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Teju Cole on Kony 2012 and the White Savior Industrial Complex

Two weeks ago, novelist Teju Cole tweeted a series of responses to the now ubiquitous Kony2012 video, writing that “the white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening,” and “the world exists simply to satisfy the needs — including, importantly, the sentimental needs — of white people and Oprah,” and warning against responding to injustice with that kind of sentimentality. The tweets sparked a great deal of controversy around the web, and today at The Atlantic, Cole expands on his original points with an eloquent and refreshing discussion of the way Americans can and should relate to strife in other countries, particularly in Africa.

“I disagree with the approach taken by Invisible Children in particular,” Cole writes, “and by the White Savior Industrial Complex in general, because there is much more to doing good work than ‘making a difference.’ There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them… Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda and he is no longer the threat he was, but he is a convenient villain for those who need a convenient villain. What Africa needs more pressingly than Kony’s indictment is more equitable civil society, more robust democracy, and a fairer system of justice. This is the scaffolding from which infrastructure, security, healthcare, and education can be built.” 

For those who want to make a difference in Africa, Cole suggests starting a little closer to home, using their voting power to influence an American foreign policy that puts oil before anything else. We suggest reading the full article over at The Atlantic, and let us know what you think about the complex issue in the comments below.

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