For most of us, the most enduring picture we have of Africa is that of a black child, skin-and-bone, starving, and awaiting for its death (a personal pronoun denoting the gender of the child here will not be appropriate because the child has just undergone what I call neuterification, a term I use to mean the loss of gender signals because the body of the child has gone through extreme wasting due to hunger, disease, and gradual demise making the process of sex identification impossible). The second most popular, and something that lends itself to the whim of popular culture and therefore the members of the younger generation are more familiar of, would be that of Madonna, Bono, or Angelina Jolie holding an African child identical to the wasted boy.
I came across this Newsweek magazine interview with Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist, who had her education from both Harvard and Oxford for the launching of her book, Dead Aid.
Moyo said that foreign aid, amounting to trillion dollars over the past 60 years, is a waste. It is bad for Africa and for Africans, she said. This aid money that comes pouring from rich, Western countries is keeping the continent in a supplicant’s role when what these young governments actually need is to become self-sufficient.
Moyo believes this dependency relationship is perpetuated by Western governments and glorified by the celebrities who have made Africa their cause du jour.
“Taking a picture with a starving African child–that doesn’t help raise an African child to believe she can be an engineer or a doctor.”
Moyo recommends shutting off all foreign aid to African within 10 years. Until just recently most social scientists and leading intellectuals in international relations have criticized this act of distributing aid because the money, more often than not, is used by African dictators to oppress, proliferate arms and weapons, and build para-military organizations to intimidate their political enemies like what is happening in the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa most notably in Somalia. This breeds more corruption and the people of Africa drowning further in the cesspool of poverty, wars, HIV/AIDS, famine, and human degradation.
For most part of the world, awareness of the plights of the continent is made more compelling with the selflessness ofe Hollywood celebrities who went out of their way and left the limelight for a while in the sunny California to serve mankind, only to create another stage with completely different set of extras primarily composed of semi-alive or half-dead (depending whether one is an optimist or a pessimist) African children; but of course our celebrities will have to retain their star status.
A smooth, white-skinned, rosy cheeked Angelina Jolie or a Louis Vuitton-clad Oprah Winfrey seated next to a dying African child is an image enough to attract help as it shows how dire the situation of Africa already is and how great the divide between the west and the continent has already become.
Moyo is right; to an African child, the image sends no other message but hopelessness, his inferiority, the impossibility of his situations, the impossibility of breaking the dichotomy of skin color, wealth, literacy, cultural superiority, and luck. His salvation lies on nothing but the benevolence and charity of the white man; his salvation will never lie on his hands.
Africa needs to recognize that only her people can save her from all the ills it confronts with as little intervention from the outside. Change will only be possible in Africa, just like anywhere, if this change emanates from within.