories, cultures and peoples of Africa.

Does building the same orphanage in Sierra Leone and Botswana and Zimbawe make sense?

Does adopting children address the historical, systemic and economic issues that various African nations face?

Is greater access to orphanages and schools improving the overall situation in African countries, or are we missing the target?

And the questions could go on and on.

I believe that celebrity involvement in development, similarly to consumerism, is not conducive to serious knowledge exchange regarding the complexities of development in Africa. It is this same notion of development that is pushed through fair trade products and travel holidays, in which ‘development’ must take place in the ‘third world’. There is often little conversation regarding international economic policies that are detrimental to African countries, North American interest in various African conflicts, or implications of colonial histories in current ideas of development.  Dieter and Kumar elegantly summarize my sentiments when they suggest that:

Celebrities’ contemporary calls to ‘make poverty history’ in Africa are so widely repeated and commonsensical that questions about the exceptionality of this humanitarian action itself rarely arise.

Celebrities are contributing to this understanding of development that must take place in the ‘third world’. The discourse of ‘they are the problem and we will help them’, is continually being disseminated to a population who worships celebrities. I believe that celebrities interested in aiding Africa, should stick to acting, singing or fashion and be involved in ‘development’ by giving some of the outrageous amount of money they make to development professionals, academics or people like myself…

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Filed under Aid, Bono, Celebrity, Current Events, Development, International Development, Paulette Goudge, Politics, The Ivory Towers

International Development

It is them- with their dirty water, rickety housing, high mortality rates.

Them-with their lack of education, employment, understanding of what is good for them.

Them- with their unconventional cultural rituals, impeding the ability for us to help them.

It is us that will help them.

Help them to develop in our image.

Not by force- not like colonialism, no not like that.

Not by persuasion- no not like those methods forced upon them through World Bank and IMF policies.

But through empowerment.

We will help them, help themselves.

We will provide them with our knowledge, so they will know how to tend to the wells we build for them.

They will be able to teach within the sturdy buildings we enact for them as schools.

And we will help them understand how the economy works, how they must adopt comparative advantage, farm the right product, be successful.

We will travel to their resorts and gawk at their exotic animals, bringing them income and employment.

But do not worry, we will also travel for a day to their villages to experience the real conditions they live in.

We will buy the products, the fair trade products, the products that claim to provide them with fair wages.

We will sponsor them. We will phone in to those programs on television and pay one dollar a day. We will pay so they can have three meals, so they can move out of their mud huts and to ensure they will no longer have to live with flies on their faces.

And we will learn about them.

In our large educational facilities, we will read academic articles about them.

We will write essays regarding methods of changing their conditions- an introduction to become familiar with them, a few body paragraphs comparing the positive and negative development methods currently changing their societies, and then a conclusion to summarize the proper procedure for us to help them.

We will view videos about their conditions. These videos will both shock and inspire us. We will engage in ferocious debate, we will debate about the best means to help them.

Experts will come to our institutions to educate us, they will educate us about them, the experts, they will tell us how to help them.

We will hold events to educate the rest of the student body about these issues, and attempt to get them to understand the problem.

The problem that we will solve.

We will help them.

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Filed under Aid, Consumerism, Development, Fair Trade, International Development, Politics, The First World, The Third World