Graduate Teaching Assistant, Department of English at West Virginia University
This video is uncomfortable to watch (though not in a graphic sense); it is still worth more than the required four minutes of your time.
This discussion was built around the recent Band Aid initiative led by the Irish musician Bob Geldof, and the video is disturbing because the two ladies from Britain (their names are not provided in the clip) have painfully ignorant ideas of “Africa”. Band Aid, which aims to raise money for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone because of the Ebola devastation, has a laudable purpose; yet the process of achieving this aim is highly problematic and has the tendency to cause more harm than good.
Thus, it is refreshing to see people like the Liberian lady in the video, whose name is also not provided, (at least attempt to) correct such thinking. Similarly, the Ghanaian singer Fuse ODG penned a brilliant response in The Guardian on his refusal to participate in the Band Aid song itself. Unfortunately, such educative interventions do not always exist. Having said that, it is important to couch donations within the framework of collaboration that leads to long-term partnerships while acknowledging the limitative implications of these actions.
Obviously, it is important to financially support countries that are struggling with epidemics and other such atrocities. However awareness and education for those donating are again helpful in the long term, not only of the situation on the ground, but the also of the socio-economic context that informs such giving. Allowing these donations to mask a larger looting, for example, is problematic. As The Guardian revealed, Africa typically loses much more than the “assistance” received. The British newspaper quotes the original report: “The perception that such aid is helping African countries “has facilitated a perverse reality in which the UK and other wealthy governments celebrate their generosity whilst simultaneously assisting their companies to drain Africa’s resources””. This is one of many problems, along with the concerns raised by our two West Africans, which plague “philanthropy”.
It should be clear that not everything is rosy in any African country; yet “third-world”-ness leads to stereotyping. As the scholar Jonathan Barker explains in his book Rural Communities Under Stress, stereotypes deliberately mislead and feed the agenda of privileged groups. According to him, what makes these stereotypes endure is an inherent kernel of truth, which is strengthened by “more detailed and professional versions” that the imbibers of such images do not think past. Entrapment within the resultant myopia is therefore dangerous.
Of course, all of this talk does not mean that the recipient countries have license to wallow in corruption and ineptitude. Corruption is the biggest bane of Africa’s development – religious, political, economic and social leaders have to spearhead a more concerted effort at curbing its progress and impact.
Aside leadership, regular folk have a significant part to play, both in fighting corruption, as well as in improving civic duty. This is one point of entry through which African grassroots organizations partake.
One such group is The African Community Internship and Placement Programme (ACIPP), led by Simon Eyram Tsike-Sossah. ACIPP is doing a phenomenal job providing logistical, financial and other forms of valuable support for multiple NGOs in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Their goal, as stated on their website, is “To provide quality internships tailored to each intern’s individual interests, which promote community engagement and offer opportunities to make long-term impacts.” Thus they relate to all stakeholders in a thorough manner. Despite being less than 10 years old they have chalked a variety of success stories and are on course to achieving even more both in the short and long term. Based in Sierra Leone and Liberia means that they would be inextricably invested in tackling the Ebola-related menace.
The similarity they share with Band Aid’s idea starts and ends at the point of intention. This group is more careful to engage with their target communities in such a way as to embrace a more realistic portrayal of these countries. Of course, money talks and they are requesting funds to facilitate their projects. Not through the “shock tactics and negative images” that right-minded personalities like Fuse ODG find offensive, but via a more nuanced understanding of the challenging situation, which should lead to a better harnessing of viable solutions.
One of their focuses is the Disaster, Emergency and Relief Services for West Africa (DERSWA) project, which provides “Grassroots, African community solutions to health crises”. As a non-funded project, DERSWA urgently requires fundraising for their grassroots projects in education, prevention, and trauma support in Sierra Leone and Liberia. They have already shipped 120 radio sets to Freetown, Sierra Leone to support the continuation of education over radio waves while schools are shut down for millions, and are fundraising for several other projects, including Shalom Liberia’s critical support of quarantined families in several districts across Liberia.
Tsike-Sossah will be in Denver in the United States in February 2015 raising funds towards these ends. Additionally, he intends to build networks for DERSWA by speaking at American universities and engaging with pro-African groups and organizations. All funds raised will go towards DERSWA and its partners’ work.
Even in supposed poverty we have dignity. So please, by all means, donate to such projects. Hopefully, your help will not only improve the situation in these countries, but also work against the negative stereotypes plaguing some parts of Western society.
This article also appears on Kwabena’s Blog. You can check it out for more information!