If you are not Weird Al Yankovic, you are not allowed to make parody music videos. If you are white, temporarily living and “working” in Uganda, you are not allowed to make parody music videos. If Beyonce had the greatest music video of all time (according to Kanye), then the video made by a bunch of female missionaries from Luket Ministries is possibly the worst music video of all time. It is a hot mess of cultural appropriation, neo-colonialism, racism, hypocrisy and privilege.
Teddy Ruge, among other accolades a co-creator of JadedAid, wrote a public video response on Facebook. He attacked it as indicative of voluntourism more generally, and hoped that the industry and people would realise that they are the problem. However, given the number of think-pieces and critiques of voluntourism, this is unlikely to happen any time soon.
Tobias Denskus, of Aidnography, captured some telling screenshots from Facebook and Instagram. In particular, responses from the founder of Luket Ministries, Natasha Perryman, who believed the video “pleased God” and that it came “in a dream from God”. Tobias said that this video shows how contemporary missionary work is embedded in digital mediatisation efforts. Yet, in this case, representatives of Luket are unwilling to use technology or social media to engage in critical dialogue about their programs in Uganda. Perryman responded brashly and dismissively to a number of comments posted on Facebook.
I don’t think these critiques goes far enough. This video is representative of everything wrong with global development. The missionaries are not the only ones complicit in denigrating motifs within programs and of communities. They are just soft targets. The U.N selected Wonder Woman, a fictional female comic book character from the 1940s, to be a global mascot for women’s empowerment #MakeTheUNGreatAgain. That faith motivation is somehow inherently different from secular motivation is untenable. I felt complicit in watching the video. I’ve worked and lived in Ghana. I wasn’t motivated by faith or God, but my motivation was not altogether altruistic either. I didn’t make parody videos or update Instagram with black children as background props (I couldn’t. I didn’t have a smartphone in 2011). Although I was self-aware of my privilege, colour and status, the opportunity was significant for my professional development and career. I didn’t ridicule Dagomba culture, but it was seductive in its foreign-ness and familiarity. I was able to move freely, both within Ghana and out of Ghana. I had an Australian passport, a couple of university degrees and a good job.
The distance between me and “them” was not measured in metres or feet. I was able to go from house parties on the weekend to Monday monitoring field trips of education interventions and travel only 20 minutes. I tried to reduce the distance through social football on Sundays, language learning and designing participatory and child-centred approaches to monitoring and evaluation. I wore a smock to work on Fridays with intentional seriousness and hyperbolic reverence. But, a distance always remained. It was always there and will continue to remain as long as I retain power and knowledge.
The global development project, and our participation, acts to reduce individuals and communities to props, outputs and indicators. The video of Dancing Missionaries is just a manifestation of reduction. What is perhaps needed is a decolonisation of development studies; of programs and degrees that are preparing the next generation of humanitarian and development professionals. Jonathan Langdon wrote (pay-walled) of putting this into action through pedagogical change:
“…Part of this decolonising praxis means reframing the way we teach to destabilise the Eurocentric foundations of development through accounts from alternative historical and contemporary worldviews. Part of this praxis means destabilising monolithic power structures such as teaching oligarchies, by democratising the classroom through opening it up to those who can speak personally of the impact of current/past colonialisms”.
Featured image from Wikimedia Commons. Copy of original painting by Robert Smirk commissioned by the Directors of the London Missionary Society in 1798 to commemorate the grant of land to build a mission in Tahiti which occurred in March 16, 1797.
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