Aggrey Nshekanabo has been a good friend to Mile 91 over the years. Ben first met him more than ten years ago when he was on a photoshoot for Send a Cow, and they have stayed good friends. Over the years Aggrey has helped Mile 91 and our clients coordinate logistics during visits, and travelled to the UK bearing tasty gifts of Uganda gin for Catherine! In light of the controversy following Stacey Dooley’s trip to Uganda earlier this year, for Africa day 2019 we asked Aggrey to share his thoughts on how the African story is told.
“So, how do you tell the African story of strife, struggle, ill-health, disaster, disease without being seen to be playing the ‘poverty porn’ script? It is a tough call. You want to remain as sensitive as possible without trying to be intrusive, and yet, without breaking the inhibitions of our modern sensibilities, you will miss the story. In the last 10 years, I have worked with several storytellers and photographers who are assigned to capture and tell the African story of struggle in all its facets. It is a tough job. Yet the story must be told.
I have seen some photo advisories that say, ‘do not photograph naked children.’ But as children, if we wanted to play we would remove our clothes so that we do not soil them. They would be the same shirts and shorts we would put on tomorrow so you would be a foolish kid to play with your clothes on.
I have also seen advisories that say: ‘do not take photos of people in brand materials’ Do you know the amount of European brand presence, especially of a sporty nature, that has penetrated Africa in the last 20 years? Somebody’s Sunday best is a European football club’s jersey! And when we meet a Mzungu (white person), we want to identify with them by being dressed in something they are familiar with.
How would you want one to tell the story of lack of medicines? Gaping holes in the tinned roof? Leaking grass-thatch that means when it rains the family must huddle in some corner? How do you want to tell a story of people suffering physical and mental ill-health caused by burrowing fleas that live in mud floors? Mud floors that still exist because funding for cement was diverted by the government. How do you want one to tell the story of rotting mangoes, when a few years ago farmers were encouraged to plant the trees for a juice factory that never came?
My advice to the storytellers has been to tell it as you see it and as you have been told by the people themselves but desist from embellishments.
Tell it as simply as it can be. And I tell them: ‘use your eyes and be mindful of speech inflections that reveal the untold story’. The story is in the unsaid. You cannot get the African story straight away. Sometimes, what you see is not what it is. The African story is hidden. And everyone tries to hide it. There is a conspiracy to hide the African story of struggle. And so, you will find people who have not been to Africa wanting to define how the African story must be told. The African story is different: it is jolting, it is painful, it is lonely, it is loud. One wonders how the people behind these stories live to live another day.
But let us not forget that the Western media triumphs in embellishments of the predicament that the African finds herself in. Let us also not forget that European charities have thrived on the predicament of the African story. They think in order to milk their donors, they must embellish the predicament using all sorts of superlatives to ensure that they receive the much needed donations.
But charities should not fear to tell the African story as it is, because without efforts of some of the well-intentioned charities the African poor would be a lost soul. I have travelled on European trains and had the chance to hear a voice tell commuters to mind the gap. That voice was as a result of accidents and deaths. Some charities are that voice between death and life for the African.
I also advise the storytellers that amidst the chaos, disease, mis-education, maladministration and struggles, there is also the beautiful that should not be lost.
I have had chance to travel to Europe and I have met the unhappiest children. Travel to Africa and we are not short of joys and all things that make us happy amidst the chaos – we share, we laugh, we dance, we sing, we praise, we thank and we triumph. All we need is a little hand up and we shall flourish beyond measure.
The world thinks the African is lazy and so does not need a helping hand. As there is a lazy European, so there is a lazy African. As there is that ingenious European, so there is that ingenious African. The difference is the European genius has an ‘enabling environment’ to flourish, which is a luxury to the African.”
Our sincere thanks to Aggrey for taking the time to share his thoughts for Africa Day.
If you find yourself in Uganda and in need of a safari guide be sure to look Aggrey up at Kyambura Safaris.
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