By Professor Jan Nederveen Pieterse
Last updated 2011-02-17
This photograph, published in 'Time' in 1993, was captioned: 'A million southern Sudanese face starvation ... a child falters en route to a feeding center while a vulture hovers.'
A Ghanaian journalist commented: 'Who has ever heard of fundraising for cancer victims by showing cancer patients dying? Yet, time and again, fundraising campaigns for relief in Africa show people starving, down to the flies in their eyes.'
Child appeal and victim images are clichés of fundraising adopted by organisations from Oxfam to the Leprosy Foundation and are well entrenched in the media. Disaster, famine, ethnic strife and war dominate Western media images of Africa, creating an overall image of danger, ill-fate and apathy.
These images show Africa in a condition of utter destitution, and arguably serve to instil a sense of superiority in Western societies. Rather than producing human solidarity, the images tend to foster estrangement. Images of Africa that are lucrative from the viewpoint of relief organisations may stand in the way of solidarity and empowerment, channel it in a one-sided direction or promote reverse empowerment - the empowerment of the West. In recent years, several aid organisations have adopted the principle that their campaigns should not come at the expense of the dignity of their intended beneficiaries.
The irony is that while in the West, Africa is often regarded as a development basket case, in Asian countries, where such images have been less prevalent, Africa is often viewed as the next major frontier of business opportunities and Asians are now the leading investors in Africa.
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