Jun 1, 2009

Book Preview: Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles

After having read this book which draws a pretty gloomy picture of Africa and its political development, I was keen on getting some more insights into the politics and social aspects of countries on the African continent. So once the paper back version of this book was out I immediately got it (logically like every book at the moment from the UK).

The book promises to be a brilliant read. It starts already with some lucid remarks:

“Aid and development agencies from the smallest NGO to the United Nations behemoths, have little interest in understanding African difference, how Africa work. But aid agencies, Western celebrities, rock stars and politicians cannot save Africa. Only Africans can develop Africa. [..] The policies the aid and development agencies have for Africa are not always bad – they often represent the highest aspirations and idealism of the rest of the world –but they take no account of the realities on the ground."

Arguing that the media draws a simplified one dimensional picture of the African continent he goes on and writes:

“.. journalists are not the only one to blame. The aid industry too has an interest in maintaining the image of Africans as hopeless victims of endless wars and persistent famines. However well intentioned their motives may once have been, aid agencies have helped create the single, distressing image of Africa. They and journalists feed off each other. The deal, mostly unspoken but well understood, is that aid workers tell journalists where the disaster is breaking. The aid agencies provide plane tickets, a place to stay, vehicles a driver maybe a translator – and a story. In return journalists give the aid agencies publicity, describing how they are saving Africans and using images of distress and helplessness to raise money. This deal excludes efforts of the local people to help themselves. It is easier – and more lucrative – to portray them as victims dependent on Western charity. In the early 1990s several aid agencies appointed attractive young woman to act as press officers in disaster zones to appear on TV and raise income. A decade later, they went further and invited celebrities to visit these places, bringing the media along to follow rock singers and film stars wandering through refugee camps hugging starving children and pleading for more aid.”

And finally:

“Though he had paid only a fleeting official visit to the continet, Blair proclaimed a “passion for Africa”. He referred to it as a “scar on the conscience of the world”, deeply offending many Africans"

Maybe not the most unbiased view on the whole story, but certainly worth reading.

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