Stopkilingus.org and misguided activism

For the last month or so I’ve been seeing people walking around the city wearing black t-shirts with www. stopkillingus.org written on them. Now, in the beginning I assumed that they were second hand shirts from some foreign advocacy campaign. But then I kept seeing them around and then I started seeing banners with the URL so I figured it was something local and finally decided to check it out.

So…. which of our numerous domestic issues does it address? Corruption? Education? Infrastructural issues? Domestic violence maybe? Nope. Climate change. As you can tell from their site, its all about the dangers posed to Africa by global warming and the climate change it will bring with it. As the title implies, I see this as a prime example of the kind of misguided activism that is rife in Africa.

Why do I consider it misguided exactly? Is it because I feel that the country doesn’t need to be sensitized about environmental issues? Not at all. I have a rant about our ignorance of such things and what it could possibly cost us planned for the near future. I don’t doubt the good intentions of the NGO who funded this project either. I do doubt their good sense though, partly because of the obvious financial cost but mostly because of where the campaign is targeted.

First,money. They spent money on(reportedly) hundreds of thousands of shirts, banners, radio and TV spots, a website(which incidentally shows preference to IE over all other browsers) and a high profile launch at Busy Internet, probably not cheap either. If you’re an NGO in a cash strapped developing country shouldn’t you be looking for more bang for your buck? Is this truly the best use for what had to be a fair amount of cash?

Secondly, target group. This is fairly simple actually. If you truly want to make a dent in worldwide emission of greenhouse gases and thus halt climate change where is the best place to start? Ghana, or someplace more industrialized that burns more fossil fuels? I mean, I doubt if we crack the top 100 carbon emitters in the world. Why not spend that money to lobby some of the countries at the top of the list? What will that really achieve?

Thing is, these guys are, in a lot of ways, symptomatic of the main issue I have with a lot of NGO’s in this part of the world. While they do mean well, the plans they choose to implement and how they implement them leave a lot to be desired. I’ll talk more about this later.

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12 Comments on “Stopkilingus.org and misguided activism”

  1. odzangba says:

    I have a “theory” that explains this behaviour. I am not nearly as nice as you when it comes to the intentions of these NGOs. I think the problem is most of the guys that run these organisations are simply in it for the money. Don’t get me wrong… there are some genuinely well-intentioned people out there doing good work. But I still maintain that too many of these NGOs are just fronts for making some quick bucks.

    I’m not just ranting here. I’ve seen it first-hand. I’ve seen reverend pastors take as much as GHC 145,000,000.00 for “women empowerment”, spend some GHC 30,000,000.00 on tie, dye and batik training for 3 weeks and pocket the rest!

    These guys are probably trying to mask their duplicitous accounting practices with this ad campaign… period

    PS: This is *my* opinion 🙂

  2. valerie says:

    ngos ngos ngos…where to start. while i agree that good intentions are out there, that doesn’t mean that ngo workers have been self-reflexive, about their organization’s role or even their role within that organization, in the more global scheme of things. it’s interesting to look at literature from the ‘south’ that likens ngo’s (with few exceptions)as an integral part in advancing a kind of development hegemony or a kind of defacto privatization of the grassroots. the excitement/promotion of ‘civil society’ by many neoliberal agencies (i.e. the World Bank) and governments (like ghana’s) should incite suspicion, to say the least. while there are some few exeptions (voluntary ngos who don’t rely on typical donor paradigm that aid in social mvmts)
    the vast majority of bilateral and multilateral agencies (even the most seemingly altruistic) need to be looked at more critically in terms of a historical political economy (what need are they filling? how did the state recede from its responsibilities to the poor? what implications does foreign aid/presence bring along w.r.t. conditionalities etc.)
    w.r.t the issue of climate change/global warming not being particularly well-suited…i think that promotion of climate change issues is applicable in any context b/c climate change isn’t just about fossil fuels, it’s about lifestyle, excess, consumption and mentalities about life, development, existance and disparities of wealth. it is unfor. that the environment has become so cliche, b/c it is really at the heart of every issue: identity, culture, material poverty, resource control etc. and doesn’t seem to generate the same kind of discussion that political corruption, sex scandals and gay rights seem to in ghana. we are at a unique point in our history (as a young democracy, as a HIPC nation, as a post-colonial state) and envt’l awareness (on any level – grassroots or digital) is important. i must admit that the whole T-shirt thing made me raise my eyebrows (b/c how many ghanaians or people on the planet for that matter are connected to the net in the first place? but, it’s gotten us talking right? and that’s something. we are an important demographic too…and a burgeoning one at that. critique – propose – critique- act….that’s what will set us free in the end.

  3. Stuart Gold says:

    Sorry you find the SKU website to be misguided. I think if you read it thoroughly you will find that it is not just about Climate Change but about the effect it will have on Africa and the little that Africa can actually do about it. So it is actually a ‘call to arms’ for Africans to use on the world stage with ordinary people out there who are not making the right choices.

    Oh and BTW although we are an NGO this project was all funded by me and didn’t cost as much as you imply. Another of your readers think we will make money out of this. I can assure you that this is not the case with this campaign. Any money that we make will be used to further this cause and employ and train people here in Ghana. Our profits will all be used to help other people in Ghana get out of poverty.

    Stuart Gold

  4. kwasi says:

    I did read your site thoroughly Stuart. I realize that you are talking about the effects climate change will have on Africa and it is something I worry about. I fail to see how this attempt helps though. If your intention was to raise awareness in Ghana, a vaguely worded t-shirt and a website don’t seem like the most efficient ways to do it, especially considering the financial hurdles to internet access here. Plus even assuming you did achieve your aim, what then? Ghana is hardly in a position to start making polluting countries do anything.

    If your intention was to raise the issue in the eyes of the foreign media and hope the same crowd that is going to live 8 concerts and buying project red merchandise will change the course of their countries for us when they aren’t doing it for themselves, again, I fail to see how that is going to happen.

    There are lots of domestic environmental issues you could photograph and get people to talk about here in Ghana which might actually achieve a result. This honestly feels to me like a bad idea.

  5. kwasi says:

    Odzangba,
    I should have known you’d take the controversial angle
    🙂

  6. Stuart Gold says:

    This is early days for SKU. Maybe because of this you don’t have any idea where we are taking this and I cannot blame you for that.

    I probably won’t be able to answer this kind of blog in the future as already the interest is picking up from all over the world and I am way too busy.

    Without being too controversial I do resent though when an African tells me that I should spend ‘my’ money on helping in ‘his’ country on more local projects when I am trying to do my best to bring the world’s attention to a problem that could bring untold hardship and suffering in the next 10-30 years if nothing is done now.

    Whatsmore I DO spend my money to help people here in Ghana. You may have noticed the pictures on the page of the web site referring to poverty here in Africa? These are not library pictures but were taken by me and are of a family of 5 people living in the 5’x6′ kiosk you see in the picture. Needless to say they are no longer living there. They were there for four years with no help from their church, local government or from the local MP who lives nearby and knew or their plight.

    Your criticism of this campaign is all too symptomatic of the African ‘disease’. All you can think about is to moan about your plight and go begging to foreign governments. But having a voice in the world on a subject that should be close to your hearts seems to be difficult for you to understand.

    Your criticism also points to your failure of imagination and your complete ignorance of using tried and tested PR techniques to achieve a big result.

    I really wanted to write a nice reply but I realize how angry I get with people like you who should know better. Doesn’t it occur to you that people in the developed world think of Africa as a place of disease, conflict, beggars, poverty and starvation?

    If the world sees a campaign like this that is nothing to do with the usual culprits coming out of a small African country it will do more to garner respect from the developed world than having another of your leaders go begging to George Bush.

    Sorry for not pulling my punches here but when I hear from so many less well educated people in this country (700 emails so far from the web site) who do understand how this can help, I understandably get irrate when someone who should know better comes up with this weak and quite frankly, inept criticism.

  7. kwasi says:

    I find it interesting how my attempt at polite criticism seems to have set you off Stewart, Still, since we are now taking the gloves off….

    >This is early days for SKU. Maybe because of this you don’t
    >have any idea where we are taking this and I cannot blame you
    >for that.

    Well, perhaps instead of going off on your rant about my personal deficiencies, you could simply have enlightened me about said brilliant plan which I apparently misunderstand so badly.

    >Without being too controversial I do resent though when an
    >African tells me that I should spend ‘my’ money on helping in
    >‘his’ country on more local projects when I am trying to do
    >my best to bring the world’s attention to a problem that
    >could bring untold hardship and suffering in the next 10-30
    >years if nothing is done now.

    Well, I resent it when aid people show up in my country and assume I’m supposed to fall prostrate before them and worship them because of all the sacrifices they are making to save me and mine. I respect the effort. I will not give up my opinion to make you feel better about yourself though.

    As for your comments about churches, local government and MP’s, I have very little respect for any of those groups as well. I’m sure the family you helped out is grateful. They have nothing to do with my critique though.

    >Your criticism of this campaign is all too symptomatic of the
    >African ‘disease’. All you can think about is to moan about
    >your plight and go begging to foreign governments. But having
    >a voice in the world on a subject that should be close to
    >your hearts seems to be difficult for you to understand.

    Interesting. So when you give Africans a voice to talk about what you feel they should care about then its a great thing. When an African forges his own voice on the net and disagrees its because there is something wrong with his intellect?

    As for the rest of this attack, its ridiculous enough for me to just ignore

    >Your criticism also points to your failure of imagination and
    >your complete ignorance of using tried and tested PR
    >techniques to achieve a big result.

    As opposed to your complete inability to simply point out the mistakes in my critique without resorting to personal attacks?

    >I really wanted to write a nice reply but I realize how angry
    >I get with people like you who should know better. Doesn’t it
    >occur to you that people in the developed world think of
    >Africa as a place of disease, conflict, beggars, poverty and
    >starvation?

    Stuart, I’m an African with access to a television. Even if I hadn’t lived in the ‘developed’ world for the last eight years of my life I would still be well aware of how people see me out there. I fail to see what that has to do with the criticism I made though.

    >it will do more to garner respect from the developed world
    >than having another of your leaders go begging to George
    >Bush.

    No, Instead I should prostrate myself before you as you save my country for me is that it?

    >Sorry for not pulling my punches here but when I hear from so
    >many less well educated people in this country (700 emails so
    >far from the web site) who do understand how this can help, I
    >understandably get irrate when someone who should know better
    >comes up with this weak and quite frankly, inept criticism.

    And yet the best you could do against such inept criticism was blow up and launch a volley of personal attacks while being condescending. Good for you.
    If you want to only hear the opinions of those who see you as in infallible savior, talk to those 700 people.
    Personally, I’ll keep asking questions when I have concerns.

  8. odzangba says:

    Kwasi,
    You know me too well. 😀 But I find it interesting that stuart went off on a rant just because he was criticised. He is spending money trying to get support for a really important environmental campaign yet spoils everything by attacking people who make *polite* criticism. I mean, if he’d come after me, it’d have been understandable 🙂 but going after you? I cannot believe this!

  9. esbee says:

    A classic case of the right idea and the wrong execution.

  10. Stuart Gold says:

    Please forgive me for my rant that did get a bit heated! I don’t think it helps very much to do that and apologize for any offense caused.

    Anyway – we all have our own way of doing things and hopefully if we are all committed to achieving the same results then maybe some of us will succeed – which of course is the point.

    Success is measured by the end result not by the means of achieving it.

    Good luck with your blog it seems to be well thought out – except for the entry on Misguided Activism 😉

  11. odzangba says:

    >Please forgive me for my rant that did get a bit >heated! I don’t think it helps very much to do that and >apologize for any offense caused.

    My anger at some of your comments has been steadily increasing over the past two days or so and had I not been tied up in school, I’d have come back with a scathing attack on your person, campaign, NGO…

    But apologies are small wonders. The mere fact that you acknowledged the offense your comments caused is enough to calm down tensions.

    No offense taken, Stuart, and I wish you all the best in your campaign. 😀

  12. Stuart Gold says:

    Thanks Odzangba – I realized I shouldn’t have taken the criticism so personally as soon as I posted my reply! Probably due to many late nights and stress from launching the campaign.

    And as I said it is difficult for people to see where we are going with this not least of all because we are also feeling our way and don’t know exactly how we are going to achieve our goals. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it allows for a certain amount of spontanaeity.

    But the most important thing for me is to constantly stay in touch with the reason I started this in the first place which is a passion for the environment and also for standing up to people who take advantage of others by design or by lack of due consideration.

    I think people in the developed world need to be told that their actions are adversly affecting others in the rest of the world and if we manage to get that message across in any way then I would measure that as a success.

    Good luck to you too in school (teaching or learning?)


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