Bas & Jaap Pronk. Omgekeerde ontwikkelingshulp.

Traveling ‘off the beaten path’ in Africa seems to have become the next ‘big thing’ for recent graduates looking to set themselves apart from their peers. And what better way to promote yourself (and fund your trip through crowd funding) by combining the demand for reality TV and social media; film your trip and post it on a website. Take the latest incarnation, this time on Dutch TV: Since this week we can enjoy ‘The African Dream’, a project of brothers Jaap and Bas Pronk in cooperation with Dutch public broadcaster VPRO. The duo, according to their first blog post documenting their journey, entitled ‘Good intentions,’ they are going “to look for answers for their Western questions and African solutions for their problems.” Reverse development aid, as the brothers call it. The blog promises that videos will follow soon.

The motivation for why Africa is chosen as the place to deal with ‘first world problems’ and personal issues (one of the brothers writes he feels rather depressed), is for the two to find out how it is possible for “the poor wretches, who don’t have anything, to still be happy?” They acknowledge that this insight is a part of the “general Western thought on Africa.” Therefore Africa seems to be the right place to find a ‘cure’ for problems such as stress, depression and burn-outs — problems, as can be read in the post, that can have grave consequences for the Western society as we know it: plastic surgery, social media addictions and loneliness.

The ultimate goal of the brothers is to create a documentary of their trip, which they hope will be shown at the bigger international documentary festivals.

It almost seems like they are working in tag teams: young Dutch ‘adventurers’ traveling to parts of the African continent for a ‘greater good’, or at least, some kind of redemption.

The Pronk brothers are not alone. Just recently, the Thumbs Up Africa trio project reached their final destination of Cape Town. Three ‘Dutchies’, two guys and one girl, hitchhiked from the Dutch city of Groningen to the southern tip of the African continent. A journey of 15,000 kilometers. Along the way they utilized all aspects of social media (see here and here), informing their followers of each step on their way.

At first glance their endeavor might seem pretty standard: three young westerners looking for an adventure. But a closer look reveals the initiative is in fact yet another product of the Western ‘sustainable development’ discourse.

What better way to convince young people of your message by having them watch and share YouTube videos of their peers meeting people on the ground affected by the ways of living in the West? African school children still proof to be the best prop.

Now that the trio has reached its final destination and a fresh duo is about to embark on a new journey, we wonder whether the trip will also answer why ‘first world’ Western documentary makers can’t stop using ‘Africa’ as a blank canvas onto which they can project their experiments/hopes of “finding themselves,” whilst reproducing the stereotypical image of a poor continent?

In the meantime we can follow all the adventures of the Pronk brothers on the social media: here and here.