The news from Africa just this morning mentions witch lynchings, the stoning of a rapist and murderer, militant attacks on oil reserves, an ex-president on trial for corruption, elections following the assassination of a president, amputations, genocide, the rising number of people facing food insecurity…the gloom and doom is incessant and pervasive.
In the face of such a mountain of violence, injustice, corruption, death and poverty, it is no wonder that Western countries feel aid exhaustion, indifference coming on the heels of countless failed attempts to solve the myriad problems by throwing money at them and expecting immediate success. There just seems to be no way to crawl up the slippery slope of poverty and political and economic marginalization in the face of seemingly innumerable obstacles…That is, if Western countries insist on going it alone.
It just stands to reason that Africans know best about what they need and want. Lawmakers in the US are and will always be too distant from the realities of Africa, its challenges, and most especially, its charms. While life for many Africans is not ideal, and countries with influence and money have a responsibility to engage with Africans to help improve their situations, ‘African life’ is not always the tragic and shocking saga that the media portrays. Without taking away from the severity of those hot spots of violence and the numbing poverty in so many families, an important antidote to accumulated indifference is the exposure to what is potentially good and admirable in Africa; where there is already light, there can never be complete darkness.
Africans know of the intimate intricacies of what is both good and bad in their world; Americans make the Hollywood mistake of painting the picture with broad strokes of blood and poverty. There are two sides to the continent, and focusing only on the tragic can serve to dehumanize and generalize African people. The tricky balance of weighing what must be fixed with what is already working can temper the headlong advancement of the West into exhaustion while maintaining what is truly African about the continent.
Binta and the Great Idea is a Spanish-Senegalese short film nominated for an Oscar in 2007. It is the cinematic manifestation of what is good in the African reality, the antidote to the Blood Diamonds and Hotel Rwandas of this world. There is a time and a place for the darker side of reality, as there is for the lighter side of African life. It challenges the Western viewer to reevaluate not only how Africa is perceived off the continent, but how Africans perceive themselves. Momentarily shelving the humanitarian, it is a brilliant glimpse into the human.