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Saving The Africans… Again!

  • PublishedSeptember 14, 2011

Don’t we get tired of the negative images of Africa portrayed by the Western media? Couldn’t Africa deal with its own issues, such as droughts, if we had the right people in place.

The year was 1984. I was in my early teens. His name was Bob Geldof. And oh how he broke my heart. Oh how Bob Geldof made me cry with sadness.  Thanks to Bob Geldof, Midge Ure, and their crew, between late 1984 to 1986, television viewers across the world were bombarded with daily images of starving Ethiopians. Geldof was deeply passionate and concerned as he went about begging for donations so that these “starving Africans” would have food. He came up with the idea of a charity record which would be sold to raise funds towards feeding these “starving Africans”.

So whilst Midge Ure produced the song, Geldof convinced his friends in the music industry to come together and sing the song that would stay at No.1 in the charts for months. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was an instant hit. The biggest names in the music industry at that time, including the likes of Paul Young, George Michael, and Boy George all played (or was it sang!) their part.

The song had lines such as, “there’s a world outside your window, it’s a world of dread and fear. Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears. And the Christmas bells that ring there, are the clanging chimes of doom. Well tonight, thank God it’s them, instead of you. And there won’t be snow in Africa, this Christmas time. The greatest gift they’ll have this year is life … ooooohhhhhh”.

With such words and imagery – in fact, accompanied by real images of starving children with pot bellies and flies sitting on their faces being shown on television everyday – how could I not be saddened? I was heartbroken to think this is how people were living in Africa. And although I had left Ghana only four years earlier, and my memories were good, I thought maybe something had happened and this was now how the majority of Africans lived. Because although Geldof and his team did say Ethiopia, they also used the generic word “Africa”. They talked about starvation in “Africa”. Oh I did my part. I bought the record (a single). I bought the T-shirt and every other piece of memorabilia. I even volunteered and worked as an usher at the Sport Aid event in Hyde Park on 25 May 1986.

Years later, with Band Aid forgotten, but with the Western media still portraying negative images of Africa, I travelled to Ghana and fell in love with my motherland. I decided to stay. And for 15 years, I stayed, on and off, but I was based in Ghana. In that time, I was fortunate enough to see other African countries, namely, Benin, Liberia, South Africa, Zambia, Egypt, and Madagascar. And yes, there is poverty across the continent, but there is also a great deal of wealth. Even in the African countries I have not visited, I know there is a great deal of wealth.

So in the year 2011, to have the images Geldof showed us of starving “Africans” being replayed by the Western media saddens me. But this time, I’m not just saddened. I am angered. How dare the Western media go about portraying this stereotypical image of starving Africans? Why are agencies such as the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) begging people to donate to starving people in the “Horn of Africa”?  I am so angered that I wrote the letter below to the DEC on the 7 July 2011.

“The reasons some Africans are starving are twofold – (1) Corrupt African leaders, and (2) The continued exploitation of Africa by the Western world. Today I saw images just like those Bob Geldof showed the world. And again, the Western world is telling us to donate to drought victims. This time, I am not moved to do anything. In fact I am disgusted and angered by the continued showing of these images. And the condescending voice-overs used to tell the pathetic stories of starvation. If we go to Kenya, Somalia or Ethiopia today, we will see the leaders living in opulence. I bet you, the IMF, World Bank and the like are still exploiting these countries. I bet you other foreign companies are also playing their part in this exploitation.

“So rather than show the world images of starving Africans and begging ordinary people for money, what you should be doing is pressuring African leaders to use the country’s wealth and resources to feed the people. Africa is a very rich continent. The money you are asking for is in Africa already. You may think you are doing Africans a favour, but in fact you are merely reinforcing the stereotypical views of us as unable to feed ourselves. The drought has come. And the solution lies in Africa. It makes no sense when, with the aid of our leaders, the Western companies exploit our oil, iron, diamonds, gold, bauxite, etc, and in return give us chump change in the form of charities.

“So please, rather than keep showing negative images of starving Africans, let’s find ways and means to end the corruption and exploitation in Africa. And before I forget, no African country produces guns, yet we always have them to fight wars. Who do you think is providing the weapons and why. And when an African leader is strong enough to stand up to the West, he is demonised and sanctions are placed on his country. Let’s stop this hypocrisy and deal with the real issues. Thank you.”

I was surprised when I actually received a reply. But I was again so angered by the reply that I foolishly deleted it from my in-box. That unfortunate move means I am unable to reprint it here. But basically, they were not saying anything. The likes of the DEC feel justified in what they are doing.

In 1984, I was a mere teenager without the slightest idea of geopolitics. All I was interested in was my favourite pop song getting to number one in the charts! But after 15 years of living in Ghana, my eyes and mind are now open to the politics of the world. And it angers and disgusts me that the Western media continue to show such images.

The drought in the Horn of Africa is a natural disaster which cannot be prevented. However, the negative effect it has on people can be. A good leader would know that at a certain time of the year, there is no water in some parts of his country, and therefore he would put mechanisms in place to deal with the situation. But not in Africa! I am not denying that there is a situation in the “Horn of Africa”.  But the solution lies not in the Western media forcing negative images down our throats. The solution does not lie in genetically manufactured “food” being sent to Africa. The solution cannot be found in organisations and charities such as the DEC appealing for funds from the man in the street in England.

The solution lies in African “leaders” being proactive enough to do right by their people. Plain and simple! For as long as we have African “leaders” who will sign unfair trade deals and dance to the tune of their Western (and now Chinese) counterparts, the ordinary African will not benefit from the various natural resources God gave the continent. And as long as we have a Western world which relishes portraying this image of helpless, “starving Africans”, the rest of the world will continue to believe this misguided stereotype.

I am thankful to have seen some parts of Africa with my own eyes. I do not believe the hype because I know we can deal with our own issues such as droughts. It’s all about having the right people in place to manage our affairs. But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.

Written By
Akua Djanie

Akua Djanie, better known to her fans in Ghana as Blakofe, a TV, radio and events Presenter. At IC Publications, Akua has been sharing her 'Reflections of an Ordinary Woman' for the past three years in New African magazine.

1 Commentaire

  • You are very right, Akua, that the ghosts sucking the continent are corruption and exploitation. Most of the African leaders are really corrupt selfishly amassing the wealth of their respective African countries at the expense of the poor African masses. Then there is the never ending exploitation of the continent by the West, now coming in the names of foreign investment, globalization……If these two ghosts are killed, starvation and hunger will be wiped away in the continent. Of the two ghosts, the worst is corruption. The latter depends on the former. Africa wouldn’t suffer foreign exploitation if it were not through these corrupt leaders. Therefore Africans should be serious in elections to get patriotic leaders to address the challenges of the continent towards sustainable development.

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