African aid worker says some Western aid agencies may do more harm than good

(Photo: REUTERS / Ed Cropley)A Malawian hawker sells food outside a Chinese owned shop in Salima, a dusty town of 40,000 people near the shores of Lake Malawi, August 21, 2012.

Western aid agencies are reinforcing negative stereotypes of the African continent and failing to partner effectively with the African people to help those really in need, suggests an African aid worker. 

Michael Badriaki was born in Kisumu, Kenya, and raised in Uganda, but now works with organisations in North America that support aid and development in Africa. 

In an interview with the Christian Today website, he said he was "taken aback" by the "pervasive unfair images of Africa that dominate minds in the West" - exotic animals versus "grim" humanity.

The problem is exacerbated by the way in which "bad news and sensationalism" sell in the Western consumer culture. 

And mission organisations have "played their part in building unhelpful assumptions of Africa", he claimed.

"We are dealing with an inbred and quite unfortunate mindset that is at an epidemic level and church groups are unwittingly part of it," he said.

"Most people in Africa tend to be grateful for assistance but not when the dehumanizing means of charities justify the end ... I think some of the social justice camps haven't really thought it through." 

Even more alarming is his belief that profit is a very real motive for maintaining the stereotypical image of Africa as a continent breaking under poverty from coast to coast, and incapable of working to resolve its own issues.

"Perhaps the blind spot is the silent incentive of how charity has become a very lucrative business for some of the well-intended American Christian philanthropists - they are the ones who gain the most from the negative images," he said.

"If mutual partnership is not taken seriously beyond the tokenism of 'we hire and work with the locals over there', then the privileged will always gain, but the poor will only be treated as worthy of bad charity work, particularly in global south.

"Such power driven and remote controlled drone type-aid that goes to Africa, is always indicative of a lack of a comprehensive long term strategy that take investment with the people who are supposedly affected and impacted by these issues seriously." 

Badriaki wonders why there are so few hopeful images of Africans carrying out their own development work in the Western media and aid agency publicity; and why Western aid agencies are not partnering with organisations on the African continent already doing the kind of projects they themselves want to run. 

"Clean water is good any time. We all agree," he said.

"What needs to be questioned is the assumption perpetuated by charities that access to clean water does not exist in African villages and that Africans are doing nothing about certain water challenges until charities show up."

Instead of the "Afropessimistic" adverts that Western aid agencies promulgate, he says organisations need to be "truthful and respectful" in how they relate with humanity and work in partnership with Africans who are already working for the common good.

He said: "Organizations must fight the cultural obsession with horrible, fabricated situations to play on the already existing image that Africa is this dark and lazy, half-human, half-child, dominated continent. The temptations is huge and these kinds of prejudices, are easy to sell to people." 

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