No White Saviors: how a marketing campaign in opposition to stereotype of helpless Africa rose – and fell


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When two youthful women teamed as a lot as highlight racism throughout the enchancment sector, and title out the celebrities and assist workers who pushed stereotypes that Africans wished saving, it was seen by many as a welcome intervention.

The two social workers, Olivia Alaso, a black Ugandan and Kelsey Nielsen, a white American, began No White Saviors (NWS) in 2018 and its social media presence grew shortly, attracting a black and white liberal viewers. It rose to prominence on the once more of a quantity of high-profile campaigns.

But earlier this 12 months, NWS publicly imploded amid accusations of the very issue it was designed to kind out – white saviourism and privilege. Nielsen was accused of using her white privilege to handle the organisation and of abusing black Ugandan employees. Allegations surfaced of bar brawls.

Now Nielsen, who has since resigned from the organisation she helped to begin out, has knowledgeable the Guardian that she acknowledges she behaved in a hypocritical method.

In Uganda, mainstream public conversations about white saviourism began 10 years in the previous after Kony2012, a student-made film, was launched by the US non-profit group Invisible Children to once more a marketing campaign to convey warlord Joseph Kony to justice. The transient film sparked a wave of criticism throughout the nation and previous for its simplistic and outdated account of a fancy battle in highlighting the Lord’s Resistance Army’s abduction of kids to be used as troopers.

A child soldier in a still from the film Kony 2012.A nonetheless from Kony2012, launched by the non-profit group Invisible Children which demanded the elimination of Ugandan guerrilla chief Joseph Rao Kony. Photograph: invisiblechildreninc

Ugandan creator Rosebell Kagumire talked about the marketing campaign ignored native efforts to cope with the battle and carried out into harmful narratives of African helplessness.

No White Saviors challenged the utilization of black kids as props in charity campaigns, attacking, amongst others, British media character Stacey Dooley, in 2019, for her image taken with a Ugandan teenager (on the time, Dooley talked about she was “content” with the image).

No White Saviors helped uncover the story of Renée Bach, an American evangelical Christian with no medical teaching who was accused of practising medication on kids at a centre the place not lower than 100 kids died. The organisation moreover referred to as out Bernhard ‘Bery’ Glaser, a German accused of sexually abusing underage Ugandan women, who died sooner than the tip of his trial.

Nielsen – a self-styled “white saviour in recovery” – supported the organisation by infiltrating white areas and gaining greater reception for its work amongst white audiences.

“I think that they wouldn’t have done some of the things they did if they did not have Kelsey on board, or go up against some of the people they targeted in their campaigns” says Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire, a Ugandan activist and African analysis researcher at Cornell University. “White faces are protected better than black faces when calling whiteness to account.”

The cracks in NWS had begun to level out in 2020 when a world racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd throughout the US prompted robust conversations on race and the operate of allies. Some of the marketing campaign’s followers began to question Nielsen’s front-seat operate throughout the organisation.

Mwesigire says Nielsen co-opted needed campaigns. “At some point, the story of Renée Bach harming Ugandan children became a personal conflict between Renée and Kelsey – an intra-white affair where we [Ugandans] were just props,” he says. “In some way, the NWS approach was to separate the good whites from the bad whites, so it still centred on whiteness.”

Renee Bach, far right, was accused of practising medicine on children without medical training.Renee Bach, far correct, was accused of practising medication on kids with out medical teaching. Photograph: Handout

Alaso knowledgeable the Guardian that black group leaders have been usually sidelined by third occasions in favour of an outspoken Nielsen, which she believes was partly due to her white privilege. Alaso says that Nielsen’s central operate throughout the organisation turned further problematic as a result of the organisation broadened its focus into black liberation and pan-Africanism. According to some employees, Nielsen began to distance herself from her background and would consider herself to black revolutionaries comparable to Assata Shakur. “Kelsey considered herself as the most radical person in the organisation for black liberation,” says Rwothomio Kabandole, an employee at NWS. “She behaved as though she knew more than African people, and appointed herself judge, juror and executioner of what it meant to be black in Africa.”


As NWS superior from being a social media-led marketing campaign into an organisation, tons of its blindspots surfaced. Alaso says as a outcome of Nielsen was American, the organisation opted to open its US-based financial accounts beneath her title. Nielsen moreover facilitated its registration as a non-profit throughout the US, the place the organisation obtained most of its funding, which made it eligible for tax exemptions. As a consequence, Kabandole claims that Nielsen exercised distinctive administration over NWS’s accounts, and efficiently “held them hostage”.

“Initially, Kelsey’s presence on the team appeared to be helping us overcome legal challenges, but she abused that status and used it to her advantage,” says Alaso. She claims that late last 12 months, she found that Nielsen was misusing the organisation’s funds and says that when she challenged her on it, Nielsen tried to have her dismissed.

In correspondence with the Guardian, Nielsen denied all allegations of misappropriation.

As the financial scandal rocked the organisation, totally different allegations in opposition to Nielsen began to ground. Some employees declare that she subjected them to verbal abuse and threatened them with the sack as soon as they refused to once more her switch to hearth Alaso. They moreover declare they obtained periodic reminders of how fortunate they’ve been to have a job at NWS when Uganda had extreme unemployment ranges. They moreover say that she was violent in route of an employee at a Kampala bar.

In a press launch to the Guardian, Nielsen expressed regret over the bar assault and, with out addressing explicit claims, talked about she had acted out of white privilege all through her time on the organisation. “It’s easy to talk about the harm whiteness causes when it’s naming it in others,” she says. “We become a lot more resistant and unwilling when it is recognising it in ourselves. I have been resistant to see this and that’s extremely hypocritical of me, especially considering the work I committed myself to.”

Having confronted a excessive backlash on social media, points have come full circle for Nielsen. “For me, this experience has humanised individuals we’ve ‘held accountable’ on the platform,” she says, together with that the experience has made her rethink whether or not or not public callouts have been the best method to instigate change.

Alaso didn’t escape criticism when NWS’s points began to ground on Twitter last month. Many of the organisation’s supporters believed she was on the helm, with Nielsen having fun with a supportive operate.

“The NWS team and I are accountable to our community and will stay transparent and open to questions and ongoing concerns,” she talked about on 3 June.

After a tumultuous 12 months, the organisation is now restructuring into a completely black, African-led NGO that Alaso says will proceed to title out white saviourism.

Even with the modifications, Mwesigire is sceptical of the organisation and its work, saying that a higher choice to battle the white saviour superior is to assist informal “non-structured” group efforts.

“On a day-to-day basis, ordinary [Ugandans] are saving themselves. The reason they are not supported is because they are not seen as stakeholders,” says Mwesigire. “The only way to end white saviourism is to stop centring whiteness.”

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