Here below is my response to a comment made on a friend’s Facebook note regarding the now widely viewed and discussed KONY2012 video by Invisible Children. Here is the link to the note by my friend Robert (hopefully it is a public note). If it’s not, then I hope to post the content plus the comment I was responding to after getting permission from the respective writers. But I hope my response is clear and the context understandable:
@Jeff – excellent post! I get the feeling that you’re the kind of person I’d like to have a chat with over a nice cup of coffee. However, there are bits of your post that I respectfully disagree with:
- Reconciliation & negotiated peace: These may be the best way to resolve conflicts the world over, not just Africa, but it has not been effective in our society as you say. And the more complex the circumstances of the conflict, the harder it is for such peaceful approaches to work. A simple example is the issue of tribalism – a real and living problem in Uganda. It is extremely complicated to solve but trust me, it will take a lot more than re-conciliatory discussions for say the Northerners to trust the Westerners. Or the Banyoro to accept and integrate the Bakiga on their home soil. I come from a part of the country that is highly polarised along religious and ethnic lines and these divisions scare me. Note that I am not saying other means would necessarily be the best – no. It’s just saying that your assertion also makes the mistake of assuming these things are simple. They are not.
- Africans should be left alone to solve their own problems: Unfortunately, the era of communities being islands are over. Moreover, I’m not sure our own solutions would preclude the use of force – were there no wars on the continent before the white man appeared on the scene? Look at the Rwanda genocide – are you sure that if were left to our own devices, massacres would not become a routine matter? But again, these are political problems we’re talking about. What about others such as health? Look at the dreaded and much talked about nodding disease that so many are accusing Russell/IC of ignoring. Our only hope of combating it lies on CDC identifying the cause and solution? And what is CDC (Centers for Disease Control)? Yes – you guessed it – an American institution. What about economic problems? We need the rest of world not just as markets but to ‘copy’ from. China has grown simply by being the world’s factory – a lot of the manufacturing there is done for western firms and its now gotten to the point where it no longer needs these firms but it can stand on its own. India too and many others are riding on the shoulders of western giants but they’re getting to a point where they can walk on their oiwn. We too should do the same and abandon isolationist thoughts – they won’t get us anywhere. And the yuppies – they may be irritating but I am fully aware of the quality work some of them have done and continue to do. Even the much maligned IC has actually done some great work on the ground (schools and healthcare). If they had kept to the poverty stricken people of their home countries, then the beneficiaries here would still be wallowing in desperation waiting for a government and community (rest of the country) that doesn’t give a hoot about them.
- Campaigns that are bad for the image of Africa: Here I disagree – Africa is what it is and there’s nothing like ‘bad image’. For every success story, there are tens of heart-breaking failures and we’re talking about the present, not the past. These campaigns and bad press may reinforce bad stereotypes but these stereotypes are unfortunately mostly true. Look at this country for instance and tell me how we can do a whitewashing campaign that ignores all the facts such as our poor infrastructure, healthcare and political systems? But all this is beside the point. The point is we Africans are solely responsible for the image the world has of us. There are many societies that have had negative images but have outgrown them. A few years ago, all the middle eastern countries were associated with poverty and terrorism. Nowadays, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar no longer carry this image. Why? Because they’ve proved to the world they do not deserve the historical tags. Qatar is especially impressive – while we moan that the western press/media (BBC, CNN etc) is biased and so on, they quietly launched al Jazzera which is currently one of the shapers of public opinion. Where is the African equivalent of the BBC? Why isn’t it there? Another thing – there is no such thing as our image being bad for our prosperity and business. No – it’s solely down to the enabling environment. How can we be a good business destination if we don’t have the infrastructure? How do we attract manufacturing investment if we can’t even generate enough electricity to run a couple of factories (10 serious factories would consume the whole of Jinja’s power output). How do I start a Google/Facebook competitor if the maximum bandwidth I can get is 256kbps and it still costs me an arm each month? How do I get a business running if the cheapest credit carries an interest of 25%? Most worryingly of all, how does one do business and prosper if the most basic raw material (personnel) are not only a product of a lousy education system and extremely lazy preferring to spend their evenings ‘hanging out’ instead of acquiring knowledge and working hard but is also exceedingly corrupt? Make no mistake – once you put the right conditions for business, the business will flood in. That is why western companies rushed to China even though it was and still is a communist country (and being a communist carried the capital penalty in the US just a few decades ago) with a poor image. And many people/countries are still seeking ways of doing business with Iran despite the sanctions and all.
- More on the negative image of Africa: While growing up I personally made the effort to read up about the history of modern civilizations and I still try to read widely. As such, I know very well the brutalities meted out by the Spaniards in Latin America, the Belgians in Congo and the genesis of the world wars. More recently, there are things like the Northern Ireland conflict, the war in the Balkan states, the ongoing Basque separatist movement and the income inequalities in the developed world. I’m trying to get to two points: first, if one wants negative stories about the western world, there are so many and readily available. Look at the global economic crisis – it was reported and re-reported ad nauseam and it was all very negative. We therefore should stop thinking the western media and history books only talk of terrible things when it comes to Africa – they do an excellent job of talking about themselves as well. It’s just that we tend to either ignore those stories or we don’t look for them. Secondly and more importantly, all these stories have their place in history and the western ones are mostly a thing of the past e.g. Germany’s aggression in the 1920s/30s/40s. If we can therefore sort out our problems, then the current negative stories will become part of a historical narrative – interesting but no longer valid. Look at Wandegeya for instance. There was a time there was a roundabout there and the jam was intolerable. Once the modern junction was put in place (a donation from Japan by the way), the jam disappeared. What happened then? People started to say ‘there USED TO be terrible jam’! The same way people say ‘the UAE used to be a collection of sand dunes’. Unfortunately, the Wandegeya jam has since returned. However, it stands to reason that if the pace of development had continued along a logical path from 1999 (or if the Japanese had continued doing our work for us), then there’d be multi-lane roads and over/sub-passes at all the traffic bottleneck junctions in the city and we’d be reminiscing on how bad things used to be. That hasn’t been the case however and so we have to face the bitter truth. Hopefully, we can get to the point where we can gleefully lecture the west (like the former Malaysian PM was doing the other day – telling the Europeans they were now poor and needed to stop living beyond their means). That day hasn’t come yet.
- We Africans should make videos about the Iraqi chaos etc: I concur. That is exactly what I told people during the Libyan crisis – they were complaining they were only getting one side of the story (fron CNN/BBC etc). I asked them why they didn’t send their own journalists there to get the other side of the story if any. I mean, if Russell can do a 30 minute video so can you and I. If we’re interested that is. But the Hague bit – you know the Americans refused to sign up? And we blindly (along with the Kenyans) signed up. When shall we start thinking before acting?
- Timing of the hullabaloo: I’ll disagree with you here – foreign powers only take advantage of another country’s natural resources if that country ‘fails’ to manage the resources themselves. By failing, I mean situations like Libya – a guy rules forever and gives NATO an excuse to support insurgents. If Gaddafi had put in place an acceptable political system (acceptable to the people of Libya), then there’d not have gone through what they went through. And an acceptable political system doesn’t mean a democracy…
Lastly – no matter what our feelings about the KONY2012 video are, there’s one good thing that I think we can all agree it has done: without it, we’d not be having this debate… Ultimately, this global discourse will be good for Uganda/Africa.