A video of a group of Ugandan kids known as “Ghetto Kids” dancing to “Sorry” by Justin Bieber (JB) has garnered 8 million views and over a hundred thousand shares on Facebook. While the choreography is fun and shows kids with immense talent, the visual trope of the video has ignited a conversation around poverty in Africa.
The surroundings in the video is that of a village, and the dancers themselves are dressed in rags, rather, ‘stylised ripped clothing.’ “These kids could have found something better to wear. The rags were intended to be an eye-catcher it seems, but why do we continue to portray Africa this way. Sympathy will not propel us to the promise land,” reads one of the comments.
Another says, “I am not denying the existence of widespread poverty in Africa but I’m tired of watching the same story time and again. There are extremely poor kids everywhere in Africa but not the ones shown in this video. In the western world there is poverty as well, people just don’t get to see it.”
The annoyance of these folks is quite understandable. Africa has always been the perfect picture of a poor and starving continent at the mercy of developed countries. Prime-time television in the west are riddled daily with slow-motion video clips of sickly, malnourished looking children backed with melancholic music and pleas to help ‘save’ an African child. That is the perception of Africa – a dark hole of poverty, disease and death, where many live in mud huts with thatched roofs.
Africans are sick of this narrative; it is frustrating enough that it is the west’s perception of us, and the recent issue of mass migration is not helping, but we shouldn’t help validate that deeply flawed awareness of what Africa is. This is exactly what most of the comments expressed.
Some commenters had no problem with the video, according to them, it was a true depiction of certain parts of the continent. “All of Africa may not be poor as portrayed by the rag clothes worn by these kids, but we cannot deny that such level of poverty does exist. But while we have people living in such level of poverty, it doesn’t take away from the joy and happiness of African kids. That is the beauty.”
In fairness, Ghetto kids (Triplets) are a group of underprivileged kids living in the slums of Uganda. They were brought together by a teacher, Dauda Kavuma, who thought it a good way to help poor children in his neighbourhood, get them off the streets and save them from social vices. Being a former ‘street child’, he said making the kids dance could help them garner donations which can be used to cater for basic needs. Alex Sempija, a late member of Ghetto Kids, once told BBC that dancing changed his life, “My life was bad. Before now, I used to beg on the street. And when no one gives me money, I go through trash in search of something to eat.” But with the money generated from dancing, he was able to move his mother to a one room apartment, and get back in school.
While Africans are tired of seeing similar narratives about the continent time and again, poverty is indeed a reality for some like the Ghetto Kids. “Not everything we do is supposed to make perfect sense to everyone all the time, but you must be left with certain individual feeling by the time you are done watching us. We are about everything that happens in real life and anything that we can imagine,” said Ghetto Kids in reply to the debate about their video and their choice of name.