Cleaning up beach waste in the form of abandoned rubber flip-flops . . . recycling landfill-able castoffs . . . training low-income men and women in job skills and providing them with living wages in Nairobi . . . creating beautiful art . . . saving fish, dolphins and baby turtles from choking on rubber detritus . . . educating local residents in recycling options . . . so much goodness in one small company!This small effort may not solve the world’s pollution and poverty problems, but it does highlight one local success story.
The Ocean Sole Company that makes sculptures from flip-flops funnels 5% of its profits into its educational foundation. That’s not a huge percent, but it’s something. Its website says: “The Ocean Sole Foundation works with communities, scientists, conservationists, artists, governments, industries and other not-for-profit organisations that are raising awareness and actively involved in marine conservation. We support actions that recycle, reduce and reuse marine and waterway debris.”
Contrast this encouraging account of garbage-to-art with the typical gloom-and-doom story about sub-Saharan Africa that lands in the Western press. If more journalists published reports like this, instead of yet another lament about ebola, civil war, corruption, or AIDS, what might white people’s images be of the land from which their long-ago ancestors came?
I’m not advocating that Africa’s considerable challenges be ignored. But how about a bit more journalistic balance?
Otherwise, there’s always the stereotype-reinforcing strategy that Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainana offers, instructing would-be authors how (not) to write about Africa:
“Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.
Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.”
P.S. Check out the awesome “open letter” recently addressed to the producer of the popular CBS news show, “60 Minutes,” about the unacceptable biases in the show’s (rare) coverage of Africa. Dare we hope this passionately and intelligently argued plea, signed by dozens of prominent scholars and other thoughtful people, might produce some positive changes in the show?