Yesterday there seemed to be no shortage of stories about the six Québec humanitarians who were killed in an attack in Burkina Faso. They were victims of an attack on Sunday where they died along with nearly thirty others. Listening to the reactions of residents of Beauport and Québec was difficult. The loss clearly shook so many people. However, the grief is situated, as it always seems to be, in a political context that fails to recognise why these acts are absolutely not ''senseless''.
Western narratives about Africa are intrinsically harmful. Not the least of which being that so few understand the rich cultural, economic, and political diversity that exists across the continent. This is compounded by the ravages of colonialism between the 1870s and the 1970s and various forms of economic and cultural imperialism that have since taken the place of formal colonial structures.
Africa, in general, is presented as a monolithic place of poverty, corruption, and helplessness. In the rare moments when Africa is even considered in the west, these narratives play out incessantly. In the past year alone we've seen the ebola crisis, electoral corruption in Zimbabwe, the use of child labour in the DRC, and the rise of Islamic terrorism. All these various issues reinforce the image of Africa as a place of problems, and one that is incapable of escaping this reality on its own.
It is, sadly, with this western narrative that so many Canadians go to Africa to help. It's well-intentioned and often makes a great impact. But what is routinely forgotten is that, in many ways, it is non-Africans who are deciding both how and when to address problems for locals. It is almost a boutique experience to go to Africa to make a very short-term impact. These expériences are in vogue. However, they are not necessarily replying to the actual need of locals who, largely, are absent from decision-making. It's the infantilisation of Africa.
Make no mistake, I do not condone this genre of terrorist attack against humanitarians, but I feel like there is no real desire to understand why this violence occurs - violence that is specifically targeted at westerners. It's easy to be outraged that people's lives are lost, but it is utterly infuriating to see such incomprehension when the answers are not hidden far from view. We merely have to draw back the curtain.