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MamaHope
April 29, 2012 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Take the word AFRICA… without thinking, what images immediately come to mind? War? AIDS? Genocide? Or maybe the vision of a small child with a swollen belly, surrounded by flies? … Too many non-profits ask for your pity by depicting poor, helpless Africans. But like any stereotype, this portrayal has more exceptions than truth.
  • African Men and Hollywood Stereotypes.
  • Call Me Hope
  • Alex presents: Commando

  • posted by Blasdelb (70 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

     
    I think of zebras.
    posted by Brian B. at 12:29 PM on April 29, 2012


    Gwyneth Paltrow
    posted by Trurl at 12:40 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I think of the shape of the continent and how pathetic I am in being able to name and place all the countries within.

    I also think of the fabulous style and ethics of the gentlemen of bacongo and the Sapeurs.

    But really, trying to encompass an entire continent in a few images or a paragraph is, of course, absurd.

    What do you think of when you think of: South American? Asia?, Europe? The very premise of "What do you think of [continent_$]" is an exercise of stereotype.
    posted by edgeways at 12:41 PM on April 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


    The first image that comes to my mind when I hear the word "Africa" is a map of Africa.
    posted by aubilenon at 12:45 PM on April 29, 2012 [18 favorites]


    In reality Africans play soccer and major in clinical medicine.
    posted by brownpau at 12:46 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I do pretty well when I think of Antarctica less so North America and clear images fade after that.
    posted by rmhsinc at 12:47 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


    How to write about Africa
    posted by Paragon at 12:48 PM on April 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


    I think about how fucking huge the African continent is, and how I've been socialized to think of the entire thing as a poor backwater, and how that can't possibly be true for somewhere that large and populous and diverse.
    posted by maxwelton at 12:50 PM on April 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Where are you from, boy?

    Nairobi, ma'am. Isn't everybody?

    /firesigntheatre
    posted by hippybear at 12:50 PM on April 29, 2012


    I have recently forced my self to spend more time learning about contemporary Africa--geography, countries, cultures,a bit of history. As first endeavor I looked at some comparative maps of Africa--after looking at one like this I realized what a huge task it is. ( Oh crap, I just clicked on recent posts. maxwelton beat me to it but this makes the point).
    posted by rmhsinc at 12:54 PM on April 29, 2012


    Toto's singles.
    posted by jonmc at 12:56 PM on April 29, 2012 [16 favorites]


    I think of a photo of the continent from space. Then I think of that cradle-of-civilization business and I get distracted by thoughts of images of the incomplete fossil record of hominids. From there it's Egypt, the Masai, the Berbers, and big animals.

    So I guess it's great style, ancient architecture, fossils, and charismatic megafauna.
    posted by cmyk at 1:01 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


    That first youtube video made me smile. I want to hang with those guys, not those black guys, not this African guys, just those guys. :)
    posted by Fizz at 1:05 PM on April 29, 2012


    I have been very fortunate to work with a lot of healthcare professionals and medical/nursing students from Africa, who are more than aware of these stereotypes and, like the young men in the video, have this incredible and sophisticated sense of humor about it--like only those who are more aware of your culture than you are of theirs can. In my own experience, Africans are multi-lingual (and so multi-cultural), have deeply held values about education, and are interested in different cultural stereotypes and definitions.

    I work and am graduating from a healthcare education and system that is huge and ranked worldwide, so those from Africa that I've worked with are some of the best students and professionals in their native countries. I'm thinking right now of a current colleague, a Family Nurse Practitioner student (she graduates this spring) who also works on the weekends as a nurse in the one of the busiest ICUs in the country. She has lived in the US (originally from the Congo) for 20 years and married an second generation African, also from the Congo basin, and has two kids--one in college to be a pharmacist and one at an elite private middle school. She is by every US standard successful, and ready to cruise into some gilded retirement. However, her experiences as a chid and teenager in the Congo river basin mean that she plans on taking her graduate education as an NP to MSF. She plans on this sooner than later, expecting to put her daughter in an African boarding school while she serves with MSF. I write about her because, so far, the kind of plans she talks about are a rule, not an exception for the medical staff and students I've worked with.

    Edgeways has an excellent point, Africa is a vast continent with hundreds of discrete cultural influences and histories, and where I live is also one of the US destinations for Somali refugees and I have done a lot of healthcare outreach with that group in my city. A young adult who has spent the majority of their life in a refugee camp with little educational access and conservative Islam have given me at least a little insight into a very different Africa than the boarding school/soccer/urban sensibility Africa.

    Good friends of ours have pointed us to MamaHope before--they're in the foreign service stationed in Rwanda. A lot of the dinner conversations they have with their Rwandaian compatriots are about these issues; how can the west take in the vast geological, cultural, religious, political, and aid-needs differences and be smart about it? How do you do this in the face of western cultural memory? What are our peers and the emerging generation thinking and talking about?

    And then, this last week I was at a Mefi meetup and met an amazing Mefite who does primate research on the Ivory Coast and I can't stop thinking about what her experiences interacting with those habitats, there, must be like. So I have all these unplace-able thoughts about the vast differences of not only the people, but of the environmental habitats, as well and my imagination has a difficult time reconciling all of it.
    posted by rumposinc at 1:11 PM on April 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


    Leave shirtless Matthew McConaughey alone!

    As much as I hate the song, that "You Can Call Me Hope" video is a good idea. Not long ago I realized my kids thought Africa was a country with lions and giraffes and not much else, even though we have recent family history in Uganda and Zambia. I've been trying to find more "Africans: they're just like us!" books at the library, and this video will be helpful.
    posted by The corpse in the library at 1:28 PM on April 29, 2012


    I think about how fucking huge the African continent is

    You people at home are enjoying this, I'll bet.
    posted by Trurl at 1:30 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I think of zebras....

    Gwyneth Paltrow....

    I also think of the fabulous style and ethics of the gentlemen of bacongo and the Sapeurs....

    What do you think of when you think of: South American? Asia?, Europe? The very premise of "What do you think of [continent_$]" is an exercise of stereotype....

    The first image that comes to my mind when I hear the word "Africa" is a map of Africa....


    Right, yes. We're all above average, totally independent thinkers here. Got it. But that's not really what the linked site is talking about. It's a site about how nonprofits and the media misrepresent the region — which they definitely do, even if you personally are way too cool and clever and original to be influenced by media representations in any way.
    posted by nebulawindphone at 1:32 PM on April 29, 2012 [26 favorites]


    Sabrina Lloyd on living in Africa.
    Evaluate this, if you must, against the Granta piece.
    posted by dhartung at 1:51 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I used to teach 9th grade Geography. I would have a world map test each quarter of the school year. On the first quarter test, they had to label 90 countries, 110 for the second quarter test and so on until by the end of the fourth quarter, they could label 150 countries on a world map (with certain minimums per continent so they couldn't just load up on Europe and Asia, and skip Africa and/or Central and South America). It wasn't a perfect test, but the kids loved it; they were the easiest tests I would give them (strict memorization).

    On top of this would study geopolitical/economic issues from all over the world, from ancient civilizations through modern day. We didn't cover everything obviously, but I felt like the class was good prep for their 10th grade year when they were given the option to take AP World History.

    But in the end, no matter how hard I tried and how much I worked with and loved these kids, on the final essay of the year, I would always see the following phrase from at least a few students:

    "In countries like Africa..."

    sigh.
    posted by Groundhog Week at 2:40 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


    But that's not really what the linked site is talking about. It's a site about how nonprofits and the media misrepresent the region — which they definitely do, even if you personally are way too cool and clever and original to be influenced by media representations in any way.

    The website really does implicitly embrace the Africa-is-all-one-place mentality, for all the good it may be doing at fighting other stereotypes. The icon at the top right is an outline of Africa with arrows pointing to various points. The about page talks about "African" organizations (thought experiment: if they worked in Cambodia and Vietnam, do you think they'd talk about "Asian" organizations? I bet they'd just say "local"). The first video is called "African Men, Hollywood Stereotypes." All this despite the fact that all the men in the video are from a single country (according to the descriptive text), and the organization apparently only works in four countries out of Africa's 54, three of them all right next to each other.

    I like the videos, don't get me wrong. Nor do I have anything against the organization (I've even heard good things about their Ghana projects). But edgeways's criticism is not unfounded.

    Here's something that happened (on preview, a complement to Groundhog Week's comment): I recently made a trip home for a family event. My niece, who is a senior in high school, introduced me to a few of her friends. When I told them, "I live in Burkina Faso, a small country in west Africa," they asked if I meant that was the name of a city, because they genuinely thought the name of the country I lived in was Africa.
    posted by solotoro at 2:55 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Friend of mine went to a national park in Kenya. He said some people in his group were shocked -- shocked -- to see young Kenyans from Nairobi camping in the park, just like every other foreign tourist. He said the tourists seemed to think the Africans couldn't fully appreciate their own country and it needed to be protected from them. "I was like, dude, Americans go to the Grand Canyon, too. Imagine if a bunch of French tourists showed up in Arizona and asked you to leave."
    posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:01 PM on April 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


    I think about how much of a stretch it is to rhyme company with Serengeti.
    posted by elizardbits at 3:10 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I think of: 1) lions; 2) Friends who lived in Tanzania, Botswana and Malawi for several years and the stories they told; 3) Bush dancing with some Africans in the Rose Garden; 4) Joseph Conrad.
    posted by uraniumwilly at 3:16 PM on April 29, 2012


    If you want to know more about what's really going on, you could do a lot worse than to listen to BBC World Service Africa programming for local coverage. I used to listen to African Perspective and the now defunct call-in show "Africa Have Your Say" every day, and found it to be a real eye-opener.
    posted by doreur at 3:22 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


    "I was like, dude, Americans go to the Grand Canyon, too. Imagine if a bunch of French tourists showed up in Arizona and asked you to leave.
    honestly i probably would
    posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:24 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]



    We (Americans) really are quite parochial.
    posted by notreally at 3:28 PM on April 29, 2012


    The website really does implicitly embrace the Africa-is-all-one-place mentality, for all the good it may be doing at fighting other stereotypes.

    True. Though it's tough to fight a stereotype without mentioning the group being stereotyped. If the media message is "Africans are poor, helpless and needy" and you want to give a concise rebuttal, I think it's fair to say "Your image of Africa is incorrect," rather than going through region-by-region and making the same point for each one.

    ("Your image of Algeria is incorrect. Also your image of Angola .... And by the way, you're also wrong about Zambia. Thank you and goodnight.")
    posted by nebulawindphone at 3:37 PM on April 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Man I am so happy to see this. I was just thinking about this the other day, after watching Johnny Mad Dog - an incredibly problematic film, and not just because it's a movie about African child soldiers in Liberia and Sierra Leone, written and directed by a white French dude, which by itself should have made him consider that maybe he ought to treat the subject sensitively. The main problem is, it seems he bookmarked a bunch of news articles, sat down with an open Word doc, and just started banging away a script that would utilize every horrific, sensationalist detail from west Africa he could cram into 90 minutes.

    If you didn't know any better, you'd think this was a gutsy, in-your-face movie about the reality of Africa. But this is like saying Gummo was about the reality of Ohio.

    It seems, at a glance, very strange to have to emphasize that Africa is a continent as diverse as any other. But given not just the Hollywood depictions, but also the news stories from Africa that certain media outlets choose to headline, it's not so strange at all. It was much the case for me, when I was younger, until I met people from Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, Mali and so forth over the years. At first I was a little confused about listening to someone from Cameroon making fun of people from Cote d'Ivoire, for example, until it occurred to me well duh - listen to Germans make fun of the Dutch. They're incredibly similar and right next door, but no one ever questions how distinct they are.

    I can appreciate the point made that the site does generalize in its own way, but I still think it's a step in the right direction, if it means recognizing that the continent is as rich and wonderfully diverse as any other enormous land mass on the planet.
    posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:41 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


    The Africa Face
    posted by Saintkevin at 3:44 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


    If you didn't know any better, you'd think this was a gutsy, in-your-face movie about the reality of Africa. But this is like saying Gummo was about the reality of Ohio.

    I'm loving this analogy. There is a certain reality that Gummo captures. You can find places and people like that in Ohio. And it's even reasonable to be like "I want to raise people's awareness about the plight of nihilistic semi-feral teenage Rust Belt fuckwads." And yet presenting that movie as What Ohio Is Like, full stop, would be totally and obviously wrong.

    Note: you can sing "nihilistic semi-feral teenage Rust Belt fuckwads" to the tune of "supercallifragilisticexpialidocious." Matter of fact, I strongly recommend that you do.
    posted by nebulawindphone at 3:48 PM on April 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


    Here's what I think of when I hear "Africa"

    Many years ago I was watching Family Feud with a buddy. Richard Dawson (MANY years ago) asked "Name a country that starts with the letter 'A' ."

    My buddy says. "Somebody is going to say Africa."

    5 seconds later somebody said Africa.

    Her family was very surprised by the strike. Richard not so much, he was trying not to laugh.
    posted by Bonzai at 4:54 PM on April 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


    nebulawindphone, it also fits to Yankee Doodle Dandy.
    posted by gingerest at 5:09 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


    But sadly, not to Stairway to Heaven or the Gilligan's Island theme song.
    posted by nebulawindphone at 5:15 PM on April 29, 2012


    Since we all know Africa is an entire continent with as many and varied histories as any other continent, I'll take that as given and just say that if you want to be plunged into a completely other worldview, one that will leave you continually trying to figure out what's going on and why and yet sure on a gut level that whatever's going on is vitally important and is being told in a brilliant and convincing way, watch Souleymane Cissé's Yeelen. It's just one bit of Africa—the part of West Africa that was once the Mali Empire—but it will give you a real feeling for the ancientness, complexity, and sheer difference of that particular civilization, and may make you want to learn about the Komo societies (which Wikipedia ignores; see my 2002 post for some background, but alas most of the links are dead) and even want to study the Bambara and Fulani languages. It's one of the most amazing and perhaps greatest movies I've seen; I've seen it three times and still don't feel I have enough of a grasp of it to evaluate it securely. (Warning: The opening scene is a bloody chicken sacrifice.)
    posted by languagehat at 5:15 PM on April 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


    There was an article today in a Korean pop gossip site that coincidentally mirrors this discussion. Commenters were peeved that the actress had said she hated being in Africa despite having been to only Burundi for 3 days, and that it made her reflect feel grateful for her home country ("It's not about her!")

    While it's true that statements implying that Africa is all the same-- backwards, impoverished, war-ridden-- are ignorant, it is hard to blame people for thinking that way. For many people, what they know about the countries of Africa come from, well, the media, as nebulawindphone said. Not every one has been to Africa or known someone from an African country. It's not that easy to develop a nuanced view of a foreign country, whether it is Canada or Cameroon.

    The constructive alternative is not saying that countries in Africa are doing better than we think, or specifying that they are all different. As others have said, those are blanket statements as well. Not everyone can do case studies of African countries, just as they are unable to for Asia or any other region. Frankly, I think letting people be open to the idea that their expectations about "Africa" may be wrong is a big step already.
    posted by ichomp at 6:39 PM on April 29, 2012


    I love you Mama Africa.

    Gwyneth Paltrow. NOT African. American.
    posted by New England Cultist at 6:50 PM on April 29, 2012


    I think of the Roman Empire. I love the history of the Roman Empire from it's beginning tale of twins raised by a wolf, to the byzantine era. So, I think of the Roman outposts in North Africa, and the goddess representation of Africa. I even have a coin with her on it.

    I also think of all the great music from Africa Youssou N'dour. Fela Kuti. Baaba Maal, and a whole host of others.

    Oh, and a friend from college who was from South Africa, and his family who own a winery there.

    That is what I think of when I think of Africa.
    posted by Eekacat at 7:16 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I've worked in Kenya and the Ivory Coast doing paleontology and primate research, usually working closely with men about my age who are employed by the projects I've worked on (I've only met a few Kenyan or Ivorian women doing fieldwork, unfortunately).

    My biggest realization in Kenya was that Kenyans were totally capable of doing all the things in Kenya that I wanted to do, and in fact, there were already Kenyans doing it. I just never heard about them. I wanted to work for a conservation NGO, but you know, there were guys in Kenya with MAs in wildlife conservation who were much better suited for the job. Basically, I realized that the only added value I would have would be my connection to American donors, and probably that wouldn't be enough to make up for it. So I had to re-evaluate pretty much everything I envisioned myself doing For Africa.

    The other thing that happened in Kenya was that I was staying in a hostel run by the International Bible Society and there was a church group from Texas that had come to build wells for the Maasai, except they were mostly older and did not look in the best shape. I did not understand why they decided that this was the best use of their time and money, and why they thought they would be better suited to build wells for the Maasai than the Maasai are but ... so it goes? Actually, I guess that sort of encapsulates the thing that is most frustrating for me about the way the west interacts with Africa. When I was working in an equally impoverished and even more environmentally damaged place in Peru, there was nobody going from Texas to build wells for the Amazon, or something. But we all know what's best For Africa. Even though we usually guess wrong. I know I did.
    posted by ChuraChura at 8:15 PM on April 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


    My friend in Togo just wrote this great article about the diversity of stories in Africa:
    There is, as Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has stated, only a “single story” of the African continent presented. But when I read this description of this desert, the way its multiple stories were tied in complex knots with other regions of the world, the way I understood geography changed. The African continent shifted to a more central location in my perception of the globe.
    And I'm all like, what's a Togo?
    posted by mhjb at 8:34 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Let's get one thing clear: These NGOs are portraying Africa and Africans like that deliberately, because they think it will increase their income.

    They know it is deceptive, they know it reinforces stereotypes.

    But they still do it.

    Here's an article I wrote about it, and if you can stand it, here's The Sun puff piece. Because this shit really goes well with News International.
    posted by quarsan at 10:02 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I think of great music (I just happened to be listening to classic Etoile De Dakar when I saw this article).
    posted by mike3k at 10:27 PM on April 29, 2012


    I think of zebras.

    Only in Kenya.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:28 PM on April 29, 2012


    This makes me so happy! I get so sick of the "Africa is so pathetic so white people gotta go to the rescue" mentality portrayed by the media and accepted by most people. Honestly, white people deciding what should happen to Africa hasn't exactly worked out in the past. Besides, decades of charity have, by and large, made the bad situations worse. Plus, a lot of the charity attempts I've witnessed are more about alleviating white guilt and making the givers feel good than about actually solving problems. So it's really nice to see some gentle resistance to those stereotypes.
    posted by windykites at 11:06 PM on April 29, 2012


    The BBC had a special on 27th April on this topic. From Jepchumba's African Digital Art:

    BBC Africa asked African digital art to curate a series of images that depicted different aspects of daily life outside the typical narrative of Africa as the dark continent plagued with disease, poverty and strife. I wanted to give special thanks to each of the artists that participated and showcased their wonderful work. (Links to each)
    posted by infini at 11:11 PM on April 29, 2012


    I think of the poorest and most underdeveloped continent on the planet. Because it's true.
    posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:45 AM on April 30, 2012


    What I've been appreciating about this emerging media noise about Africa's resurgence is how India and China were seen to be basket cases full of populations and poverty just over a decade and half ago.
    posted by infini at 3:25 AM on April 30, 2012


    I've never seen so much horse shit in one thread on Metafilter, in my entire time on the site. Seriously.

    I've lived in a number of countries in Africa and I've worked in over 20 of them, namely the poorest ones, the ones most of you armchair Africa experts will never be bothered to visit, if you even ever make it to the continent.

    Please continue to educate yourselves about how poor, helpless Africans is an overplayed stereotype that NGOs are using to prop up their fundraising.

    What a friggin circle jerk.
    posted by allkindsoftime at 3:38 AM on April 30, 2012


    With all due respect, I believe that "Africa" is like the camel that the blind men encountered, and depending on your experiences and your exposure, you will develop your perspective.
    posted by infini at 4:21 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I lived in the most successful sub-Saharan African country. Chock full of poor folks who insisted on calling me 'boss', even though I didn't employ them. (my employees only called me by my first name). Well, in the southern part, anyway. In the northern part, I got the serious impression they were hell-bent on taking every possible advantage to any situation they could, and make good on it. But that's Zulus for you. Proud and industrious folks.

    I didn't go north from there, the crazy, of one kind or another, got prohibitive. I didn't want to risk my gay ass, spending my gay money in their back-assward homophobic countries.
    posted by Goofyy at 4:22 AM on April 30, 2012


    Photo of fishmonger using her iPad
    posted by infini at 5:09 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Allkindsoftime - I would like to know more about your perspective (including whether you are disgusted at stereotyping all African nations and regions, or whether you are disgusted at negative characterizations of NGOs; I get that you are disgusted and disappointed, but can't quite figure out where the sarcasm starts.)
    posted by gingerest at 5:55 AM on April 30, 2012


    What a friggin circle jerk.

    I'm not sure all this was entirely necessary. I think just about everyone here is aware Africa has serious problems; just that there is a tendency from Hollywood and the media to be pretty one-dimensional about how Africa is depicted.

    Also, agreeing with gingerest; I'd also like to hear about some of what you experienced.
    posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:02 AM on April 30, 2012


    When I think of Africa, I think of djembes, the only musical instrument I can truly play. I feel this raw connection with brothas in West Africa, in Senegal, Mali, the Gambia and Cote d'Ivoire and other fun places I've wanted to go but haven't so far. I like to think the drumbeats get carried over the trade winds or something, and the percussion contributes to some other musical group's playing.

    (The guitar was only for the chicks when I was in the game, so to speak, and in any case, hadnt and will perhaps never impressed the missus)

    (Also, let's not talk of my attempts at playing the tabla ever again. Please.)

    posted by the cydonian at 6:26 AM on April 30, 2012


    Fine. Apologies for the reactionary language.

    But there is some piling on above from some people who clearly don't have much or any experience backing up their high-minded accusations. To clarify my disgust, it is primarily here with the negative characterizations of NGOs. The OP set the tone with some front end editorializing, and certain responders jumped on board after that.

    I'd really love to see some clear cut evidence backing up any one of these slams against NGOs in Africa. Because, frankly, working in the humanitarian NGO industry (yes, I agree, it is an industry) here, I've seen years and years worth of evidence that many (not all) NGOs are bringing real, effective, positive change to the places they are working and the people in the world who need it most.

    Let's break it down:

    Too many non-profits ask for your pity by depicting poor, helpless Africans. But like any stereotype, this portrayal has more exceptions than truth.

    Really. How many is too many? How do you determine those who are milking the stereotype for pity too much and those who are responsible and feeding starving (not hungry) people, giving clean water to families, creating economic development opportunities, etc. etc. etc.. And exactly how did we determine that there are more exceptions than truth?

    It's a site about how nonprofits and the media misrepresent the region — which they definitely do

    This is probably a pretty fair estimation of the website and its MO, but the problem is that the MO is bullshit. Sure, there are nonprofits and even media outlets that do indeed misrepresent the various regions of Africa. No, not all of them do that. Not by a long shot.

    These NGOs are portraying Africa and Africans like that deliberately, because they think it will increase their income. They know it is deceptive, they know it reinforces stereotypes. But they still do it.

    They are portraying Africa and Africans as exactly what they are. At least, those with any decency are. I'm not sure why there is such zeal to smear the entire industry as a sham. Do you really think there aren't Somali mothers and children who just walked into Dadaab (northern Kenya) today, and have been every day for literally years now? Who fled their own imploding homeland, literally starving, walking hundreds of miles, watching each other die? Do you really think that the NGOs want to somehow profit off of this? Because if you want to go to Dadaab and watch a kid die (hint, you can do it any day you please), you'll start to understand that there are actually problems here. There's not a damn deceptive thing about it. And that is, quite frankly, one microscopic example of what is going on in many different ways in many different places.

    Besides, decades of charity have, by and large, made the bad situations worse. Plus, a lot of the charity attempts I've witnessed are more about alleviating white guilt and making the givers feel good than about actually solving problems.

    Congrats, you've read Dead Aid or maybe one of the many one-sided articles decrying the aid industry as broken. I mean, she's from Africa and western educated so she must be the premier voice on what's best for Africa, right? Never mind that once you actually dig into the statistics, into actual data around things like infant mortality rates, average life expectancy at birth, HIV infection rates, unemployment rates, country crop productions, et. al., you find that things have been drastically improving for Africa. Not to mention that its happening in most cases at rates that are eclipsing how development happened to the rest of the first world. Don't take my word for it.

    Let's be clear - I agree that:
    - The aid industry has a lot of problems
    - There are definitely some that are doing it much worse than others
    - The white world doesn't have all the answers for the dark continent
    - The media can tend to over-stereotype
    - Many uneducated westerners show up here and leave little or no valuable change behind when they leave (hint: they wear matching t-shirts which helps you when you try and beat them from the plane to the immigration lines)
    - Africans can and do in many cases have the best resources to bring the change that is needed (but certainly not in all situations)

    So, maybe I shouldn't hold it against the critics that they are so freely casting their aspersions at aid when the media and whatever other outlets they are accessing are giving them the wrong picture. But it doesn't change the fact that they have the wrong picture.
    posted by allkindsoftime at 6:51 AM on April 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


    Edgeways has an excellent point, Africa is a vast continent with hundreds of discrete cultural influences and histories

    Nielson just released a report on The Diverse People of Africa
    posted by infini at 6:59 AM on April 30, 2012


    More and more, I think about China when I think about Africa. I also think about these maps.
    posted by malocchio at 7:02 AM on April 30, 2012


    > To clarify my disgust, it is primarily here with the negative characterizations of NGOs.

    Aha. So instead of spouting bullshit like "I've never seen so much horse shit in one thread on Metafilter, in my entire time on the site. Seriously. [...] What a friggin circle jerk," you could have said "I think some of you are misinformed about NGOs; since I'm involved with them myself, I'd like to correct some things." But no, you chose to be a complete jerk (which you self-indulgently characterize as being "reactionary"). Oh well, at least you sort of apologized, in a totally non-apology apology sort of way. We're still clearly the bad guys, but at least you're willing to tell us in detail how wrong we are.
    posted by languagehat at 7:07 AM on April 30, 2012


    African aid: helpful or hazardous?
    posted by infini at 7:07 AM on April 30, 2012


    I've lived in a number of countries in Africa and I've worked in over 20 of them, namely the poorest ones, the ones most of you armchair Africa experts will never be bothered to visit, if you even ever make it to the continent.
    And what was your impression of the 20 richest ones?
    posted by delmoi at 7:11 AM on April 30, 2012


    I think some of the "Aide is bad" is mostly just an example of run-amok contrarianism. But the image of africa as being nothing but a bunch of starving people is really obnoxious. Okay, things are bad in Dadaab - but that's a localized problem that has nothing to do with, say, South Africa, or Nigeria or Ethiopia or whatever.

    It's also somewhat counterproductive, because after seeing the same images for decades people are starting to think that nothing will ever get better, and that everyone in Africa lives at the same awful baseline. People don't understand that places where things are bad one year get better. Ethiopia was probably the first time a horrible drought was broadcast as a news story - and today it's much better. But people see nothing but suffering on TV without realizing it's a completely different place. The distance between the capitals of Ethiopia and Kenya is just a little less then the distance from Paris to Warsaw.
    posted by delmoi at 7:22 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


    But no, you chose to be a complete jerk (which you self-indulgently characterize as being "reactionary"). Oh well, at least you sort of apologized, in a totally non-apology apology sort of way. We're still clearly the bad guys, but at least you're willing to tell us in detail how wrong we are.

    Languagehat makes some good points. I was a jerk, and I only sort of apologized, and I did imply that you're still the bad guys. This was not the first time I have over-reacted about something on the site, but it is also not the first time I have tried to rectify it.

    I'm sorry for being a jerk, I'm sorry I didn't apologize more completely the first time, I'm sorry for implying that you all are bad people. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me and will point out to me if there's anything else I've missed in my apology.
    posted by allkindsoftime at 7:37 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


    And what was your impression of the 20 richest ones?

    I've only really been to a couple of them - my work doesn't usually take me to such places. They generally seem a lot nicer than the places I go.
    posted by allkindsoftime at 7:38 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Morocco is certainly quite nice.
    posted by smackfu at 8:12 AM on April 30, 2012


    I’d like to hear more about various African countries from those who’ve lived there, and what they think of the original link.
    posted by bongo_x at 9:19 AM on April 30, 2012


    Some comments from the ladies in Africa, and from comments section of the post on Africa is a Country:

    A typical 20-something year old man is not bothered by how Hollywood depicts young African men, and is not looking to defend themselves against these stereotypes. I highly doubt that these men were yearning to tell this story in this manner. As a Kenyan woman, none of my brothers, cousins, friends, classmates are sitting around worried about the Hollywood depiction, and looking for an outlet to demonstrate to the world how civilised they are (using facebook and holding university degrees). Your typical African young man doesn’t care.
    It feels like these boys were out minding their own business, then someone pointed out to them that they are negatively perceived by the west, this someone then ensured that the boys felt bad about being stereotyped, made them feel like they should do/say something, and when they asked, “Really, it’s important for us to say something? What should we say?”, they were given a script: say the following,”I’m an African man, who has a facebook account”!!
    Someone help me here, I’m struggling to see what value it will add to the world. So what if the west has ‘negative’ stereotypes about African youth? Has anyone said we’re looking for this kind of validation?


    The post itself makes an interesting point:

    That was pretty much the vibe I got from the ‘African Men’ video. “I am an African man,” all four guys say, at which point I was really hoping one of them would add: “And I also speak English. Fluently. As such I won’t be needing the ginormous subtitles you’ve slapped underneath my actually-totally-comprehensible Kenyan accent.” (The BBC once subtitled everything that Professor Felix Chami, an archaeologist at the University of Dar es Salaam, told Gus Casely-Hayford when he was interviewing him for that Lost Kingdoms of Africa series on the BBC. At least no-one is spared.)

    posted by infini at 9:57 AM on April 30, 2012


    we might be starting to get into a vicious circle here winding around tighter and tighter.

    As a Kenyan woman, none of my brothers, cousins, friends, classmates are sitting around worried about the Hollywood depiction,...

    I've no doubt she is right in her direct personal appearances, but that does not invalidate what those men where saying in the video, nor does it mean (without going and talking to them) that she can also say with certainty that those men honestly really do not feel that way. Is she suggesting they are unable to act as independent agents, capable of expressing their own thoughts on the matter?

    I can honestly say "none of my family, friends or close acquaintances voted for George Bush" but that doesn't mean millions of people didn't vote for him. It is difficult, at best, to extrapolate personal experience into inter/national significance. And hell, she is engaging in Africa-as-a-country subtext right there. None of my Kenyan contacts care about this so Africans don't care about this.

    At the end of the day though, whether or not people actively worry about something does not invalidate it's existence. Most Americans don't really worry all that much about climate change. Doesn't make it a non-existent problem.
    posted by edgeways at 10:37 AM on April 30, 2012


    That sounds a lot like someone telling that they'd like to remove my veil because they think its better for me, regardless of how well it protects my complexion against the sandy hot wind of the Delhi summer.
    posted by infini at 10:44 AM on April 30, 2012


    If there is a problem, of Africa being seen as a country, or being stereotyped into very narrow images... I think it would be hard to argue that both these things don't happen. From pre-colonialism (seeing Africa as a single entity populated by savages to be divided up), to post-colonialism Africans are universally poor and violent. These tend to be the perceptions propagated trough American media.

    I think that is a problem. Perhaps not rising to the level of some other problems we face, but it certainly does a disservice not only to the people being represented, but to the consumers of the media as well. Unless you actively counter it, i would argue it makes you stupider, which can have a knock-on affect. It's the same mechanism that promulgates racism and most of the other nasty by products of ignorance.

    As to the veil...
    If there is a practical reason to wear a veil, or perhaps more tellingly, simply if wearing a veil is truly a free matter of choice (no one gets in trouble for not wearing it), then I highly doubt most people care. (I guess this is a dangerous extrapolation here, as I certainly don't care one way or the other regarding veil wear, as long as wearing or not wearing does not change how someone is treated --- of course I also don't care if men wear skirts or if women shave their heads so I may be a bad sample point).

    From your analogy I assume people have made some pretty bad assumptions regarding your veil. Assumptions are dangerous things (as you point out), the Kenyan woman assuming the men in the video are not independent thinkers, or that All Africans feel as she and her circle does is likewise questionable.
    posted by edgeways at 11:20 AM on April 30, 2012


    I must be very stupid today. Your response is not making any sense to me. I will take a walk.
    posted by infini at 11:29 AM on April 30, 2012


    "All NGOs portray a negative stereotype of Africa."
    "Wait, all of t.."
    "ALL OF THEM YOU IGNORANT RACIST."
    "But these African people say..."
    "NO TRUE AFRICAN WOULD SAY THAT AND EVEN IF THEY DID IT DOESN'T MATTER."
    posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:26 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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