Saturday, March 24, 2012

Teddy Bears for Africa

(Or: An Antidote to Sports Relief)
(Or: all the opinions I’m ever likely to express about Africa, all in one blog post.)
(Or: Africa, Aid, Gap Years & Kony 2012)

Why I don’t like writing about Africa:

Despite having lived and worked in Africa on and off throughout the past 8 years, I have rarely written or blogged about it. Or if I have, I’ve kept the writing largely observational. Even the book we wrote about the region of Angola we lived in avoided, where possible, strong politicised opinions (PLUG!). This was mainly due, I think, to discovering that when it came to Africa, no matter how much you have studied, or think you know, you quickly learn that, in fact, you know next to nothing. The most dangerous Westerners in Africa are the ones who think they understand the place.

The danger of this position, I realise, is the risk of adopting a kind of voluntary paralysis on any issue; a refusal to act in the face of apparently obvious injustice or wrongdoing. The way we dealt with this in Angola, and more recently in Uganda, was to assess every single situation in isolation, to adopt no ‘standard codes of practice’ (essentially the opposite to how we love to do things in the West – we love our standard codes of practice over here!) and to respond to every situation from as blank a canvas as possible. This enabled us to respond to local issues and conflicts and avoid being paralysed by them. It was not for us to tackle wider national, or cultural issues. I was very happy to leave those to the Angolans. And Angola is rather unique in having been (at least in relation to some of its neighbours) largely left alone to construct and organise itself, at least in recent years, at least since the end of its thirty-year civil war. There is very little European influence evident in the governance of Angola.

Not so Uganda.

Aid and Uganda:

Britain, Europe and America are obsessed with Uganda. Uganda is crawling in muzungus: NGOs, missionaries (often the same thing), backpackers, Gap Year kids, student researchers and tourists. Every main street in Kampala teems with the HQs of every imaginable charity: Norwegian, American, Canadian, French HQs for every possible charitable enterprise you can think of: you name it, Uganda’s got it: dance charities, animal charities, sanitation charities, water charities, music charities, art charities. I even came across a teddy bear charity

A well-meaning American charity dedicated to making teddy bears for children with no toys (and when they say ‘no toys’, they mean no plastic/commercially packaged toys like Western kids are used to – they don’t seem to count the intricate games and gadgets African kids make for themselves out of rubbish. But ANYWAY).

Taken in Angola in 2007 by Eran Gal-Or: 
kids making a tea party out of recycled packaging from the nearby milk factory

Taken in Angola in 2004 by Harel Menasse: 
kids playing with cars made out of recycled cans and other bits and pieces.

I’ll not pretend I understand entirely why this is; why Uganda. But I can make a few educated guesses: Uganda is a ‘soft’ country, compared with Congo, compared with Nigeria, compared with Burundi. General crime is less violent, there is reasonable infrastructure and access to (comparatively) good roads, internet, and medical facilities (a special concern for any Western inhabitants), and its government is malleable in Western hands. Its government is also very amenable to Western financial interference. Other ‘harder’ African countries, like Nigeria, have all the same problems Uganda has (if not more) but is a lot less friendly. (Well if they won’t smile nicely and say thank you when we try to give them our teddy bears, we’ll just send them to Uganda instead then. See how they like that!)

Charity is big business in Africa. Africa’s many perceived ‘problems’ provide employment opportunities for thousands of Westerners. In fact, it’s not only the Western workers who benefit career-wise from Africa’s apparent need for charity, plenty of Africans do too. As Western charities and NGOs have become much better at facilitating local skills and training local people to run their projects at grassroots level (rest assured, the people higher up, operating these ventures from the comfort of their offices and HQs, will be white), so nationals have also come to depend upon the employment provided by these Western institutions. Co-dependency is very quickly established. Projects that target malaria, HIV and sanitation can easily be very long-term, almost permanent features of the African employment landscape, providing full careers for Westerners and nationals alike. Food Aid is probably the best example of this: Food Aid has been dishing out grain to regions of Northern Uganda for something like 40 years. By doing this, they have secured themselves a permanent posting in the region. Their ‘aid’ has created a dependency so severe that the people who ‘benefit’ from it would starve if they stopped their operations, not because the region is still so seriously affected by drought, but because the people living there have lost their farming skills. The current generation of Northern Ugandans has not been taught which crops to grow or how to till the land. Food Aid has utterly disempowered them, robbing them of their tribal and ancestral knowledge and skills. They live now entirely on hand-outs: we are not the only society with a 'benefits class'!

But projects that target specific, smaller scale, transitory issues, are faced with a problem: eventually the issue they are targeting could well be solved! Some examples of this might include land-mine clearance, protection or re-establishment of certain endangered animal species into once native environments, and… the rescue and rehabilitation of child-soldiers. Western charities come to tackle these specific problems and, every now and again, they actually succeed! But what are they going to do then? Pack up and go home? For many, their livelihoods depend on the work. Its grassroots employees might find similar positions working for other NGOs, but the organisers and founders of these charities? What are they going to do?

On the whole, what they do is mutate: adapt or die. As is documented elsewhere, the general problem of child-soldiers in Uganda is considered to have been over by about 2006. By that point, no more children were being abducted by the LRA and those who had been abducted had either been killed, or had remained permanently with the LRA factions (now operating in Congo, CAR and Sudan), or had escaped from the bush and returned to Uganda. By 2006, these Ugandan ‘children’ captured during pubescence and pre-pubescence throughout the nineties were now young adults. ‘Schools’ were no longer what they needed. As is evident in a number of video interviews posted in response to Kony 2012, Uganda’s ‘child-soldiers’ have all grown up. Child-soldier charities in Uganda have had to find other causes to address in order to survive.

This is a problem when these child-soldier charities based in Uganda are reliant on Western financial aid. For we love to donate to child-centric charities, to reach out to the haunted, hollow-eyed African children. We are much less likely to part with cash for the benefit of adults, especially when those adults are mutilated or amputees, especially when those adults are, by the nature of what happened to them, murderers. Invisible Children concentrated on footage shot before 2006 because they needed the image of the violated child in order to sell their campaign. They knew rehabilitated adults were simply not going to have the same impact. They have been criticised for doing this, but the truth is, every charity does it! 

So, Kony 2012

Here lies the roots of my conflicted feelings about the Kony 2012 campaign: Invisible Children are being accused of all sorts of misdemeanours; misdemeanours they are far from alone in committing when it comes to Western aid in Africa. It seems unfair to condemn their campaign outright when charities committing the same crimes, and worse (mentioning no names… UNICEF!), have been operating in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa with impunity and without judgement. Invisible Children are accused of a lack of transparency regarding their funding – both where it comes from and where it goes. But many, many similar organisations in Africa operate behind such a veil. Invisible Children are accused of hiding a religious agenda, but if you were to remove every charity in Uganda that is linked with either a Christian or Muslim institution, you’d be left with one beleaguered and frightened Human Rights activist desperately doing what they can to stand up for gay rights without getting themselves killed. Religious money floods Uganda from every conceivable direction, and it all comes attached to agendas and with covert conditions.

Invisible Children are accused of misinformation and deliberate manipulation of the facts. Again, when it comes to NGOs trying to ‘save’ Africa, this is not news!

How Invisible Children has found itself being attacked so ferociously and publicly in this way is through the sheer boldness of its campaign strategy. Can it be that they were naïve enough not to see this coming? I would have imagined that in very deliberately and dynamically utilizing our modern tools of brutal exposure (namely youtube and the like) to unmask and shine a blistering light on their target, Joseph Kony, they would have realised that the same tool would shine the same light right back at them. As a direct result of the stunning impact of their initial campaign strategy, they have (it would seem, inadvertently) subjected themselves to the exact same blistering exposure.

Although this is not wholly what Invisible Children would want - for me, what I would like to see happen as a result of their Kony 2012 campaign is two-fold: I would like to see Kony caught. Secondly, I would like to see IC’s critics utilise the fallout of IC’s campaign to expose and so scrutinise the wider general NGO Culture in Uganda: specifically the effect Religiously-linked organisations are having on the government’s (and so its society’s) attitude towards its homosexual population and its disinterest in dealing with female-centric problems such as FGM (which, I can assure you, is rife in Uganda).

If Invisible Children are guilty of the deceptions of which they are accused, then they must be answerable for them, but so must every other charity and NGO purporting to do ‘good work’ in Africa.

Where I stand by Invisible Children is on the central cause they intended our attention to be focussed on in the first place: the arrest of Joseph Kony. Yes, there is a multitude of other bad people we could all go after in this way. We could fanny about, arguing over who is the worst baddy of them all. Those debates can roll on for years while nothing gets done. Lets be under no illusion, Kony is definitely, definitely bad enough to warrant a manhunt. He is the human embodiment of badness, the underside of humanity, so far gone into a dark psychosis of madness and badness that he does not, cannot, think and function the way most of us do. He’d eat most of the baddies of this world for breakfast. (In fact, documentation about his life would report that he has eaten other baddies for breakfast!) While he is free in this world, he is a danger to thousands and thousands of innocent civilians. While there may indeed be others, Kony is, nevertheless, a worthy subject to pursue in the way IC has suggested.

Their revulsion of Kony is something I share. I do feel sympathy towards their cause. I know what motivated them to start this campaign: that moment in the video where the young boy, Jacob, begins to tell his story about his abduction, and the horrifying impact it has on his audience, the Invisible Children interviewers – I know that moment; I’ve experienced that moment first hand. When I returned to Uganda in 2010, the first time I’d been back since 1998, on my first day there, quite by accident, I was presented with an ex-child-soldier called Busco, who wanted to tell me his story. He is in his early twenties now, just about to finish high school (he was in the bush for 7 years, putting him at least 7 years behind in his education). I won’t relay his entire story here. In brief, he was abducted from his village by the LRA when he was 10/11 years old. On the journey through the bush with the rebels, he was forced to beat his friend to death when his friend tried to escape. He was trained as a soldier, taken to Sudan, and forced to fight with the rebels until he was 17-years-old. During a battle with Ugandan government forces, he was shot in the leg and left for dead. His LRA unit abandoned him. But he wasn’t dead, and he dragged himself through the bush for two weeks. He could not appeal to the villages he came by for help, because he was wearing the rebel uniform and so the villagers would have killed him. Eventually he was picked up by a passing UN vehicle. By then his leg was a festering mess and he was close to death. He was taken to hospital and saved at the last minute, his leg amputated and, when he had recovered physically, he was schooled in the well-known Rachele Rehabilitation School in Lira.

I know what those IC guys felt like when they heard Jacob’s story, because I felt the same way while hearing Busco’s – a lurching, nauseating horror as your brain tries to digest the indigestible. When your brain finds its centre again, the abstract sickening horror is quickly pursued by a ‘something-has-got-to-be-done-about-this’ fury and drive: ‘people-have-to-be-told,’ ‘everyone-should-know-about-this,’ ‘this-cannot-be-allowed-to-go-on.’ While I did a lot of hand wringing and hair tearing and not sleeping, Invisible Children attempted to actually do something (though they are not, of course, by any means, the first or the only people to do so, I should point out). They may not be taking the right approach, but I feel they were owed some respect for trying. During my time in Uganda, I was fortunate enough to talk with other people who have also been doing something about the situation: I visited the school in Lira, spoke with its founder, and its Ugandan counsellors in the rehabilitation centre, and realised, with considerable relief, that there were people much better qualified than me doing something.

I have good reason to despise Kony – we all should feel we have good reason to despise Kony, to hunt him down and strip him of his freedom. Whatever is done to him can never counter or repair what he has done to 2 million Ugandans and other Africans. After meeting with Busco I read a book detailing the story of thirty Ugandan schoolgirls abducted from their private school in Northern Uganda by Kony in the mid 90s. It is outlined here in brief in an archived New Yorker article. The story of these girls and the elderly nun who pursued their abductors into the bush and fought relentlessly until her death for the rescue of her pupils resonated with me for a number of reasons. It had something to do with realising that this ordeal was in full-swing in 1998, the year I was doing my Gap Year in Uganda and me and my fellow 'gapees' were prancing about the country getting drunk, going white water rafting, and all the while thinking we really knew something about the world. It resonated also because the girls who were taken were the same age as the girls I was teaching. The school from which they were abducted was not all that different to the school I was teaching in: mine was also a private girls’ secondary school. It resonated also because I realised that the older girls taken in 1996 would, by 1998, be my own age. And yet, I was entirely oblivious to all of this at the time. I had no understanding of who the LRA was or what it was doing. I was astoundingly ignorant of the country I had come to try to “give” something to. Shameful.

In fact, as it happened, I very briefly saw a number of these girls, twelve years later, attending a meeting in the hotel owned by the founder of the rehabilitation school in Lira to which they had been taken when a number of them managed to escape and returned from the bush.

I had heard some horrific stories during my time in Angola. So recently at war – a war that lasted thirty years, only ending in 2002 – a generation of Angolans had grown up surrounded by murder and violence. I’d heard stories of villages burnt, brutal assassinations, grotesque rapes, and generations of tribes and families decimated. I thought I had heard the worst that Africa had to offer. But I had not. The ordeals of these Ugandan child abductees and the extent of the depraved acts committed by Kony against them and other innocent civilians, as depicted in the book about their ordeals, were in a league I did not know existed. No horror movie I’ve seen has come close to enacting the slow, stylised tortures Kony and his henchmen exacted on his victims: acts that reveal an extraordinary imagination dedicated entirely to the exploration and creation of pain, terror and graphic mutilation of the human body. No, I don’t have any problem with Invisible Children’s particular hatred of Kony.  

While Invisible Children’s good intentions might not equate to qualifications, there is something else in their proposed strategy that I do respect. They’re not talking about setting up this charity or that charity, dealing with rehabilitation in this place, or building schools for ex-soldiers in that place. They have declared no interest in faffing around the edges of the issue: they want to cut the bullshit and get Kony. I respect their boldness. Traditionally Western charities have loved to fluff about at the edge of issues, making teddy bears, afraid to take a stand against something (or someone) that has not only been accepted as wrong by the West, but accepted as wrong by Africa too. And as I have already speculated, the West make business out of faffing around at the edges: but there are limited career opportunities in pursuing one man across a continent, with the intention of arresting him and bringing him to trial: those involved will not be in a position to establish research centres, employ a couple of hundred ground staff, both foreign and national, or round up cute-but-damaged African children for art or dance therapy sessions. What IC propose is a cold, precise, direct manhunt that involves politicians giving the green light from one end, and from the other, the utilization of African forces on the ground. The mere proposal of it on such a bold scale is ballsy and cuts out all the usual NGO crap.

The first ‘yeah-but’ that was thrown at Invisible Children was the accusation that the Ugandan police and armies from Uganda, Sudan and Congo are all, themselves, accused of corruption and crimes not that dissimilar to the ones they’d be seeking to punish in Kony. I find this line of attack ever-so-slightly exasperating. Of course they are corrupt, of course they behave badly, but I am afraid they are all we’ve got in the circumstances and there isn’t going to be anyone else willing to get stuck in, not in Congo, not in Sudan. And are we really still pretending that any military outfit with guns, from any nation and any culture, behave any better? Give a group of people guns, train them how to use them, and it’s only ever a matter of time before they are misused: our own Western armies are guilty of misuse of their power, of turning on the very people they are supposed to be protecting, and our own Western police forces and governments are guilty of corruption. I don’t accept this line as a valid reason why not to pursue Kony. The inherent corruption and destructive drive for power embedded in the whole notion of ‘army’ or ‘police’ is perhaps better left for another blog another day, but yes, there we are; it never fails to surprise me how often this dead-duck of an argument is wheeled out in support of non-action. In the time it would take to wait for all armies and government agencies to cleanse themselves of corruption and malpractice, psychotic mass murderers like Kony will have wiped out most of the African continent. (However, for a less impassioned and clearer headed critique – I am only a writer, at the end of the day, and not a development specialist, and therefore have a tendency to be overly excitable and not very politically correct – it might be worth reading what War Child has to say about it all.)

One of the other criticisms aimed at IC, is that they relate their agenda to Uganda or Ugandans in only the vaguest of ways. I might suggest that this is because they have realised that Kony is no longer a Ugandan problem. IC’s campaign is not to set up charities or centres for the rescue and rehabilitation of Kony’s victims, their campaign is very specifically to capture Kony and bring him to justice. This campaign cannot have very much to do with Uganda in fact, because Kony is no longer in Uganda. Kony has fingers in Sudan, CAR and Congo: these are the countries currently affected by Kony’s activities, and it is in one of these places that Kony will be caught. IC does not give Ugandans much of a voice on the issue, but arguably, in a directed, specific campaign to catch Kony, it is not Uganda’s voice that needs to be heard.

So it would, then, be easier to support Invisible Children on this if they had in fact emphasised more strongly the presence these other African countries have in the Kony issue. It’s a shame that Invisible Children only half-heartedly leave Uganda behind. They might have been afforded more credibility if they had gone for an angle that almost completely severed any current connection with Uganda. Yet they have seemed unwilling to completely let it go. IC do operate in Congo and CAR, so I can only guess that this is probably to do with all that I previously said about the rather bewildering global acceptance of Uganda as a centre for African aid. It is a country we seem to be able to feel sympathy for, and feel warmly about, in a way that we are not able to with Congo and CAR (I would have been interested to know, for example, how many of the Africa-focussed charities featured in last night’s Sport Relief were based in Uganda, compared with how many, say, in Liberia). Invisible Children quite possibly felt that in retaining some kind of Ugandan root to their cause, they were more likely to garner public sympathy. It might also allow them to base themselves in Uganda which, as I’ve already stipulated, is a much more fun, safe place to live for a while than Congo or Sudan. The towns of Lira and Gulu, once the centres of the LRA’s hold on Northern Uganda, and the places to which many of its ex-child-soldiers returned for schooling and rehabilitation, have some lovely little internet cafes, serving cheeseburgers and smoothies, all of them hubs for muzungu communities. I know because I’ve eaten in them. And at weekends you can take yourself off for a nice safari in Murchison Falls, or go visit the nearby chimpanzee sanctuaries. All in all, a much more reasonable proposition for a place to base your Western charitable HQ than roughing it in deepest, darkest Congo. 

So, what exactly is my bugbear with Good Intentions?

Well, I’ll tell you…

My first trip to Uganda was when I was 18, straight out of school, taking a Gap Year with a Gap Year organisation before going to University the year after. I was stationed in a private secondary girls’ school on top of a massive hill with incredible views just outside the lovely old Indian town of Jinja, not all that far from the capital, Kampala. I was there for three months and I taught English and French to the first years (one class of 40 and another class of 50 girls, aged between 11 and 14) and helped in the school choir. I lived on site in a partitioned section of the home economics classroom. It had a concrete floor, army-issue beds, a lethal gas stove, a lizard in the bath, and a toilet without a seat that only flushed if you filled the cistern from a jerry can. All night colonies of bats, living inside the hut, flew over my head, showering me in bat shit, and during the day the ‘living room’ would fill up with chickens. Monkeys would sometimes thunder across the tin roof.

Me teaching in Wanyange Girls' Secondary School, Uganda, 1998

Some of the volunteers in other schools kept their living quarters quite private from their students, but we didn’t. My partner and I kept a fairly open house and so during break-times and weekends the girls would wander in, rummage through our magazines and photos, listen to our music, and talk with us. On one such weekend, when I was at the school on my own, some of the girls found our nail varnish supply and subsequently asked me to paint their nails. I couldn’t see the harm in it. I did it because they requested it, because they were fascinated by the things we’d brought from England, because it was the tiniest, smallest thing I could do for them to give them that little piece of our lives they were so fascinated by. Because it was just a bit of fun. The following day, a Monday, I found out later in the day from one of my pupils that the girls who had been found wearing nail varnish – about sixteen of them altogether – had been taken from their classroom in the morning by the Deputy Head, made to lie face down on the lawn outside, and then beaten with canes.

But I’d had such good intentions, such very good intentions. I never told anyone at the time. (I'm not even sure I've ever told anyone that story until now; I was so ashamed of it.)

In fact, I was there in Uganda at age 18 because of an industry based upon the exploitation of good intentions. The Gap Year organisation I went to Uganda with took several thousand pounds of my money. Some of that money went on my flights, a basic weekly food allowance, and a budget safari at the end of our designated three months at the school (a safari I never took, because when my obligations at the school were over, I went straight home in disgust). It also allowed for a financial donation to the school in which we were stationed. (In my case, this donation was pocketed by the headmistress.) The rest of the money went to lining the pockets of the obnoxious, self-satisfied expat fat-cats that “ran” the operation on the ground. When I say “ran”, the old ex-pat in charge of our group was present during our training week in Kenya, turned up once at our school for a half-hour visit, and then occasionally materialised in the capital to go out drinking with a bunch of energetic ‘young white things’ with whom he could get pissed and ogle the girls.

I had gone to Uganda at 18 because I’d fallen in love with Africa when I was lucky enough to go on a family holiday to Kenya at age 15. That holiday changed my life, and although I was not quite starry-eyed and naïve enough to believe I could change the world, I did genuinely want to give something back to a continent that had given me so much. But with a few exceptions – a few individuals in the group who would in time become good friends – everyone else taking that Gap Year with me seemed to be there for an exotic version of a club 18/30 holiday. My partner didn’t even see the term through at the school. She buggered off half way through to stay with her mate in Entebbe, never to return. The walls of our living quarters were plastered in photos of her enormous house, her swimming pools and tennis courts, her prom dress. She’d been a pupil of Rugby School and if I remember correctly, her father was the owner of Vodafone at the time. This is the face we showed Uganda, this is the face we showed these young teenage Ugandan girls, eagerly lapping up every little detail they could about our lives. I was embarrassed to be there. Our naivety and youth, our good intentions, had been exploited: we’d been shipped out to Uganda (at our own not-inconsiderable expense) to impose ourselves, and our poor qualifications, on pupils who took us seriously; we were thrust upon these impressionable young Ugandans, confronting them with our immense privilege and limited sense of responsibility. I felt sickened by it on a daily basis and furious that I had been duped into complicity with it. We should not have been there. We were doing more harm than good. I learnt then that not only are good intentions often not good enough, they can be damaging, destructive and dangerous to those on the receiving end.

(As it happens, there is an excellent blog and website by this very name, written by someone with far more knowledge than I - - one of the reasons why I'm so reluctant to write about Africa.)

So what to do: about Kony and Kony 2012:

Honest answer: I’ve no idea. At a push, do what Invisible Children say, but not as they do: don’t give IC any money, but do spread the word about Kony. I do believe in raising awareness, in informing ourselves about what really goes on in these countries we send aid to, and then spreading the word. And I do believe in the potential power that harnessing social media can unleash. Social media used for the purpose of spreading information can put pressure on the people that govern nations and control armies. Obama would not be president if he had not harnessed this power. The role of the internet these days ensures activities online massively affect the world offline. It shouldn’t be under-estimated as a tool to target criminals like Kony, against whom no conventional strategies for capture have ever worked.

So what to do: if you are thinking about a Gap Year:

Research! There are some good projects out there… probably. I would say, the more money the organisation wants out of you, the more suspicious you should be. Get a very small group of you together and do something on your own: it’s scarier than travelling under the protective canopy of a large organisation, but you retain greater control over your money and can access closer links with the community you enter. Volunteer in a project or charity in this country: we can identify and understand our own societal needs and vulnerabilities a lot more accurately than we can in Africa or India. The reward will be knowing you were of honest assistance to a project or cause that was in genuine need of you, and it will be just as great a challenge.

So what to do: generally: about charity:

If you believe donating money to charities in Africa is the best way to help Africa out of poverty*, then make sure you are very certain about who and where your money is going. I’m going to sound like a right humourless killjoy now, but as much as I, like the next person, enjoy its comic misadventures – for no one’s disputing that the heart of these endeavours is not in the right place – I would be careful about donating to umbrella organisations like Comic Relief. It’s a scheme that (exploits?) relies heavily on its participants’ and audience’s good intentions, but it’s very hard to know exactly where your money is going. Comic Relief works by supporting a vast array of on-the-ground charities and NGOs. I’m sure many of these partners are legitimate, trustworthy, sensible organisations, but I’m equally as sure that many of them are not. When you’re watching Comic Relief and its spin-offs and you see a specific cause you would like to support, go and investigate that specific cause and the charity that addresses it. Find out who they are, where their money comes from and how it gets spent. If this information seems veiled or difficult to extract, dig further. If you’re happy they have more to offer than good intentions, donate your money directly to them. These days, every organisation makes donating easy. You don’t need Comic Relief to do that for you. Don’t part with your cash until you know your money will be doing what you want it to. 

The last really narky thing I have to say about 'charity' is to point out that more children are killed in Africa in road accidents than by malaria, or aids, or by the LRA. Africa is the car-junk yard of the world - we send our knocked about, un-roadworthy vehicles there, where they are driven poorly, without servicing and at insane speeds. But roads are not cute or aesthetic and during all the time I spent in Angola and Uganda, I never saw a single charity dedicated to fixing roads or vehicles or providing driving lessons. Do you know who is dealing with the roads in Africa? China.

Finally: (no, really!) Even if you are Christian or Muslim, I would appeal to your consciences to think twice about funding charities connected with a religious movement or institution in Uganda: your money may well be funding a far-reaching campaign targeting gay people and anyone at all thought to be living any kind of deviant lifestyle. It is a devastating, hate-filled campaign that pays no attention to the poverty, hardship and vulnerability its victims are already living their lives in. The way these “crimes” are policed are brutal and terrifying. These are modern witch-hunts. I may not be religious anymore, but I was raised as a practicing Christian, and I am familiar enough with the bible to be able to say with confidence that Jesus’ teachings are only ever filled with compassion towards the poverty-stricken and marginalised groups in society. He would be appalled at the crimes against humanity being committed in his name. The same goes for Mohammed. The prevalence of homophobic sentiment in Uganda, and the disproportionate level of aid (compared with other African countries) feeding into the country, is no coincidence. They are directly related.


Africa is the West’s dumping ground. We need Africa and we need her to be poor: our wealth leans on her poverty, and our consciences need a recipient for our charity: onto Africa we throw our pity, our blindness, our shame and our guilt – guilt at our past crimes against the continent and guilt at the immense comparable wealth we still live with, guilt at knowing quite a lot of this wealth is ours through our continued poor treatment of African nations (which we try to make up for by flooding Uganda with aid money, digging wells that dry up and building schools that fall down, while we rape Congo of her minerals so we can watch Sport Relief on our ipads). It is self-pity as much as it is pity directed at Africa – we long to be forgiven. But in trying to make reparations to Africa through charity and aid, we are only digging a deeper grave.

*There is accumulating evidence that Chinese private investment in Africa, and other similar capitalist ventures, have done more in the last ten years to lift Africa out of poverty than decades of global aid. Indeed, there are those who believe Africa is not poor in spite of aid but because of it.

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