Last year I wrote about the controversy surrounding the proposal, thankfully cancelled, to push a new trunk road through the northern Serengeti. Now, according to Avaaz, there is a threat to sell off part of the Serengeti to “wealthy Middle Eastern kings and princes to hunt lions and leopards.” Sounds alarming, and yet the ham-fisted scientists of yesteryear are now quiet. What is going on?
According to contacts of mine, the area in question is not, in fact, part of the world famous Serengeti National Park, but in an adjoining area, the Loliondo Game Controlled Area. It is probably fair to say that this area is part of the greater Serengeti ecosystem, but Avaaz are surely being misleading in titling their campaign “Stop the Serengeti Sell-Off”.
Equally disturbing is the lack of any supporting information provided on the Avaaz petition page to link the concerned citizen with further background information. As it happens there is a fair bit out there on the simmering land disputes in Loliondo: try here, here and here for starters. It certainly seems a worthy cause without any need for dressing up with incorrect facts.
The Newsroom, the new TV drama series by Aaron Sorkin, starts with the premise that there is nothing more important to a well-functioning democracy than a well-informed citizenry. It may well be, that like their political party counterparts, campaigners working to stop human rights abuses and end poverty etc. have learned the hard way that simplicity sells, but the web is the perfect medium with which to present a simple cover message but allow those of a more inquiring mind to dig a little deeper.
NGOs do not always get everything right. Just having good intentions is not enough. As a discerning member of the public I am not willing to sign every Avaaz campaign just because it tugs the heart strings. I want to check my facts first. Moreover, having now discovered one inaccuracy I am going to be rather more suspicious next time around. With enough incidents like this Avaaz could implode just like Invisible Children did after the vigorous pushback to the ignominious #Kony2012 campaign, which equally suffered from over-simplification.
This is so easy to fix. Don’t treat your would be petition signers as idiots. Avaaz can and should do better.