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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dawn of a new era

I’m sure a lot of you watched the Kony video or at least read about it. I didn’t quite know what to make of it. As an American-Ivorian, I appreciated the awareness that it raised about Kony and the LRA; however, I did not fully understand what Invisible Children’s message was or what role they had in “solving” Ugandan issues.

One thing about the campaign that was brilliant is that it unintentionally united a number of Africans and non-Africans in speaking out against the way Africa and Africans are portrayed by certain players in the West, including aid groups. As a good friend of mine said, Invisible Children isn’t the problem, it’s just a symptom. For the longest time countries in Africa and other developing countries have been viewed as backward places with high levels of poverty, faced with wars, HIV epidemics, and whatever else you want to add to the mix. I grew up in a number of developing countries, and am not here to deny that these countries have problems but rather to say that they do not need to be defined by it. Last time I checked they also had a wide range of natural resources, immense potential, human talent, just like other countries out there. The time has come to stop viewing Africans and other developing country nationals as helpless individuals who need to be saved from these problems that they apparently are predisposed to having.

There was an interesting article in the Atlantic in response to the Kony video entitled the “White Savior Industrial Complex” by Teju Cole in which he argued that we, the so called 'rescuers', should do our due diligence before interfering in other people's lives. Cole stated that we should first understand the role we play in negatively affecting African countries. You can start with how African countries and other developing countries have been severely impacted by protectionist agricultural subsidies in the West, including the US, which have contributed to increased poverty. Additionally, these countries have been viewed as countries with cheap labor and immense natural resources to be exploited. Take a look at the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with the world’s largest deposits of cobalt and significant quantities of the world’s supply of diamonds, gold and copper. It continues to provide multinational corporations with cheap raw resources, while it remains one of the world’s poorest countries. The bulk of the profits continue to flow to multinational corporations as well as a small group of local elite businessmen and politicians. As consumers, we are connected to these issues as we purchase from these companies and unintentionally allow them to continue exploiting people and looting resources. 

I say we because, I too am part of this. I own a laptop and a cell phone that I’m sure contain minerals contributing to conflicts in Congo. I enjoy produce from US agro-businesses lobbying the government to maintain subsidies, while our government encourages other countries to remove trade barriers. I own clothes from a number of companies with less than stellar labor conditions for their garment workers.  Having said this, now is not the time to blame but rather to be aware of how interconnected we are and to stand up for what we believe is right.

I’m sure you are reading this now and are thinking what does this have to do with Sarafina? It has everything to do with Sarafina. I want this company to be part of a movement that presents developing countries in a positive light and empowers individuals by using ethical trade practices. We have had a very unbalanced relationship with these countries and profited at many people’s expense. It’s time to stop exploiting people and start respecting them.

-- Bita Diomande

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