Olivia Alaso and Kelsey Nielsen of the online campaign group No White Saviors (NWS), speak to AidEx about their mission to raise awareness amongst westerners about how to help developing communities without patronising and exploiting them.
Please introduce yourself and explain what led you to establish No White Saviors
The two of us work together in Uganda whilst the rest of the team is spread across South Africa, Finland, the U.S. and Canada.
Alongside Sharon, we were the first to really discuss creating a space for discussing such topics online, starting with a Facebook group and and Instagram account. The Instagram has had a much further reach in such a short amount of time.
The three of us have known each other for years, as we are from Jinja and/or have lived there for a significant period. There is a great deal of white saviourism in this Ugandan town. That was certainly a significant source of inspiration for creating NWS.
What is your experience of white saviourism and its consequences?
We all have very similar but also unique experiences with the white saviour complex. For Sharon and Olivia, they grew up in the Jinja, Uganda running or working for NGOs. The inherent trust of white or foreign nationals doing work here and the subsequent distrust of Ugandan nationals is deeply problematic.
Whilst the heart of this problem and roots of this divide are born in white colonialism, do you think with growing diversity the issue now extends beyond just colour and is a wider western problem as opposed to solely white problem?
I want to stop you there with this question, because we see this happen often. The answer is yes, of course it is an issue that spans far wider than just white folks exploiting Black and Brown people. We must stop this gaslighting tactic when racialised oppression and white supremacy is brought up.
There certainly are other factors besides colour and racialised identity but we need to talk about the privileges, protections and entitlement one experiences based on phenotypic presentation.
Or do you maintain that this is an exclusively white and black issue?
No, it is an issue of power, control and privilege. White supremacy and racism are systemic and institutionalised. This is something you can read up on and we are happy to suggest some reading material - books, articles and the like that can help break this down for you and your readers.
When celebrity ambassadors have the power to speak out to huge audiences and encourage them to engage and donate to causes in need, should charities refuse their help?
This is not what we say, but we understand how and why people perceive it this way. Many of us are not used to these things being questioned. For a long time, good intentions were automatically good enough. The more people have been able to study and understand the impact and connect with each other across the globe, we have learnt this is as a very international problem.
This comes back to power and privilege dynamics; there is this concept of “being a voice for the voiceless” that gets thrown around quite often, but we believe the narrative will really start to change when you pass the mic instead.
This means collaborating with African nationals who are educated in the area you want to bring awareness in and allowing them to share your platform and your space. The emphasis needs not be on what you are doing, but how you are learning and the fact that you are being invited into communities that are not your own. That should be handled with more responsibility and care than it has been.
How do you believe westerners can truly help good causes in developing countries without perpetuating harm?
Collaboration. African nationals need to be leading the work and your place/role should be earned rather than assumed. We need to understand our role in perpetuating the idea that “west knows best” or that western/white people are inherently more intelligent, morally good or capable. There needs to be an ongoing work to deconstruct and decolonise the way that these beliefs have been solidified in our psyches over time.
What has been your most controversial post and why?
This is a good one and sparked a lot of interesting discourse around power dynamics within consent conversations - which is exactly why we exist:
See the full post on Instagram here.
The way we define positive and what images should be used is where the discussion needs to begin.
What we deem positive may not mean the same to someone else - and that is what happens when we (white/foreign nationals) are the gatekeepers of stories and advocacy in countries like Uganda.
‘Positive’ would be relative to that person and that community having the agency to communicate how they want their story being told. When we talk about informed consent, it’s much more nuanced and complex when we get into power dynamics.
With well over 100,000 followers on Instagram, NWS are stimulating controversial and crucial debate on the topic of white saviourism amongst a rapidly growing audience across the African continent and beyond. In an ever-increasingly connected world, it is only a matter of time before the cry for post-colonial power dynamics to shift in favour of local self-empowerment is listened to.