‘It’s just as bad as poverty’ – Africa for Norway spreads the warmth

“People don’t ignore starving people so why should we ignore cold people? Frostbite kills too.”

Excerpt from the official campaign Christmas video

Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway” video and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?

Take a look.

A new campaign called RADI-AID (think of LIVE AID with radiators) otherwise known as Africa for Norway is concerned with this very issue.

Typically the question would be the other way around for us Europeans. If I said Africa, what would you think? Hunger, poverty, crime or AIDS? That’s no surprise, considering that it’s through fundraising campaigns and the mainstream media that we tend to hear about Africa and Africans in this way.

RADI-AID explain the core reasons behind why they produced the video:

“The pictures we usually see in fundraisers are of poor African children. Hunger and poverty is ugly, and it calls for action. But while these images can engage people in the short term, we are concerned that many people simply give up because it seems like nothing is getting better. Africa should not just be something that people either give to, or give up on.

The truth is that there are many positive developments in African countries, and we want these to become known. We need to change the simplistic explanations of problems in Africa. We need to educate ourselves on the complex issues and get more focus on how western countries have a negative impact on Africa’s development. If we want to address the problems the world is facing we need to do it based on knowledge and respect.”

This is something that this blog has brought up time and again over the past year. Some examples of this include challenging ‘poverty porn’ in The Times of Malta, how to write about Africa, distorting the aid debate on RTE radio plus eleven viewpoints on Africa’s image.

So what is to be done?

The campaign unveils 4 points to consider when thinking about Africa and Africans:

  1. Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.
    Most of us just get tired if all we see is sad pictures of what is happening in the world, instead of real changes.
  2. We want better information about what is going on in the world, in schools, in TV and media.
    We want to see more nuances. We want to know about positive developments in Africa and developing countries, not only about crises, poverty and AIDS. We need more attention on how western countries have a negative impact on developing countries.
  3. Media: Show respect.
    Media should become more ethical in their reporting. Would you print a photo of a starving white baby without permission? The same rules must apply when journalists are covering the rest of the world as it does when they are in their home country.
  4. Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.
    Aid is just one part of a bigger picture; we must have cooperation and investments, and change other structures that hold back development in poorer countries. Aid is not the only answer.

It will be interesting to see how NGOs and the media in Ireland respond to the Africa for Norway campaign, considering the long-established charitable and advocacy presence it has had on the continent over many decades. The Dóchas code of conduct on images and messages has been an important development: more than 70 Irish charities and community groups having signed up the code since it was launched in 2007. Could a viral video work in Ireland? Where’s the Africa for Ireland video?

These are just some of the tools that any of us can use when assessing images of Africa, and will be something we return to again at developmenteducation.ie

In the meantime, Hollywood is not immune from this either. We’re talking to you – shirtless Matthew McConaughey!