U. Iweala on whitefolk who want to ‘save’ Africa

Uzodinma Iweala, a young novelist from Washington DC and Nigeria, has a great opinion piece in today’s WaPo that should be must-reading for all young whitefolk who get the urge to “save” Africa.
He writes:

    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.

Fair partnerships? We are still a long, long way away from that. One excellent first move would be for the US, the EU and Japan to immediately end the massive subsidies their governments give to their own agricultural producers– primarily, at this point, it should be noted, producers who are part of large-scale agribusiness concerns. These subsidies have completely tipped the playing field of international trade against farmers in Africa and other low-income parts of the world, and have forced them off their farms and into penury and, far too often, into a state of a desperate struggle for the resources needed for basic survival that too often becomes full-scale conflict fueled by– you guessed it!– Western exporters of small arms.
Yes, let’s have some fairness and basic inter-human respect restored to these relationships, indeed.

21 thoughts on “U. Iweala on whitefolk who want to ‘save’ Africa”

  1. I found this of interest, particuarly as I am interested in restoring COMPASSION, HUMAN RIGHTS, FREEDOM and HUMAN DEVELOPMENT as the cornerstone of our foreign policy. I believe that Senator Patrick Leahy is THE US Senator who exemplifies this the most.

  2. I found this of interest, particuarly as I am interested in restoring COMPASSION, HUMAN RIGHTS, FREEDOM and HUMAN DEVELOPMENT as the cornerstone of our foreign policy. I believe that Senator Patrick Leahy is THE US Senator who exemplifies this the most.
    H, why not write on the very crucial French sponsored conflict resolution mediation efforts with Lebanon?

  3. Former World Bank chief Wolfowitz goes to Washington think tank
    AEI’s president, Christopher DeMuth, made the announcement Monday. Wolfowitz will work on entrepreneurship and development issues, Africa,/B> and public-private partnerships, the group said in a release.
    Africa’s problems/ corruptions will be tracks and solved by this war mongering guy.

  4. Nice and illuminating piece. I wonder and dream that a higher oil price would allow an agriculture based energy world, where Africa can benefit and replace the sandy kingdoms as our partners and suppliers.

  5. Doris,
    I wonder and dream that a higher oil price would allow an agriculture based energy world, where Africa can benefit and replace the sandy kingdoms as our partners and suppliers.
    You are dreaming Doris,
    There are few products more economically complex than coffee. The final price of a cup in the West will have absorbed the costs of insurance, taxes, transport, processing, packaging, marketing, storage and much more. But of the £2 charged for a cappuccino in a British coffee shop, an average farmer gets less than 2p. “Coffee is one of the least transparent industries in the world,”said Nick. “The coffee industry is not slavery, but when people are being paid half a dollar a day it is not far off. The companies argue that it’s better than nothing, and that’s a problem. By which standard is an equitable wage being judged? The companies who supply us with coffee wouldn’t treat their own employees the same way.”
    A higher oil price will goes to to cover insurance, taxes, transport, processing, packaging, marketing, storage but the groweres will suffer more than before.
    “They [the coffee farmers] were told that the price of coffee had dropped, even when it hadn’t. The daily closing price of coffee was broadcast on national radio, but only 2 percent of 700,000 farmers had access to one.
    “Kettler hit upon the idea of bringing wind-up radios to farmers as a way to alleviate isolation of coffee co-ops, which often are made up of hundreds or thousands of farmers.”
    The best example of corruptions and bribery is the African oil producer country Nigeria the majority of the nation live in poverty while the production of oil between 3-5Millions barrel/day. Despite oil prices jumped from $25-$30 t0 $75 today prices there were no change in that society whatsoever

  6. Doris,
    Replacing oil fuel with agricultural fuel isn’t the solution, especially not for the poor agriculture workers in Africa : the greed for so-called “green” fuel will put a harsh strain on all the agricultural products; it is already so. Those who suffer from it are the poorer people living in Africa and elsewhere, who can no more afford to buy their food.
    The first step to solve the energy problem is to spare energy. It is said that about 30% can be spared, with better isolation of houses, no stand by electrical tools, less consumming cars etc. etc.
    Then we get some time to think of something else.
    Not even Brasilian “green” oil is ecological : it pushes firms to eradicate forests; forests absorbs a great part of CO2 and with the warming catastrophes nearing, it’s a bad idea to take them out.

  7. I think the biggest scandal in U.S.-African relations is the odious debt the U.S. has engineered there; Jack Perkins described this policy and its implementation in “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”.

  8. The question I am interested in dialoguing about (however stung I feel and reluctant to continue posting to this listserve, really-) is the question of unconditional aid and human development-what are the prospects for embedding this as the cornerstone of our foreign policy?
    I had an excellent conversation with Dr. Rania Masri from Balamand about this-she articulated some of the very real problems with aid from USAID-particularly that goods flood local markets-
    What are the prospects for changing these approaches?

  9. Yes, sustainable development is one way to describe this phenomenon; I prefer Human Development. Thanks for the resources.
    The question is how to do we engage aid agencies in this discourse?

  10. Most genuine aid agencies have been working on these problems for years, KDJ. It is only the big imperial-administration agencies like USAID, the World Bank, IMF, etc that are resistant to it. Rather than thinking we can improve matters simply by trying to ‘reform’ such agencies, we surely need to work at a much deeper political level– to engage/re-educate our fellow-citizens about the need for a truly level playing field in international trade (i.e. an end to subsidies for rich-country farmers) and re-educate our northern publics, too, about the demeaning nature of so many of these paternalistic efforts by European-heritage outsiders to ‘save’ Africa

  11. I agree, H. The question for me, and perhaps a divergence, yet I believe it is central to all of this, is whether human development can in fact be the cornerstone of foreign policy? If so, can organizations like USAID, CIDA, etc. play a constructive role in reducing human suffering and enhancing opportunity? Yes, much “charity” is simply that-there are scores of examples of organizations which send humanitarian supplies to places where foreign products, such as particular types of medicines, etc. are in fact not useful, or they are outdated (disgusting) etc.

  12. Well, I still dream. With bio fuels and high oil prices Africans will have the choice of participating in more lucrative markets. The choice being theirs was the point of Helena’s post, wasn’t it?
    If any of the respondents were African, fine, but I don’t think so.

  13. No whitefolk can help Africa, they’re all racist and paternalistic.
    Except for Great White Mother Helena, who of course knows exactly what they. And who’s such good friends with those “gentle, almost coal black” people (her quote, not mine).

  14. Ah, Joshua, back on your job of blocking real dialogue by engaging in dishonest ad-feminam attacks here, I see.
    For those unfamiliar with the post Joshua’s referring to, it was one about a particularly inspiring Mozambican peacebuilder and church elder whom I was describing, in the most accurate and vivid terms I could find. And Joshua chose to find that description demeaning, and now he chooses to allege that I would use the exact same terms to describe all African people?
    Who is engaging in dishonest argument and stereotypical thinking here?
    No, I don’t consider myself a ‘Great white mother’, Joshua. I do try to listen to, and report on, the substance of what a broad range of African people say. For some reason, Joshua chooses not to engage with that substance but instead comes to my blog to engage in sleazy, smeary attacks against me. I don’t know why.
    Anyway, I’ll delete his defamatory and jejune post sometime soon, and most likely this one along with it. So let’s not spend much time dwelling on his diversionary issues.

  15. Articles impugning the motives and character of “whitefolk” like Angelina Jolie (esp. when cited with approval by other ‘whitefolk’) are blatantly ad feminam. They’re plainly ethnic slurs. Frankly it’s hard to engage ‘substance’ like this (that uses some moronic -and made up- headlines as proof of paternalism and race guilt.
    “Whitefolk” sounds straight out of Uncle Remus. Wouldn’t “non-Africans” be better?

  16. Hi,
    Maybe I’m too dumb for such a discussion… But I’ll threw my 5 cent in!
    I mean, is 50 cent by any chance entitled to replace Angelina Jolie and help Africa?
    Is he African? I doubt it.
    I think he a US citizen, 100%.
    P.S. And what shall we do with the mulattos?

  17. On reflection, the category probably shouldn’t be defined in terms of skin color but as something like “rich, publicity-seeking outsiders”. It’s just that the vast majority of rich, publicity-seeking US citizens “saving” Africa these days do happen to be people of European heritage– and then, of course, there are Euro-heritage Europeans, too, like Bono etc.
    I would be quite happy with Bono, or Anjelina, or 50 cent or anyone who would invest their own money and time in helping good, solid, citizen-based organizations like the ones Iweala writes about– including (perhaps) by using their own public profiles to help to foreground the work of those organizations and their talented leaders and organizers. I don’t see much of that happening right now.
    Anyway, Iweala said most of this much better than I could.
    (Thanks for coming here, Dodo. I loved your page. Come back often.)

  18. Oba Helena,
    Yes I agree with you but unfortunately this happens all the time (see the recent big shows on the Save the Planet thing – I don’t recall the name of it, it’s the Gore plan anyway on MTV and all the rest).
    I share some criticism about whitefolks wanting to save Africa. Yes I think it’s embarassing when discussion about Africa and poverty and all the rest is lead by white leaders, white politicians, white VIP’s etc…
    But at the same time I remember some readings of mine about … African leaders who were criticising and complaining about Che Guevara’s venture to Africa, referring to him almost as another white imperialist … as another Tarzan “willing to come and save us”.
    And I think this is wrong too. Color of the skin shouldn’t be the point, I guess. As you mention, real intentions should be judged.
    la la
    Too much of a thought for a bird like me.

  19. RE: Joshua.
    Why does he do this? Because he appears to be full of hate and devoid of compassion, and is somehow spoiled, thus whines and engages in such underhanded tactics (developmentally stalled) as that is all he appears capable of being able to do. What a tragic state to be in-

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