News & Events
When Invisible Children's documentary, Kony 2012, about the eponymous Ugandan warlord, went viral on YouTube earlier this month, critics lashed out at the charitable organization for using the video to manipulate facts and depict Africans as powerless, among other things.
Using that controversial video as a jumping off point, BSU guest speaker Dr. Timothy Longman, director of the African Studies Center at Boston University, delivered an informative and often critical lecture on campus about human rights campaigns throughout Africa.
Dr. Longman is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters. He also wrote the book, Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda. His work centers on religion and politics, human rights, ethnic identity and politics, and gender and politics. His talk was one of the keynote addresses featured during Africa Awareness Week 2012.
"Human rights as a discourse is one that often patronizes Africa," Dr. Longman told a crowd in the Moakley Center auditorium. "It exoticizes Africa, it distances us from Africans, it focuses on the issues that are only relevant in Africa, and doesn't talk about the way in which we are connected to these things -- those are all problems."
There are solutions, however. A former director for the Human Rights Watch field office in Rwanda, Dr. Longman focused some of his talk on ways to promote human rights in Africa without degrading its people and its culture, such as first educating westerners about the wars, economics and other issues in the continent.
"Understanding more of the context within Africa, the history of the countries, the history of how Africa fits into the world system, creates a context in which we look at human rights abuses and make sense of them," he said.
Parts of his lecture examined the origins and tactics of international, primarily western-based organizations -- such as Amnesty International (England) and the International Crisis Group (United States) -- that attempt to combat human rights violations in Africa. Issues arise when those organizations employ, as he calls it, a "great white hope" approach to human rights, meaning they attempt to enforce their own ideas of human rights on African countries, where human rights notions may differ.
"We come into Africa and we try to impose a law that reflects our culture in a way that sits uncomfortably with some of the principles of many African cultures," Dr. Longman said. "Critics of human rights often portray it as a new form of imperialism."
African Awareness Week 2012 is sponsored by several BSU departments: African Studies, Anthropology, Middle East Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, Foreign Languages, Music and Dance, and Conference and Event Services. (Rob Matheson, '07, University Advancement)
VIDEO: Dr. Timothy Longman's full lecture.