"Your purchase helps empower the poor women of Kenya," I read the line out loud over and over again. I was reading from an Instagram page that I had come across. In the interest of privacy, I will not name the page. I will, however, give a description of the page. The page was a business page, and it was being run by what appeared to be a foreign white male. The business was one of selling accessories, supposedly made by 'poor Kenyan women', and it was created for the purpose of saving said women from poverty. Now, I'm not going to deny that there is poverty in Kenya because that would be lying to myself, but I'm also not going to say that this kind of thing is particularly helpful in alleviating that poverty as that too would be a lie. Because I'm not one to assume anything, I got to talking with the owner of the page so as to learn more about this business of his.
The first thing I noticed when I went through the pictures on the page was the depiction of Africa i.e. the usual Africa is a poor, diseased continent. And those were only about 5% of the pictures, with a picture or two thrown in to show the women at work making the accessories. The rest of the pictures were of white people flaunting the accessories they had bought from the business. The motto of the page is simple, you buy an accessory, you get featured on the page. Something about this didn't seem right, and I did ask about it, but it turns out that the business is exactly as it is at surface level, white saviour complex and all. They actually do have good intentions, but as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with those, and here's why.
First and foremost, the page portrays Kenyans, and Africans at large, as an 'exotic breed'. This mindset is an example of the objectification and commodification that mostly happens to non-Westerners, especially people of colour, and it erases the personhood of the person made out to be 'exotic'.
Secondly, the page was perpetuating the myth that Africa is a poor continent while in reality, Africa is the richest continent in terms of natural resources; but due to colonialism and neo-colonialism, those resources benefit everyone but Africans. And even though the heart of the person running the business was in a good place, it still has negative consequences on the portrayal of Africa and Africans. This is not to say that how we're perceived is more important than our welfare, but our welfare is directly linked to how we're perceived. The reason behind this is because investors will not invest in lands with poor people, which is mostly all that Africa is portrayed to be. Furthermore, due to this perception, our brands are looked upon with scorn. To make matters worse, this page is not the only one perpetuating this stereotype, there are many more, so you can imagine the collective effect. Aside from keeping away investors and not giving our products a fair shake in the global markets, this perception also justifies neo-colonialism because it makes it seem like we can't take care of ourselves and that we desperately need a saviour, and neo-colonialists are happy to be that saviour.
Thirdly, if the business is meant to help the poor women of Kenya, why not let these poor women run the business themselves? There are literally so many free classes and workshops that teach entrepreneurship and online marketing. Internet connection in Kenya is becoming more and more accessible. The idea of making the accessories came from the women, it is the women that make the accessories, why not let them take charge of marketing and the profits too? If they can't do that right now because of one reason or another, why not help them attain that independence? Why not make it a partnership or a symbiotic relationship as opposed to the one-sided deal that it is in place as of now?
Fourthly, the business model was not sustainable at all. The marketing was being done in such a way that the business cashed in from other people's guilt. What happens when all the guilt has been exhausted? Guilting your way into profits does not make a sustainable business model.
Fifthly, most of the customers only cared about the internet fame, which is the opposite effect that the business hoped to have. The business meant for people to care about making a difference in the world, but their 'buy to get featured strategy' didn't quite work out that way. It is a good marketing strategy, and it gets the sales up, but it doesn't make people care about making a positive change in the world.
I did explain all this as best as I could to the owner of the page, and I included some links that I thought would be helpful in expounding the matter at hand, and they did hear me out. As for if there has been a change, I cannot definitively say that there has been one.