420: “Milking the Rhino” — a strikingly different look at wildlife and Africans

Millions of Americans have ties to Africa. Millions of us are descendants from that vast continent. AND, millions more are directly involved in programs aimed at helping Africans improve their lives. I can’t think of a megachurch I’ve visited in the past decade that doesn’t participate in an African outreach program of some kind. Add to that all the Americans working to preserve African wildlife—and a whole lot of us have a personal stake in Africa.
    New-style evangelists like Rob Bell have made helping the people of Africa a central goal in new forms of ministry. In Rob’s efforts that means helping Africans develop new low-cost eco-friendly water purification systems, expand AIDS-prevention programs and fund micro-finance efforts. As Rob hits the road for his latest world tour, he is highlighting the African people in a big way—right from the stage. He’s been putting his money where his mouth is for years: At one international pastors’ conference he hosted a couple of year ago, Rob raised enough money to significantly increase micro-finance in one entire African nation: Burundi.
    Rob’s approach is different. BUT—most American efforts to help Africans still involve well-intentioned outsiders bringing assistance to Africa—much of it terrific stuff! Don’t stop helping people! Here at ReadTheSpirit, we encourage and celebrate efforts to help Africans develop their communities in healthy ways.
    But, what happens when the Africans themselves begin to develop their own strategies for healthy development? Sometimes, these noble efforts lead to clashes. Sometimes, as Westerners, we don’t even think Africans are capable of making wise choices.
    The eye-opening documentary, “Milking the Rhino,” is a film that should be seen by millions of Americans who want to make a difference in Africa. If your church or small group is supporting African development programs—click on the Amazon link right now an order a copy of this film.
    You need to see it.
    You don’t need to rely merely on our judgment here at ReadTheSpirit. This documentary has been making the rounds of festivals and has racked up high praise, indeed. It’s a gorgeous documentary with lots of stunning wildlife footage.

    It’s also a movie that will whip your head around by showing you not just the startling wildlife we all love to watch on screen. Instead, the filmmaker “turns the camera around” and shows us the Africans living near the wildlife. The film really focuses on the abilities of Africans themselves to sort out their own healthiest approaches toward eco-friendly development.
    The filmmakers take us both to the Meru region of Kenya and to Namibia, exploring the work of African men and women in developing nature conservancies to attract tourism.

    I was impressed, after watching this film, to read the Statement of Purpose by Director David E. Simpson. It’s inspiring, I think, to read first-hand what he set out to do in this film—a purpose he completely fulfills. HERE ARE David Simpson’s words …

    I like wild animals as much as the next person, but what drew me to “Milking the Rhino” was the people. I wanted to tell the story of conservation from the African perspective—something that I, for one, had never seen. Africa is the world’s conservation laboratory. But like most Westerners I was ignorant of the dark side of Africa’s conservation history: that it furthered the tourism‐agendas of colonial governments while displacing and alienating indigenous people. In post‐colonial times, conservation has been turned on its head by a growing consensus that the world’s remaining wildlife is doomed unless local people are given a say and a stake in preserving it.
    My goal in “Milking the Rhino” was to explore the nuances and complexities of this new people‐centered approach. I’m captivated by the notion of a community undergoing rapid, radical change. The Himba and Maasai are among the oldest cattle cultures on earth; herding is in their DNA. So for the Il Ngwesi community to retool their economy and lifestyle to favor eco‐tourism and conservation–at the expense of grass and space for cattle–is like removing a rib. I’m fascinated by the continuing debate within the community, and by the collision of ancient ways with Western expectations.
    My hope is that this film will cause audiences to revise their images of Africa and Africans. Most Westerners see Africa through a haze of reportage about wars, AIDS, poverty, corruption. Rural Africa in particular is viewed as backwards and/or romantically pure. By weaving stories of complex, multi‐faceted characters, “Milking the Rhino” breaks with stereotype to paint rural Africans as
akina sisi – “people like us.”

RIGHT NOW, we want to help you learn more—and to help us expand the discussion.

    MORE ON THE MOVIE: HERE IS the movie’s main Web site, where you can find out more about the Kenya and Namibia storylines. Also, don’t miss the “trailer” video on the front page of the site. You’ll be hooked, if you watch it.
    MORE ON IL NGWESI: If you watch the film or read more about it, you’ll soon discover that the Il Ngwesi Lodge plays a big part in the story. This is a lodge developed by native people themselves—a development that, at first, led to conflict with a nearby white landowner. Now, though, that white neighbor works closely with native landowners. The lodge’s Web site is inspiring reading. You’ll soon be dreaming of paying a visit.
    TALK ABOUT THE FUTURE OF “GREEN”: This week, a major series—and a public conversation—is unfolding in another section of our online magazine: http://www.OurValues.org

    FINALLY, tell us about what you’re doing! Millions of Americans are involved in outreach efforts or wildlife conservation or AIDS-prevention programs in Africa. Rob Bell and David E. Simpson are not alone in pushing for a bottom-up rethinking of humanitarian work in Africa. They’re part of an emerging new approach to this work. You may be part of that kind of effort yourself. Tell us about what you’re doing!


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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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