After Kony 2012: Three ways NGOs can work with Africans as equals

It’s hard know whether to be dismayed by all the attention given to the Kony 2012 campaign and YouTube video, or pleased that some of the issues that I and others have worked on for years are finally coming to light.

Humanitarianism in Africa gets oversimplified in myriad ways, in the process making Africans themselves one-dimensional and raising up the white (most frequently, although not always) Westerner as savior.

For real progress, Americans need to be committed to a deeper understanding of the causes of poverty both in the US and abroad. Donors and NGOs need an approach that acknowledges the humanity and agency of everyone. And they need creative ways to break through conventional wisdom about “development” to promote justice and equality.

In the wake of Kony 2012, here are three points of advice for how nongovernmental organizations, and the donors who push them, can work with African citizens as equals.

1. Avoid silver bullets

James Akena/Reuters
Residents watch the premiere of Kony 2012, a 30-minute YouTube film created by the nonprofit group Invisible Children and Jason Russell, in Lira district north of Uganda's capital Kampala March 13. Lira was one of the areas that was ravaged by 20 years of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebellion led by Joseph Kony.

Run from anything advertised as a silver bullet for solving conflict, poverty, or disease in Africa or anywhere else. Those silver bullets include Invisible Children and Jason Russell’s Kony 2012 campaign, microcredit, and mosquito nets, among other things.

Don’t be afraid to explain to the public and donors the structural causes of poverty, conflict, and disease in Western countries and around the world. Publicize who (elites, corporations, financial institutions, etc.) controls resources, land, and water in order to expose the complex of targets for change. Helping people understand complex, interconnected causes is key to engaging them in and executing an effective, sustainable campaign.

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