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Thursday, March 18, 2010

What to do?

The image on the left is an ad I came across reading a home decor magazine (click the image to view the full version) and I thought to myself here we go again, 36.1 million people have been reduced to a charity case. I hate this depiction of African countries, which is what the image on the right evokes in people's minds. I am especially weary of patronizing non-profits who use us to make millions. When I have conversations with my peers about the state of Nigeria, I hear them echoing the very same things our parents said - our leaders have failed us, we are corrupt to the point of no return. We have all at one point or multiple points in time done the kanye shrug and simply put our noses to the grindstone so we can work hard and support our families here and back in Nigeria. Lately I have been wondering is that all we can do?

The earthquake in Haiti has people talking about the effects of Haiti being marginalized dating back to the 1900s. It scares me because Caribbean and African immigrants typically send money home, we are not too big on investing and give the side eye to widely publicized Let's save Africa campaigns, Project (Red), Live 8 anyone? The earthquake happened, and where is all the money that was sent home over the years now? If even a portion of it had been redirected into infrastructural investments maybe they would have more than one functioning port, perhaps another airport...I don't know. I am in no way saying that we should stop remittances entirely, but instead of clucking our tongues and shaking our heads at the state of things and the people in government are not doing anything, can't we private individuals collectively do something substantial?

Honestly, I don't know the answers... all I know is we have entrusted strangers with our dirty laundry and they are publicly displaying it and dirtying it up even further. Dambisa Moyo thinks foreign aid is impeding our ability to thrive and thinks micro finance is part of the solution. To a very large extent it has worked, there are numerous success stories to prove it but sometimes I wonder if it will turn out to be just like the others. Maybe it isn't micro financing, maybe it's supporting fair trade businesses like My Asho and Mad Imports that directly impact communities in African countries. Maybe it's investing in the Africa Vectors ETF (AFK) or directly in the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

I am so inspired by the Light Up Nigeria movement, I hope it can eventually be channeled into doing something more concrete than #lightupnigeria tags on twitter and who is not to say it will not in the future? And if it does, I hope they don't tow the line and ask China to invest in a power generating plant in Calabar but actually tap into the immense and under-utilized power of the Nigerian diaspora. If people actually see results, I know that they will invest in it. Nollywood and the burgeoning music industry in Nigeria can attest to that - the profits are actually going into the hands of regular people. Chijioke in his stall in Onitsha market is making money because Jumoke bought Nollywood DVDs that were made in Nigeria and is now selling them from her Brooklyn apartment.

Besides complaining, what else can we do?

Further reading:
Why Haiti Matters Part 1, Part 2
Stop Trying to Save Africa


LucidLilith said...

You know...something inside me dies a little when I see this ad or that ad about some charity work in Africa or South America. I especially find it tough to swallow when college kids use charity work to get into college. Some are genuine but most just check it off as one of those things you do to get into a good school or get a good scholarship. Poverty is big business apparently.

chichi said...

It makes me so angry and I launch into a sugabelly-like tirade anytime I get a chance to do so.

But really though, I think the key is picking one thing that can make a positive impact and commit to doing it continuously until change happens, whatever it may be.