Raintree_Farms_feet Last week, I got an email question from a colleague (we’ll call her ‘Amy’). I asked Amy for permission to answer her question in a more public forum, because this is a question I get quite often. And it is a question that is difficult to answer without trampling on the genuine—albeit, often naive—spirit of your everyday do gooder.

The answer has to be honest. It has to be blunt. And it has to convey a truth to an industry insufferably full of self-righteous entitlement. That industry is the international aid and development complex that has come to be known as the White Savior Complex. The question, is presented thusly:

Hi Teddy I hope this finds you well. I’ve followed with interest your work and views on white saviour complex and it has really resonated with me. My work in Uganda is very important to me and I need to be seen in certain photos by my sponsors to show I am actually there doing the work I say I am rather than getting others to do it. Previously I was pulled up for NOT being in certain photos by a sponsor so how could he know for sure I was def there!!?? However I am extremely conscious that I don’t want to look like the white saviour. But I do want people to see what I am doing, to raise awareness and generate more income especially to my [redacted] Uganda project which is micro financing women to start businesses. So I find that I need to be seen, but where is the line towards what is acceptable to raise awareness and generate funds and when you have crossed into white saviour. I REALLY do not want to be seen as a white saviour and would appreciate your thoughts on how I can ensure this never happens. Hope all good with you! 😀

But before I proceed I do have to mention that much of what I have to address has been discussed in three previously-written pieces that are absolute must-reads for anyone grappling with what their role should be in international development:

  1. The white tourist’s burden by Rafia Zakaria
  2. The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems by Courtney Martin
  3. The Problem with Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped being a Voluntourist by Pippa Biddle

As a Ugandan in the development field, it is hard not to feel like a raisin in a sea of entitled walnuts. I admit that the Educated Angry African nickname my cofounders jokingly gave me at JadedAid is well-deserved. It is hard not to walk around your own community with a sense of resignation and defeat (and quite too often, anger) at the elevated roles outsiders hold in my community. Reading this shit can be infuriating.

I can’t answer Amy’s question without bumping up against the various imbalances created by white privilege. Geopolitically, Western countries enjoy more privilege on our own continent than we do. An American or Englishman’s passport can breeze through any customs on the continent, but I need to apply for a visa to enter Ethiopia or South Africa. Socially, white skin is as good as a visa to do whatever your heart desires in much of the Global South. White skin is the MasterCard of global development, and membership has its privileges.

This excellent piece of privilege naval-gazing, The Color of My Skin, by Kezia Brinson spells it out:

White person means rich. White person means any and every Ugandan man, or boy, will ask you to marry him, then and there, because he wants what’s in your pocket. White person means you are lazy; you don’t work, life is easy, and everyone works for you. White person means you have the power to give as much money as you want to anyone and everyone because you are so filthy rich. White person means you can fly to and from anywhere in the world, and you can bring anyone who asks; including the boda man who just drove you for two minutes and doesn’t even know your name.

Kezia, a Canadian, is the poster child of White Savior hubris. She flew thousands of miles to teach kids in #Africa (with no teaching training to speak of). Meanwhile, Canada’s First Nations wallow in abject poverty right under her nose.

Screenshot 2016-03-21 16.31.14

Amy, I could say that it isn’t your fault, that you were just born into a system. But the unfortunate truth is that it is your fault because you are an active agent of that system. The only options on the table are you either educate your funders to understand that your very presence is detrimental to what you are attempting to achieve, or you quit altogether. Either way, you don’t have to play along the same rules that have you at an existential crossroads. True change, often, requires that we do those things that scare us and seem almost insurmountable.

You need to ask yourself some hard questions: What is your primary objective here? Are you doing this because you want to feel like you have done some good in this world? And the easiest, sexiest, most fundable way to do that is to bring change over there? If the problem you are trying to fix over there isn’t fixed right where you are, what gives you the qualifying authority to go there? And by leap-frogging the issues in your backyard, are you really solving the problem or just moving sand grains around on a beachhead? Why are problems over there yours to fix?

And while we are asking the tough questions, let’s dig a bit deeper into that geopolitical imbalance. If the “reductive seduction” that led you to try and empower women in Uganda, left the women in your community without access, how difficult would it be for a concerned Ugandan bitten with the very same “reductive seduction” to try to go to your country and solve the issue?

It’s a trick question.

For those of us in the Global South, we think of going there, not to solve your problems, but in search of better lives. Our “seduction” is selfish and primal. And of absolute necessity. It’s why we fake passports. It’s why we cross deserts. It’s why we submit to human traffickers. It’s why the ‘A sinking boat full brown people‘ white card exists in the JadedAid game. That primal need to migrate at all cost is why we, in the middle of an unforgiving ocean, drown short of the promised land.

It is important to ask yourself, “can a Ugandan do in my village what I am freely able to do in their village?” If the answer is “no”, then what you are attempting to do will never be solved because there’s a much bigger imbalance preventing your efforts from ever being sustainable.

My dear Amy, it hurts me to have to say these things to you, because I know you to be a good and caring person who wants to contribute to the betterment of humanity. But the truth is, where you are trying to bring change matters as much as what kind of change you are trying to bring. You are raising funds to empower women but not raising funds to strengthen the social infrastructure that left these women disenfranchised. The skin you are in, allows you to simply inject short cut solutions to “other people’s problems.”

Fundamentally, social infrastructures in your village made you a strong, independent woman with enough access to be able to think ‘why don’t these women over there have the same privilege that I do?’. You identified the illness, but opted for a corrosive bandaid instead of a difficult, but necessary surgical procedure. There are many people in Uganda, like me, working to fix our broken social systems by incessantly petitioning our government to address them. After all, they have one job!

Is what you are doing helping us strengthen our case against the government or weakening our agency by endorsing the government’s abdication of its duties?

Doing good is arduous, slow, and often thankless. It requires years of dedication to a singular focus. It’s not a summer here, a week there. It is not a GoFundMe, or bake sale. It is not a paper bead necklace intervention. And as hard as it is for me to tell you, it’s not about the job here and there that you were able to create. It’s about that social system improvement you were able to influence which created an environment where all the women in Uganda have the same level of economic emancipation that you have, not just the women you choose to help. And changing that, might be the tree you plant but whose shade you’ll never live long enough to stand under.

    • Thanks, I am working on getting back to meaningful regular writing. Will have to dig into some of these issues much deeper.

      • I see a book….. As per the person who posted the question: One of her main handicaps is that she’s a Christian missionary. Hard to rout that out of her. Marx said religion was the opiate of the people, one of the more honest and erudite things he said.

  1. As usual you get me thinking. Since it’s impossible to block American/European intervention in African countries, one question is how folks can contain/shape that intervention. Having successful examples should help (non-White Savior projects that make money, employ people, make good products/services, do good work, etc.)

    • I’ve gotten great ideas on follow up blog posts to this issue and this is certainly worth exploring as one of the things I’ve always talked about is not so much Westerners owning and pontificating on platforms but being brave enough to hand over the microphones and stage time to those that have never had it. Thanks, will explore this further.

  2. Thank you for your words of truth! As an American, married to a Ugandan, living in Uganda, I really desire to constantly reconsider and reflect upon the part I play here – trying (and admittedly failing sometimes) to be conscious and to minimize as much as possible my visibility and presence in the social work my husband does. Thank you for giving me more to think about!

    • S., thanks for the comment. I’ve been trying as much as possible to engage with everyone who is at least self-aware of the complexity their complexion brings to a developing environment like this. I appreciate your efforts to stay vigilant. Uganda is a beautiful place and I hope you find a comfortable balance while you are here.

  3. One of the things to remember about Christian missionaries is that their stated purpose is really at odds with any kind of sustainable development at all.

    I mean, their first priority is to convert people. And the second is to destroy the indigenous culture. It’s just what they do, and that’s kind of the whole point.

    And in that situation, when they visit the most vulnerable people, there’s nothing they are doing that isn’t coercive at come level. If you’re going to be a missionary, then go convert the rich people first, you know?

    OTOH the churches have become a primary source of services in many communities. So it’s very hard to tease out. I don’t think missionaries are bad people, but walking into a situation without at least a rudimentary understanding of what is going on seems to me just kind of dumb at best, and simply dismissive of the people in whatever country at worst.

    • Great points. It becomes complicated at that level. The missionaries of course, are riding centuries of action that have pretty much given them carte blanche to do what they “are called” to do.

      • And that is one of the reasons it is so difficult to deal with them. Most of them are white, and privileged, and the believe that God is sending them messages. White “man’s” burden writ large.

        • I think all around, any action can be justified by invoking “I was called by God to do this” or “it was God’s will”. Someone kills a room full of kids: “it was God’s will.” Why did you murder a theatre full of people: “It was God’s calling.” When you can justify atrocities by invoking religion, we are all vulnerable.

  4. Elijah Chaplinski

    Lovely essay, but I am not sure what the conclusion is. Is it that white people should take care as to what sort of work they do in Uganda and other countries in the Global South, or is it that white people should not volunteer in Uganda at all?

    I ask because I’ve been that one white man in a Ugandan village once, for a year. In fact, I’m a lot like Keiza: I am a Canadian that taught in a Christian school in Uganda. The headmaster asked for a native English speaker, and I agreed to go. Is that wrong? The comments confuse me further. Not only was I wrong to go because I am white, I was wrong to go because I am Christian?

    I think (or at least, I hope) that isn’t what you meant. I agree with a lot of what you have said. Broken social systems need to be fixed, the best place to do good is usually close to home, and local leaders and workers should play a central role in development. With that in mind, I think there is value in international and inter-racial co-operation for the common good. Persons with different backgrounds can share new ideas with each other, where a successful concept or technology from one country can be applied to another country to hasten the latter’s growth. Furthermore, “voluntourism” can give foreign donors a view of that bigger picture. I learned much about the problems in Uganda on my trip that I would have never known had I not spent time there, and I think the same can be said for many others. There is a wrong way to do it. There is a right way to do it as well.

    In conclusion, I welcome and thank your criticism, and I think it could be expanded. Is there something you think white people could be doing in your country that would help, and not hinder, your cause? Or if not, and indeed white people should GTFO, could you explain a bit more as to why we of paler complexion cannot be of any help over there?

    Thank you, and God bless.

    • There are a number of issues that you speak to. One, the seemingly most simple, involves white, Christian missionaries coming to various regions of Africa to subjugate the indigenous population. Your religion, quite frankly, regarded them as heathens. What gives you the right to determine who is worthy and who is not? And don’t tell me that your god told that. Everywhere Christian missionaries have ventured for the last five hundred years have resulted in the desecration of the cultures and the people that they have supposedly come to save. What possible incentive or gain can you possibly provide to Ugandan’s, or Canada’s First Nations or other near totally marginalized people’s who have been colonized? Nothing. You’re selling empty dreams. It’s a delusion. Save it for the inner city kids of your own city.

    • Hi Elijah,
      Thanks for your comment. It’s really not my job to tell you what to do. My job is to point out what should be obvious to people in the missionary/development industrial complex (DIC) but isn’t. What one does with the insight I give is up to them.

      In the 90’s, I was a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Captain Piccard always stressed about never violating the Prime Directive, or the policy of non-interference whenever they encountered a new culture. But what they always (obviously) justified a reason to interfere anyway, violating the Prime Directive. But as I’ve grown older, I realize that the Prime Directive is a false assertion because their very presence to a new culture was always a violation of the Prime Directive. If changed the course of development for the cultures they encountered.

      Similarly, Vasco da Gamma’s curve around the Cape of Good Hope and ensuing consequences that followed, forever altered the continent’s development. The White Savior Complex has been trying to centuries now to “fix” it. It is irreversible and the longer you are here (wether through missionary work, or through some sort of aid intervention) the worse things get. Your very presence erodes the communities ability to develop its own agency.

      Just because the headmaster asked for a native English speaker doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences to your arrival. You automatically misplaced a potentially qualified teacher in the country who could have done just as good a job. “I was invited” is not a good enough excuse to ignore the consequences of your actions. We were colonized by the British, our national language is English. We aren’t short of teachers to teach the subject.

      The trip was about you, as you said, “I learned much about the problems in Uganda…” But you didn’t dig deep enough to get to the root of those problems. Why is it YOU have to come here in order for the problems to be solved. Have you asked yourself, why is it that they need foreign donors? Yes, a cultural exchange is beneficial, but where’s the exchange part of it? You got to travel to a new culture and learn, but where’s the reciprocity. How many Ugandans came back with you to learn about your culture, in situ?

      One of the programs I love supporting is Global Health Corps, they have a true exchange program. Internationals come to the Global South and Global South fellows get to travel to America to actually work on local issues to learn about similar problems before they come back.

      Basically, if an intervention isn’t reciprocal, it is not beneficial at all to the local community.

      • Elijah Chaplinski

        Hi Teddy Ruge,

        Thank you for your reply. However, I think you’ve made a few unwarranted assumptions.

        For example, your question of reciprocity: how many Ugandans come to learn about Canada’s culture? The answer is that there are far more Ugandans working in Canada than Canadians working in Uganda. They may not have come to “learn the culture”, yet neither did I: that is a side-effect, not the primary goal. They came to work: some temporarily (on a work visa), others permanently (as landed immigrants). In a more specific sense, do Africans come to serve in Canada for religious reasons, affiliated with my own church? The answer is yes, they do. Jared Purdy may not appreciate it, but the Christian church is one of the few things that do exactly what you describe. I’ve known an excellent pastor from Tanzania who I met in the Philippines and will later go to Ireland to do cross-culture ministry. I’ve met Ugandans in Canada, Kenyans in the US, and Angolans in Asia. Christianity it is about persons from all nations, kindreds, peoples and tongues working together to serve God and their fellow man. The church is a connected and socially conscious global community.

        You assume I did not think to ask why there is a need for foreign donors. In fact, I had asked that question even before I went. How do you think anyone is going to find out the answer, except to go to Uganda and see for themselves? Why do you think that white people will somehow have more insight into the root of the problem by staying away from Uganda altogether? The vast majority of donors never visit the countries they donate towards. The DIC would not disappear if white people stopped visiting, and I believe it would actually get worse, as donors have even fewer sources to tell them if some project is needed or will do more harm than good. International co-operation is built on personal relationships, and personal relationships rarely develop among persons who have never met.

        Yes, a Ugandan teacher could have taught the subjects I taught. However, your assumption that there is no benefit to me coming there is, frankly, untrue, because my presence (as an outsider who has different experiences from locals) helped solve problems that the school did not know it had, like the computers textbook and software being outdated, the computers themselves suffering from repairable damage (viruses and blown capacitors) that I quickly fixed, and the school library needing a system to track where the textbooks are. It also answered questions that the donors had and no-one gave an answer to, such as why secondary school tuition is so much more expensive than primary school tuition. This chance exchange of information happened simply because I was there: two people with wildly different backgrounds putting their heads together, facilitated by their presence near each other. Your experience says that white people are hurting your communities by their simple presence. My experience is that a pluralistic society like Canada or the US is the best environment for growth and development because of the interaction between different modes of thought. A good example is Japan. Was Japan hurt by the high US presence after the War? No, Japan grew at a rate previously unheard of and is now one of the wealthiest nations in the world. I am not so pessimistic as to think that this is impossible in Uganda, beautiful country with wonderful people and lots of resources. This makes your assertion unconvincing.

        White privilege will not be reduced by white people ignoring your country. At the moment, you offer a lot of negatives and no solutions. No, you do not have to tell me, or anyone, what to do. But saying “this sucks” without suggesting anything better helps no-one. Share your ideas for good, rather than merely pointing out what you think is bad. What seems obvious to you is un-obvious to others because others are not exposed to the experience you were exposed to, and the same works in reverse as well. Indeed, what seems obvious to you may not even be true. Not saying it isn’t, of course: you do have good points, and I certainly think there are better ways to do international aid than most NGOs practice. But if white people simply stopped coming to Uganda altogether, I doubt you would have better results than you have now. White people would be less informed of what’s going on over there, and more likely to donate to causes that you believe are unhelpful, out of simple ignorance.

        • There are vastly different reason why there are more Ugandan’s working, and in fact living in Canada than Canadians working and living in Uganda: 1. Many came here as refugees fleeing Amin, 2. They are looking for a “better”, i.e., financially secure life. 3. Canadians, when they get tired of the adventure, and the lack of infrastructure in certain cases and places, just leave and can come back. Ugandans, are not in a position to do that. Canadians and Americans don’t go to Africa looking for a better life, they go for an “adventure” because they can afford it, and the missionary industrial complex has operated on the pretext that they’re “saving souls”. Right, whatever. The majority of white people who go to these “exotic” places learn little in the way of the systemic globalized issues that contribute to the lack of equity in areas like Uganda, and, they can always leave, and they do because they know that they’ve got something to go back to. There are likely many, many Ugandans who could have fixed those computers, and people who understand library science, I mean there are schools and there is a university in Kampala!!. The assertion that there isn’t any tech savvy people is absurd!! For white people to be less informed would make absolutely no difference, and your implication is symptomatic of white skin privilege and the white saviour industrial complex. Again your premise is that things get fixed, and done, because white people know about them, and are there. If you have’t already watched, I urge to watch “The Danger of the Single Story”, narrated by Chimamanda Adichie. Pay particular attention to the part where she tells her TED audience that Africans are sick of being saved by a “kind white foreigner”. Best of luck.

          • Elijah Chaplinski

            Jared Purdy, you have not understood my point. Yes, there are university-trained librarians and computer technicians in Uganda. Doubtless there are ones who are better at it than I am! However, were they in that rural village in Bundibugyo district? No, they were not. And why was that? Because they are in Kampala making a living and taking care of their kids. The headmaster could have sought them out, of course… if he knew where to look, and knew to look in the first place, and even knew that this was a problem that could so cheaply and easily be fixed to such benefit.

            Now, why was I there? Essentially at random. He called somebody who called somebody who called me, not knowing which particular skills I could bring to bear. Because vastly different people came together, we could look for problems and find new solutions.

            I watched the talk with Chimamanda Adichie, and you have not understood her either. She never says that Africans are sick of being saved by a “kind white foreigner”, instead she warned of the danger of that being the single story, giving an incomplete picture of what Africa is about. Right now, you are guilty of doing exactly what she describes: you have a single story of a white missionary. Your single story is that of an ignorant and patronizing man who has little interest in the people that he visits, and so you assume I, and all other white Christians in Africa, are the same. So even though you had no reason to think I did not know about tech-savvy people in Uganda, you assumed I believed there were none, because that fit the single story you knew.

            I was there because I was willing to go. There are far more problems in the world to fix than there are people willing to sacrifice to fix them, so narrowing the possibilities means that problems that could have been fixed will not be, because the people willing to fix them are not there. Moreover, narrowing the possibilities means that this mixing of knowledge and ideas does not happen as well as it could, because fewer different experiences are shared. The fact that a white man came to serve them is neither a positive or a negative: it is just another facet in the stories shared. I did not take another, equivalent person’s place, because no two people are the same. Had I not come, a Ugandan computer or library technician or wouldn’t have appeared just because of my absence, and if there were one already there when I came my presence would not be in vain. We would have worked together to create something greater than either could have done alone. Even my white skin had its own, unique benefit, apart from what skills I could bring with me. It meant that a village that previously knew white people only from brief glimpses and letters could get to know one personally, and so demystify the white race in that town, showing that we are a lot more alike than we previously knew. If I had not come and a Ugandan person with similar skills did, it would also have its own benefit in that they would learn more about Ugandan institutions of higher learning. Each person brings their own gifts and features, and the more people interact, the greater the benefit will be.

            White people are part of Africa, just like black people are part of Europe and America. Sending the white people out of Africa would hurt Africa, just like sending the black people out of America would hurt America. Inequality is not made better by segregation, it is made worse. The portrayal of white volunteering as an entirely or even mostly negative force in Africa is wrong. White people and black people all have a part to play in the building up of the African continent and all the nations in it. The reasons for Africans coming to America are different from the reasons for Americans coming to Africa. We cannot change our history, and the present is unequal. We can, however, work together to make a future that is better than our past.

          • So what then is _truly the right thing to do_? What does _truly doing the right thing actually look like_? _Genuinely_ doing it. As I want to do that — _GENUINE_ good.

  5. I’m not sure this actually ended up answering her question about how to discourage associating her physical presence with evidence or effectiveness of work. Ruge has many good points about the white savior complex (which in my case might just be ‘western savior complex’), but his argument rambles. (Side note: I’m also very curious as to how Ruge thinks JadedAid is actually working out, as the largest portion of the population that plays it is most likely white. I personally have always enjoyed playing Cards Against Humanity but haven’t found the same appeal in JadedAid and I wonder if it’s because of the difference between punching up vs punching down with the humor used.)

    In response to Amy’s question, I think I would tell her to maintain self-awareness in the language she uses about her work, i.e. not romanticize poverty or her own singular role within a community, and also be confident in taking a stand against feedback that asks her to be more present in pictures by a) offering to share other documents of ‘proof’ such as meeting notes, feedback from the women she is collaborating with on the progress of the org, or offering to be a liaison in arranging meetings between the businesswomen and the sponsor, etc. and/or b) relating with the sponsor’s concerns and then expressing her own reasons for not being in the forefront of all the pictures, and then finding a compromise.

    I would be interested in hearing if you think this would be helpful or what else you think could be done to limit the misconstrued view that western savior = someone was saved.

    • Hi Swaffles,
      Thanks for the comment. These are some great suggestions and I am sure she has tried some of the above to address the issue. To be fair, she’s already self-aware of her role and I think her reaching out to me is an excellent sign of that. Most of the White Savior entourage that I come across have a level of self-awareness. The majority that spoil the soup for everyone are the unexposed and inexperienced ones that are here “to find themselves” … those are all too happy to Instagram their best Mother Theresa impersonation with Brown kids.
      As a self-aware individual, I’ve seen her struggle to do it right, but it is hard to achieve when you are playing with someone else’s money. It stretches beyond just selfies for donor approval. An overwhelming driver of requests like this match donor requests for results that just can’t be achieved during funding cycles. They want to SEE a difference, when real change actually takes several magnitudes longer to achieve than the length of actual funding cycles.

      I think it’s complex, but you might also be onto something that we musn’t be too afraid to kick back and/or educate funders on their unrealistic expectations. Educating the donor has to be part of the doing good, correctly. Hopefully there’s enough self-aware Amys out there that can begin to do that.

      As for JadedAid, it is very much skewed towards the White Savior Complex as opposed to the minuscule all-encompassing Western (brown) Savior. As a Diaspora in this space, (I suppose I could classify myself along the lines of Western Savior – but splitting that hair altogether another post) I don’t always feel empowered. It always feels like I am running someone else’s program in my community.

      JadedAid came to life from almost 4000 contributions from the White Savior community. These idiosyncrasies and observations are reflections about their own industrial complex. The game in a way, is an inside joke and skews slightly towards naval gazing. Our job was to curate the submissions into something we could use as a catalyst for far more meaningful conversations about the industry they work in. Get drunk with buddies and play JadedAid on a Friday night, but come in Monday morning and begin questioning how you or your organization could do your mission or mandate more effectively.

      We’ve seen great discussions happening at organizations and conferences already so it is achieving results where it is supposed to be. It isn’t supposed to be an all encompassing “a game for everyone” like CAH, we just borrowed the style of play. JA is actually designed to be played WITH CAH should one so desire. We’ve tested it to great results.

      • Thanks for responding. Everything you say about Amy here, I’m sure she would love to hear from you in person, as well. And it’s true that the first step to change is being self-aware of one’s role in his/her environment.

        My personal feedback on JadedAid: Perhaps my mistake was to attempt to play it by itself, but similar to the case with CAH, it feels self-serving. In that, the people I often play with already are rightfully cynical and questioning of their purpose and actions.But, unlike CAH, because the community fed in the answers, it feels that the phrases on the cards are uneven in intensity, self-awareness, and responsibility in directing the humor in the right direction (i.e. they should be mocking the institution rather than the victims). But in the end, congrats on making something that is enabling conversations, nevertheless!

  6. Jurjen van der Laan

    I think white people can do good things in Africa, but it is important to look at how we do it, and what stories we tell at home in Europe, America or Australia. Do we work together with locals? Did we ask the locals what they needed? Do we see ourselves as equal to the people we’re helping and do we act like equals? In colonial times, we saw ourselves as superior, but I think today we can, and have to, work together to solve problems. Africans already have more experience with green energy and mobile banking than Western people, so soon there will be a day, western people will be helped by African people too.

    And what story do western people, western volunteers tell at home? Is it the story that is told a million times, of the cute helpless children with the flies in their eyes, the story of dancing and playing the djembé? Or is it the other side of Africa, the story of people with the same talents as we have, the story of mobile phones and skyscrapers?

    The problem is our arrogance towards Africa, and that we don’t tell the truth back home. If white people really want to help Africa, they need to change their mindset. Than Africa gets it’s dignity back, and with dignity the trade, which will mean so much more than food aid and pencils.

    • Jurjen van der Laan

      I would also like too add, that Western people sometimes have to see African people as superior to them too.

      • This, I think, is at the root of most development framing. As long as Africa is viewed as less superior, we’ll never really have an equal seat at the table.

  7. I am not Ugandan, but I’m gonna give my 2 cents as a Christian West African woman, raised in Africa and who emigrated to Canada as an adult.

    Canadian people are, from an early age, taught at home, at school, everywhere that as Canadians, they’re the world go-doers. They came up with the concept of peacekeeping, they welcomed boat people from Vietnam, the Haitians fleeing the Duvalier’s regime, everyone prises the Canadian passport (yep, Mossad’ll definitely agree with that) and so on ad nauseam. It is to the point that whenever they meet an immigrant in this country, they’d think the person came to Canada, at best for a better economic life, at worse as a refugee. They don’t even know that economic immigrants pay to get here and are, among other things, selected because they’re bringing some dough to the Canadian economy. But I’m digressing here.
    So, when they want to help, they wouldn’t think about helping the homeless people from the first nations that you encounter everyday in Ottawa or Vancouver, nope, they want to go to Africa or India and come back with tales of how they help the poor there. Now is the time to call me an Angry African woman, I’ve the right to because condescension is annoying.
    If the person is Christian, let’s say some old white Catholic priest which prides himself on having spent years in some far-away African lands, it is even worse. Indeed, you have a mix self-righteous desire to help, mixed with a somewhat Eurocentric way of seeing things.

    I think that when you really wanna help or are helping people, it should be all about the people. They’re the ones who should share the spotlight while you’re being the scenes. The sponsors are all about money. They don’t know how annoying it can sometimes be to have these pictures of smiling African villagers wearing rags and the white humanitarian worker in the middle. Yep, it does scream white savior.

    • I’ve lived in Canada and I bring up the argument of the state of First Nations all the time. It is pure hypocrisy to feel like you have to fly thousands of miles across the planet to plant your humanitarian of the year award when right in your back yard, your own people are disenfranchised.

      Thanks for this perspective Anna.

          • I don’t think First Nation communities want young white people parachuting into their communities to save the day. In fact most native reserves won’t allow it.

          • Any cursory review of current literature on this suggests that you are right. Idle NO More, for instance, is calling for wide spread involvement of non-Aboriginal people. They routinely extoll the benefits of securing allies in government who are either white, or non-Aboriginal in general.

          • “Any cursory review of the current literature…” Arrogant PoS. I bet you’ve got tons of experience working on reserves with your tie died t–shirt… LOL

          • Hey Barnabas, i appreciate intelligent discourse and feedback but name calling is out of line, even if I disagree with your point of view.

            Please stick to the topic.

          • I believe there is a Trump supporter in our midst. Is that name calling TMS? “arrogant PoS … with tie died t-shirt…” Wow. You know not of that which you speak.

          • Yes, but do not the same issues of privilege and being “uninformed” also apply there at home equally? Remember, the Natives may be in “your country”, but they are not necessarily “your culture”. If you go in there uninformed out to “save them” with the same attitude as the “white savior” you complain about going into Uganda, is that not going to be harmful just right same?

      • Let’s try to see the forest for the trees. The USG provides $250M a year to Uganda for developmental assistance. I consider much of this as providing life-saving support. For instance, The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has provided millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa with life saving drugs and support for families struggling with AIDS. This aid might be referred to as a prime example of the White Savior Industrial Complex. There’s been some resentment coming from the Ugandan upper class and intellectual elite. Perhaps this is a reflection of embarrassment that their status is being undermined or perhaps it is guilt that they are not leading efforts to help their own citizens. The fact is that the Ministry of Gender Labor and Social Development is grossly underfunded while President Museveni and his cronies send their children to Ivy League schools in the US and Europe, live in mansions in Kampala and elsewhere while crushing any political opposition. I’ve always wondered if there was no external support in Uganda, would there be a revolution. Is the White Savior Industrial Complex stifling a legitimate uprising. Thinking back to European history,.. if there were foreign donors and NGOs in 18th century France? Would there be bread riots that led to the French Revolution? But then again do we have the right to allow millions of innocent people to live in abject poverty and die from famine and treatable diseases in hope that eventually that the Ugandan people with take control of their own government?

        • Not sure how you can ask “do we have a right” when it is actually going on right now. Thousands are dying on a monthly basis in Syria and drowning in the Mediterranean sea and the world is collectively ignoring it and closing their borders to immigrants seeking safe haven.

          Do no underestimate humanity’s propensity to ALLOW atrocities to happen with full knowledge.

          With every generation comes new geopolitical catalytic ingredients for revolution. Sometimes, time and the unexplained trigger can spark a revolution from out of nowhere, see Sid Bouzidi in Algeria. Just a lone vendor with no political ambition, suddenly his struggle resonated with millions and down came a regime.

          • I’m talking about Uganda – receiving many hundreds of million $ per year… should the US and the EU stop development aid to Uganda and let Museveni know that he should take care of his own people? No more white saviors in Uganda…

          • To be blunt: yes, I’d love them to stop. But that’s not how the world runs.

            Governments borrow from each other all the time. The US is heavily indebted to china. But china doesn’t dictate how US spends that money.
            It’s a lot more complicated than that. Government to government aid is not the same as white Saviors. To a degree, it does contribute to a white Savior mentality.

            How development aid is done is the problem. Not that aid is given at all. How matters.

          • This is not a fair comparison. China’s investments are not charity and the US pays huge sums in interest on these loans. Through his pretentious tweets, Teju Cole has made it trendy to hurl racial insults at wide-eyed volunteers naively trying to help people. Eventually some of these volunteers will become jaded bureaucrats administering the bilateral aid. There is a privileged class in Africa that benefits from not having to pay for their social welfare systems that are essentially being bankrolled by the “white savior industrial complex”. Teju’s native Nigeria brings enormous oil revues; enough to take care of all of its population and then some and yet there’s still abject poverty due to endemic corruption in Nigeria. I think you’re both too timid to confront the real villains. These young do-gooders are easy targets. I don’t think you and Teju are the heroes, nor are the credulous young volunteers. The real heroes are leaders making incredible sacrifices to confront the real problem, like Kizza Besigye and his followers.

          • How development aid is done is the problem. Not that aid is given at all. How matters.”

            So what’s the best model for development aid that is both maximally moral and maximally effective?

  8. Let me see if I follow you: US BORROWS money from China, but US DONATES money to Uganda, and therefore is entitled to accountability for that money. Would let Ugandan people without ARVs and medical care appease your anger towards white savior? How far are you willing to go with it? I assume your life does not depend on this funding or on these medications, so you, as the privileged person you are, can freely and inconsequently speak against it. Lastly, goverment aid is no different than private donors aid, its foreign money that could be spent with homeless in Boston but is being spent with HIV in Africa, because thats the biggest humanitarian tragedy of all times. Now get over yourself and think of those whose lives quite literary depend on those awful white saviors narcisistuc bastards money

    • Wow, the white privilege and sense of entitlement is strong with this one.

      My blog post was not about PEPFAR or government aid. But thanks for stretching to try to make a nonexistent argument.

      • You are welcome! In sum, millions of well purposes money from PEPFAR is welcome, but volunteers teaching engish its not. Got it, makes sense. I hope you are able to look at your own privilege to make the statements you do. Cheers!

        • I paid for my privilege. Under no circumstances do I plan on apologizing for something I earned. Sounds like you prefer Africans who don’t check you when you assume you have a god-given right to tell us how to live.
          Thanks for the comments.

      • No PEPFAR and other forms of bilateral aid are too difficult to deal with… a far easier target are young volunteers naively thinking that they are helping people… ”Goddamn white privileged a-holes making me feel guilty for doing something that I should be doing..” LOL… You don’t think that the average Peace Corps volunteer had to work hard to get through school and will be burdened with student loans for most of their adult life?… I think you’re basically just a hater trying to ride on the coat tails of a the pathetic hipster, Teju Cole.

    • I should add I do not under any circumstances have to answer to you or apologize for wanting my country, my people to be self-reliant. Nor should I have to apologize for being self educated enough to disambiguate the detrimental actions of white saviors and helpful structural direct foreign assistance to our country. If that makes me privileged then that a compliment. Thanks.

      • You owe me no apologies. And myself being a mixed person from a developing country share your feelings for self reliance, deeply and honestly. I just think it is so important to gauge this conversation from the perspective of people whose lives, like in PEPFAR, depend on that aid. Not on yours or mines, blogging from our Iphones with high speed internet. I did not mean to offend you and I apologize

        • I get the difference. My family was devastated by AIDS. I have an entire generation of cousines who grew up without their parents because AIDS wiped them out. Every week we had a funeral. Our country made great strides in understanding what was going on and educating ourselves and changing behaviors. Did pepfar funding help? Yes! But we also had to do the work to rescue ourselves because HIV was new to us. It took time but we got there. But just because PEPFAR assistance was a success doesn’t mean we HAVE to accept uninformed gap year kids to run around our communities doing thing they aren’t qualified for. If we can’t do that in their communities, why do they think they have a right to our communities? That’s my argument. We can’t build our agency by allowing that kind of unqualified, unreciprocated intervention. We all need each other in one way or another, but HOW that help is administered is the difference between agency erosion and institution building.

  9. Just adding the helpful structural assistance comes from countries with white identity, so its not as disambiguous as you would like

    • Ok, now I fully agree with you. You should not have to accept unqualified workers in your community,as they d not do the same back in US or Canada. I guess I wanted to make a point that aid or white money/presence it s not inherently bad and that so many precious lives were changed by it.

  10. You mention about doing things at home, at your “own backyard” so to speak, yet one should also note that the very same issues of privilege (racial, class, etc.) also apply there too. “Your own country”, or “home”, is never equal (no matter which one it is), and if you’re looking to “help”, chances are that _right there_ puts you in a privilege category of some kind over the ones _at home_ you are “trying to help”, if you are in a position where such a thing is even possible. So what do you do then? It seems the very same problematics you mention about “helping ‘elsewhere'” ALSO apply to helping “at home”. If I go into an inner city area to “help”, and “inner city” means “poorer, blacker area”, then I am going in with at least racial privilege, and if I had any modicum of wealth greater than theirs, with class privilege too. In my OWN country. What do you have to say regarding that? If such privilege issues mean you “shouldn’t even bother” internationally, then wouldn’t they logically also mean you “shouldn’t even bother” domestically, _too_? If so, then it sounds like we should just never try to aid anyone at all who is less advantaged than us – but then some others might crow “Apathy!” How would you respond to that? It seems to me like swinging to the other extreme.

  11. Also, what would be the best way to really address the _systematic_ inequalities and problems? What is the best way that an “ordinary” person could have any effect on that, to any, even if small, but nonetheless “adequate to their share of the responsibility”, extent?

  12. And looking at it, my suspicions do indeed appear to be confirmed, e.g.:



    And indeed, many of the concerns opined about “white saviors” operating on Native Americans, that is, privileged Americans operating on less-privileged groups _in their own home grass_, _in their own house where you say they should be operating_, run into the _EXACT_ same types of problematics that they do in Uganda. EXACTLY as I suspected.

    What do you say about that? It seems to me that reading this, if you are not educated and conducting yourself to the SAME “extremely high standard” that would be required to be fit to help Uganda, you _shouldn’t be helping at home, EITHER!_.

    • Hi Mike, thanks for reading and commenting. It seems there’s a running thread in your introspection about helping your local community as I’ve suggested. If you feel too privileged to go into a First Nations community to help or a black community, perhaps you should petition your local government or national government to actually do something about those marginalized communities. After all, they run on platforms of making sure they represent their constituents needs and priorities. As an individual, you might not have the power to do a whole lot to stop the streets of Chicago from being the bloody mess that they are by showing up there, but you could do a lot petitioning congress – writing a petition to the executive branch, rallying your community to stand up for the marginalized. Privilege doesn’t mean you just walk into any community without context and try to fix the problem yourself, it is HOW you do it. Find out who the local leaders are who are trying to bring change to their communities and ask them HOW they need help. There are First Nations/Native American activists. There are urban community organizations. Lend them a hand. Be an ally. Change, believe it or not, starts at home. Thanks again for reading.

      • Thx. Sounds a lot like what someone else I know would probably have said.


        “Change, believe it or not, starts at home.”

        my concern was not that I disagreed with that, but rather that the same issues that you talk about that apply internationally ALSO appear to apply at home, Too. And thus there isn’t, it seems, quite as much difference in terms of the “burden of ethic” it places upon the prospective “helper”.

        • Very true. There are unfortunate hierarchies within societies that make just the simple act of doing good well kind of difficult.

        • (ed. to clarify — why I said “not that I disagreed” is because you said “believe it or not” which to me sounds like you are thinking I am disagreeing)

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