Africa for Norway is a great little piece of satire.
It takes the well worn stereotypes of aid in Africa and reverses them. So you have a bunch of good looking, well meaning young people trying to raise awareness of the plight of another country. They do it by making a pop music single and wearing T-shirts. And their solution – donating radiators for the freezing Norwegian winter – sounds sensible on the surface but its effectiveness may be limited.
The video helps us to ask questions about how our aid efforts can be patronising or downright damaging. There have been other attempts to do this as well, to varying degrees of success (see Pimp My Aid Worker, for example.) ‘Africa for Norway’ does a great thing in giving this issue a real profile (14 000 Facebook ‘likes’ and 1.5 million YouTube views!) and doing so in a humorous, accessible way. It’s a brilliant piece of communication.
But let’s not kid ourselves that this is about listening to Africans. After all, this is a western production made by Norwegian group Studentenes og Akademikernes Internasjonale Hjelpefond (SAIH). Now, these guys are on about working with Africans: cooperation is key to their practice (see this interview for more too.) But this video is aimed at westerners: that’s why the satire works! So it’s a western aid group talking to westerners about how to do aid. It might be a more informed discussion than we’ve had in the past, but it’s still a western discussion.
I raise this, not to have a go but to point out the inherent messiness of intercultural work. Arthur and I have felt this keenly as we’ve been doing our visits. One church we went to had several Africans in it (Kenyan, Rwandan, Congolese, even some who’d lived in Tanzania) and yet we were up the front being asked what Tanzania is like! I gulped and made sure I talked about Tanzanians as a people of innovation, intelligence and creativity – but the irony that I had to say it at all was not lost on me (nor the Africans I talked to after the service!)
Good is to have an informed discussion about how to do aid. Better is to include African voices in that discussion. But even the act of saying that is fraught.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.