I’ve never heard of Germans running NGOs in [the United States of] America to try and fix the economy or Swedish NGOs in America trying to fix the declining standard of living. Africa is our problem, we hereby respectfully request you let us handle our own matters. We will make mistakes here and there, sure. That is expected. But the trade-off of writing our own destiny far outweighs the self-assigned guilt the world assigned to us. If you really want to help, keep the guilt and charity in your backyard. Bring instead, respect, and the humility to let us determine our destiny.
TMS Ruge, “A Peace of my mind: Respect my agency 2012!”
I haven’t spent a whole lot of time researching this recent Kony stuff (I was aware of who he is, and so I was puzzled that all of a sudden people were talking about him), partly because I resent when the internet collectively tells me that it thinks I need to form an opinion about something. But I came across this article, and the quote above is just wonderful.
I don’t have a long list of definitive, deal-breaker political beliefs, but near the very top would be autonomy. I think autonomy is the answer to most questions of a political nature. (Though I also do strongly value community and think we have a responsibility to each other that we cannot disavow, though this is more a belief in opposition to extreme individualism than autonomy, which I think is perfectly capable of sitting alongside the valuing of community.) And actually, autonomy is one reason I don’t have that many opinions on a lot of political matters: in the end, I really do believe that it’s not my place to have opinions about a lot of things, and I’m willing to defer, more often than not, to the people most affected by these issues. In fact, I think it’s kind of obscene to have an opinion on everything.
I should also note that I’ve been to Africa (South Africa, to be exact, where I spent the summer before senior year of undergrad). It was a moving experience, no doubt, but I do feel alienated from any of my peers from that trip who developed the urge to go back and somehow “fix” Africa’s problems. Almost nothing defines my own political perspective as much as my opposition to this attitude. And I’d like to hear what those people would have to say after hearing the thoughts of someone like the person I quoted above. Would they have the humility to respectfully stay out of Africa’s affairs if they heard that?
In fact, I think the only thing that can bridge the gap and allow one person to become involved in the affairs of another is precisely the idea of community. It’s one reason why, for example, Marxism developed with a strongly internationalist attitude. Many Marxists envisioned their community as extending beyond their own identity group (whether in terms of nationality, ethnicity, gender, etc.), and so there was often solidarity between people whose lives, on the ground, did not really seem all that similar.
But the catch with community, I think, is that it entails responsibility. If some young, white college student wants to have a say in the affairs of African peoples, he’d have to become part of that community first, and to do so would require that he accepts responsibility for them (and they for him, as it goes both ways). Capitalism makes it difficult to do that, because as much as I can say that I will do certain things to help people in other, less economically developed countries, I already participate in a system, both economic (global capitalism) and political (American hegemony), that has already harmed Africans, among others, and continues to oppress them by virtue of its existence and perpetuation. You can’t just keep participating in that monster and then also expect to be welcomed into a community oppressed by it. And if it is possible to transcend one’s participation in capitalism, it certainly takes a lot more effort than what 99% of these people think.
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- emissions said: You bring up a very nuanced take on this issue! What’s dismaying is most people still ignore the mechanics of aid after decades of bad results. Chris Blattman was skeptical of this organization 3 yrs ago: chrisblattman.com/2009/03/04/visible-children
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