In The Big Bang Theory season 1, episode 8, Sheldon Cooper’s two PhDs can’t save him from making yet another social blunder:
[Raj] If you don’t want to meddle then why are you meddling?
[Sheldon] If I may, your parents probably don’t consider this meddling: while arranged marriages are no longer the norm, Indian parents continue to have a greater than average involvement in their children’s lives.
[Raj] Why are you telling me about my own culture?
[Sheldon] You seemed confused!
If we’re going to comment on someone else’s culture or country, how do we do it without being ignorant, condescending and foolish? How do we speak in a way that affirms people’s dignity rather than belittling them?
The Kony 2012 campaign is more or less claiming to speak on behalf of Uganda, Ugandan children, and other Africans like people from the DRC and Sudan. Whichever side of the debate about Kony 2012 you’re on, supporter or skeptic, this is a question we must be asking of ourselves.
Ugandan journalists and bloggers have been talking a lot about the campaign as well. However, as media channels around me began to report on the campaign — and the backlash and the backlash-against-the-backlash! — the saddening thing was that Ugandan and African perspectives were pretty much buried.
As Australia’s Eternity newspaper observed at the time, there is a staggering absence of African voices in the Western media. The Kony 2012 campaign itself reflects this — and so does any Western critique that pays no attention to African voices.
We can only speak about Africa by listening to Africa — not so that we become experts on Africa but that in the act of listening we allow the space for Africans to speak. We must ultimately learn about Africa through Africans. Imagine an American speaking authoritatively about Australia’s issues — pretty insulting, right? Especially if they’re claiming the solution for themselves.
Ugandans have said all sorts of things about the Kony 2012 film’s accuracy and the campaign’s usefulness — and you can look it up for yourself with just a keystroke and a mouseclick. They’ve probably got way more Twitter followers than I do!
But the question remains: which voices are we listening to? Why weren’t Ugandans the very first people we asked about Kony 2012? Why did that not even occur to us?
While we’re standing around feeling all sympathetic about Africa, African people are the ones who know their own culture, just like Raj knows his. Maureen Agena writes, “This is the time to have our voices heard. We are tired of having foreigners speak on our behalf. #stopkony my foot!!!”
As Rosebell Kagumire says in the video below, “How you tell the story of Africans is much more important than what the story is…”
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.