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Features

White saviours, black victims: An old story

Sokari Ekine

2012-03-21, Issue 578

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/80923

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What is really disturbing about Invisible Children is, if a group of Africans had made the Kony2012 film would it have got the publicity from around the world? Would they have been able to raise the funds to make the video in the first place?

I haven't watched the Kony2012 video but I note it has just under 84 million hits in two weeks, which is to be expected considering the noise around the Invisible Children project. I have nothing to add to the plethora of existing criticisms of the video and project – much of which reads like a script of how to respond to imperialist and militaristic oversimplistic propaganda presented in a binary of good and evil with Tom and Jerry solutions. There were some memorable responses from which others flowed, such as the one from Teju Cole (On Kony and the White Saviour Industrial Complex) which rapidly circulated across cyberspace. Cole’s seven points on the ‘banality of sentimentality’ joins the list of unforgettable commentary by African writers – Binyavanga Wainaina, ‘How to Write about Africa’ and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘The Danger of the Single Story’; an in depth article by Ethan Zuckerman ; and Dinaw Mengestu post in Warscapes).

The interventions designed by the ‘White Saviour Industrial Complex’ have a long history dating back to Bob Geldof and Band Aid and cover just about everything from saving children in Haiti, saving women’s clitoris by buying one, saving queer Africans, providing us with an assortment of [1] knickers, soap, shoes, electronic cast offs, dodgy fridges, the list goes on. Its not just a question of whether these goods are needed or not but what good is soap when water services are being priviatised and therefore unaffordable? Or land and water are being sold and bought by international finance and rich countries to feed and water their own people?

But this is 2012 and mass actions bring about mass criticisms as well as mass support. What was different about this particular ‘Saving Africa’ campaign was the almost unanimous and instantaneous criticism from African blogs, Facebook and Twitter accounts. There were other notables. The overall lack of reporting and commentary by African news media was in contrast to the high volume of commentary by citizen journalists and social media hacks who became the voice of the continent. Western mainstream and alternative media listened too and reported African voices. The mass scrutiny also revealed Kony2012 had close ties, including receiving funding, to US evangelicals who were involved with the anti-homosexuality campaign in Uganda.

What does IC have in common with the ministry of California evangelist Ed Silvoso, who works directly with leading Ugandan author and promoter of the Anti Homosexuality Bill (also called the ‘kill the gays bill’) Julius Oyet — who claims that ‘even animals are wiser than homosexuals’?

The answer? — all of these ministries – the Discovery Institute, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, The Fellowship Foundation, The Call, Ed Silvoso’s Harvest Evangelism, and Invisible Children – received at least $100,000 in 2008 from what has emerged in the last decade as the biggest funder of the hard, antigay, creationist Christian right: the National Christian Foundation.

If we search for commonalities amongst white saviours, predatory religious movements are high on the list, whether evangelicals such as The Call or The Family, or the Raelian UFO cult, founders of Clitoraid. Their story goes like this. The Rael’s leader was ‘contacted by another planet and asked to establish an embassy to welcome people back to earth’. To this end they are required to build a welcome temple for their returnees in 2035 from outer space. Now this costs money and souls must be found to work towards building the temple and a country to host the embassy. I suspect that the Clitoraid project in Burkina Faso is their cover for establishing this landing spot - I am aware that this sounds like a conspiracy theory but read their mission first.

Which brings me to the second and third commonalities of saviour projects - narcissism and deceit, which can be explicit or implicit or a mix of both. Between 2001 and 2009 over 1000 procedures [IRIN] to repair women’s vaginas and since 2006 over 100 clitoral reconstructions were carried out by Bukina Faso hospitals. So why do the Raelians and Clitoraid choose to spend precious money on building a hospital rather than support the work already being done by local doctors, if not out of their own sense of self-importance and infantalising Africans? On her blog We Save Africa, Wanjiru Kamau-Ruttenberg comments on the lack of full financial disclosure by Clitoraid and their failure to address local cultural issues or carry out an impact study....

‘Millner and other critics following her lead have questioned the safety and validity of Clitoraid’s reconstructive surgery and expressed concerns about where the donated funds are going. And they say Clitoraid didn’t do an impact study to see how repairing the women’s genitals would affect their local communities’.
This would easily be answered if full financial records were disclosed. Clitoraid has been collecting money for its ‘pleasure hospital’ in Burkina Faso since 2006. How much money has been raised and has the hospital been built?

Any impact study and full evaluation of the published literature on FGM/C as well as working closely with the local community is essential in any intervention. Clitoraid need to produce all documentation to indicate clearly what impact study they have undertaken. To date, no evidence has been produced.’

And the claim that they are the only ones working to ‘restore sexual pleasure’ is untrue as the IRIN report quoted above points out.

If you don’t choke over the name ‘ my Starving Children’, a project which provides food packs to starving black and brown children, the before and after impact photos will definitely do the job. They describe themselves as ‘a non-profit Christian organization committed to feeding God’s children hungry in body and spirit. The approach is simple: children and adults hand-pack meals specifically formulated for malnourished children, and we ship the meals to nearly 70 countries around the world’.

One of the 70 countries is Haiti where they have the most number of partners. The problem here is not about providing food for children but what food and how food is delivered. In this case FMSC sends nutrition packs which are essential during a crisis such as an earthquake or floods but highly questionable as an ongoing policy to feed children. If their Flickr stream is representative, the children are far from being medically malnourished; so what is the problem with local food? Fresh Haitian food bought in local markets and cooked every day would be far more nourishing, familiar and economically advantageous to Haitian people than food made from dried potatoes or vegetables.

Contrast FMSC with a project run by Guyanese agricultural activist, Mark Jacobs, who has spent the past year creating small sustainable vegetable gardens in schools and gardens - anywhere possible. The produce is then used by the growers and any surplus can be sold in the market. It is a small project with no funding other than personal donations with no religious or any other conditionalities attached to it. But of course doing it Mark’s way does not serve the ego which feeds white saviours. Videos and photo-streams of white interventions erase black and brown people by presenting us as infantalised victims. Tarzan, the Lone Ranger with his ‘good Indian’ sidekick given the fool’s name of Tonto, and John Wayne are still swaggering around Africa and the global South but two things have changed. The technology has switched from silver bullets and lassoes to Twitter and YouTube. And if the responses to Kony2012 are representative of African voices, saviours will no longer have the freedom to roam without being scrutinized and challenged.

In ‘The Coming Insurrection’ [2] the authors formulate [which has a double meaning - to form an opinion, to suggest an idea and in urban slang ‘to create real-world fact from online forum discussions’. Through the online media, the mass scrutiny of Kony 2012 revealed the truth behind the organisers and the organisation] the notion that revolutions are spread by resonance, a kind of law of multiple motions or actions jumping from place to place.

‘A body that resonates does so according to its own mode. An insurrection is not like a plague or a forest fire - a linear process which spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It rather takes the shape of music whose focal points though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythm of their own vibrations always taking on more density. To the point when any return to NORMAL [my emphaisis] is no longer desirable or even imaginable’.[p12]

Kony2012 began its public cyber life as a video by the organisation which became viral within hours. But the technologies of social media are not without their own internal vulnerabilities which act on the follower and the followed like balls bouncing randomly against each other in a child’s bouncy castle. Information flows at unimaginable speed, gathering more information each nano-second. To stop or rather twist it towards an unplanned direction, the collective resonance has to reappropriate the information and sabotage by making it theirs. But this is not a struggle of us against them, truth against fiction - there are too many layers of us and them and too many truths and fictions for that to be possible. Two African voices who supported the actions of Invisible Children were AfroSphere and Mind of Malaka. Alatentou of AfroSphere was not surprised IC was being run by white people. Nor was s/he surprised by the ‘fierce backlash’ from those s/he describes as Negro Pseudo-intellectuals, black people who are busy criticising white folks using big words in order to appear enlightened but really they sit back and do nothing.

‘Social media is their playfield. This is the arena they dominate because it’s where they can easily find an audience of like-minded arrogant ideologues, who view social media as a vehicle to be critical of what others are doing. They would never think of utilising it as a springboard to social activism. The primary objective of social media for the Negro Pseudo-intellectual is to sprout pseudo-intellectual and hyper-moralistic political rhetoric, as well regurgitate their played out 1960s Black revolutionary conspiracy theories, so as to appear intelligent and enlightened. It’s not to utilise social media as a tool to ushering in social change today for the benefit of others, especially African children.’

Alatentou admits not knowing the people at IC but applauds them merely for doing something, unconcerned he ends with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt. Well if it had been Frederick Douglass or Sojourner Truth, I might have been a little less scathing. Instead I find myself searching for words to describe black people who are satisfied with some white people as long as they appear to be doing something to save other black people - no matter what damage being caused is! Reducing the argument to white folks and black folks is tiresome. Mind of Malaka hardly fares any better as she too brings it down to white folks here and black folks there using the rather unfortunate comparison of shit and chocolate having the same properties because they are the same colour!

Can I speak plainly, reader? I am SO SICK of Black people and their twisted dogma concerning the ‘White Savior’ Syndrome. Oh, you haven’t heard of it? It’s the belief in certain circles of the Black intelligentsia that because Black folk can’t do for themselves, White people have to come in and do for them, or more specifically, solve our problems for us. In the case of Joseph Kony in particular, one rather prolific individual on Twitter summed up the Kony2012 (and implied White savior campaign) movement by saying that ‘the world exists simply to satisfy the needs – including, importantly, the sentimental needs – of White people and Oprah’.

It gets worse - Black people hang your head in shame! This is followed by a rant against African leaders, Blackberry users and our failures to support Save Darfur and wipe Kony and his despicable murdering cronies off the face of the earth. Like AfroSpear, Malaka has bought the narrative of IC and other saviours that Africans are doing nothing to solve their own problems. There are no queer activists acting, just White saviours from London and New York. There are no African doctors or governments for that matter working to end FGM and provide women with much needed medical care, just Raelians and their flying saucers. There are no Africans campaigning against Shell oil in Nigeria or providing support to rape survivors in the DRC. No Africans campaigned against Charles Taylor to end the civil war - it was all done on the back of EuroAmericans. What is really disturbing about Invisible Children is, if a group of Africans had made this film would it have gotten the publicity from around the world? Would they have been able to raise the funds to make the video and carry out the research?

The supply lines of information - Twitter, Blogs, Facebook are full of distortions, misinformation, truths, assertions and counter assertions. Entry points to all of these data bits are often random and unconnected just as they produce moments of hyper-activity. The speed of travel and sense of urgency leave little time to reflect such that unless one spends all hours of the day on guard, it is impossible to truly grasp what is happening at any one time.

The Metropolis is not just this urban pile-up, this final collision between city and country. It is also a flow of being and things, a current that runs through fibre optic networks, through high speed train lines, satellites, and video surveillance cameras, making sure that this world keeps running straight to its ruin. [‘The Coming Insurrection’ - pp 58]

In the case of Invisible Children and Kony 2012, social media is the Metropolis and the collision is not between black / white, city / country or north / south but between visions of what the world can and needs to be if justice is the purpose rather than banal emotional experiences of privilege.

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END NOTES

[1] SWEDOW - sending unwanted Western goods as in-kind donations to poor countries, without paying sufficient attention to if they are really needed
[2] The Coming Insurrection by the Invisible Committee [Semiotext] - A wild excitable statement on the collapse of capitalist culture.


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