Missionaries: The Savior Complex
The Western Concept of “Saving” Africa
PhotoCred: Random Girl on Instagram
Upon moving to America years ago, I couldn’t help but notice contradictions in the “Missionary” work narrative. My deeper recognition of these began in college at BIOLA University, a very dominantly white Christian institution. Every semester there are teams of people going to different African countries to “save lives”. My observation with them, and everyone else on media, are the traditional pictures they return with showing children who appear in need of something; whether clothes, food or shelter. This has always bothered me, because there’s so much more to our countries than just that. They all seem to appear as charitable, loving human beings void of racial bias, but only in Africa. And it’s nothing more than a bucket list item they need checked off. So my journey to understanding why white westerners have a desire to be saviors in the African story began.
As a Nigerian who moved to the United States, I was expecting to be received by white America with open arms; just like we’ve welcomed them with hospitality for many years.
My story began in boarding school which I attended in Northern Nigeria; we welcomed missionaries from western countries every year. If Facebook or Instagram existed back then, you’d probably see me next to someone in a post titled, “In Africa helping the poor and starving kids”. But there’s a couple problems with that narrative, let me explain.
- Short term “missionaries” primarily visit areas that have some western attachment. Meaning, that’s either how they raise their money by exploiting these visits to show the “good work” they’re doing in exchange for non-profit fundraisers and church donations back in their home countries, and they use these trips as first hand testimonies of “what God is doing in Africa”. Or, these schools, orphanages and churches they visit hold some sort of hidden political or domestic power which their local hosts understand well enough to exploit, for the sake of building those hidden political relationships.
- In some cases, these schools are home to some of Africa’s elite. In a lot of countries, such as Nigeria, it is normal to attend boarding school at a very young age. I started at 6 years old, and a lot of fellow students were kids to some of the country’s most powerful and elite. So why do they look poor?
While in boarding school, you are never at your “best”. We all wore the same uniforms, every single day. And as you’d expect with any normal wear and tear, most kids appear tacky and “in need of clothes”, especially given the long periods of time we actually lived on campus. Each day after classes, you would find most of the boys playing football (soccer) anywhere we could (grass or dirt), and with anything that was shaped like a ball. It was normal to play bare feet or in shoes, which were often run down due to how often they were used. To this day, I still prefer playing barefooted, not because I can’t afford a pair, but because I’m reminded of my childhood.
So excuse me for not getting the memo that you (missionaries) were coming with cameras prepared to take pics with “poor African kids”, I didn’t have time to freshen up. But again, that’s what you wanted to see, so it looks believable when you go back to show your church and friends how many lives were “saved” thanks to the work you’ve done for poor Africa.
Needless to say, some of the culture shock I received moving to the States had to do with the contradiction in your acts of kindness and good works. It still makes no sense to me that you would buy a pricey plane ticket to fly thousands of miles to “save” black people, yet treat us like shit in your country.
Why are Africans still ignorant of this? Africans only experience the “good works” of western visitors, yet are never exposed to the racism, slavery and oppression experienced in these western countries towards their own people simply because of their darker skin color.
As someone who’s experienced both sides of the coin, it’s the perfect example of a “divide and conquer” strategy. Due to the stories that have been told for hundreds of years to the African slaves in the west about their home land; Why would anyone leave something so good (slavery) to go back to the “jungles of Africa”? And with Africans experiencing only the generosity of white westerners, why would they assume any bad from them?
I’ve come to realize the hidden agenda behind mission work; It’s good PR, looks good on camera, on paper, and in bank accounts! Non-profits, fundraising and donations are big business. Not just on a small church or college level, but on the international political playing field. Countries like America depend on these for foreign trade relations. While it may appear that these visits and donations are simply of the heart, the harsh truth is the western world NEEDS our natural resources (ex. Libya). And what better way to ensure good international trading relationships than one built on presumed dependency for aid.
So please, stop “saving” us. We have been on this earth far longer than any other known human society or race, and we’ve brought us this far. We can save ourselves.
- Shalom | The Black Jew
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Shalom Bako; born & raised in Nigeria. I’m passionate about business (especially Afri-Tech), marketing, and the journey to success. I’d love to hear from you! For speaking engagements at an event or podcast, email me.