I find the sort of unwitting European American outsider who wants to come to Africa to help is a very problematic construction. It’s problematic because you don’t want to tell people don’t aid, don’t help when people feel a need to. It’s a beautiful thing, the desire to help a fellow human who is maybe in a rough spot.
I think what needs to happen is people need to acknowledge that that rough spot is not permanent and then that person that you are helping that you are aiding is not permanently in trouble. That message doesn’t get passed along very often. It may be more so now, but it used to be that that was just not the message that went around. It was just these people are permanently in trouble, this is a permanent state of awfulness and I, the empowered individual from the United States, from Europe, from wherever that is not Africa or any particular African country, I’m here to show these people the way.
I think as more information comes out of the continent and as people in different countries are able to tell their own stories and respond to this idea of Africa as a place of permanent suffering, that will change. I think the most interesting example is the prime minister of Spain recently said to one of his ministers when they were negotiating this massive bailout, he said, “We’re not Uganda, they can’t just give us any terms they like.”
I think a lot of people in Uganda were like “Wel, actually let me tell you something about Uganda versus Spain.” That would never have happened before and then the ability of people to put out information, for example, that the unemployment rate in Uganda is way lower than the unemployment rate in Spain. Innovations that are happening in Uganda that are not happening in the stagnant economy of Spain.
That messaging is empowering. It’s unfortunate what’s happening in Spain, but it’s empowering to be able to say “Look you guys, this is not a permanent basket case country that you’re talking about, this is not a permanent basket case continent and here is the evidence, here are the stories to prove it.” That’s changing that dialogue a lot. No longer can someone get up and say “I’m coming to help” when wait a second, these people that I’m coming to help actually maybe don’t need help in the way that I want to help. They need help or assistance or collaboration on terms that they want to dictate.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.
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