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White Saviours: It takes one to know one

Updated: Mar 31, 2019

The response from Stacey Doolittle exemplifies how poverty is personal for white people and accountability for the communities that are ‘helped’ is nil. We all know the name Stacey Dooley, and we will probably never know the name of the child in the picture.

It’s not the face of Stacey specifically that’s provoked such an immense reaction. It’s because in Uganda there is a new white face every week, propagating the same ideas and solutions that have raised £1 billion for Comic Relief since inception, among hundreds of anonymous black faces whose names never get learned and who don’t get to discuss race and poverty in a transformative way.

Focused on a world free from poverty, with a focus on youth and education, Comic Relief trots out the same shit every year in countries that have systematically been denied entry into global markets and/or permitted to join the global economy with the sale of products that don’t get value added in-country. Instead raw materials are exported at minimum cost - originally coffee beans, now shea butter and jackfruit, which are exported and turned into products abroad with a profitable mark up.

The white face of Stacey plays into a bigger global farce that sees charitable giving pursue a world free from poverty with no systemic change.

Did you know the British government set up FSD Africa for inclusive financial sector development in sub-Saharan Africa and is mandated by the Department for International Development (DFID) to be a risk-taking capacity builder and investor in both the retail and capital market fields?

The budget for that from DFID (and tax payer money) is £57,736,642. This money is to drive inclusive growth through a combination of grants and development capital investments that build financial markets and institutions. Check online if you don’t believe me - below is the money that has been invested over four years.

In normal terms, this means loaning money to people and creating a more secure middle class across sub-Saharan Africa with a focus on consumer and retail markets. Did you know this means that Africa is not poor now and the UK government plans to find ways to secure this over the long term?

The UK will take in the name of business, give in the name of charity, and loan money in the name of ‘International Development’.

That image of Stacey is a White Saviour Stock Image. This format of raising money for education, youth, and photo opportunities all feed into an industry of volontourism and the export of white ‘expertise’ to countries that literally had Europe screw things up in the first place in a violent, extractive, and systemic manner.

Stacey, for an award-winning investigative journalist I assume that you are you familiar with the role of the British in Uganda; you know that Uganda was given independence in 1962? That’s not even 60 years ago. Remember that horrible movie, the Last King of Scotland? Well Idi Amin was trained by the British. Presumably all Children in Need projects in Uganda are vetted and align with the NDP II?

Do you know what the NDP II is?

The NDP II is the National Development Plan for Uganda that runs until next year. It’s where the national priorities are mapped out. I didn’t know the national priorities of Rwanda when I went to build a volleyball court aged 16 only to return at 19 to find a secondary school was built further up the road by the Rwandan government as part of their national development plan. Other than my close friends, no one has ever critiqued the value of a volley ball court being built in a primary school in eastern Rwanda because there’s no accountability for local populations in projects like this.

The accountability of white faces in Africa is part of a much wider discussion. Your reaction to David Lammy was shameful and the news coverage was inaccurate; he didn’t accuse you of anything – he made some high level and insightful comments and for you to make it about yourself derails a much wider discussion.

You need to remember that as White People, we are allowed entry into circumstance without being checked and without being held accountable.

I went to a refugee camp in Rwanda at 19 with no questions asked and began interviewing people; a family friend helped birth a child ‘in Africa’ with no medical qualifications; I taught English with a TEFL certificate and displaced a fully trained teacher for two weeks; I sat in on a Gacaca trial in Rwanda as a secondary school student; I’ve used children as tour guides; I’ve negotiated a higher salary in a Ugandan NGO on the basis that I needed more money to live in a safer neighbourhood and to afford flights back to the UK once a year; and I've blagged my way into meetings with UN officials in Rwanda.

Not once has anyone constructively criticised my actions or questioned my presence in these spaces.

Comic Relief has avoided public accountability in the UK and globally, as has the ‘international development’ sector more broadly. Raising and exporting funds at an individual or industrial level erases the role of government, law, and evidence-based research and removes responsibility from local tax payers which arguably undermines democracy.

Again, you probably know with your investigative background, but in Uganda alone Invisible Children caused havoc and raised millions with their shoddy, inaccurate, and blasé account of Uganda's history. There are unlicensed US medics in Jinja performing ‘surgery’ on children. There is an ongoing #MeToo movement in Kalangala. There are 19-year Jehovah’s Witnesses selling pamphlets to people.

I know this because I watched the American teenager sell paperwork to my gate guard who I know couldn’t afford it because we underpaid him. I know because when I was at school, I bought the Invisible Children DVDs and aired them to my peers.

When there is another happy white face holding a small black child it just reeks of bullshit.

Your response to David Lammy is part of why these conversations stop. When you tell David Lammy to go to Uganda, do you realise that a British passport gives you access to almost all the countries in the world?

Meanwhile, for my sister’s ex-boyfriend to visit from South Africa for two weeks, he needed a letter of invitation and proof of savings to demonstrate he could/would return. A friend of mine won a trip to Disneyland and spent hours at the French Embassy in Kampala with paperwork that isn’t designed to accommodate English and Luganda names.

The way you navigate the world with access to all areas, physically and linguistically, is because of history and you need to recognise that. It’s not all sunshine and sparkles, and when you post images like that it erases the experiences of so many people. When you respond to David Lammy with reactive responses it means you prioritise your privilege to move through life without doing the difficult socio-political and economic critical analysis that would create long lasting systemic change.

Poverty isn’t some random occurrence of events; it’s the result of current and historical socio-economic and political decisions.

A lot of the benefits you and I get, which in turn let us donate and travel, are a direct result of the havoc our ancestors wreaked as part of the British Colony. Instead of being obsessed with doing ‘good’ and ‘giving freely’, and defending our right to do so, a look at history would serve us all well, and focus not on equality but in equity where the consistent undermining of the African continent is taken seriously.

The socio-economic and political reality of Uganda is not something you can understand sufficiently to provide long lasting value. I learned this by living in Uganda for two years working for a research and advocacy think-tank that focused on democratic accountability and regional peace and security between 2014 and 2016.

Did you know Ugandan lawyers were being gunned down on the back of motorbikes a few years ago? Are you familiar with the injuries of Bobi Wine and Besigye?

Creating change in countries is bloody, it’s difficult, it’s oppressive, and black people carry the brunt of it when white people jet in and out. We in the UK can look at how our institutions interact with Uganda today which is a lot less glamorous than international trips and a lot less sunny than filtered Instagram pictures but more in keeping with actual intentions.

My personal belief is that for real, long lasting change you’ve got to work for Africans in African systems. When I worked full-time in Uganda, it changed the power dynamics and I got to see White People from a whole different perspective. In my first month in the job, a white American intern returned to visit the office and informed me - directly in front of my manager, that I had ‘taken’ her job.

If you really want to change things then take instructions from Africa, rely on their payroll, their immigration, their banking systems and see how it feels - shift the power and fall in line for a bit. Let the entitlement and glamour fall away and get ready to understand the complexities (and also enjoy the Christmas parties).

If you are interested, I’ll tell you how it feels.

In the beginning, it is so uncomfortable. I could never dress right. I didn’t know what to order off menus. My daily existence was clumsy. I didn’t know where to stand at weddings. Didn’t know the cost of a bus ticket. Didn’t know the variance in the price of snacks across the country. Couldn’t chime in at the right point in a conversation. Couldn’t be funny. My hobbies were strange. My music was odd. All the normalcies of my lived existence and micro behaviours were illuminated. But, it made me a much better person and far more humble about the contributions I could and will make.

If you react to David Lammy without listening, you aren’t ready to help but if you are ready to ask questions critically and listen, we can go a long way together.

Young people and education do need to be supported in Africa and what Young Africans offer today is solutions to problems they grew up with but you need to know that they are already doing it.

Look at what Gerald Abila has done with Barefoot Law. Listen to Brian Gitta speak about his solution to test without blood for malaria. Be aware that Uganda has been ranked one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world.

So, can we let the 'children in need' tell us what they need and have spokespeople they identify with to elevate these issues and engage the British public in an original way. Can we have spokespeople who don’t pick them up for photo opportunities but who speak to them in their own language? Can we have spokespeople who don’t fly halfway across the world but who are already present in their communities?

  • Can we have Victor Ochen lead a segment on Comic Relief?

  • Can you ask Stefflon Don what she has been doing in Ghana?

  • Can you find out how much Akon has invested in the continent?

  • Can you ask Drogba what he has learned from helping people?

  • Can you speak to the future African leaders that the British Council already identified?

  • Can you look at the Forbes 30 under 30 list?

There are the people I need you to engage Stacey and the questions I need you to ask are;

  • In the UK, can we support the African diaspora to design and develop study/work abroad programs instead of keeping Erasmus for university students?

  • Can Children in Need do a dragon’s den style competition specifically for innovation across Africa?

  • Can we have a robust evaluation on Comic Relief with critical thinking and the progression of ideas?

  • Can we include the history of the countries we engage with?

  • Can we stop flying out people (pop stars) with no qualifications or can they at least have some form of training that viewers also sit in on and contribute to via Twitter? I recommend Rachel Cargle and Jane Elliot.

  • Can we ask why people only donate to children visibly in need and not change makers?

Stacey, I was one of the worst white saviours which is why I understand your reaction, but you’ve got to move past it because David Lammy is right about what he says. You get to personalise discussions on race and poverty and that picture is a perfect example.

Name that child and prove me wrong.

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