A Tear for Africa: Humanitarian Abduction and Reduction
Helpless, pleading, wanting, needing, small, weak, staring at you, black–this is the anti-bogeyman invented by Western humanitarianism, what passes as morality in the ideology of empire (yet again). Past the time of a London Missionary Society, we now have the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the moral dogma of a white, western elite that projects its abusive notion of “protection” everywhere it is not wanted. Hence we have the “smug self-congratulation” marking Obama’s “Atrocity Prevention Board” and empowering the U.S. to undertake global police work. Part of a long history of casting wars as “humanitarian,” the “moral compass” of Western imperialism has an appropriately nautical sound in this commercial that declares the U.S. Navy to be “a force for global good” (nautical or extraterrestrial perhaps: the images are inspired by the opening of Star Wars, and the narration echoes Darth Vader). Well past the time of “emancipation,” we can now help Africans by owning them yet again–as children, in that state of infancy that we have long associated with primitiveness itself. We thus have the perfect therapy for the racial fear of blackness: shopping, that is, shopping for humans. Whole peoples in need of our “protection” (and the military-industrial racket of defense contractors and mercenaries that makes “protection” possible)–finally, our guilt washed away in their gratitude. For just the price of a cup of coffee–and the occasional high-altitude bombing by faceless “heroes” who never confront their victims–you too can buy yourself a piece of Africa, “the new frontier”. Then you can monitor and police its subordination, with AFRICOM.
Owning Africa: These kinds of images are so widespread that few even stop to pass comment or even take notice. Here, a page from an IKEA catalogue shows a white woman lounging in bed, with a faceless black child by her, surrounded by a cloud of prices. Such choices are always deliberate, and IKEA chose to place these human props as much as it chose the layout of the furniture.
Spectacle or training the audience in new consumption trends? Madonna acquires an African baby, proudly put on display.
A massive earthquake just happened. Hundreds of thousands dead and homeless. A nation destroyed. Moments later, disembarking from a night flight, returning from Haiti where few other planes could land, a group of very large white Americans, waddling and smiling through the airport, pushing double strollers displaying their newly harvested tropical produce: Haitian babies, spirited away from home. In many cases, they were simply stolen. In other cases, stolen for the sake of some very “Christian” people.
There is a lot more behind the African adoption craze than the simple desire of the large infertile ones to claim the fruit of others’ loins. Many already know that an industry has sprouted that serves as a conveyor belt for babies from Africa, passed straight into the hands of the “gimme” crowd in Europe and North America. A Web search for “Africa Adoption” returns a river of links to agencies such as: Sunrise Adoption/Africa, Americans for African Adoptions Inc. (from the managing director: “When you look into the eyes of a hungry African child, if you have any heart, you will not walk away and forget”–no, instead you will snatch the child apparently), and a few more. Each of these are part of a complex that serves up images of staring African children, lost, needing you (even when they have parents). Not usually listed as such in any international trade statistics compiled by the enemy, children are another of Africa’s exported commodities, forming part of a growing commercial industry. “The number of children from Africa being adopted by foreign nationals from other continents has risen dramatically,” the BBC said very recently, quoting this 2012 report from the African Child Policy Forum:
In the past eight years, international adoptions increased by almost 400%, the African Child Policy Forum has found. “Africa is becoming the new frontier for inter-country adoption,” the Addis Ababa-based group said. But many African countries do not have adequate safeguards in place to protect the children being adopted, it warns. The majority of so-called orphans adopted from Africa have at least one living parent and many children are trafficked or sold by their parents, the child expert group says. More than 41,000 African children have been adopted and taken out of home countries since 2004, the ACPF report says.
The adoption scandals have been plenty in number of the years, but there is nothing like imposed protection and enforced gratitude to keep the gates open to an abducted continent.
There is, I think, an important conceptualization of “abduction” that needs to be developed (different from the sense found in Alfred Gell’s Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory, also see here). Specifically, what I mean is that in order for one to presume to “care” for another, that other must be seen as living in a state of some sort of neglect and unfulfilled need. That other thus becomes like an object, that is first seized so that it can be set free. It is an object set low within a hierarchy, one that resembles old cultural evolutionist schemes where Europeans were always on top, and Africans locked far down below, in a Permanent Paleolithic time zone. Western “humanitarianism” thus works as an imperialist ideological framework: that object, “Africa,” needs our “protection” (we are the prime actors, they the recipients). This requires that we do at least two things that one would expect of imperialists. First, we need to construct images of “Africa” as a dark place of gaunt, hungry, pleading quasi-humans, where we effectively open the door to ourselves, and usher ourselves in as their self-appointed saviours. This is not the same thing as abduction in the form of kidnapping (not yet anyway): it is more of a virtual abduction, an imaginary capture that places “Africa” on a lower scale of welfare and self-fulfillment, and implies our “duty” to rescue them by “raising” them “up” to where we are. Second, we can work to ensure that the material conditions of need are effectively reproduced: we can do that with “aid” (see below), with “investment” (an odd word, because in practice it means taking away), with “trade” (where the preconditions are that Africans privatize themselves), and with direct military intervention to bomb back down to size any upstart that threatens to repossess his dignity (Libya). This too then is a capture. And then there is actual capture: seizing children, indicting “war criminals,” or inviting students to come on over and “learn” like we do so that they can become “educated”–or stay there, and let our students examine you. Humanitarians just cannot get over themselves, in other words, and they never tire of telling stories of their own greatness.
Examples abound, and they will keep on abounding as time passes, as they have in the past with an endless slew of stereotypes of “broken, helpless Africans”. We thus have the Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC), producers of awful Christmas-time videos that surely warrant a boycott, whose website produces a majority of pictures of desperate African children, or smiling African children (because they received our aid).
Blood Is Thicker Than Coffee (But Propaganda Is a Lot Like Cake)
The websites of Save the Children and Act for Peace similarly offer the same amount of African poverty pornography that remind you that you are the giver and that the power to breathe dignity into these dark objects is all yours. That also helps to numb and distract you from your own powerlessness in your own society, unless of course you happen to be one of the “one percent”. “For just the price of a cup of coffee”…the everyday humanitarian has such lofty sentiments, but they rarely include direct political action to get their own society from intervening in and harming African nations to begin with. If you care that much, cancel the debt, stop the bombing, and you can keep your coffee.
“Poor starving African children” is not just virtually a category of its own on YouTube, it is the actual title of some videos, like this one:
Very similar to the video above, there is this one from some R2P missionaries, the International aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia which is responsible for this R2P video–note which group of people predominates in the images shown:
The more relevant point however is that Russell is showing himself to be an excellent entrepreneur in the field of abduction: seizing African children, as the victims of a Lord’s Resistance Army that is a mere shadow of its former self, in order to back further U.S. military intervention in Uganda, where the LRA is not present but where U.S. special forces are. Neither AFRICOM nor the International Criminal Court could be more thankful for this viral imperial moralism, and the mindless crowd hype that propelled it. Of course, it’s not just Uganda that “benefits” from #Kony2012, but other nations of central Africa as well that are part of AFRICOM’s hunt for the “big game” that Joseph Kony has become, as official U.S. moralism easily blends with militarism. This has become everything that “Save Darfur” dreamt it could be. A clearer case than “my humanitarianism requires your abduction” could not be made better than the Stop Kony campaign. Or, maybe I speak too soon: “Stuff White People Link n. 135: Humanitarian Intervention”.
Amnesty International has been excellent at cashing in on atrocities, reporting rumours of “African mercenaries” in Libya, only to backtrack (after many of us popularized #RacistRebels incessantly in the Twitter news stream): now AI is finding black Libyans and Sub-Saharan Africans targeted for ethnic cleansing, mass displacement, torture, rape and murder–and AI can now announce that there never were any such mercenaries. Either way, Amnesty wins, its budget is ensured as it ensures its relevance to any profitable crisis, not to mention its recent public support for the U.S./NATO war in Afghanistan to “save its women” (an angle ZA covered here, here, here, and here). AI’s double-stand on Libya has been well documented and exposed in the video documentary, “The Humanitarian War,” by Julien Teil:
Inciting hatred and racial fear by spreading false rumours, which then resulted in violence with a genocidal aim? Is that not a crime under international law any longer? Or does the law by implication never apply to the white people who called for it? This is interesting, to see how Amnesty International makes business for itself at both ends of genocide, and never, of course, never, offering as much as an apology or a simple admission to being wrong.
Instead, what accomplished humanitarian elites, whether in the media, NGOs, think tanks…or the Swedish government, like to do when speaking of their favourite topics (such as female genital mutilation…in Africa, not their own kind), is to celebrate themselves. And they celebrate themselves with a nice big slice of n*gger cake:
Abduction yet again, this time with an assault on a human dessert cart. It’s an amazing picture of a European cannibalistic feeding frenzy of fantasy, a black cake saturated with neocolonial racism, and the promotion of very paternalistic attitudes towards African women, however much some of the Swedes above may fancy themselves “feminist”. It also seems that these characters took the bait of a clever artist, and ate it.
Sure, pick on Europeans. Say what you want, but at least “Spain is not Uganda”. Yet, by some measures that Europeans cherish, the argument turned against the Spanish Minister’s feeling of “natural” superiority over African primitives: Spain’s unemployment level is 24%, while Uganda’s is 4.2%; Spain’s GDP growth was -0.1% while Uganda’s was 5.2% in 2010; nor is Uganda currently the subject of emergency “bailout” plans. A good example of successful abduction, this is not, but it was nonetheless an attempt.
Perhaps as many as 20% of the graduate students in the Department that year chose to do their “fieldwork” in Africa. In what kinds of locations? You should be able to guess by now: a garbage dump, a cemetery, and a hospital for AIDS victims. Then they shared stories of how being white women earned them endless drooling commentary from African men. They won three times: capturing Africans in their most miserable state, scoring themselves a high “hotness” rating, and getting an advanced degree.
African feminist Ifi Amadiume shared this story of a young, white, female anthropologist:
“I asked a young White woman why she was studying social anthropology. She replied that she was hoping to go to Zimbabwe, and felt that she could help women there by advising them how to organize. The Black women in the audience gasped in astonishment. Here was someone scarcely past girlhood, who had just started university and had never fought a war in her life. She was planning to go to Africa to teach female veterans of a liberation struggle how to organize! This is the kind of arrogant, if not absurd attitude we encounter repeatedly. It makes one think: Better the distant armchair anthropologists than these ‘sisters’.”
Surely we are not all so crass? “One of the intended outcomes of my research about this community is to share with them my analysis of their situation, so they can better organize their own praxis and self-representation; that by having an outsider hold a mirror up to them, they can benefit from further self-examination.” AnthroFail subtitles itself with “Anthropology: You’re doing it wrong”. Yes, but “fieldwork”–fieldwork makes everything so much better–we should be sending out more of ours to do fieldwork in their societies. At the very least, we can harvest more African data for the American or British journals. Then “open access” will make everything better again.
“We give oh so much aid to Africa, that it just proves how great we are. Africans are not better off? Well, that may be, but then that shows how rotten they are. We win again!” I have heard similar assertions so often, that I now have a question: why don’t you all lobby the U.S. Congress or the Canadian House of Commons to officially rewrite your respective national anthems so you can include the words between the quotation marks? When you’re that great, you should at least sing about it, especially in your football stadiums and hockey arenas. I will not challenge the fact of their “giving,” but I will question the taking–better yet, Kenyan economist James Shikwati has already done so:
“Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.
“When there’s a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program–which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It’s only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it’s not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa …
SPIEGEL: … corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized European and American farmers …
“Hunger should not be a problem in most of the countries south of the Sahara. In addition, there are vast natural resources: oil, gold, diamonds. Africa is always only portrayed as a continent of suffering, but most figures are vastly exaggerated. In the industrial nations, there’s a sense that Africa would go under without development aid. But believe me, Africa existed before you Europeans came along. And we didn’t do all that poorly either.
“AIDS is big business, maybe Africa’s biggest business. There’s nothing else that can generate as much aid money as shocking figures on AIDS. AIDS is a political disease here, and we should be very skeptical.
“If they really want to fight poverty, they should completely halt development aid and give Africa the opportunity to ensure its own survival. Currently, Africa is like a child that immediately cries for its babysitter when something goes wrong. Africa should stand on its own two feet.”
As Shikwati explains elsewhere in the interview, Africa’s “hunger problems” as we see them could easily be solved by greater intra-Africa trade, and by breaking down European-drawn borders–in other words, by letting the African Union work. But we don’t much like the real leaders who pushed hard to realize the full potential of the African Union–we instead prefer to see them like this.
Abduction always stands against dignity–and though done much better by many others, many times before, this essay was a necessary second installment in a series of six on Dignity.
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