The second installment in a proposed trilogy about the contemporary condition of Africa, We Come As Friends looks at neo-capitalism in South Sudan, from its brave leap into independence to the exploitation of its resources. And through Sauper’s camera, it looks like everyone wants a piece – Chinese oil profiteers, UN officials, American investors and Christian missionaries.
Sauper’s plane circles the torrid terrain of South Sudan as his poetic narration draws parallels between his trip to the continent and the coming of extraterrestrials, between colonisation and a dream. It’s a metaphor that is strung throughout the film – Westerners landing in Africa to poke, to prod, to profit – as Sauper gazes from his aerial view. The handmade airplane, constructed out of tin and canvas, lends itself aesthetically to the metaphor: a strange object circling in the sky above uncharted territory. We see a sun rising and hear the disembodied voice of a Sudanese man, speaking local dialect. He tells us how the West colonized Africa, and the moon is next.
When Sauper’s aircraft eventually touches down, the year is 2011, shortly before the country’s partition. Local radio stations are reinforcing the importance of voting in the referendum, which leads to the South’s separation from the North. Opportunity for peace and prosperity feels tangible. From the perspective of local reporters, politicians and tribespeople, the country is ready to control its own resources without outside influences.
But the reality is far more severe. The border that is drawn between North and South Sudan cuts right through the oil lines. Where once the holy battle between North and South was fought, re-emerges an older “civilizing” pathology – that of colonialism and a reaping of resources.
We’re taken into various situations across the world’s newest state, where outsiders attempt to mould South Sudan to their own visions while “respecting” its independence. In one scene, during the South Sudan Investment Summit, a British investor declares that Sudan needs help and development, so what’s wrong with making a profit while lending a hand? Borrowing from Native American philosophy, the investor proclaims into Sauper’s lens, “Nobody owns any of this. We just borrow it for our lifespan and we should give it back in a better condition than we got it in.”
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