In my AP Human Geography class, we welcomed guest speaker Dariusz Dziewanski ’97, a consultant in international development and alumnus of SMUS. Dariusz took control of our lesson and drove a group discussion about perceptions of Africa, or how we as a western culture see Africa. We started off by sharing our own definitions of the term “international development.” After a minute of awkward silence, we started to gain confidence and share our definitions, which ranged from simply “improvement” to a complex “each country in the world becoming up to date with the latest technologies, infrastructure etc. to ultimately attain a high standard of living.”
“It is amazing how much the media influences us, and specifically our perceptions of Africa.”
With the foundation of development laid, our conversation moved on to our own perceptions of Africa. I was particularly interested to hear how my classmates see Africa, having been born and raised in South Africa. The words we placed on the board to describe Africa were quite negative; corruption, poverty and primitive were a few. Yet, sadly, all the words we used to describe Africa are true in some way or another. We focused on the example of Joseph Kony and the atrocities he and the rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), have inflicted upon Uganda. We looked at the case study from the point of view of the organization Invisible Children, famous for its Kony 2012 campaign. In a condensed version of the famous Kony 2012 video, we saw Uganda portrayed as a helpless, war-torn country in need of U.S. assistance. However, a response video by a Ugandan blogger showed us that the situation in Uganda was simplified and incorrectly portrayed by the movie.
The blogger raised some interesting points as she argued that the U.S. simply intervening and arresting Kony would not solve Uganda’s problems. Furthermore, there are many successful local initiations in Uganda already focused on post-conflict recovery, as Kony is no longer in Uganda. Ultimately, by watching the videos and through group discussion, I took three things away from the discussion.
First, it is amazing how much the media influences us, and specifically our perceptions of Africa. By educating ourselves, we can become aware of what is really happening in the world around us and can make educated decisions on how to change it. Secondly, in order for development to occur in any place, locals must be empowered for any significant change to occur. Despite what the media tells us, local initiatives are happening in African countries to erase poverty and corruption. And lastly, we came up with a new, positive word to describe Africa: resilient.