Oxfam UK food campaign seeks to combat negative images of Africa

By staff writers
December 27, 2012

Stung by criticism that it was among the aid agencies portraying Africa in too negative a way, Oxfam has launched a more positive campaign against hunger.

At the same time as seeing the beauty and potential of the continent, the globally famous development agency still wants people to invest in change and combat genuine problems, like food scarcity and inequality.

In a UK-wide campaign launched on its website, through BBC interviews and in the media more widely, Oxfam is combining two messages: "Let's make Africa famous for it's epic landscapes, not hunger" and "Help us create a future where everyone has enough to eat, a world where there's Food for All."

The two compliment each other, the agency says. Research evidence shows that when people feel that the situation they are being asked to give to alleviate is helpless or hopeless, they are more likely to give up or suffer "giving fatigue".

On the other hand, when they feel they are investing in a better future, there is much more incentive to contribute.

Charity fundraisers admit that in practice it can be a fine balance between making people aware of hope, and making them aware of problems which must be faced not ignored.

In a new survey for Oxfam, three-quarters of those asked thought it was possible to end hunger in Africa, but just one in five believed they could play an active role in achieving it.

From the more than 2,000 people surveyed, almost half believed that hunger was the biggest problem facing Africa today.

Respondents said that over-exposure to negative media and advertising portrayals of Africa and poor countries across the globe was "depressing, manipulative and hopeless".

Oxfam chief executive Dame Barbara Stocking commented: "[We have] led the way in drawing attention to the plight of Africa's most vulnerable people and we aren't trying to gloss over the problems that still beset so many of them, particularly levels of malnutrition that remain stubbornly high.

"But we've come a long way since the 1980s and Band Aid's 'Do They Know it's Christmas?' We need to shrug off the old stereotypes and celebrate the continent's diversity and complexity, which is what we are attempting with this campaign.

"The relentless focus on ongoing problems at the expense of a more nuanced portrait of the continent, is obscuring the progress that is being made towards a more secure and prosperous future.

"If we want people to help fight hunger we have to give them grounds for hope by showing the potential of countries across Africa - it's a natural instinct to turn away from suffering when you feel you can do nothing to alleviate it.

"Of course, there are floods, droughts, and there is conflict, but that is not in every country at all. And there are quite a number of countries now in Africa that are really doing very well.

"We want to make sure people have a really better balanced picture of what's happening in Africa. Of course we have to show what the reality is in the situations in those countries.

"But we also need to show the other places where things are actually changing, where things are different," the Oxfam chief told the BBC.

* Oxfam UK: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/


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