When the KONY 2012 video went viral, the casual internet goer raged about the injustice in Africa. Instantly, you became an activist. You fell victim to the propaganda, dramatic music, and the swift editing. All the while, you failed to do the one thing that actually changes the world: think for yourself. You began to ask questions like “How can they use children as soldiers?!” Congratulations, you’ve officially broken out of your “America is the only country in the world” bubble. The problem is, these movements never have any weight, because they don’t have any plans to achieve the aforementioned goal(s).
Unfortunately, human rights violations have been going on well before Joseph Kony became an internet sensation. Even worse, the pro-American military intervention slant the video calls for isn’t the answer. The issues in Africa run far deeper than one man, and if Kony is removed, another man exactly like him takes his place, ad infinitum. Removing Kony is merely taking away a man, not the edifice upon which men like Kony are allowed to thrive.
However, we can’t allow apathy to transform into inaction. The real world has pain and suffering, and when confronted with these issues, ours typically seem menial and frivolous in contrast to the horrors of poverty ridden foreign countries. When I talk poverty, I’m not saying “his TV isn’t even HD!” I’m saying “hey where I can get some water that isn’t tainted with cholera?” At the very least, we’ll realize that there are a lot of great people on the ground level doing extraordinary things in Africa.
Warning: Nearly all of the following documentaries contain footage that may be disturbing or unsettling to viewers.
In order to lay the proper groundwork for anyone unfamiliar with this situation, I recommend watching Darfur Now first, then The Devil Came on Horseback right after. Darfur Now examines the systematic genocide and widespread crimes against humanity happening in Darfur, Sudan in an easy to grasp manner for someone coming in with absolutely zero knowledge. Celeb appearances by Don Cheadle, George Clooney, and Arnold Schwarzenegger make it easier to digest.
Once you’ve become aware, then we go deeper into The Devil Came on Horseback, featuring former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle, as he witnesses the atrocities first hand as a monitor with the African Union in Darfur. The footage is captured by his personal cameras when stationed, with the difference here being that he had full access to the area and could go into places where journalists weren’t allowed. It’s a rough, gritty documentary, featuring the footage Darfur doesn’t want you to see.
The Situation in Uganda
War Dance covers the war torn African country of Uganda, where children are routinely abducted to serve as soldiers in guerrilla armies. Here, some citizens find solace in dance, and in the competition of the country’s national dance festival. The film deals with the hard messages and doesn’t shy away from the reality, but is more uplifting than your typical piece. War Dance is everything I love about documentaries, showing hope for the future, and the resilience of the human spirit to survive in the most inhumane conditions.
I Am, Because We Are follows the African country of Malawi, home to more than 1 million displaced orphans due to their parents dying because of the AIDS pandemic. There are men and women literally dying before your eyes, taking on a tone that can be described as both moving and horrifying. This is the most celebrity heavy piece, but the point is still valid. The documentary was written and narrated by Madonna, and is available to view completely free in YouTube’s screening room here.
The Lazarus Effect is a documentary released by HBO about AIDS clinics in the country of Zambia, where one out of every seven people is HIV-positive. It centers around the antiretroviral medicine that not only allows those with AIDS to live normal lives, but carries the measly price tag of 40 cents a day. There are no talking heads in the film or celebrities to give it credibility, merely the African people affected by AIDS speaking for themselves. It is brief, but riveting. You can also watch this one for free on YouTube through the Join Red foundation here.
Liberia and The Republic of the Congo.
Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders, follows a group of doctors operating in the war-zones of Liberia and the Republic of the Congo, as they struggle to provide emergency medical care under extreme conditions. These men and women are the ultimate bad asses of medicine. If Dr. House went to Africa to save lives, he’d be in this documentary. This is arguably the most emotionally raw of the documentaries, showcasing the devastating mental effects of working under these conditions, and by far the most graphic. Yet, it’s motivational to watch these men and women sacrifice and risk their lives, when they could have an easy and comfortable life practicing medicine in their homelands. Make sure to check out their foundation, Médecins Sans Frontières.
My hope is that we come to the realization that the problems in Africa go far beyond a 30 minute propaganda video that serves to promote U.S. angst and military aggression. What we need to understand is that most of these countries are looking for help and aid, not a handout. They don’t want an American occupation or foreign invasion, because another war is the last thing they need. The people of Africa want to be able to build their own communities and become self-sustainable, so they can govern without foreign intervention.
These aren’t the only documentaries on the struggles of Africa, but they’re the only ones I’ve watched. Do you have any recommendations that aren’t on this list?