July 15, 2007

Saving Africa

Today, Boing Boing directed me to a great Washington Post article written by Uzodinma Iweala, the African author of Beasts of No Nation. Titled "Stop Trying To 'Save' Africa," it takes on the current trend in the western world of people championing the cause of poor little helpless Africa. It really hit me, as this is a trend that I both sympathize with and am fed up with.

He goes on to talk about how there's no end to the young, white Americans who jump on the Bono bandwagon and want you to "save Darfur" or "save a child." The author, himself an African, was shouted at by a blonde, blue-eyed young lady campaigning for Darfur. "Don't you want to help us save Africa?" she shouted at him. What's the deal? Sure, it's perfectly noble to want to help people who are going through a hard time, to say the least, but why do we do it? We can crow about how we just want to help and how darling those little African children are and how sad it is that so many of the poor savages have AIDS, but can we really step back and examine ourselves? We get our image as socially conscious, hip young Americans, but how much do we really give and why do we give it?

As Iweala points out, it sometimes seems to be based on guilt. Sure, I'd like to believe that all the celebrities joining the Africa fan club are sincere, and many probably believe they are, but how much of it is just an answer to their lavish lifestyles, a kind of subconscious damage control to make them, and everyone else, feel a little better about it all? How many perky young college students do you see posting "Save Darfur" images on their MySpace pages and wearing ONE t-shirts, while they drive around talking on their Razr phones and drinking their obscenely-priced bottled water? Are they making any difference? Let's be honest, here. It makes them feel better, but it probably does little else.

Another thing that Iweala mentions is how the media rarely ever mentions when African nations help themselves. And they do, you know. We're not their last, best hope. Yet we only hear about their Western saviors, and not the African social workers who give of themselves to help their own people. And, as a Christian, Ideala's comparison between this and that old, racist, "Christian" attitude towards saving those viscious savages from themselves by turning them into civilised, white Christians... well, that hits close to home for me. I think we, as a people - and, in particular, us social justice-minded Christians - need to re-examine ourselves and why we do these things.

Christ said that, in the end, many will come crying to him about how awesome they were and how many great, selfless things they did for Him - but he'll say, "Sorry. You may have done things for me, but you never actually knew me." (Paraphrased, natch.) Well, there's a lot of people doing things for Africa, but how many people really want to know and love Africa? How much of it is genuine? Africa doesn't need us to save it. It needs our support - the world's support - so that it can save itself, but Africa is not Nell, to our Dudley Do-Right.

Read the article and, while you're doing it, remember it was written by an African. I'm a comfy white Westerner myself, so what do I know? Also, this guy's blog has some equally interesting observations. If nothing else, I just want people to challenge themselves on this.