Googling around and found a blog post about Diesel’s “Daily African” ad campaign. I loved this campaign when I first stumbled across it in glossy magazines back in 2001, and am glad to see it cataloged somewhere. I’m not going to bother describing it. Click through and read the blog post. Unfortunately, I can’t find any large reproductions of the images online. To get the full effect you have to be able to read the text of the fake newspaper articles. Their tone of patronizing concern is absolutely pitch-perfect.
I have a pet peeve about American perceptions of Africa–a sizeable chunk of Earth’s landmass and human population–as simply “that place the black people come from”. The recent “Ebola/No-Ebola” map of Africa gets at the old fashioned race-fear version of this perception, but I find a certain liberal story–that sub-saharan Africa is populated by a homogenous group of people who have no identity beyond being noble victims of imperialism–equally annoying. It’s the other side of the Dark Continent coin. But when you try to express these ideas directly like I’m doing here, you run the risk of sounding like another sanctimonious white liberal. The images in the Diesel campaign get at them in a way an essay simply can’t.
One counterpoint to this narrative I’ve personally taken part in recently was a conference call at work with the IBM Africa Research team. This is a group of IBM employees based in Nairobi who are trying to come up with software products tailored for sub-saharan Africa. There was a refreshing realism about the conversation we had. The team knows that they are small and that “Africa” is an absurdly broad market, and so are focusing on Nairobi for the time being. The team is composed mostly of IBM employees who consider themselves part of the African diaspora–African emigrants, Caribbeans, African Americans–and though there is an element of do-gooderism to their ideas (connecting people with health services, for instance) this grows organically out of what they perceive to be local needs, not some grand mission of salvation. It’s ultimately about money. IBM is making a bet that Africa is going to grow in importance as a technology consumer as this century progresses, and wants to get a foot in the door. We all sat around and talked about “the African market” the same way we’d talk about “the Asian market” or “the European market”. That shouldn’t feel good, but it did.