Taking a moment to step away from the purpose of the blog to just share a thought:
My dear friend and colleague shared some information with me this morning about riots that occurred in Gulu. My friend, to clarify, is a Gulu resident and an Acholi. He became a refugee at the age of 7 in Sudan due to the war, made his way back to Gulu many years later, and has devoted his life to helping his people. He is very warm, welcoming and trusting of people - as in, he likes to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. We joke that he’s the good cop and I’m the bad cop when it comes to the work. He’s the gentle one, I’m the hard ass. I learn alot from him. He also has his own NGO formed with his brother that focuses on food security in the region. This NGO has thrived for many years and has done tremendous work but because it is a local non-profit, most westerners are oblivious to its existence.
He shared:Invisible Children continue to have more trouble with the video and over the weekend in Gulu, as they attempted to screen the video for the public, it turned in to chaos and everyone started fighting for his life with multiple gun shots and some rioting with tear gas and ended prematurely! The streets were flooded with soldiers after that! They have lost credibility even locally.Now, after sharing it on Twitter, the usual predictable and quite frankly, exhausting dialogue ensues between someone I have a great deal of respect for and someone I have never met - a westerner who currently resides in Gulu (whom I’m sure, in all honesty, is equally amazing). What dialogue you ask? The kind where we go back and forth and back again debating, arguing, discussing what exactly happened. There’s the semantics, the accusations of sensationalism, no that can’t be (quite) so. Basically we westerners always want to be the experts. We, whether we notice it or not or want to own it or not, repeatedly devalue anything that comes out of a [insert African nation here] local’s mouth because we somehow know better or have better information.In a nutshell, over the years, my observations have been as such: when a Western NGO is accused of bad behaviour, misconduct or misinformation, many people run to their defense whether it’s by outright saying it can’t be so or simply wanting to analyze the shit out of “what did it really mean” or “that’s not how I saw it” or “I think what was really meant was..” all in the name of wanting to be fair and just in our observations and information. BUT if it were an entity - NGO, company, or person - from one of the glorious 54 nations that make up Africa that was accused of being up to no good, most people would quickly jump to the “of course they’re all corrupt” notion. Don’t deny it, we all know it’s true. If you’re unsure about the matter or this statement upsets you, I encourage you to read Gerald Caplan’s “The Betrayal of Africa”. It’s short, to the point, and yes, factual. I’m a big believer that it should be read by anyone travelling to Africa whether for leisure or business. Here’s an excerpt:How do we account for Africa’s plight, and what can be done about it? I think it’s fair to say that the conventional wisdom, the widely accepted answers, are twofold. First, the problem is African - corruption, lack of capacity, poor leaders, eternal conflict. Second, the solution is us - by which I mean the rich, white Western world that will save Africa from itself, its leaders, its appetites, its ineptitude, its savagery.There is in this answer more than a hint of centuries-long racist attitude toward Africans and other black people. It’s a contemporary version of the imperialist era’s white man’s burden. But it’s hokum - arrogant, self-serving and, above all, plain wrong.There’s an alternative perspective on the “African problem,” one that is not nearly as self-congratulatory and smug as the conventional wisdom. This interpretation says that rather than being the solution to Africa’s plight, we Westerners are a substantial part of the problem, and have been so for centuries. None of this condones or justifies the crimes many African leaders have perpetrated against their own people. But it does help to explain the problem and to indicate the different directions that need to be taken if Africa is to find its path to a better future.I’m not saying that sensationalism is okay. It’s not. However, I find it fascinating - and disturbing - that when news of a riot comes out from a local Ugandan, it’s very quickly declared (or insinuated) as false and/or sensationalism distracting from the “very serious issues” of Kony 2012. So this local who’s lived through this war doesn’t understand or even appreciate the seriousness of Joseph Kony? Or just not as much as us Westerners. And yes, one can most likely detect that this “accusation” for a lack of better words, is taken personally by myself. Why? Because he is my friend, colleague, brother. My family considers him and his family, family. That’s a lot of wonderful family. We Maritimers don’t take loyalty lightly. So you bet your arse I’m offended by this swiftly dismissive and blind statement made by someone who most likely has never met him.But to get back on track: Let’s face it. Most will never admit it, but if it were talk of an African entity being corrupt - individual, government, or NGO - well that’s just how they are, isn’t it? No surprise there. That’s why we’re on the ground with all our humanitarian aid goodness. They need us.Again I must stress that I have never met this young lady and have no doubt she truly is a wonderful person. It would be wrong to make judgements on her the way it’s been done to my friend. Rather the intent of using this “twitter moment” is to make a point in regards to our overall attitudes. While I’ve been busy typing this blog entry, this gal has been doing exactly what I’ve described above in tweets to me. I won’t bother responding. I’ve said my bit and I’m good with that. But feel free to check it all out for yourself if you like. I do hope the message of this blog entry is clear. It is to raise a very important question and something we all need to think more about: Why is a Westerner’s opinion more valid, scholarly and trusted, then an African like my colleague who is a university educated life-long NGO worker who’s seen it all, lived it all, and would welcome you with open arms even though he knows most of us (Westerners) look down on him and his people as incompetent in some way, even when our demeaning and snobby attitudes are all in the name of helping the poor [insert African nationality here.]Am I the only one that sees the twisted-ness here? A Westerners opinion is presumably more valid and accurate than a Ugandans. And in this case, that Westerner lives in Gulu. Well even better as it gives him/her more “street cred” in the matter, because, you know, they’re “living it.” But the Ugandan lives there as well and has lived there a lot longer and will continue to live there longer than said Westerner. He/She has lived and survived the war, fully understands the culture and his/her neighbours and community. But the Westerner definitely is our source for accurate information on anything Uganda. Because we Westerners always get it right and we never, ever over sensationalize anything to capitalize on emotional manipulation of the masses. Right.Anyone see the arrogance in this? Anyone?Something to think about. Not argue about. THINK about.And once again - read the book. The Betrayal of Africa.Merci beaucoup.