I name this video: “Enthusiastic majority white progressives saving the world in a Western lecture hall while multicultural stock video beneficiaries from across the globe dance with happiness and gratitude’

#Facepalm. #WhiteSaviours

Does anyone singing this song realise how much they (we) are part of the problem, or that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are NOT going to fix a system that has inequality and oppression built into it?

I don’t really want to give this any more oxygen. But. Really?


#TheAfricaTheMedia NeverShowsYou

You’ll have heard me talking in the past about working with a group, Simua, which we hoped would give birth to a campaign to challenge stereotypes of Africa perpetuated by the media, by NGOs, by our governments, by us. For various reasons we didn’t launch it, so I am so unbelievably delighted to see #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou taking off on Twitter.

You might remember that my initial reasons for writing this blog were these: 

“as I have become more involved in the world of international development and increasingly started to wonder about how effective some of the practices are, and how seemingly patronising some of the representations are of ‘developing countries’.”

 And it’s so true. Google Africa. Go to images and you’ll see, amongst a whole host of maps of the continent, hundreds of variations on sunsets, Acacia trees and giraffes. Second to that it’s images of war, poverty and hunger. So a group of young Africans on Twitter have been tweeting under the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, and it’s growing by the second with pictures of the diversity, individuality, joy, creativity and beauty of the huge continent, its countries, people, food, architecture, fashion, religion, cultures, art, societies, politics and communities.

Diana Salah, who helped to organise the campaign, told Fusion: “I got involved because growing up, I was made to feel ashamed of my homeland, with negative images that paint Africa as a desolate continent. It’s so important to showcase the diversity and beauty of Africa and with the mainstream media not up for the task, social media was the perfect outlet.” Yes the continent has its issues, just as EVERY OTHER CONTINENT ON THE PLANET… and this is the chance for Africans to tell their own stories, rather than having them prescribed by external influences.

I believe that it is important to remember that, despite the joy of such campaigns and the need to educate people around the world, Africa has nothing to prove. In my opinion, all that needs to happen is that the economic/political/cultural barriers need to be removed to allow the continent to flourish in its own way, do it’s own thing and ‘develop’ in its own image. Europe, the USA and increasingly China (and others), have screwed up the world, and continue to do so – they could learn a lot from Africa, the only continent that doesn’t export its violence, self-interest, destruction and greed.

Some of the favourites:

You can see more of the amazing images here.

Why it’s time to BAN Band Aid…

Sigh. The air has turned colder in the UK, it’s almost acceptable to bring up Christmas and three African countries are suffering from an (admittedly devastating) outbreak of the Ebola virus. We know what this means… it’s also about time for Sir Bob to come to the rescue, saving the African continent yet again with another excruciating rehash of the paternalistic, patronising and painful festive Band Aid classic “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” thirty years after the original.

Initially, one might ask why Geldof think’s it’s necessary to release this song when there is already a (admittedly French-produced) version “Africa Stop Ebola” with West African artists Guinean Kandia Kora, Mory Kante, Marcus and Sia Tolno, Ivorian Tiken Jah Fakoly, Malian Amadou & Mariam, Oumou Sangaré, Mokobe and Salif Keita, Congolese Barbara Kanam and Senegalese Didier Awadi (what a line up!).

The intentions are good, but the song is damaging, patronising and perpetuates the difficult-to-shift impression across much of the mainstream media and public perception in the UK (and much of the ‘West’) that Africans are helpless and are waiting to be saved. This is despite the fact that Liberians, Guineans and Sierra Leoneans are helping themselves to combat Ebola, and Nigeria and Mali have successfully contained and eradicated cases of the disease.

According to research carried out by VSO in 2001:

80% of the British public strongly associate the developing world with doom-laden images of famine, disaster and Western aid. Sixteen years on from Live Aid, these images are still top of mind and maintain a powerful grip on the British psyche.

This false understanding of the African continent has a huge impact on all who live and work and were born there. It defines roles such as ‘powerful giver’ and ‘grateful receiver’ and leads people living in the West to assume that everyone must want and need to embrace our democracy, culture and political models; beliefs that are then reflected in the global political, economic and social system and in relationships between countries and between citizens.

Here’s my take on why it’s time for Geldof to hang up his sword and cape, climb down from his white horse and ‘hand Africa back’ to those who live there:

It’s Christmastime; there’s no need to be afraid
(Although it’s perfectly acceptable to stockpile Ebola Survival Kits, ban flights from the whole continent of Africa, and talk about Ebola as if the only reason we should be concerned is that it might actually leave the continent)
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
(Shade? Phew, that’s something they could do with in Africa surely? It’s SO HOT THERE ALL OF THE TIME)
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
(Or how about some good old fashioned equality in the distribution of wealth and resources?)

Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime
(But not too tightly, you might catch something)
But say a prayer to pray for the other ones
(Yes the OTHER ones)
At Christmastime
It’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
(Did you know: they don’t have fun in Africa; only dread and fear)

Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
(And tears are the source of the Niger, Nile, Congo, Zambezi, Orange…)
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
(If only they had festive music like this)
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime
(But there might… )

The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
(And this is unique to Africa)
Oh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
(The EU has been clearly lying to us about the fact that it imports 40 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural exports (but don’t get me started on ridiculous inequalities in the global economic/food system and the imbalance of African imports/exports)
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?
(Funnily enough, they do. Because one in four Christians live in Sub-Saharan Africa)

Here’s to you, raise a glass for ev’ryone
Here’s to them, underneath that burning sun
(And it’s only going to get worse thanks to Western-led climate change)
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all? 

Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmastime again
Feed the world
Let them know it’s Christmastime again

Even Geldof knows it’s crap. It’s time to disband.

This post is long overdue – why #’we’shouldn’tbringbackyourgirls

I started writing this post weeks ago and got caught up in a million different things so am only just uploading it today, so I apologise. I wanted to write about the Boko Haram kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls last month and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign that has been trending worldwide on Twitter.

I’ll assume that you know that on 15 April this year, 200 girls were kidnapped from the school dormitories in Chibok, the northeastern part of Nigeria by Boko Haram, a militant Islamist organisation. On 4 May, it was reported a further eight girls were kidnapped.

Translating into English as “Western education is a sin”, Boko Haram wishes to halt the educational progress of schoolchildren.

Since these events, I have watched with interest as a social media campaign that began in Nigeria spread across the globe calling on Nigerian (initially) and then global leaders to #BringBackOurGirls. Although I desperately hope for these girls to be returned to safety, I have not felt as a ‘Westerner’ that I should be supporting this campaign by joining in the rallying cries on the internet.

Thanks to thousands of Nigerians, this social media campaign brought to light a serious incident in Nigeria that may not have got the attention it deserves in the West : although it was immediately reported in Nigerian and other international press, in the US, CNN admitted to minimising the story’s importance by claiming that “In Nigeria, the mass abduction of schoolgirls isn’t shocking” – there are no words.

I am fully supportive of Nigerians taking to social media to express their concern for the kidnapped schoolgirls and their calls to the Nigerian Government to resolve the situation. I am also supportive of the international community’s rallying behind Nigeria and demonstrating their solidarity with the families and friends of the kidnapped girls.

Unfortunately, however, I am concerned about the meaning that the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls conveys when it falls into Western hands.

I have seen many articles online that argue that the use of #BringBackOurGirls and “international outrage has increasingly mounted, which has forced Nigerian officials to do more in their handling of the crisis.” But, due to the international political power structures that exist and white supremacist system that we live in, I have to question whether the Western appropriation of this hashtag is doing more harm than good.

Janell Hobson, in her article Have you “Seen” the kidnapped girls of Nigeria? asks:

“As we raise more awareness about the situation in Nigeria, what are the demands that we’re making? Are we simply going to expect U.S. military intervention or aid in intelligence and counter-terrorism? How will we place gender and its intersections with race and class at the center of our analyses? Will we frame this as another “black pathology” story of U.S. “benevolence” intervening on African/Third World “incompetence” or “corruption”? This narrative is not helpful, especially when it comes from U.S./Westerners who couldn’t even begin to point out the northeastern region of Nigeria on a map. Will we also frame this as another “save the black and brown girls from the scary black and brown men” story? Such framing is also not helpful, since it flattens the complexities of how local and global forces mobilize capitalist struggles over oil, economic disparities, religious extremism and worldwide misogyny to reinforce the devalued labor and images of women and girls—especially in a globalizing world that has shifted so many cultural, political, economic and social structures. Against this gendered lens, racial hierarchies determine which women and girls matter. How our media and popular culture frame these stories determine whether they get taken seriously at all, or if they will even be “more seen.””

Jamoke Balogun raises a similar point when she says in her article Dear Americans, Your Hashtags Won’t #BringBackOurGirls. You Might Actually Be Making Things Worse.

“Simple question. Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news you. You can’t do anything about the girls missing in Nigeria. You can’t. Your insistence on urging American power, specifically American military power, to address this issue will ultimately hurt the people of Nigeria.”

She goes on to explain that although she is glad that people care about the abducted girls and are spreading “awareness”, she argues that using the hashtag is championing military intervention and putting pressure on Western powers (the American government in particular), to get involved in African affairs. To Balogun, this means that “you become a complicit participant in a military expansionist agenda on the continent of Africa.”

Balogun suggests that the Western use of the hashtag gives the military legitimacy to encroach and grow their military presence in Africa and gives examples of how AFRICOM (Unites States Africa Command), the military body responsible for overseeing US military operations across Africa to advance U.S. national security interests, has expanded its role in Africa in recent years, boosted by the #KONY2012 campaign. The list of countries that American troops entered in 2013 is a long one.

I know that many Americans, and indeed Westerners, will be shouting at their screens at the moment that they are “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” when it comes to situations like this, and will also be quick to distance themselves from the decisions made by Western governments on their behalf. I also know that the primary concern is to bring back the girls from Boko Haram, and many would argue that this should be done by any means necessary, including Western intervention.

In another world; with another power structure where the playing field is level, where the US isn’t the global hegemonic power sent to ‘save’ Nigeria, where white supremacy isn’t the order of the day, where Nigeria and other African nations have an equal standing in world affairs, where it can be guaranteed that the US ‘assisting’ another country is wanted, consented to, temporary and can be reciprocated; calling on them to #bringbackourgirls might be less damaging, or, more likely, unnecessary. However, we in the West need to realise that, not only do Western military interventions have a destabilising effect in some countries (Balogun cites examples here and here), the involvement of the US government and military undermines democracy in Nigeria and, as Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole put it, will only lead to more militarism, less oversight, and less democracy.

The military personnel sent to #bringbackourgirls will never leave, not really. The opportunity to ‘rescue’ the girls will be seen as an open invitation to roam Africa under the pretence of ‘assistance’ for years to come, just as it did when they went looking for Kony.

Balogun concludes her article by saying:

“It was Nigerians who took their good for nothing President to task and challenged him to address the plight of the missing girls. It is in their hands to seek justice for these girls and to ensure that the Nigerian government is held accountable. Your emphasis on U.S. action does more harm to the people you are supposedly trying to help and it only expands and sustain U.S. military might.

If you must do something, learn more about the amazing activists and journalists like this one, this one, and this one just to name a few, who have risked arrests and their lives as they challenge the Nigerian government to do better for its people within the democratic process.  If you must tweet, tweet to support and embolden them, don’t direct your calls to action to the United States government who seeks to only embolden American militarism. Don’t join the American government and military in co-opting this movement started and sustained by Nigerians.”

As usual, I would like to hear your thoughts on this blog post and my arguments, and, as usual I don’t pretend to be an expert on everything – I’m only human. Please do call me up on things I’ve said that you disagree with or if you think I’ve got it wrong!