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November 29, 2012

Video Pokes Fun at African Aid

by Anita Powell

A new spoof video pokes fun at charity ad campaigns about Africa and challenges Africans to send their radiators to freezing Norway. The video’s creator says embedded in the joke is a serious message: stop treating Africans like passive recipients of aid, and recognize that the continent is more than the sum of its problems.

Growing up in Norway, Erik Schreiner Evans’ childhood was marked by snow. In fact, he says, snow has fallen on his family for generations, in a tireless and vicious cycle. Each year, snow would descend, forcing his family to don sweaters, thermal underwear and boots.

They were powerless to stop it, as the lyrics of the Africa For Norway's jingle point out:

“In Norway kids are freezing/
It’s time for us to care/
There’s heat enough for Norway/
If Africans would share/
Yet Africans keep thinking we can’t contribute/
The warmth we’ve got we’d like to share/
But we can’t distribute … yeah/
Now the tables have turned/
Now it’s Africa for Norway/
And there’s no way we can close our eyes ….”


If this were all you knew about Evans, you might feel sorry for him. But Norwegians have some of the world’s highest average income levels. Evans owns more than one sweater. He says he has contracted frostbite, but Norway also has one of the world’s best health care systems.

 A small country, Norway is also among the top 10 international aid donors to Africa, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But imagine, he says, if all you knew about his Scandinavian country was that it was freezing. He says that one-dimensional view is how aid campaigns tend to portray Africa.

That is the point of the spoof aid video, called Africa for Norway, created by the group he leads, the Norwegian Students and Academics International Assistance Fund. The Fund supports local groups in southern Africa and Latin America with higher education, research and other projects.

The jingle evokes the 1984 Band Aid smash hit, "Do They Know It's Christmas?", which raised funds for the Ethiopian famine. The video featured stars like Bono, Sting, Simon Le Bon, George Michael and Boy George at the height of their fame - interspersed with images of starving children.

Similarly, the Africa for Norway video shows caring African singers belting their hearts out - spliced with chilling pictures of snow and gusts of howling Norwegian wind. Evans says the similarity is deliberate.

"The reason that we did it this way is to sort of turn the stereotypical image upside down. Because way too often we see charitable fundraisers that, they show real problems, but they portray especially Africans as passive recipients of aid in need of the charity of countries in Europe like Norway. And, the subtle message is also that we, the Europeans, are the developed ones, the successful ones, and the ones able to share of our bounties, and are really the only sort of, real protagonists, in this story," says Evans.

Africa For Norway Video


But Africa has a growing group of protagonists.

Amon Maseko runs a charity called the Upbeat Youth Center in South Africa. His center gives job and skills training to young South Africans.

He says Africa has problems, but discounting Africans’ intelligence and capabilities is dangerous. He also says he is seeing a rise in young entrepreneurs like himself who are starting their own charitable initiatives.

"A new generation of youth who, you know, are growing up now, I think they are realizing to say, 'look, the only thing that we can do is start with helping ourselves.' And, I see a lot of initiatives, a lot of youth now who are changing their whole [view], you know, people who say, ‘Africa is all about receiving and stuff,' " he says.

Evans says please do not send your radiator to Norway. The nation’s approximately five million people have enough.

But, thanks to the Africa for Norway video, we can all be glad that there will not be snow in Africa this Christmastime. After all, it is the middle of the Summer here in sunny Johannesburg.