Saturday, October 14, 2006


Noble Africa

Bono was on Oprah yesterday. He was touting a new initiative that will raise funds to fight AIDS in Africa. The initiative is called (RED) and it plays on America's unending materialism. By purchasing (RED) products (T-shirts, jeans, tennies, jackets, cellphones, iPods), Americans can feel good about themselves by knowing that approximately half the proceeds from each purchase go toward supplying AIDS medications to people in Africa.

If I sound a tinge cynical, it's not because I don't think the cause is worthy. Absolutely, it is. But, I'm not sure encouraging Americans to consume more is the best way to go about it. The T-shirts are cute and one of the pairs of Chuck Taylor tennis shoes available from Converse (one of the sponsors of the cause) is made of African mud cloth. Bono said that much of the stuff is made in Africa, so people there are working toward their cure.

Here's my frustration: Why is it that practically the only images we ever see of Africa are of bone-crushing poverty, starvation, female genital mutilation, AIDS, or civil war? Why do we not see the people who are doing well? Where are this continent's leaders? Why are they not helping their own people? Where are Africa's success stories? Surely, these exist.

There's an imbalance here and it does not bode well for Africa. As the situation sits, Africa is pitied by the world because we rarely hear the positives about the continent. Most of the good stories come when some foreigner rushes in and gives a particular African country or cause monetary assistance, or adopts a child. The continent has been presented as lowly and incapable of helping itself. We sling around the term "third-world country" with impunity in reference to Africa. The continent is the world's charity case, and it's very easy for well-off people to see charity cases as not being equal. And, that's the problem with the (RED) campaign. It reinforces our belief that Africa is not equal to America. As we buy, we think, "Oh, those poor people!" In (RED)'s defense, the manifesto says this is not about charity, but that message can't easily be over-ridden by years of bad press.

The world needs to start paying as much attention to Africa's success stories as it does to its frailties. Who hasn't heard of Nelson Mandela and the overthrow of Apartheid by native South Africans? More positive stories such as these will help to alleviate the perceived inequalities between Africa and the rest of the world. When we start thinking of Africa as noble and dignified, we can purchase our (RED) goods without a simpering pity, but with a sense of fair exchange among the world's compatriots.

As I wrote this piece, it crossed my mind that perhaps I've been ill-informed, that I've missed the good news about Africa, so I googled "africa good news" and was rewarded with an article from the Christian Science Monitor dated May26, 2005. It's called, "Africans ask: 'Why isn't anyone telling the good news?'" I could not have asked for a more relevant article. As the article is over a year old, there's still work to be done in boosting Africa's image.

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