It is the driver behind the work that we do that can be so imperceptibly lost, and unexpectedly rediscovered in the most unlikely of places.
One such place was at a recent conference, where one of our workshops, entitled “So You Want to ‘Save’ Africa?”, was presented by a pair of well-intentioned facilitators., unaffiliated with but nonetheless inspired by AfricaCanada.org.
A member of our team was present at the workshop. The session itself began well, but quickly changed into a presentation that featured problematic statements, platitudes, and dangerous generalizations surrounding ethical advocacy.
Despite good intentions, the original workshop was distorted to a point where the essential message was overshadowed. However, the unexpected occurred: the importance of speaking out about ‘true’ ethical advocacy was made blatantly apparent.
The motivation for why we do what we do so fervently, was found.
Below is an e-mail that AfricaCanada.org sent to one of the presenters. To respect privacy we have deleted names and slightly changed some details.
It was quite the experience sitting in the audience, hearing and seeing the workshop presented in a very different context. Let me begin by commending you and your co-presenter, once again, on wanting to raise awareness about the (very complicated, and very convoluted) ethics behind international advocacy. I also appreciate that you incorporated an aspect of your own experiences in Togo.
Ethical Advocacy is a field that we at AfricaCanada.org are extremely passionate about, and one in which we are continually learning. Having presented “So You Want To ‘Save’ Africa?” many times, it has grown to be a message that is very important to me, and a message I personally believe in, in the strongest terms. Seeing you and your co-presenter present the workshop, and hearing the responses from the conference delegates, really made this passion apparent to me, and I would like to thank you for that.
I understand the difficulties that time constraints placed on the manner in which the workshop was presented. We’ve had occasions where we’ve had to cut down the workshop by more than half in the past! That being said, there are some issues of integrity, language, accuracy and accountability to be discussed.
What message does it send when:
On one hand: You are trying to convey the fact that Africa is not an homogenous entity, but one with diverse countries, each with their own complex histories, politics, cultures and challenges.
On the other: You do not have one case study in your workshop, and the only glimpse we have of an African country is a few minutes of children singing in Togo? (without a sense of Togo’s context)
On one hand: You are aware of how charity campaigns clearly create an “us” and “them” dichotomy.
On the other: Both presenters continually use terms like “those issues”, “them”, “those people”, and “in Africa”, without a specific level of detail?
On one hand: You want to debunk the myth that only boys are soldiers and girls are often stereotypically reduced to “sex slaves”.
On the other: You present a statistic (Actually, 20% of females are armed combatants in Africa, etc.), without any context. 20% of females where? “In Africa?” What army? In what country? And what conflict? What is the context of that armed conflict? Are you suggesting that there is armed conflict everywhere in Africa?
Time constraints should never be a reason to present oversimplified and potentially misleading information. Especially at a platform as public and important as the conference that we were all fortunate enough to attend. As workshop facilitators, you have a responsibility to present a message that is informative, culturally sensitive, nuanced, balanced and accurate to your audience.
I understand that you wouldn’t dream of presenting misleading statistics intentionally, (irresponsible campaigns do this all the time…that’s why the workshop was created). Many people in the audience perhaps did not notice/were not bothered by this. However, all I am trying to draw your attention to is that something as small as language could cause serious offence to someone seated in your audience who had a fair bit of knowledge about certain aspects of what you are presenting on. None of us are experts, that is why we included a very important disclaimer at the beginning of the workshop.
I would love to continue and deepen our conversation about the workshop, as well as all that we do with AfricaCanada.org. Have a squizz through our website, (and our blog!), to get a feel for who we are. I’d also like a copy of your presentation, as is, and I’ll send you the notes I made about specific aspects. Please do not be discouraged! As I said earlier, I would love it if you continued to spread this very important message wherever you can. Let’s just iron out a few things, learn from each other, and make sure we’re on the same page!
All the best.