Debunking PopularMyths || You Can Change the World & You Can Save Africa

This may be my most unpopular post to date. The idea that one can change the world is one that is deeply ingrained in the Western Consciousness. I hope that for the interest of looking at things differently you will follow my train of thought which at first may seem from the title to be an exercise in cynicism and bitterness but it is in fact an expression of hope.

images (5)I do not believe that anyone has yet to change the very nature of the world. The Changes we have made may have, like with penicillin, allowed us to live longer. Or as in the case of the airplane we can travel across oceans and start anew in places we might have not been able to do before without incredible difficulty. But has life really changed ? We are on a constant search for meaning and trying to find a place within the society, albeit now a global society we find ourselves in. The core experiences of human existence has not changed. So then I must ask what is it that we are trying to change when we want to change the world? For whom are we making this change for ?

If you look online or through any media you will see :

  1. Music can Change the world
  2. Photography
  3. Art can change the world
  4. Food can change the world
  5. Voting can change the World

Who’s Music Who’s Food, Who’s Art ? and for Whom ?

Be the Change || Change the world

Generally, changing the world  according to what I have seen online revolves around the idea that if you become an exemplar of what you think you need to be to effectuate change (Be the Change) , you can inspire others to follow your example and it leads to this chain effect and soon enough, there are scores of people are standing behind you united for change.  But this is is a very generalized idealistic view that doesn’t accord with history. People get shot and killed and beaten having legislation passed is no guarantee that i will stay. The Voting rights act was challenged by Reagan and gutted this summer by the Supreme court.

But even more so than that, it is a very arrogant idea that one can change the world; that one’s vision for change is something that everyone wants, something that will be good for the environment and the totality of all the living beings on the earth. No human being has that kind of wide-vision.

We can all agree that

  1. poverty is terrible
  2. with all the food going to waste on a daily basis  we could feed a lot more hungry people.

How will we mobilize to do this ? Do we wait for an ebullient passionate leader who can mobilize us into action ? In selecting a leader we give them power over us to direct us to guide us  do we turn a blind eye to the holes in their plan ? Or if we do not elect a leader do we empower politicians to bring about this change ? I feel waiting for a leader is   a bit of cop out because if our cause is righteous enough they will be the one in the public eye with the bullet on their back. Also I feel that  sometimes looking at especially our shut down government -we are too quick to hand over power to people who do not have a vested interest in our safety or the safety of our children. But leader aside, how can we make sure our policies aren’t blinkered to the extent that we do not disregard the differences in another’s culture or way of looking at things. To what extent do we expect the people we help to adopt our ways ? How can we ensure that we are not helping them in a way that add to their pain ?

A Real World Example

I will share with you an example from the Washington Post article that came out in 2007. I am hoping that if you are serious about change that you would read further this brief article. However if you are serious about change are are unwilling to read something that might help discussion and change the mindset by which we view things I wonder about you.  I have more to say if anyone is willing to talk. leave a comment.

Stop Trying to Save Africa

By Uzodinma Iweala
Sunday, July 15, 2007

Last fall, shortly after I returned from Nigeria, I was accosted by a perky blond college student whose blue eyes seemed to match the “African” beads around her wrists.

Save Darfur!” she shouted from behind a table covered with pamphlets urging students to TAKE ACTION NOW! STOP GENOCIDE IN DARFUR!

My aversion to college kids jumping onto fashionable social causes nearly caused me to walk on, but her next shout stopped me.

“Don’t you want to help us save Africa?” she yelled.

It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East, the West has turned to Africa for redemption. Idealistic college students, celebrities such as Bob Geldof and politicians such as Tony Blair have all made bringing light to the dark continent their mission. They fly in for internships and fact-finding missions or to pick out children to adopt in much the same way my friends and I in New York take the subway to the pound to adopt stray dogs.

This is the West’s new image of itself: a sexy, politically active generation whose preferred means of spreading the word are magazine spreads with celebrities pictured in the foreground, forlorn Africans in the back. Never mind that the stars sent to bring succor to the natives often are, willingly, as emaciated as those they want to help.

Perhaps most interesting is the language used to describe the Africa being saved. For example, the Keep a Child Alive/” I am African” ad campaign features portraits of primarily white, Western celebrities with painted “tribal markings” on their faces above “I AM AFRICAN” in bold letters. Below, smaller print says, “help us stop the dying.”

Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent’s corrupt leaders, warlords, “tribal” conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like “Can Bono Save Africa?” or “Will Brangelina Save Africa?” The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ and “civilization.”

{There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one’s cultural superiority. My mood is dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually) wealthy, white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head — because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West’s fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West’s prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.

Why do the media frequently refer to African countries as having been “granted independence from their colonial masters,” as opposed to having fought and shed blood for their freedom? Why do Angelina Jolie and Bono receive overwhelming attention for their work in Africa while Nwankwo Kanu or Dikembe Mutombo, Africans both, are hardly ever mentioned? How is it that a former mid-level U.S. diplomat receives more attention for his cowboy antics in Sudan than do the numerous African Union countries that have sent food and troops and spent countless hours trying to negotiate a settlement among all parties in that crisis?

Two years ago I worked in a camp for internally displaced people in Nigeria, survivors of an uprising that killed about 1,000 people and displaced 200,000. True to form, the Western media reported on the violence but not on the humanitarian work the state and local governments — without much international help — did for the survivors. Social workers spent their time and in many cases their own salaries to care for their compatriots. These are the people saving Africa, and others like them across the continent get no credit for their work.

Last month the Group of Eight industrialized nations and a host of celebrities met in Germany to discuss, among other things, how to save Africa. Before the next such summit, I hope people will realize Africa doesn’t want to be saved. Africa wants the world to acknowledge that through fair partnerships with other members of the global community, we ourselves are capable of unprecedented growth.

Uzodinma Iweala is the author of “Beasts of No Nation,” a novel about child soldiers.


Some Pics




  1. I don’t know about it being unpopular, but I think this is a great post. Unpopular perhaps it rings so true and will make people feel uncomfortable about their assumptions… make people embarrassed about how easily they will donate to a ’cause’ and then put the children and the real people affected out of their minds again.

    I am a firm believer in the ability to make change – but only one person at a time. Because for one country to change another… meaningfully and long-term and ‘for-the-better’??? How impossible is that task??? And the righteous self-belief that outsiders with “names” and money and populist power are the only ones who can do this? THEY know what ‘better’ looks like and how ‘better’ can be maintained? Change needs to start at ground zero, by the people affected, for the people affected. Help (such as money or resources or technology) may be useful from outsiders who don’t have to live with the changes… who may understand consequences but don’t have to live with them.

    Names like Nwankwo Kanu and Dikembe Mutombo are names I should know, are names I have an interest in knowing – and yet I am ashamed to say that until today, I had never heard of them. Thank you for this post.


    • Isabeau d’Anjou

      Thanks for your comment!

      On the blog I like to satirize what I see in the world around me. One of the things I have observed is that firstly no one wants to talk about difficult subject, and secondly if you say what you see and experience and it doesn’t fall in a neat little format where there is a positive take home message people get upset. I do not mean just on WordPress but everywhere really where people express themselves. My philosophy/history teacher once said: if you write to entertain people and make them forget whats bothering them you will be loved. If you write stuff that makes people question how they live, their responsibilities to each other and the planet you will be shot.

      Like you I believe a lot in the ability for us to change ourselves. I think the change has to come individually. I started writing about these topics because I knew nothing about modern day African history or African history in general. It wasn’t until someone pointed out to me how little I know about African and Haitian history that I had to take a step back and reassess things.

      I do not think that the best way to deal with problems is to throw money at them and go one living our lives. I also feel that helping others shouldn’t be lauded. It is our responsibility as humans to help other humans. Throwing money and using fame of others as a means to effectuate change is a very detached way of dealing with things. I think we need really involved educated responses more so that quick reactions and money donations. I think always that education is the gateway to a lot of the social changes we would like to see. In the very least perhaps some education might allows us to take responsibility for our collective history. For me that what I have seen in therapy and my own daily struggles that once I take responsibility for my actions then the doors to be redeemed from them opened and change can actually begin (I dont mean that [redemption] in a Christian way but in a more humanist way).

      I think if we were to accept responsibility for portraying the middle east and Africa, for the sake of example, in such a way as to create and sell the narratives to the public and global community that allow for the ex[ploitations of people. We could begin to begin to think and educate ourselves on how best to deal with the human crises in those places

      thanks again for your comments


  2. You said it here: “I also feel that helping others shouldn’t be lauded. It is our responsibility as humans to help other humans. ” Perfect. I look forward to reading more of your writing, and to pointing this writing out to others


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