A picture of former President Bill Clinton accompanying an article he penned reveals the contradictions, futility and fallacy of intervention and western philanthropy in Africa. The double-spread picture of the former president in the September 30 2013 issue of Time Magazine that inadvertently reveals an uncomfortable truth, seems innocent enough at first glance. However, fresh from submitting an essay on the use of photographs by NGOs in Africa and immediately after looking through a photo-essay on mental illness sufferers in Haiti, my emotions were high and my eyes were sharpened for misaligning detail.
The misaligning detail of this picture is not the central image of President Clinton flanked by two females who are not his wife and daughter, but hidden in the periphery of the frame. On the edge of this picture we see why Africa continues to remain on the crutches of western intervention and showman philanthropy. We see to the right, of a beaming President Clinton, an image of a suited man either detaining or shoving a boy of about six or seven years old, to the side. This image for me says a lot and it is not the same thing the former US president is saying in his article that accompanies the image.
What this picture says concisely is that Africans are getting in the way of posterity. We are being told here that Africa is a tool to be used for the purpose of perpetuating western legacies. This boy and his peers in this image should be at the centre of this picture alongside and surrounding Bill Clinton and not forced to the edge. I do not think it is far fetched to label these children the future of Africa and hence, as seeds of hope, they should be focused on and nurtured rather than suppressed. What better way to blight the future of a continent than to render the hopes for its future hopeless and make them feel worthless?
Vilém Flusser, the philosopher and photography theorist, talks about how our imagery can uncooperatively reveal hidden truths. This picture has waywardly told a thousand words that differ from the thousand words the former US president was hopping to present. The picture in question is full of euphemisms and anecdotes of uncomfortable truths, however the image of a suppressed African child and its allusion to a continuously incapacitated maligned continent is just one of them. In making this observation and drawing these conclusions I am not sending out an invitation to contest and justify, this is simply an expression of the hope that we can stop and ponder.
By Depo Olukotun