Stop Trying To 'Save' Africa

Added: 08-21-2018

Author and physician Uzodinma Iweala opines about the phenomenon of Western college students, celebrities, and politicians who apparently feel compelled to “ ‘save’ Africa.” He comments on the pervasive imagery of people from the continent being shunted to the background in aid campaigns, movies, and other media. He claims that this stereotyping perpetuates Western impressions of African helplessness, neediness, and inferiority.

westerners viewpoint trade superiority stereotype opinion piece Keep a Child Alive journalism imagery I am African humanitarian equity culture communication media celebrity humanitarianism bias aid organization aid campaign

Type Reading Time Author Date Source
article 4 minutes UZODINMA IWEALA 07-15-2007
Type Reading Time
article 4 minutes
Author Date
uzodinma iweala 2018-08-21 00:00:00 UTC
Key Takeaways

  • Uzodinma Iweala suggests that the trend of idealistic Westerners wanting to be seen as caring about problems in Africa arose in response to guilt engendered by the humanitarian crises in the Middle East. 
  • Iweala is put off by aid campaigns and other media featuring prominent, mostly white, Westerners with African-based aid workers and other positive images from the continent shunted to the background. 
  • In addition, he suggests the majority of Western media focuses on negative news from Africa such as war, poverty, and corruption; but fails to report on the numerous instances of local humanitarian responses. 
  • Rather than having the West “ ‘save’ Africa,” Iweala suggests that it’s time for the world to acknowledge, that with fair trading practices and global partnerships, the continent is “capable of unprecedented growth.”


Suggesting that the humanitarian crises in the Middle East created a feeling of need for redemption in the West, physician and author Uzodinma Iweala writes that ‘saving’ Africa seemed to be the newest fashionable social cause among college students, celebrities, and politicians. While feeling that the campaigns, whose ads often feature “celebrities pictured in the foreground, forlorn Africans in the back,” are well intentioned and humanitarian aid is welcomed, they promote stereotypical impressions of the continent. He suggests that the imagery recalls colonial zeal to educate and “civilize” Africa, wondering if the charity is genuine or just an expression of Western “cultural superiority.” 

Uzodinma continues to point out the general Western media bias toward affirming events from its own point of view, and overlooking the contributions of Africans to their own progress. Conversely, stories of war, corruption, famine, disease, and other problems on the continent continue to make it into the Western press. 

Not only, Uzodinma further claims, are Africans relegated to the background in aid campaigns like “Keep a Child Alive” and "I am African,” but also in Western news stories about situations on the continent. Uzodinma points out that African-based humanitarian efforts are ignored in favor of small contributions by Western individuals; Africans’ involvement in their own struggles for independence are likewise dismissed by the Western press. In the wake of when “the Group of Eight industrialized nations and a host of celebrities met in Germany to discuss, among other things, how to save Africa,” Uzodinma hopes that “people will realize Africa doesn't want to be saved.” He suggests that it’s time for the world to acknowledge, that with fair trading practices and global partnerships, the continent is “capable of unprecedented growth.”  


Author and physician Uzodinma Iweala: 

From UC Berkeley, Center for African Studies, “Media Makers” page: