As in the Kony 2012 campaign, humanitarianism in Africa gets oversimplified in myriad ways, in the process making Africans themselves one-dimensional and raising up the white Westerner as savior. Here are three ways nongovernmental organizations can work with African citizens as equals.
NGO representatives and donors working in Africa should read the literature of the greats (Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, as well as many others.) They should understand that African universities are producing their own experts on history, development, public health, social sciences, and numerous other fields.
Westerners need to appreciate African experts' insights on religion, culture, politics, and social issues. Many have been criticizing and satirizing not only their own elites and transnational financial institutions, but also the more naïve NGOs and external “saviors” for some time.
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The Kony 2012 campaign exemplifies some of the more lamentable aspects of aid work. But many working in the NGO world are much more reflective, less narcissistic, and more appreciative of the complexities involved in their attempts to make the world a better place. They are not the ones receiving thousands of hits or millions of tweets, but they are the ones who should be emulated.