Africa is not an NGO

January 15, 2012

I recently read a piece in the Huffington Post titled Africa Not Fit For Print; The ‘Light’ Side Of The ‘Dark’ Continent. The piece is intended to be a progressive perspective on Africa, arguing that global media need to showcase the “lighter, more promising side of the proverbially mismanaged ‘dark continent.’”

While the overall sentiment of the author was appreciated, I couldn’t help but find myself annoyed. First, that it is 2012 and we are still making reference to 19th century colonial adjectives for Africa. [pssst…we can still see the words even if you put them in quotes!] But more than this, I found myself frustrated by the following quote:

“…I had the strange feeling I’d done something terribly wrong. I had just returned from two weeks traveling by local transport … through the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and as it happens, had an incredible, inspiring, and uplifting time. Before you barrage me with your criticisms, and claim perhaps I’m blind, insensitive, ignorant, or arrogant for eliciting pleasure from my time in the D.R.C., let me explain myself.”

Granted, the D.R.C. is a very troubled region, home to Africa’s longest and deadliest war. However, the country’s population is over 71 million! Do people not expect such things as joy, humanity, love, and – goodness forbid – fun to also exist here? As rhetorical as this question is, I fear far too many people would respond with ‘no’.

It got me thinking about the young African diaspora. How different is our own understanding of the continent? I hope that we can create a diversity of spaces for young people to engage with Africa. Charitable activities can be great, and if done thoughtfully, can save lives. However, not everyone who visits Africa will be moved to start an orphanage. Some will see the business opportunities, others will be inspired by the arts, and others by the people and ideas.

If we reduce Africa to one big NGO, we miss the dividends that could potentially come from a rich and diverse engagement with a continent just as rich and diverse.



One Response to “Africa is not an NGO”

  1. […] If I hear ‘This is Africa’ one more time… Posted on March 16, 2012 […]

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