Moral Poverty is the biggest challenge in 21st Century….

For some reasons the older I grow the more Christmas terrifies me. I am not sure if WE truly express the spirit of compassion and Love that Jesus contributed to the story of humankind. I think there is a big void vis-a-vis empathy and selfless humanness or UBUNTU, which Nelson Mandela speaks of and in practice demonstrated how one can ‘walk the talk?’ Imagine living in a world where governments are led by people who GENUINELY care about the welfare of all. A world where charity is not the self-serving merry-go-round AID industry that WE have today but a truly helping platform that is run by sincere people willing to ‘work themselves out of their jobs’ because they really want to make poverty history. The circus of showing black Africans as objects of pity would be challenged because even a poor human deserves dignified representation! I genuinely believe it is possible to spread well-being across the globe if WE all put OUR minds and HEARTS to it without even relying on poor-norgraphy. This does not mean that everyone will have a swimming pool but WE would not have one billion starving people in the poor South whilst another billion in the rich North is too fat because of having too much to eat. Nevertheless, the rich Northerners tirelessly continue to give their hard-earned cash to the ‘helping’ sector, trusting them to help the under privileged of the South. A BBC documentary revealed  the other day that in UK alone, last year £9 billion was raised for ‘helping.’..At such a rate it is seriously possible that every living human being on this planet can become an aid millionaire! Bless the British who keep digging into their pockets despite the economy standing on it’s knees. More than any other nation, Britons seem to think that Africa is ‘the White Man’s Burden’ as the imperial poet Rudyard Kipling puts it.

This is my last post so I do not wish to rant about the AID INDUSTRY anymore. I will let other 21st century minds to figure out how to deal with ‘help’ that doesn’t actually help, but could in fact help effectively.  I am certainly done with criticizing the AID industry and it’s condescending treatment of black Africans because  my PhD thesis  is now ready for submission and I will close this blog with a little rant about the human story …..About US humans,  about GOD and about heaven and hell. Then I will find my own little way of participating in the aid story, but this time to work with those willing to listen to the voices in Africa, because having equal dialogue with Others is to recognise their humanity and article One of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes so!

At a personal/spiritual level, I constantly wonder why WE humans find it so difficult to treat others as we would like to be treated? Especially if the Other is visibly different or a complete ‘stranger.’  What does it take to acknowledge another human being with a smile that comes from deep within? The sincere smile, which makes you experience that warm sense of well-being albeit momentarily!  Smiling is a universal language… A smile transcends our fragmented human languages, cultures and races.……Smile can ONLY mean one thing…I notice you….and WE are connected!

At that moment when you smile, the universe smiles too, because, believe it or not WE are all connected. DNA scientists tell us so, quantum physicists have proven beyond a shred of doubt that every matter in the universe including little humans and our little planet are all made up of energy that cannot be created or destroyed….This energy is infinite. It is the universal ‘spirit’ if you like. One BIG energy, which was there and will always be there and OUR little human brain will NEVER totally comprehend it. Philosophers who lived many years before Christ called it ‘TRUTH-IN-ITSELF’…World religions call it ‘GOD’ ….Scientists tell us it is the ‘BIG BANG’ and even try to put a date on it! (very enlightening)….This TRUTH/GOD/BIG BANG has different names depending which corner of the little world you were born, what your parents limited you to and what exposure you have had to ‘opposing’ knowledges and ideologies.  It is a great pity that in 21st century WE still hate and murder each other for a GOD WE have not even met yet! A GOD who will anyway embrace all of US warts and all. This omnipotent GOD is surely bigger, and fairer than a mere mortal Nelson Mandela who reconciled murderers/lynch men and those they wronged right before our very eyes. He reverted back to OUR empathic DNA that inscribes, WE ARE ALL ONE, and Your pain is my pain! Murdering or hating in the name of a loving and forgiving GOD seems bizarre to me because a TRUE GOD does not sanction pointing weapons at HIS/HER creations or beheading them in HIS name. But WE keep doing it over and over again. This is in fact  barbaric whatever language you put it in..It is also strange that WE take it upon us to feel upset and judgmental when Others do not buy into OUR own GOD concept, in OUR own little languages. I still find it rather peculiar that in 21st century when we can all browse in the religious menu to choose what WE want, there are religions that market themselves by sending people to knock on our doors and talk about their limited version of God, because they think they have got it right! They think it will be a shame if we don’t see it their way and ascend to heaven with them. That is marketing God par excellence! …Forgotten is the idea that we are actually one…If there is a heaven, surely WE we all be there because WE are all ONE. I read somewhere that there are DNA proof that WE are all descendants of the same ancestors that lived in Africa hundred of thousands of years ago. I believe that whoever  GOD  maybe, HE is full of love and compassion as all the major world religions proclaim in their sacred books. The GOD concept is benevolent and uniting but the serious problem WE are facing now  is that the GOD idea gets LOST IN TRANSLATION because of religious divisions caused by  closed attitudes,  business minded church entities, and perhaps power hunger WE inherited from the architects of world religions. True religion I believe is a profound faith in the humanness in OURSELVES and in everyone else WE have met or not met. True religion is spreading unconditional love and goodness to everyone that crosses OUR path. I still find it extremely disturbing that one religion chooses to discount other forms of religions or worship. It is wrong for one human to say unto Other that ‘your religion is pointless.’

What if all I knew of GOD was a mountain or the forest where we collect fruits and nuts? What if my ancestors made it a point to pray to the baobab tree that provided a much needed shade in my hot little village? And what if some are taught to pray to the cow that gave them their daily milk ? I met a South African ‘witch doctor’ in 2008 who prayed to a  River GOD and this charismatic gentleman was one of the kindest and most intelligent person I have ever met. For him, caring for human life and protecting the earth where our bodies are eventually recycled was more important than fantasizing about a heaven he had no control of. He asked his GOD to keep us safe in the ‘dangerous’ townships and HE did, didn’t HE?  Who can tell when divinity has intervened? Are not all the world religions relevant to those practicing them? How can Christians for instance claim that ONLY they have the TRUTH and Others don’t? It is estimated that of the world population of  7,021,836,020 ONLY 31.59% are Christians. Muslims account for 23.2%, Hindu 15.0%, Buddhist 7.1%, Sikh 0.35%, Jewish 0.2%, Baha’i 0.11%, other religions 10.95%, non-religious 9.66%, atheists 2.01%. (July 2010 est.)

I think we need to nurture our 21st century generation with sustainable morals that cross these limiting and divisive boundaries so that they can know the real GOD who is interchangeable with supreme GOODNESS. They should address the religious stigmatizations and practice humanness which WE in Africa call UBUNTU/UTU. It is a philosophy of being good and fair without necessarily embracing any particular religious sect! GOD is bigger and more beautiful than a fearful judgmental little white old man WE are supposed to recognise by sight! And the devil, who is by the way black with horns and tail according to Christian representations, is nothing but the hatred and individualism that WE harbour within OUR hearts. The disrespect WE have towards fellow humans in OUR world is incomprehensible because the whole universe is made of eternal energy and that is the INFINITE GOD spirit as far as common-sense goes. WE like to think that hell and heaven is a place? Speaking metaphorically, hell is living purposeless day by day, hell is worrying about dying because you have acquired too much and cannot relax and enjoy it because inequality means that Others are still scavenging for their basic needs and therefore your safety is not guaranteed. Hell I believe is the locks on our doors that are intended to keep out unwanted HUMAN intruders? (and someone naively thought WE we are one? LOL) Hell are the massive protective gates, bodyguards/watchmen intended to keep us safe from other humans. Hell are the security cameras and all other modern devices that we use to protect our individual wealth because of the unprecedented disparity between rich and poor. If  YOU think hell is somewhere far…THINK again and think very fast!

In a 21st century tweeter-facebook village blessed with unprecedented information technology  we must know better! We need to venture into our spiritual selves to get balance instead of just depending on fragmented religions or poisonous drugs. I am not surprised there is suicide in rich countries where people have everything materially, but find life pointless. I think we need to leave behind a world  where life is fulfilling, goodness reigns, and individualism is stigmatized as untoward and pointless. It is a bit like practicing a heaven here on earth as WE can connect spiritually starting with that sincere unprocessed smile that lights up a positive glow in our hearts.  Heaven begins with this positive energy and fades into INFINITY where we harmoniously join other lights/energies of the universe and continue into ETERNITY.  Scientists tell us that our energy/light will ALWAYS persist! ….LOVE is central to this positive energy. Ideally, heaven is a society where adults care and are capable of loving all children unconditionally…it is where a child can call any adult male PAPA…and childless mothers could be called MAMA by children they do not know. How can it be otherwise? It is heartbreaking that the lonely childless man cannot exchange a kind word or comfort the sad little girl on the bus without onlooking passengers tweeting the police!

Creating heaven on earth can be achieved when we all focus on practicing goodness and keep that infectious smile on.

I believe that it is possible to practice goodness….

Think selflessness,

Think kindness,

Think respect,

It is called UBUNTU….

I define it as the ORAL MORAL BOOK of our African ancestors! Nelson Mandela showed us how to do it, and he died a beautiful fulfilled death, which to me  is proper enlightenment.

Abraham Maslow called such a full filled state self-actualization.

Back then before what we now consider ‘modernity’ our ancestors abided by UBUNTU. Some Maasai communities still do. They do not have or need police, because the wise elders will tell you off if you intentionally offend Others. If one is hungry, all are hungry. There are no locks on doors because there is nothing in your hut that your neighbor wants to steal from you. And if there is, he or she can ask you for some, knowing you will always share.  My grandfather Lemnge a Maasai nomad who was displaced to Kilimanjaro after fighting in the First-Word-War, never used the word I. There is only plural ‘WE’ in kimaasai language. It expresses the oneness of humankind. You are because of everyone else, that is the story of humankind that WE need to instill in our children particularly during this festive season where they are overly obsessed with Christmas presents having prepared shopping wish lists that are longer than their school essays. Besides, many children today have no clue what legacy Jesus Christ contributed to the humankind story. I wish I could shout it to them that Jesus said WE should practice proper goodness and love. This is quintessentially the central message in UBUNTU and the fundamental message in all World religions. Your humanity is only complete in presence of Others and therefore you can not speak of I, my, mine etc. I am not surprised that Monarchs speak of ‘WE’….because who would they be without their subjects? ‘WE’ communicates human unity.  My belief and I stick with it.

The best Christmas gift this year is to share a smile with people you do not know….Remember WE are all ONE…

They now speak of an EMPATHIC CIVILIZATION, which I strongly believe is possible!

If You want to help someone SHUT UP and listen!

The speaker says exactly what I have being moaning about because ONLY THE WEARER KNOWS WHERE THE SHOE HURTS!

How can it be otherwise?

The poor know their needs,

So listen carefully,

Listen with respect,

It is called EQUALITY…

However humbling that might be!

Giving the right help, to the right people at the right time is only possible if the giver listens to the poor.  No need to play a GOD just because one has money!

My criticism of the donor’s gaze has led me to become a die-hard skeptic vis-à-vis promises made by aid practitioners. Clinton’s Foundation for instance promises loud and clear: ‘Everywhere we go, we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job.’ That indeed is the motto for ‘proper help’ but unfortunately the bloated up aid industry requires fancy rhetorics to survive the competition for donations. Tony Blair calls the buzzwords  ‘stock-in-trade’ and he is guilty of many of those himself.  In 2001 he loudly called Africa ‘a scar on the conscience of the world’ and promised to stand by us. God knows he has! Blair’s initiatives has Big Time influence and he is babysitting Africa just fine!  Dr. Thomas Dichter who worked in the aid industry for more than 35 years explains eloquently in his book ‘Despite Good Intention: Why Development Assistance to the Third world has Failed’, that there isn’t a single NGO that wants to get ‘out of business.’ Why would they want to do that?Aid isn’t altruistic like we hope it should be. Careers are involved, pensions must be guaranteed and power over the helped seems addictive to some. Who would have though Africa would be ruled by the likes of Bono and Geldof?  Dambisa Moyo, our own Zambian-born economist has also proclaimed the death of aid in her book ‘Dead Aid: Why Aid is not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa.’

So, is the so called giving just a spectacle then? ‘A pity orchestra for the poor?’


Consider Haiti for example. I read on BBC news that the donor pledges for Haiti surpassed US dollar 10 billion. Now remember that Haiti’s population is

10.17 million people in 2012 according to google.

It is surprising therefore that there are still homeless people in a country where everyone is fundamentally a multi-millionaire! I read horror stories about the ‘battle of NGOs’ in Haiti during the earthquakes. Everyone wanted a piece of the cake.

Luckily for practicing helpers, Africa offers a massive chunk of the cake.

HIV/AIDS has seemingly settled in permanently and the aid industry has a job for life.

So there you go …NGOs need to NEVER to work themselves out of a job if they don’t want to.

Africa has a little of something for everyone.

Hunger that won’t go away because the farming technology isn’t addressed!

How in God’s name can such a continent rich in natural resources be home to so many poor people?

Poor and corrupt Leadership? Surely one of the reasons, but not the main.

I guess exclusion of the voices of those being helped is THE fundamental problem. I am always intrigued to read about Millenium Development Goals, which the REAL poor have no clue about, and perhaps most would die before they even hear about them.

The question is therefore…CAN AID WORK?

Indeed it can…

But only when the poor are included in working out the solutions.

‘Small is beautiful’ means that, most often than not, local solutions are better than complicated unsustainable solutions embedded with greed to profit the already rich.

It is time to listen to the poor themselves.

However humbling that may be.

They ARE humans too.


Listening to Jeremy Paxman vs Rusell Brand it is interesting how much truth comes out vis-a-vis how things really are in the REAL world. It is also interesting too to note how Jeremy Paxman profoundly contributes to the narrative of humankind in a very obvious way. As a journalist I know too well that we can use someone else’s voice to say exactly what we want the public to hear without ‘dirtying our hands.’ Paxman is doing exactly that. How do I know? Simples! The man thinks George Orwell is a genius and there is only one way of interpreting that. In the foreword to Orwells’ Shooting the Elephant Paxman praises his ability to tell the truth claiming that Orwell ‘had acquired a capacity to emphathise with the foot-soldiers of history, the put-upon people generally taken for granted, ignored or squashed by the great “isms” of one sort or another.” To Paxman, Orwell had the ‘remarkable ability to achieve what every journalist and essayist seeks.’

Like George Orwell whose message to humankind is revealed through his allegorical characters in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four, I think Paxman too is glueing together the human story in good or ill through his dialogues with eclectic horde of REAL characters. He tells the humankind narrative bit by bit, and if you are intellectually awake, you will hear EXACTLY what he is saying. Paxman’s style of questioning digs under the surface to reveal the multiple layers of brutal truth, which air brushed interviews are unable to reveal because their framework is too afraid to open the truth ‘genie’ that might haunt them and us the public. Paxman’s Orwellian worldview is also demonstrated in his other texts on Empire, power etc.  Some of Paxman’s Newsnight discussions are more enlightening than others but Russell Brand’s raw truth will stay with me for a long while. When I compare inequalities in our global village and the hierarchies in Animal Farm, there is no denying the resemblance and suddenly I can situate myself as one of the insignificant little pigs that make up the majority that might perhaps benefit from some kind of revolution. Personally, I am happy with an epistemic revolution and that is why I will keep rambling about the ‘donor gaze’ because it reduces black Africans into templates of material and cultural deficiency that the aid industry’s merry-go-round machinery is supposedly sorting out. No one cares to explain that in actual fact if ‘poverty’ was to disappear from the Third World, many hundred of thousands of white sleeved ‘helping’ jobs would also disappear from the First World, together with all the perks, pension arrangements etc.

I read George Orwell’s Animal Farm during the communist heydays in Russia and it became obvious to me that the communists were messing about and the ones on top knew exactly what they were up to. Likewise, I am convinced that the profit-based and greedy capitalist system standing on a hierarchy of toilers and wealthy industrialists is also messing about and the few sweat less on the top know exactly what this is all about. Just like the top on the hierarchy of the aid industry know that they are messing about vis-à-vis how development is conceptualized.  Interestingly, there is no limit on how rich is rich enough but for some reasons, there is a clear agreed upon concept of how much a poor human should earn. If you earn less than $1.5 a day you are on the lowest rung, and it doesn’t matter if you are a homeless New Yorker freezing your butt on on the street or an African farmer with access to your own little mud hut feeding from your own little farm. We are measured on fiat money , which is essentially a representation. It does not exist in other words.  A super-market dependent un employed city dweller cannot be compared to my grandmother who never earned a dollar in her life. Excuse me if I am not shedding pity tears because I know how my grandmother’s generation lived and fed their families on organic food crops and made dairy butter using massive gourds of soured milk. The butter was then used in barter trade to ‘buy’ other stuff that didn’t grow on her four acres  farm. Her generation was unfortunately rudely awoken from this peaceful existence when they were forced by the British Conquerers to pay ‘Hut Tax’ because it was deemed a good way of introducing money and forcing plantation of cash crop. Guess what? That messed about the ethics of barter trade and created imbalance. Banana plants were chopped down to allow coffee which they didn’t drink, cotton they didn’t need too much of, etc etc.  I dare say, the dependence we see today is due to peoples way of life being messed about so that a large number of toilers can feed a privileged few who had a good start in figuring out how world monetary economy works. The rest is history. Today we live in an aid culture and my gaze is following the horror of how hierarchy created thanks to the fiat money system has also penetrated the charitable sector that lives on fundraising unprecedented amount of money in the pretence of ‘helping.’ An ever expanding ‘helping’ industry is here now and with it an entertainment industry that keeps the donating public happy that they are doing moral good. Whatever happened to the wisdom of ‘working yourself out of a job’ that guided Peace Corps in the beginning? Helping was not supposed to offer permanent jobs with perks and pension packages. It was about helping an Other as an act of atruism. At least that is what Christianity proclaimed and in fact many ‘helpers’ including Bill Clinton testify that their quest for helping started in church. He says so in his 2007 book GIVING: How Each of us Can Change the World.

Unfortunately, more than anywhere I see the Animal Farm Pig allegory in the hierarchy of the Aid industry. If some foreign NGO’s are bad enough as the big Pigs, try the local African NGOs, MoNGOs (My own [briefcase] NGO) or whatever the framework calls them. They all work under the same buzzwords of equality, partnership, empowerment and capacity building, but there are so many stories of corruption and mistreatment of local people that it’s futile to give an adequate detail here. Aid critics like Thomas Dichter, William Easterly,  Dambisa Moyo, Paulette Goudge to mention but a few, all reveal the hypocrisy of the merry-go-round aid discourse that has created ‘fat Pigs’ dispensing the money and multitude of poor ‘little Pigs’ doing whatever they are told to access the money. The narrative is simple. In the order of things, the ‘fat Pigs’ are more equal than the ‘poor little Pigs’ and they are not bothered about the status quo. How can it be otherwise? If you are poor you are the ‘put-upon’ as eloquently expressed by both Brand and Paxman and the chance is,  the system is well-served by existence of poverty. I recently spoke to a Tanzanian HIV positive lady who participated in a World Bank sponsored book about African teachers living positively with HIV, which she had not even seen. Her insignificance is clear. When the book was being researched in 2008, the aid merry-go-round saw fit to invite her to ‘hold talks’ in the US but unfortunately her 15 minutes of fame was short lived. Today she is destitute and no one is listening.  Revealing her HIV status to media is causing her grief. Some women, I am told, are coerced into revealing their HIV status in order to access local NGO services. It makes me wonder if the helping merry-go-round that mostly help those with permanent NGO jobs is really devoted to actually helping. Is it perhaps a well-intended tactic not to ‘work themselves out of their jobs.?’ I am apt to bet my little ‘poor Pig’ brain that those accustomed to posh, air-conditioned NGO offices might not be so keen in ‘working themselves jobless’. In the light of Russell Brand’s enlightening interview I strongly believe that although the poverty story is being stretched into all sorts of directions one day soon the voice of the ones supposedly being helped is going to come out loud and clear. STOP MESSING US ABOUT!

‘Captain Phillips': A balanced Story? …..NOT QUITE

I am very pleased that  Jon Snow managed, albeit in a small way, to cast doubt in the minds of potential viewers of Tom Hank’s latest film ‘Captain Phillips’ about the American ship captain who survived a hideous pirate attack whilst on duty. The film is scheduled to hit the UK cinemas next week, but luckily the Somali-born Journalist and Filmmaker Jamal Osman who has extensive knowledge of the ‘pirate industry’ has already seen the movie and is not convinced that the ‘documentary’ label attached to it is well-deserved. Osman’s reason is that, the story is not balanced because the sheer desperation that drives perfectly decent men into acts of hijacking other human beings for their own survival is not weaved into the story.

Is it then the usual story of the brave ‘white man’ surviving the bad bad forces in the ‘dark continent’? Not really… according to the director; Paul Greengrass. He firmly assures us that the story is well-balanced and that there is no demonisation whatsoever. A lot of research has been carried out about the pirate community and what causes the men who can’t feed their families to resort to this cruelty.

I can’t wait to pay and see it! After all that is why the film was made. To make money. Otherwise, who would want to produce a film that might play into an already polarised world of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ with regards to marginalised people, other religions etc? I am sure the real Captain Phillips does not need Hollywood to dramatise his life to heal his wounds. But I will decide that after seeing the blockbuster. It is sad that despite the awareness that the transnational media platform can be used to unite humanity, we still continue on trivialising reality in order to make money!

Meanwhile, I am apt to believe that the ‘research’ referred to by Greengrass might be standing on very shaky grounds because I see no reasons to doubt Osman’s competence in speaking about a reality he has wide access to. The ‘window-on-reality’ used by him allowed him a better proximity to the truth than what any paid researcher might unearth. And who says academic research are not biased anyway? Read Osman’s eye-opening perspective on ‘pirate industry.


Empowerment Starts Where Aid Stops!


Harvard professor of business administration James A. Austin writes in A Few First Principles for a Booming Third Sector that, ‘throughout the world, charitable enterprises are the fastest growing sector, springing up at a rate that exceeds that of the private or public sector.’ He argues that, the aid sector is important economically, socially and politically. In his own words he says: ‘In the US, the charitable sector constitutes 6.7 per cent of gross domestic product – more than the computer industry, or the automobile and steel industries combined. It also mobilises 11.6 per cent of the workforce and is equivalent to about 40 per cent of US manufacturing. In the UK, it is also economically significant, although less so than in the US, suggesting that it has unrealised economic potential. ‘(Austin, 2004)

My profound suspicion is that, there are perhaps a big number of people who are profiting from the existence of poverty and see ‘poverty eradication’ as a lifelong career. Forget the poverty-tainment I have been moaning about; the actual poverty eradication activities do provide well-needed jobs for a lot of people, particularly the bureaucrats in the ‘First World’ who are entrusted with ‘dispensing’ the monies to the ‘Third World.’. I remember back in 2000 in Dar es Salaam when an HIV positive woman (Vero), pleaded with me to tell her story to ‘donors’ in Sweden because the rules for getting help in Tanzania were too tough. As an individual, she told me, nobody would listen to her. In order to receive help she had to belong to an organized and registered NGO and agree to disclose her HIV status. This to me sounded a bit weird but unfortunately many people have  succumbed to this regulation and that is why there are so many MONGO’s today. (MONGO stands for -My Own NGO). MONGO’s receive money from NGO’s, some of who are just middlemen for just dispensing money from the bigger international NGO’s like PEPFAR etc. This in turn defeats the purpose of ‘helping’ because the MONGO’s too must adopt the bureaucratic system of reporting, evaluating, monitoring and god knows what else to keep the ‘helping’ wheel rolling intelligibly while the ones really needing help are left out of the equation.

The AIDS money travels strangely to say the least!

My dream is that, we as Africans will one day start looking inward for our socio-economical empowerment, instead of pretending that aid works long-term. The amount of billions ‘poured’ into Africa has amounted to so little, so far.

I quite agree with most aid critics that Africa is not ‘the white man’s burden’ anymore…-Not that it ever was anyway!

True empowerment will only come from within Africa because ‘only the Wearer knows where the shoe pinches!

Career philanthropists will never truly empower us because then their power and purpose would have been ‘lost in translation.’ Poverty empowers some…

-In a very cynical sort of way…

Dead Aid? Try DEAD Love! :Bill Gates and Dambisa Moyo’s saga is alarming.

The advantage of living in our global village today is the fact that it is now possible to affect each other on a global scale. The global collosseum [TV’s internet, etc] allows us to watch reality unfolding.

I must say, I am saddened by the untoward manner that Bill Gates dismissed Dr. Moyo’s book ‘Dead Aid, Why Aid is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa.’  Whether Gates had read Moyo’s book or not, he did not have the right to rubbish it as evil. How is that possible? They say ‘Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.’  So ideally, philanthropists like Gates should be demanding to hear the voices of the ‘shoe wearers’ and address the problems together.  Furthermore, Gates has been working in Africa long enough to know a thing or two about the inherent value system that allows him [by the virtue of being older than Dambisa] to actually summon her as soon as he’d read the book and discuss the possible negative consequences because they both want the best for Africa Right? I am pretty sure, Dambisa Moyo would have obliged him a visit and talked this over so that they could save us this miscommunication that is being watered here, sizzled there, and spiced elsewhere. Dambisa Moyo’s book actually does not give an impression that she is against good aid.  She clearly sets out three types of aid and she wants the systematic aid to lazy governments scraped as soon as. Humanitarian aid and charitable deeds are not under her line of  fire.  In fact a closer reading shows that, although she is labelled anti-Bono Geldof etc, depending on what the aid is intended for, not even the celebrity aid  have fingers directly pointed at them.  If humanitarian needs are being addressed, YES the band can play on! What all of us do no wish to see in the 21st century are the ECONOMIC BABYSITTERS who spoil African leaders rotten by making them unaccountable to the people they lead. Something terrible is happening which I find alarming. My personal concern as a humanist is that Love and human respect are continually deteriorating. Love isn’t the motivating factor for many things anymore. Actually, more is known about erotic love than the real human to human love that all humanists and world religions preach. Mahatma Gandhi’s and Nelson Mandela’s exemplary model of ruling based on genuine care for humanity is gone with the wind. People are left viciously attacking each other by flexing the wrong muscle. Mzee Mandela did not flex the revenge muscle; which would have been justified, vis-a-vis what black South Africans went through. Instead of a bloody squabble, he connected humankind by appealing to hearts and minds. In the case of Gates, he flexed his financial muscle to dismiss Moyo  and of course, Dambisa Moyo in turn puts on her doctor hat and hits back at him on her blog saying he is being disrespectful to her assertions. Claire Provost attacks her response on the guardian blog claiming that ‘Unfortunately her post is more concerned with restating her credentials – PhD, Zambian birth, stint at the World Bank – than the mature debate she alludes to’.   Before following this squabble on various forums, it never crossed my mind that, perhaps Bill Gates is not the right man to save Africa. For a while I almost thought he was and therefore never faulted him in any of my ‘goat gift’ rants. Now I find out that Africans elsewhere are sneering at him calling him the 21st century missionary surrounded by capitalist stooges intent upon depopulating Africa.  IT IS SHOCKING!

I think it is perhaps a good time as any to start using the GLOBAL ELDER forum started by Mzee Mandela in 2007 to moderate views such as this. No need for poisonous attacks. I read somewhere that such provocation might create response like we are seeing in the Middle East and other blood spilling protests. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE???

Of course we need to ‘save lives’, but the underlying roots of poverty have to be addressed. Take agriculture for instance. What is wrong with working out a true empowering model for Africa as F C Schumacher suggests? Right technology at the right time for the right people. Production by masses as opposed to mass production that nurtures greed by concentrating big technology in few hands. That was Mahatma Gandhi vision for the majority rural in the developing world. Affordable technology in their hands instead of  being beasts of burden. My own grandfather dreamt of ‘proper education’ that would have helped him enhance his agricultural output.  That is what I hear some African philanthropists suggesting in Ghana and elsewhere. Putting the respect back in farming by modernising at the same time localising. Our younger generation must be taught to invent appropriate technology too. Why is no one listening?  SUSTAINABLE EMPOWERMENT IS WHAT IS REQUIRED TO PUT DIGNITY BACK INTO AFRICA.



Totally and utterly LOST IN TRANSLATION!


 Knowledge is power. It also ‘butters the bread’.   Sometimes the knower knows that, what he knows is mumbo-jumbo but will anyway go ahead and confuse everyone else!  I am also apt to suspect that knowledge impacted without the power of local languages is halfway diluted!

I must admit that when I signed up for the PhD program back in 2009, I was not sure that I would come this far and develop my own little peculiar academic thinking. I didn’t even know that the term ‘donor gaze’ that haunted me since the ‘parachute filmmaking’ of ‘Talking about sex’  [2008] in Arumeru Tanzania, could be useful in conceptualising how filmmakers silence the subjects of their films, sometimes intentionally, most of the time not. The meaning gets lost in translation. Actually objectification of the subjects is a more appropriate term, because if the filmmaker intentionally reconstructs reality he/she then makes the subject speak as he/she wishes. In other words, filmed subjects are metaphorically silent; -although they clearly hear themselves speaking. Their individuality does not enter the narrative. In terms of  ‘documentary voice’ it is called ‘SPEAKING ABOUT’. What I want to propose to Western filmmakers packing for another  ‘parachute poverty-tainment’ in hell-hole Africa is to perhaps re school themselves in ethics of the voice and be firm during negotiating the ‘boardroom truth’ with the donors at home who are sponsoring the filming spree. Donors want a particular truth and you are the beast of burden that will point the camera and configure reality to produce that truth. Ideally, one ought to ‘listen’ and allow subjects to speak; even when they are Africans and desperate because of an HIV infection, hunger, genital mutilation or any other African misery you might want to portray.  Now you ask me: HOW DO I DO THAT?’ …-SIMPLES :-)…If you do not have cultural competency..STAY HOME AND FILM PEOPLE YOU CAN RESPECT AS EQUALS. Without an appropriate cultural toolkit you won’t be able to ‘speak with’ your African subject’s voice!…..What Africa doesn’t need now, is insincerity from career focused NGO filmmakers keen on their own survival.    -Africa is already overloaded to maximum with ‘cassava experts’ who have never seen a cassava in their lives. METAPHORICALLY  SPEAKING.

As a humble philanthropist and a humanist documentarist who naively believes in the inherent goodness of humankind, I am awed  to be involved in the tough world of academia where you either make sense or get lost. Literally. Performance guarantees durability and ascendancy on the ladder of intellectualism. Who remembers people who didn’t say much anyway? Luckily I genuinely don’t give a rat’s ass about the intellectual ladder; rather I just want to say something genuinely and say it fast and coherently. I do not want to overstay my short welcome in the ‘Ivory Tower’ because I certainly do not belong with the intellectual power house and never could! A doctor’s hat might be a good reward for my efforts, but even if I am rubbished as not-academic-enough, at least I have managed to make sense to myself, as a filmmaker, and perhaps even learned some english on the way.  My philanthropic motto is about changing one person’s life at a time and right now I am drawing on the age old wisdom of ‘charity begins at home’, by empowering myself with enough information to convince at least myself  that the negative media images I see of black African women like myself have pretty much to do with the Eurocentric worldview of the past and present.  (and by the way, blackness is  just a differentiation category when races encounter each other and the ignorant Dark Continent an absolute total myth: it was started by  explorer H M Stanley to justify their uninvited presence in Africa!) We are black ONLY in the presence of whites which is fair enough.  Back in my village with no whites around, you’d struggle to make anyone of my tribe think in terms of blackness or indeed you’d be laughed at to suggest  that they are inferior to some white tribes somewhere far far away. In their eyes they are perfect. Actually, before the penetration of visual media in rural Africa people were just fine and never imagined that it-was-greener-on-the-other-side of the pond. Now McDonaldization has turned most of us into big consumerist larvas. Some fatter than others. ;-( We now live in a world where some die of abundancy whilst others of deficiency. :-( As a philanthropist this is my NR. 1 LOST IN TRANSLATION..

Anyway  forget the food on the table, mat, ground, treetop or wherever people feed themselves: my initial research interest was to find ways of addressing HIV stigma with the help of documentary film. This was necessitated by the hype in the Western hemisphere where research was concentrating on combating the otherwise socio-cultural phenomenon with universalised measures. Before my pilot study in 2010, I was overwhelmed with all the findings and recommendations of Western HIV/AIDS experts with appropriate doctor hats, who knew precisely how to combat the HIV stigma in Africa because it is the engine that was powering HIV/AIDS. I agreed and still do. I just do not agree with ‘diluted knowledge’.  Africans were taught to start talking about sex and disclose their HIV status otherwise we would all perish. This was bad news. Very very scary and I, like most humanists had to be involved. I wanted to be sure that we could survive this ‘mostly African’, pandemic just like we made it through slavery and other genocidal events. Luckily, HIV stigma could be scientifically measured!  Fingers crossed ;-) The HIV research gurus had actually come up with a universal ‘anti-stigma-toolkit to help us along the way. IMPRESSIVE. :-) I won’t ask how much the ‘groundbreaking’ invention cost, but African communities everywhere were paid ‘sitting allowances’ to listen to this newly hatched formula,  which looked and sounded comic, but mostly incomprehensible to most of them.  It is ridiculous to believe that one could measure the stigma level in societies. Since when did it become possible to predict human behaviour? Why do we still have latent racism in society that won’t go away if one could measure it and teach people to wish it away? HOW COULD ANYONE COME UP WITH THAT TOOLKIT? Nevertheless I was open to the idea that this clever toolkit was helping in saving precious lives. HIV/AIDS pandemic is after all a global phenomenon and if a global approach spearheaded by the ‘rich’ nations is the solution, who am I to moan? What voice do I have? More precisely, what resources do I have? I am just a die-hard philanthropist with limited resources:

When I landed in Tanzania for the pilot study in July 2010, I did not know what to expect. My PhD title at this point was very naive, perhaps not ‘properly’ academic but in my eyes, it was an ambitious and a needed one: I wanted to survey ‘the role of documentary film in reducing stigmatisation of AIDS orphans in Tanzania’. I knew that anti-stigma film worked to stimulate wider discussion, perhaps even empathy if one gets the ‘voice’ right. I had already made a very effective anti-stigma film that addressed bullying in Birkaskolan in Stockholm. My style of filming until 2005 was very personal. I thought about the need of the ones I was filming. It was very important for me. As a philantropist I ONLY film for a specific reason that is close to someone’s heart or mine.  If I am documenting someone’s life, I primarily focus on the needs of the person. WHAT DO THEY WANT TO HAPPEN? CAN I ‘SPEAK WITH’ THEIR VOICE? as opposed to ‘SPEAKING FOR OR ABOUT THEM which is predominantly the Western attitude. And finally, Who should be allowed to hear their personal story? After all some people I filmed just saw me as a ‘help’ channel. So a long ethical discussion always preceded the filming moment. I could suggest that we reconstruct a happening in the person’s life if that helped the argument. The camera can be very intimidating for some people so it is important to talk the process through. Sometimes, the camera should be ignored and to allow the ears to pay attention, -sometimes not. Observation style can be attained only if the ‘subject actor’ understands the essence of what ‘we’ are trying to achieve. Questions are asked in the beginning and answers are filmed logically. I do not wish to patronize my subjects. That way their ‘voice’ will disappear. The result becomes objectification of the ‘Other’.

The field study revealed that urgency in the HIV stigma research was a methodological exaggeration to mobilize more resources for the already well paid swam of stigma researcher without care for the crucial organic link suitable for the socio-cultural specificities of sub-Saharan Africa. Bill Clinton had actually warned against this phenomenon at an AIDS conference in Vienna complaining that the tons of research reports were collecting dusts in oak paneled offices whilst the HIV/AIDS sufferers were not being listened to. The trouble is, Bill was talking about people’s ‘bread and butter’, which doesn’t go down so well.  Before I pen off, I want to remind myself of the reason I have to finish this PhD. I am doing it for humanity, so that I can say what the women I studied back in Mlandizi district cannot say anywhere. I was humbled by their dignified responses about what was most important in their lives, which did not include sitting in donor-sponsored seminars to be told how to respect their infected neighbours because they already did. They pointed out the HIV positive woman in their midst and the beautiful woman smiled at me. I still do not know if her son who was actually cuddling in my arms was also infected. it did not matter and it still doesn’t. The community was so supportive of them so i knew they will both be OK. One of the women told me:  ‘We don’t need peer educators to tell us how to treat mama xxx. She is not a prostitute, we know that it was her deceased husband who infected her, so are we supposed to laugh at her?  Because that is what they (mass media & NGO) say ‘unyanyapaa’ (stigma) is.’ It was funny how they struggled with the Swahili word for stigma. That is when I understood that the HIV/AIDS language was being literally ‘Lost In Translation’. I won’t go into that, rather, I want to follow the thread of visual colonization. Black African people have been ‘Othered’ and continue to do so by various Eurocentric discourses, especially the audio-visual. Their ‘voice’ isn’t theirs, because they are ‘spoken for’ and spoken about’. Their reality is seen through tainted filters. It is ‘gazed’ upon by a camera holder that sees with biases packed in their cultural toolkit.

HOW DO I KNOW?  First and foremost, As an African woman I definitely see a disjuncture between the ‘reality’ portrayed in the Western visual media and the reality as lived by women on the continent.  Secondly, as a documentary filmmaker, I know how to ‘take away’ a voice if I wish to. I can also choose where to point the camera in order to compose a ‘suggestive’ mise-en-scene that was ‘not there’. I will still come up with an aesthetic production, but void of the ‘soul’ of the person filmed although pleasing to my expectant audience. My argument will replace the subject’s perspective. Thirdly, my position as a philanthropist with a good level of empathy allows me to connect with the subject in such a way that, what I produce with the technical equipment communicates the humanity of the subject. I can ‘speak with’ my subjects. I therefore find it difficult to believe that a well-funded Western ‘parachute’ filmmaker can do justice to personal African stories without falling into the ease paradigms of stereotypical ‘templates’. Black African woman peasant = poverty, therefore disempowered. It is impossible to tell any story without personal connection. The rule of thumb is: If you do not have enough time, or genuine respect for ‘Others’ you should refrain from filming them because you can’t tell their stories. Hiding behind ‘development’ seems to give right to many quasi-documentarists who stigmatise ‘underdevelopment’ and see the world as polarized between Rich and Poor. They can prove it because apparently there are UN poverty indicators that can tell you if you are poor.  Whatever that means! Post-developmentalist like myself are not impressed by the pyramid development ideal. ‘Poverty is in the eyes of the beholder’ and that is why as a philantropist, I always insist on listening as a tool for telling the story.

Up to now I am convinced that, the negative stereotypes in the media are deep rooted to the racist past and present. Since the first (unequal) encounter between Europeans and Africans, the voice of Africa was literally ‘lost in translation.’ It was misrepresented by people who could not make sense of their contented reality despite the absence of skyscrapers. They mistook their consumerism for an ideal to be sought after by the whole world. Nobody has thought through the consequences of everyone living in skyscrapers  and attacking the ATM to buy food they have not grown! I find nothing wrong with simplicity of lifestyle. E F
Schumacher, a humanist economist is the only Western I have read who does not worship mass technologisation. ‘Small is beautiful’ he writes. Simple technology should be in hands of the masses so that they can respectifully  interact with the nature. Greed is bad, he says. The lack of advance technology that made colonisers to take the piss at Africa is perhaps not a category for being overly proud at, after all. Somehow, I also believe that enlightenment dudes in particular, played a crucial role in establishing the inferior position that is assigned to Africa today. Darwin’s evolutionary theory gave birth to so many myths about the primitive status of the Black African people still haunt the hell out of black African to this day. Important philosophers like Immanuel Kant, Hegel & co also contributed to the racial witchunt with their rantings about hierarchy of human society. Clever progressive man like Gramsci made a go too by suggesting that since former enslaved African-Americans had ‘seen the light’, they should save Africa albeit with spreading the English language to combat the wretched tribal dialects. Nice try! Until today, I know of no black African who is not a proud acknowledger of his/her tribal identity and tribal tongue. Even in Tanzania where we all speak a national language Kiswahili we still have that cozy sense with our tribes and elders who still impart wisdom.

Now then, like a true academic who clears throat on twenty pages before making a point on the twenty first page, I will come to my point:

Elder is a phenomenon not known in the Western hemisphere according to Chinua Achebe or some other post-colonial African ‘elder’ I read.

1. An elder possesses wisdom: FACT…

2. Not all old people have wisdom…FACT…

3. You can be elderly but not an ‘elder’…..ANOTHER HARD FACT!

That reminds me..

In Tanzania for instance everyone will be titled at some point in their lives. (Forget working your ass off inventing more bigger more accurate machines or stuff to have an invisible title of Sir, or Lady bestowed upon you by royalty)

Ours is visual. Its your own grey hair and the hierarchy is simple, live long enough and wise enough to be an ‘elder’.

We call the male ‘Mzee’ and the female just ‘Mama’ or ‘Bibi’

These people are living encyclopedias and their word is authoritative. YET..They are totally ignored in the AIDS discourse in favour of polished and self-congratulatory swam of ‘experts’ from the West..