Respect my Agency! | Project Diaspora

A Peace of my mind: Respect my agency 2012!

by TMS Ruge on March 8, 2012 · 244 comments

I have had roughly 24 hours to gather my thoughts about the latest fund-raising stunt undertaken by the long-in-the-tooth Invisible Children (IC) organization. In that time, I have had an opportunity to think and ruminate over exactly what to say, what the right order of the words should be coming out of my soul to address yet another travesty in shepherd’s clothing befalling my country and my continent.  Usually I would fly off the handle and let passion fly, but I have grown a little since this and this and this. Addressing the complexity that is Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)’s reign of terror in northern Uganda; what with the sheer volume of victims, the survivors, the horrific examples of humanity at its worst, and the lingering ghosts of family members behind the survivors’ eyes begs a momentary pause, if but to respect the gravity of it all. I do that. I pause. I reflect and I toil with the thought that something is not right in the world that IC is still grasping at relevancy all these years after their “night walkers” campaign.

There is no easy way of saying what I feel right now, except a deep hurt and gnawing urgency to bang my head against my desk as a prescriptive to make the dumb-assery stop.  Sure, Joseph Kony and his counterpart of yesteryear, Idi Amin, have largely been responsible for the single story of Uganda. I have a hard time shaking it from the lips of strangers I meet. That’s all they know or seem to want to listen to. They dismissively glaze over my breathless exultations of the great promise in our youth, our technology, our agriculture, and our women.

“Sooo, Idi Amin, huh? That was terrible. Is he still alive?”

It is a slap in the face to so many of us who want to rise from the ashes of our tumultuous past and the noose of benevolent, paternalistic, aid-driven development memes. We, Africans, are sandwiched between our historically factual imperfections and well-intentioned, road-to-hell-building-do-gooders. It is a suffocating state of existence. To be properly heard, we must ride the coattails of self-righteous idiocy train. Even then, we have to fight for our voices to be respected.

The latest IC fund-raising cum “awareness-raising” is an insult to my identity and my intellectual capacity to reasonably defend its existence as beneficial to any Ugandan. The video project is so devoid of nuance, utility and respect for agency that it is appallingly hard to contextualize. I won’t even try. Katrin Skaya said all that could have been said, “rarely seen something this stunningly, insidiously, clever crazy. Amazing case study.”

Indeed it is. But not for the reasons you would think. This IC campaign is a perfect example of how fund-sucking NGO’s survive. “Raising awareness” (as vapid an exercise as it is) on the level that IC does, costs money. Loads and loads of money. Someone has to pay for the executive staff, fancy offices, and well, that 30-minute grand-savior, self-crowning exercise in ego stroking—in HD—wasn’t free. In all this kerfuffle, I am afraid everyone is missing the true aim of IC’s brilliant marketing strategy. They are not selling justice, democracy, or restoration of anyone’s dignity. This is a self-aware machine that must continually find a reason to be relevant. They are, in actuality, selling themselves as the issue, as the subject, as the panacea for everything that ails me as the agency-devoid African. All I have to do is show up in my broken English, look pathetic and wanting. You, my dear social media savvy click-activist, will shed a tear, exhaust Facebook’s like button, mobilize your cadre of equally ill-uninformed netizens to throw money at the problem.

Cause, you know, that works so well in the first world.

I would love nothing more than to be telling you the small victories we experience working with the very scarred survivors of Kony’s atrocities. The Women of Kireka are the most resilient group of individuals that I know. Spend a day with them and you will wonder how they manage to so calmly describe to you watching their entire families burned alive, their husbands and children hacked to death, in front of them. They do it so calmly, methodically, with such articulate prose that it leaves your soul victimized for it’s privilege. Yet they don’t pause from rolling a perfectly crafted paper bead for a beautiful necklace. They don’t waste their time lamenting the lack of justice for the fallen or the abducted. Why? Because it doesn’t bring back the dead, it doesn’t dissolve the horrific images of their huts burning, or ease the scars borne of running scared into the night.

Instead, they want work and respect and business to be able to make decisions that move their lives along. They want desperately to forget and rebuild anew; thankful for their lives. They want radios and cell phones and grasp at any semblance of normalcy. They cuddle and nurse their newborns like delicate, cherished gifts. What they don’t talk about is justice. They talk about how to forgive and move on.

But I can’t tell you their story. Why? Someone else has taken over their part in this complex saga, simplified it, branded it, packaged it and is reselling it as an Action Kit. For as little as $30 and up to $500, you get your very own pimplicious t-shirt (that was made somewhere other than Uganda or Africa) and various assortments of SWEDOW you won’t care about in a month. But hey! At least you did something!

The academics have weighed in on this debate here, and here, and here and will continue to do elsewhere in the coming days. The click-activists, denied context and nuance, have spewed their ignorance all over the comments section in self-righteous indignation for all the world to see. They have whipped out their wallets and bought their very own Super Hero activist action kits. They have bombarded their friend’s Facebook wall with ignominious updates.

“You must watch this! I already ordered my action kit!”

If we all start from the premise that Kony’s actions over the last 25 years in East and Central Africa are atrocious and he should be stopped, we would be cut of the same moral cloth. Evil is something that is easy to point out from afar. But if we conclude that any one individual/organization/group has the right to hijack the voice of so many in the name of good, then I have a common sense pill to sell you.

Let me be honest. Africa is not short of problems, epidemics and atrocities. But it is also true that it is not short of miracles, ingenuity, and a proclivity to surprise. We as Africans, especially the Diaspora, are waking to the idea that our agency has been hijacked for far too long by well-meaning Western do-gooders with a guilty conscious, sold on the idea that Africa’s ills are their responsibility. This particular affliction is called “white man’s burden” in some circles. Please don’t buy into this. Africa’s problems are our own. I asserted as much almost 5 years ago when I started Project Diaspora.

And so to you we send this solemn pledge. No longer are we satisfied with the status quo. No longer will we look to the West and the East for a saviour to come. We here claim our political struggles as our own; our short comings as our own; our unrest as our own; our dissidence as our own; our broken infrastructure as our own; our diseases as our own; our uneducated as our own; our corruption as our own; our unfed children as our own.

We have to be given due courtesy to at least try to develop capacities adequate enough to address our issues. We will never develop that capacity to do so if IC and others think selling Action Kits delivers utopia. It didn’t change our way of life when IC started, and it certainly isn’t going to change our reality when the clock expires on December 31st.

I am coherent enough to realize when someone is trying to genuinely do good. At the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong with assuming that the people who you are trying to help 1) need help, 2) want your help, or 3) can’t help themselves. IC and this video assumes all the above. Before anyone says ‘why haven’t you done anything to stop Kony?’, may I point out that it took the world’s most sophisticated army over a decade and billions of dollars to catch Osama bin Laden. Kony has been on the run for 25+ years. On a continent 3 times the size of America. Catching & stopping him is not a priority of immediate concern. You know what is? Finding a bed net so that millions of kids don’t die every day from malaria. How many of you know that more Ugandans died in road accidents last year (2838) than have died in the past 3 years from LRA attacks in whole of central Africa(2400)? We’ve picked our battles and we chose to simply try to live. And the world should be helping us live on our own terms, by respecting our agency to choose which battles to put capacity towards.

I’ve never heard of Germans running NGOs in [the United States of] America to try and fix the economy or Swedish NGOs in America trying to fix the declining standard of living. Africa is our problem, we hereby respectfully request you let us handle our own matters. We will make mistakes here and there, sure. That is expected. But the trade-off of writing our own destiny far outweighs the self-assigned guilt the world assigned to us. If you really want to help, keep the guilt and charity in your backyard. Bring instead, respect, and the humility to let us determine our destiny.


{ 216 comments… read them below or add one }

Tayo March 12, 2012 at 12:21 am

For better or worse, the IC campaign has started a conversation about how stories are told, and from what perspective. Chimamada Adichie speaks eloquently about this in her TED Talk, “The danger of a single story.” I believe others have also mentioned her talk in the context. What I’m wondering is whether or not you’ve heard of efforts to respond to IC’s campaign with one that shares an alternative point of view. For example, over the last few days I’ve seen posts from folks that compile the views of several African bloggers, activists, journalists, etc. as well as tweets highlighting local organizations that are doing amazing work on the ground. Since the world is watching and the dialogue has started, this may be a unique opportunity to enrich the exchange. Whether or not this is the best use of people’s limited resources is a different question (especially if previous efforts have met with little attention), but sometimes when the door is opened (whether or not one opened it), it makes sense to walk through.


Post-colonialism March 11, 2012 at 9:33 pm

The problem with this whole affair is that we are conceptualizing African culture, African problems, African successes, as if they are self-contained or autonomous instead of realizing that these things have been and continue to be shaped by Western interventions. Africa is not a bubble in which conflict has developed without help from outside influence. And yet the West is under the impression that they are dynamic, progressive, and free while any non-Western societies are backward, barbaric, and incapable of taking care of themselves. Have we forgotten that we promoted slavery and colonization? These not-so-free-and-equal, Western actions are still having negative effects on people around the world. Not only are we completely ignoring the fact that Western culture is responsible for a lot of the unquiet in Africa, we are now putting on our halos and reaching out our hands to those suffering from the repercussions of our actions. The problem with IC is not that it is attempting to help others in need. The problem is that it is going about it in the wrong way. Many times the violent acts are perpetuated because they have become symbols of resistance to Western dominance, so by coming in and imposing our conceptualization of justice and freedom, we are only furthering the animosity towards the West and enabling the violent acts. By trying to speak for the people of Africa, we are robbing them of their voice. By victimizing them and portraying them as people who need saving, we are allowing others to treat them as victims. Instead we should be viewing them as agents of change, capable of helping themselves and capable of knowing what is best for them. By moving Africans from victims to agents of change in our own minds we are allow them to tell us what THEY need help with, what THEY want, what THEY don’t want. That is how we can help.


Enrique D March 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm

No. Africa is not YOURS just because you happened to be born there. The entire world is everyone’s responsibility. You make a couple of valid points, but your tone is at least as arrogant and short-sighted as that used by some of the people you criticize.


TMS Ruge March 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm

If it is everyone’s responsibility, then why did the world do such a crock of a job on managing Africa. First slavery, then colonialism, then economic imperialism, then the bad-tastic failure that is development aid to the tune of $700 billion over 50 years.

Yes, please sir. May we have another 50 years of the same sir?


TMS Ruge March 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Not to mention how absurd your statement is. I don’t think, “NO, America is not YOURS just because you happen to be born there…” would go over very well with the pompously patriotic Americans.


TMS Ruge March 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm

But. Finally. And calmly, I will say this. If you were in our shoes you would understand that sometimes we have to pick up the bull horn and scream our guts out in order to be heard. If you were only aware of some of the things that are done in the name of saving us you would also pull your hair out. Just this week there was another initiative started to collect and send USED PANTIES to Africa. That’s right, USED. I do appreciate you calling out my tone though. I should take more than 24 hours to calm down before I publish.


Mike D. March 11, 2012 at 11:48 pm

I thought you guys didn’t have shoes? Or was that just another white man’s assessment of your continents’ problems that he saw a way to help and you lambast as “dumbassery”. Seems like you love to ride the wave of press by criticizing others’ work as if you’re an authority. Love the hypocrisy though, it’s always good to have balance to an opinion. By the way, I’ll be making my way to Ethiopia to teach, in case you’re already planning an attack on me by dissolving my credibility. Also, if the country/continent is yours and you don’t need help then why is it in shambles? Can’t you pick up the pieces yourself? Why is it so terribly offensive that others help, that others care? When I was homeless I didn’t lash out at those who helped me from my squalor. I didn’t accuse them of being dumbasses for the people around me talking about me, I ended up getting a roof over me, I ended up getting a job. Seems like the labels you keep applying to others fall back to you as your flexibility is displaying while your Nike-clad shoes are inserted into the mouth pouring out unwarranted racism.


KGEll March 11, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Anyone who has ever stood unarmed staring into the barrel of a gun (and I have) knows the true meaning of having no “agency.” This is not about one group taking over another’s agency, it’s about simply human compassion. One person speaking on behalf of a continent of more than 1 billion is another, slightly more subtle, example of stealing the agency of others. I’ve been drawn into this Stop Kony thing by its sheer media success–I’ve read their financials, I’ve read various perspectives, and much of the criticism strikes me as sour grapes from those who have not been as successful. If tweets and a few bucks spent on kits further a cause to help tortured, abducted kids who – let’s be frank – have no ability to “rise from the ashes” of their past because their past is an irretrievable paradise lost and their present is the ashes – then that’s a good thing, for both the helpers and the helpees. Yeah, that’s how positive action works. I also believe this campaign is trying to make a statement that the youth of this world can relate to: What need to be done to the Lord’s Resistance Army is ANYTHING but complex; they need to be STOPPED. So, if all they do is tweet and buy a T-shirt, they have done more than spewing fluff on facebook and buying a latte. Some will undoubtedly be motivated to do more. Just because Kony2012 caught my attention and I knew nothing of your Project Diaspora doesn’t mean I don’t support what you do. It means Kony2012 got to me first.


Fine, sorry for trying March 11, 2012 at 10:18 am

I’ll remember this next time, you’re on your own. Good luck.


Tata March 10, 2012 at 5:22 pm

The one thing Africans and blacks worldwide might learn from Nelson Mandela, was why he forgave his oppressors. it WAS psychological, It IS psychological, It will ALWAYS be psychological. White man burden= psychological, racism= psychological. Its all in your head. Mind games. They KNEW this. If it's in you head, then they got the power. I learn't from the very best out there, Mandela.


Jon March 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Couple days behind here on account of internet reliability. Not a pressing issue in West Africa.

Your points are valid. That said, as with the Kony2012 campaign, it’s easy to take an extreme, reactionary stance and back it up with nothing on the internet. Hence why social media is so useless beyond instant gratification. Buy everything, bleed for nothing.

International aid and development is largely a corrupt joke, with a few notable exceptions. As I head to work on a beat up old motorbike issued to me by my NGO employer, watching brand new white SUVs with aid and development markings do their best to impress upon everyone how important they are, I can’t help but think you haven’t experienced what an NGO can be like.

With a shoestring budget, managed and strategized by national staff with a focus on empowerment through education, we work with Africans on their terms. We provide an opportunity for girls to attend school they would otherwise never be able to afford. There is a rigorous assessment process conducted every year to monitor and eliminate any and all waste. We, the foreign staff, work in specialist capacities essential to the success of the NGO’s programs and those we serve that the national staff simply don’t have the training, background or resources to fulfill (at no fault of their own). Sometimes, these realities too, cannot be escaped.

Without any foreign specialists or fundraising, the many girls benefitting from their own efforts in education would not have the opportunity to define their own future. Their success or failure in life is up to them. We do not hand out ‘aid’ and limit ‘development’ to physical infrastructure and schools where absolutely necessary.

I’d also like to point out that we have no political or religious affiliation of any kind and remain neutral. Believing, simply, that a rising tide raises all boats and the education of girls and empowerment of women is a cornerstone to Africa’s future and quality of life. It’s a long, long, long view approach that makes the most efficient use of resources that I’ve ever seen in non-profit or for-profit environments. The minimum contract period for foreign staff is nine months (compare that with weeks elsewhere). This often becomes years.

Your points are respectable, but I must agree with some of the criticism here that it is disturbingly presumptuous of you to purport to represent the wishes and thoughts of all Africans in all situations. Do the people lined up outside MSF hospitals in conflict regions where no other public healthcare exists really want them to go home? Is immediate care to alleviate suffering and death that would otherwise go unabated something you really feel comfortable refusing on behalf of your fellow Africans? Is MSF’s mandate to provide emergency care and support the take over of their missions by a national healthcare apparatus as soon as it is possible, and likely to be successful, purely a guilt-ridden crusade of ‘the white man’s burden’? Or is it, in fact, a respect for the value of human life no matter where it is being tortured, dismembered, diseased, shot, burned and left for dead?

You refer to ‘your people’… I can’t help but wonder from what lofty diaspora tower, so removed from the realities on the ground, you speak from with so much arrogance. It’s almost colonial.

Kony2012 is the most evil, for-profit, trust-draining effort that the ‘do-gooders’ of the world have ever had devalue the work that we do (with the possible exception of Western spy agencies and militaries using fake humanitarian identities and vehicles as a cover, it gets us killed). It is maddening, has driven some I know to tears and will have a terrible fallout as far as fundraising. I would suggest you limit your commentary to International Children Inc. and the specific disservice they are doing to us all, Africans and those of us you say are paving the road to hell, before you yourself put forth views as factually inaccurate as theirs.

Give your head a shake.


TMS Ruge March 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm

“You refer to ‘your people’… I can’t help but wonder from what lofty diaspora tower, so removed from the realities on the ground, you speak from with so much arrogance. It’s almost colonial.”

Hi there, may I point you to: | |

I am very much on the ground. I am what you call a Diaspora/Reaspora. In some circles, I am what’s called a transnational. I am as connected to reality on the ground as I am to the general disconnect of Westerners to those realities. Thanks for your comment though.


kite March 10, 2012 at 3:44 am

I think that anyone who works in the area of community projects/support in Africa has to ask themselves the question.. "am I doing the right thing?" this question should be asked. There is no easy answer. On one hand the argument is that "we" are making communities dependent on us, rather than letting the communities sort out their own difficulties, and on the other hand, how can we sit back and just watch whilst a fellow human suffers… should we provide cheap food (not free) for a starving man, or let him suffer so that he may learn for next year? I wonder why it irks me when I am accused of 'interfering" and why it upsets me to read comments like… " There is something wrong with assuming that the people who you are trying to help 1) need help, 2) want your help, or 3) can’t help themselves."
Maybe "we" should all turn our backs and let the suffering continue … so that this "help themselves" thing will kick in. The reality is this: If you can walk by as another human suffers, go right ahead, but I will not. Its not a African issue, its not a Western philosophy, there is no deep rooted devious plan. Its simply one human helping another.
So, if you want to take advantage of others suffering for personal gain, then you are the worst type of human being on this planet…. end rant.


tms ruge March 16, 2012 at 9:32 am

We should all start with asking "how" can we help of the people we want to help. The survivors of Kony rejected this film when it was shown to them. They didn't read this blog post, they saw the film for themselves and rejected it.

Thanks for the rant.


akshay March 10, 2012 at 2:40 am

watching the IC video had affected my thoughts so much that i hardly could eat or think in the urge of helping out.
but now after this very clear n honest piece of writing i am planin to start a movement where in i shall develop an opportunity to start a business in Uganda. atleast to be on the side of the africans to make their own destiny.

I really agree to what has been written.

"Freedom to Work is a constituional right."


Sharon March 10, 2012 at 12:25 am

I am a white African, and I agree that foreign aid does not solve Africa’s problems. For one they don’t understand the culture and intricacies of the country and the long history and rivalries. It also creates a culture of dependancy rather than self support. But this campaign, if nothing else will make the fortunate children of the west appreciate what they have been given and they may as a result choose to lead their lives a little more sensitively. I do hope he is stopped, BUT there are many more to replace him, and this story repeats itself throughout Africa. Africa is Africa, and she will always be Africa…. It is not the west and one campaign will not solve its problems…. The culture of Africa will always be African.


Craig March 9, 2012 at 10:40 pm

But what if the Kony 2012 effort works? What if the intention to get the "like button" clickers to notice actually helps to stop this horrific situation with Kony? A comparatively short time will tell (2012). In the mean time, wait and watch. If it works, then it may just prove to be a blueprint for using social networks to apply focus on other issues, other serious problems, that need to be addressed. For now, try to hold off on an attack of what the stated purpose of the effort is. Let it work. Why not?? Obviously nothing else has.


@ameliapeterson7 March 9, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Why is it so hard for us (Africa) to embrace global support so that we can hand one of our worst brothers over to the International Criminal Court for crime against humanity and multitudes of war crimes. The organisation in question must clean up its problems with transparency etc, but I watched the video and did not for a second think they were begging for my money/donation. What I took away was that citizens are shining light on a concededly terrible member of the global society and a judicial system awaits to prosecute him once he is caught. What am I missing here? Poor international community: damned if you do something, damned if you don't.


Heather March 9, 2012 at 7:28 pm

I feel sad reading this post. I understand your frustration with the video- it was arrogant and simplified, although I believe well-intentioned, but does that mean that no one besides the Africans can help the Africans? Are we allowed no empathy as fellow human? No sense of indignation at injustice, unless it occurs only in our bakyard?


tms ruge March 9, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Heather, I feel your frustration in this comment. However, this post wasn't meat to exclude anyone from engaging with the continent. It is the how that I am talking about. Read the last paragraph .. Let us drive, don't dictate the course for us. It's been 250 years of telling the continent what to do and how to do it.This my only wish, when is it going to be ok for us to be equal partners?


Jonathan Moremi March 10, 2012 at 10:19 am

It will be ok for Africa to be equal partner if the enormous atrocities will come to an end. 800.000 killed in Rwanda, the ongoing Sudan conflict, the Kony problem with 26 years in which Africa did not manage to stop him etc. etc.. Genocide and mass-murder like this does not happen in Europe or America (south and north) anymore, not in Australia and luckily not anymore (!) in Asia. Africa as a continent is terribly falling behind with still supporting or ignoring dictators or warlords even when they kill off the people without any hesitation and remorse. Corruption and power greed are rampant in many African countries, preventing so far Africa from becoming an 'equal partner'. You yourself lamented that in your post. Read your own words there and the answer should have been clear to your question by your own remarks. Any attempt should be made to stop corruption, illegal trading syndicates, drug and diamond wars, war lords, power hungry politicians neglecting the wishes of the people, hineous crimes against civilians etc. so that Africa will indeed become an 'equal partner' in the world. It is the most beautiful, stunning, diverse continent in the world. But it so far cannot be proud of itself with such a poor track record on human and civil rights. Only if that is altered will work out what you ask for. You have my support anytime. Drive on your own. Absolutely fine. But for hell sake, start driving!


TMS Ruge March 11, 2012 at 10:34 am

That doesn’t make it the only story about the continent. Please do yourself a favor and connect the dots. We are still climbing out of the mess created by the stench of slavery and colonialism. Even your beloved United States & Europe went through periods of bloody massacres. In the last 100 years. Remember WW2? That was a European massacring millions. And you were supposed to be a sophisticated, modern democratic society. If I can’t paint your societies with that single story, why do you want that to be the only thing the world knows about us. We’ll climb out of this. But we need to be allowed to exercise our own agency. Help us do that, don’t do things for us. Thanks for the comment though. It is good for conversation.


Jonatham Moremi March 11, 2012 at 6:50 pm

I absolutely agree. That is not the only story about the continent. But you asked why Africa could not yet be equal partner. And it is for this story I told. You asked, I answered. There are other stories of Africa to tell, I love to tell much more. The southern half of the continent has developed amazingly in the last twenty years, climbing out of a lot of scrap it was in. Not everywhere things are going fine, but overall there is much hope in the south and success stories and even political stabilities others would want to have. That too should be told about Africa, because it can and should give us confidence Africa can make it on the long run and on their own (something unfortunately China would like to see differently. Talking about meddling, much success in addressing that). The situation in central and northeast Africa is looking much darker for many reasons and this is where the biggest conflicts are still unsolved, not giving rise to hope, that Africa will be able to solve that without help from outside. In some conflicts the African nations unite to try and resolve the problems, in others unfortunately they don’t act sufficiently. But you of course must decide what or if help you want. Only remember – there are others that want help. You say, you don’t. Who’s right, who is to be listened too? And as long as you – in a well settled position as I see – are not the target of rape, mutilation and killing, it is of course easier to say, help is not needed. Again I ask – do the victims of those crimes share your view?

The argument that you’re still climbing out of the mess created by slavery and colonialism is more a psychological one in my eyes than a real one. Joseph Kony is not a product of slavery or colonialism, neither was Idi Amin. Ruthless dictators (as the west calls them – in Africa it is often only called ‘leaders’) have been around in Africa even long before any colonies were founded. They have become legends of their own and so has their brutality. Yes, slavery and colonialism were heinous crimes Africa is still having to recover from. But please don’t make every brutal killer in Africa automatically a product of those two western inflicted crimes. We had terrible dictators in the West as well even without slavery or colonialism. Some faults are entirely our own and can only be addressed as such. That goes for your dictators just as much as for ours.

No doubt you’re right with WW II which, as we know, followed close on WW I. Nothing I can say can diminish the atrocities of that time. But if you look to Europe, it has found in an astonishingly short period of time of just 70 years a peaceful stability and is free of war. (Of course one can only hope it will stay that way.) That is no reason to be arrogant or condescending but perhaps reason enough to say: start driving? The drive is what is often lacking in African nations whose people for too long have grown used to being subjected to terror by those that control them. A lot of education is needed to create awareness of basic human rights that belong to everyone, every person in Africa, every individual. Does Africa have the means financially and skill wise to provide this education on it’s own? If not, accept help – without letting the helper decide on your syllabus.

And last: You say you need to be allowed to exercise your own agency. “Help us do that…” you say. Then tell us, how we can help you, because we will. But don’t say: by looking away. It just doesn’t work for people used to be obliged to notice if human beings are in danger. Tell us how we can help, so we can understand if we can and how best to go about it. It’s not a lack of sympathy for Africa you have to worry about. Not disregarding the ongoing problems, no one can possibly deny the grandeur of Africa. Who knows, perhaps we are even envious of you having this wonderful continent. Only that many of us would like to see it with less blood spilled senselessly onto the African ground. Isn’t that a wish we should share?

Kamran March 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm

I'm referencing this in a video i'm making. I'll link back to this article.


tms ruge March 9, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Thank you so much.


Jonatham Moremi March 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm

While you have my respect for your stance, I am reminded of the 20.000 women, children and men brutally butchered by the militias of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe in the 1980s – because they belonged to a tribe of his political opponent. No one came to their help, no one stepped in. Africa just looked away. Do you think those 20.000 too would share your view, that no help is better than help?

And while respecting your views as yours, I think of the 66.000 children and women abducted by Kony and his men – mutilated, raped, horribly assaulted and even killed. Do they too, you think, share your views on this and are quite happy with your line of thought, that "mistakes here and there" are quite o.k.? Would they consider being raped, mutilated or killed as a simple 'mistake', do you think?

Again – when it comes to you, I fully respect your view that you do not want outside help. I will respect that. But with what right do you speak for those poor souls that are raped or butchered to death (this very minute) – because Africa does not get its act together to stop such atrocities?

That you say, Africa needs to fix its own problems, is great. I wholheartedly agree. But as long as innocent children and women in the world – be it in Africa or elsewhere – get tortured, raped and killed – every human being has an obligation to do something about it and try to prevent it from happening. We should both agree on this and together find strategies to save the lives these poor souls deserve to have. Everything else would be cynical and a lack of empathy that defines the human being.


tms ruge March 9, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Thank you for your input and thought-provoking question. The answers though, are harder to arrive at. Hind sight is always full of answers and lessons we never learn from. It is sadly, human nature not to learn from our failures.TMS RugeLead Social Media Strategist – C4CWorld Bank


Jonathan Moremi March 10, 2012 at 11:01 am

Wouldn't it be about high time then that we do learn from our failures? Arn't e.g. the 20.000 in Zimbabwe or the 66.000 in Uganda/Congo enough failure of us to start learning? I miss this in your post. It actually continues the mistakes we all made so far in not helping, not looking when we should have – Africa and the world together.

In many Western countries looking away when someone is in need of help is considered a crime, I am not sure if you are aware of that. It is called 'non-assistance to a person in danger' and can get you in some countries even up to 5 years in jail. – Helping people not getting killed is not an anti-African stance or a colonial attitude but a basic duty in a civilized world. If you can help but you don't by looking away you are in fact committing a crime and can be charged by prosecution in court.

It is necessary to know this to understand, that in many western countries the moral obligation people feel to help others that are in danger of getting raped, mutilated or killed is also an expression of the legal obligation they have and understand as a duty within a community. It would help Africa and those in peril there a lot if this ethical and legal stance would not be rejected as bad but understood as a basic human duty to save people in danger.

Chose this for overcoming the failures of the past and many children, women and men in Africa could be saved from a horrible fate. And if someone comes to your help in this, don't reject him/her and feel slighted. Many things can only be achieved together. If this would be understood it would be the best step for Africa to indeed make it on it's own. And that no doubt is the way it should be.


tms ruge March 16, 2012 at 9:28 am

I guess we are all guilty of looking the other way while Syrians are being slaughtered on Youtube.


Adrian March 9, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Would you have posted this comment without the prompting that the Kony project has activated? I sense what you described as 'self righteous indignation' lurking underneath these words as well. Perhaps if you approached and worked together with the group who made us ALL aware of the problem then what this awareness has prompted might begin to unite everyone on the same pathway to dealing with this nightmare. Stop fighting and start uniting. As another NGO what are your vested interests in posting this?


tms ruge March 9, 2012 at 7:56 pm

They didn't ask anybody for our help or participation in the project. Search this site for other projects I have worked on. I do, then I talk. Appreciate your comment though Adrian.TMS RugeLead Social Media Strategist – C4CWorld Bank


Shikha March 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Thank you for writing this great piece. I am so over people talking about IC's Stop Kony campaign. Having volunteered as a teacher in Tanzania earlier this year, I realised how much the western world have misconstrued Africa and magnified their problems instead of applauding the efforts made by many Africans towards progress. Why is it that our television screens are bombarded with images of poverty and dirt in Africa instead of the growth there?

The way to help a country is not by pumping in money or catching a "bad guy" or occupying another country (such as what the US had done in Afghanistan and Iraq).
Labelling one's heroic efforts as "Operation Freedom" or in IC's case "Stop Kony" does not help the people in need. Instead, it just serves as a tool to "glorify" the heroic actions of an individual, organisation or country (such as IC and the US).

It's time people learn to see beyond the media hype. My advice to anyone would be to travel to the beautiful continent of Africa, learn and talk to the people, and then educate those in the western world that they need to stop this insane propaganda.


Sue March 9, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Thank you. It made me think of this quote
” To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.”   


Chiara Baldanza March 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm

This is very well-written, and an excellent point, but as a recent graduate in Development Studies I can't help but feel some bitterness from your words. I could have majored in anything, but I chose to study Sub Saharan Africa and development because I saw firsthand in 2008 the lack of access to resources and diseases that ailed the country I visited (Tanzania). Since I could have just as easily been born into a different situation, I felt that it was only right that I do what I could to educate myself about development (which, by the way, has come a long way from the "white man's burden"). I can tell you that Invisible Children does not pay lofty salaries because I have applied for several jobs there. Believe me when I tell you that those working at INGOs are taking a serious pay cut so that more money can be given to programs in the countries of focus. In fact, any grant-based NGO can only designate a certain amount of money to salary for a program, or their program will not get funded. Is the INGO model efficient? No. Is it evolving? YES, and rapidly. Take Acumen Fund, for example, which takes a for-profit approach (which allows for investment) and lends to startups that will benefit countries that need both jobs and the product that is being produced. Invisible Children may be an awareness group, but they also have partnerships in Uganda and give money directly to those organizations. Could they forge more partnerships? Of course. Maybe you should try reaching out to them. I guess what I'm getting at is, while the NGO model may not be perfect (and trust me, the lack of efficiency is my biggest problem with this sector), I still think that raising awareness about atrocities that the public may not know about is generally a good thing. It gets them to call their senators and congressman, and that can lead to action. Several US senators were quoted as saying that, had even a small percentage of their constituents called about the injustices going on in Rwanda during the genocide, they would have done something. There is nothing wrong with the sharing of information. And yes, the video is flawed, but people are finally listening! And while I am aware of the dangers of oversimplifying a conflict (my thesis focused on South Sudan), I also know that people naturally oversimplify concepts in order to retain information. It's how people learn, and for the record I would have never learned about the complexities of Sudan/South Sudan has I not first been exposed to Save Darfur, which appealed to my emotions. Appealing to someone's emotions entices them to know more, and I think that is a good thing. To think that anyone in the contemporary development field has the opinion that people, specifically those on the continent of Africa, "can't help themselves" is absolutely ridiculous. I was taught to empower and provide resources in the most effective way possible, and it's really too bad that you don't want my help. I guess I'll go work in the private sector, work a normal 40 hour week and actually make a living.


J. J. H. March 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm

With utmost respect for the viewpoint expressed by the above author I am submitting this comment for consideration: Yes, the video and the organization that produced it are the worst kind of shallow feel-good BS so often peddled in North America and Europe. Yes, the global south and the peoples residing there must be respected as autonomous and as such not treated as a "case for intervention" by paternalistic outsiders who cannot help but impose their own worldview as they stand in judgment. That being said, when it comes to the rights of children there is no room for the abuses so casually referred to as "mistakes" by the above author. Children are not the property, province, or "problem" of any one politically defined sovereign unit or social group but rather belong to something greater than any adult could ever hope to grasp. They are the living embodiments of innocence and hope for what might be possible, and as such their right to thrive in safety must be protected (and yes, even defended) with more commitment and vigour than we devote to any other precious resource in the world.


Wiliam Copeland March 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I work with a Detroit based non-profit organization and we face similar issues within the Black community of the United States. We face the story that Detroit is helpless and we need business owners, a creative class, and emergency management (educated White People) to save our troubled and violent community. I know dozens of activists interested in making connections with the African Diaspora. We are excited to exchange and communicate. " Let me be honest. Africa is not short of problems, epidemics and atrocities. But it is also true that it is not short of miracles, ingenuity, and a proclivity to surprise. We as Africans, especially the Diaspora, are waking to the idea that our agency has been hijacked for far too long by well-meaning Western do-gooders with a guilty conscious, sold on the idea that Africa’s ills are their responsibility. " I FEEL THAT!!!! We are your cousins across the Atlantic and we stand with you for Self-Determination!


Marie March 9, 2012 at 11:36 am

"There is something wrong with assuming that the people who you are trying to help 1) need help, 2) want your help, or 3) can’t help themselves."
So Ugandans don't want help catching Kony?
I, respectfully, disagree with your position. I think awareness is a worthwhile endeavor. What's the other option? Do nothing? If American's care about an issue, but can't actually be in Uganda to help, what then is your prescription, for how they can help?
I wrote a blog entry in defense of the IC campaign:…


whodathunkit March 9, 2012 at 11:04 am

Thanks for cluing us in.

"Catching & stopping him is not a priority of immediate concern."


LJMW March 9, 2012 at 10:46 am

I am a little confused. I do understand and somewhat agree with PD trying to be free of handouts and international aid, but why so much anger towards an american group? The first line on the Women of Kireka site about Project Diaspora says that PD is a USA non-profit.
Also, you say 'we' a lot. Is this really just your opinion, PD's opinion, or Africa's opinion as a whole?


tms ruge March 9, 2012 at 11:24 am

PD is registered as a C-corp not-for-profit. We don't have official 501c(3) non-profit status for a reason. It is designed that way. We are not a charity. Yes to the rest of the questions. Thanks LJMW


DAK March 9, 2012 at 10:11 am

Amazing post. A post that would not have been written and read by many if the Kony 2012 thing hadn't happened. This is all an opportunity for more education and discussion.


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