A young white missionary woman comes to Uganda with the sole purpose of “helping young Africans.” She goes on to set up a charity organization in order “to promote evangelism, provide welfare for the needy and empower families” where according to court documents, she performs medical procedures, some of which were documented in blogposts that have since been deleted. This is the story of Renee Bach, and her US missionary organization Serving His Children. It is also another tale of how little value is placed on the lives of African children, even by our own governments.
Renee continued to operate in Uganda for over ten years as a high school graduate with no medical training and a self-proclaimed desire to do good and help the poor children of Jinja. Her organization, without any initial medical personnel as staff began to take in malnourished children and perform medical procedures on them. By her own admission, she took in 940 children between 2010 and 2015, 105 of whom died. Renee has since closed the organization and left the country without real difficulty.
As relatives of the children continue to demand justice, the court case continues to be derailed by Renee, and her lawyers. At its core, this is an issue of class, race and the privilege accorded to whiteness in this country. The reverse would never be true, as a Ugandan with no qualifications would never have the opportunity to operate on children unlicensed in Virginia where Renee is from. It would even be less likely that any such Ugandan would be able to so easily flee the country without consequence as has been in this case. This is a pointed reminder of regulatory state failures; the kind that can only happen through a depersonalization of the state’s responsibilities towards its citizens.
Understanding how and why Renee was able to work in this country for so many years, requires an analysis of class and race relations, and the way white privilege functions in this country. This conversation is even more timely as we continue to center the #BlackLivesMatter praxis in our daily lives. To imagine that so many Ugandan children were killed and the person responsible still refuses to acknowledge her role in this reality and faces no accountability for her actions should be completely unacceptable. The first question is why children in Africa need saviors who know nothing of their contexts to come save them. The first part of that answer is in the failings of the state, in which state responsibilities have been left to do-gooders. When the core functions such as providing health, education and the basics of survival are relegated, the result is that citizens are forced to look for alternatives. This gap left by the state is what allowed a 20-year-old to come start an organization where actions that lead to so many dead can go unreported for as long as they did.
A central problem in the lack of subsequent action demonstrates the disposability of African bodies that continues to be normalized. It is no longer entirely surprising that so many children were killed when we have become accustomed to hearing of kidnaps, police brutality and unsolved murders. Modern day forms of violence that engender constant vigilance have made many afraid and uneasy. The idea at the forefront of our minds for many of us is that we are potential targets and can always be objects of unlimited and unaccountable violence. The lack of media outrage and covering of the Renee Bach story, and society’s predominant underreaction to it is an indication of the normalization of this reality.
It is this disposability of our bodies that has led to the disinvestment in communities and the public institutions that serve them, including those tasked with protecting Ugandans. It should be inconceivable that one Ugandan should be killed, let alone a hundred, and there are no answers as to how and why. Who do Ugandans turn to when the very institutions that are meant to protect them are responsible for enacting violence and harm on them? It is no wonder that the state has failed to hold Renee Bach accountable when it is responsible for enabling similar fates for so many of its own citizens. The government has responsibilities to the citizens of this country, many of which it continues to abdicate, and Renne Bach’s case is just another example of it.
For Black lives to actually matter, we need to begin the hard work of re-orienting our institutions and systems to see us as more than statistics. It requires that we are loudly outraged at the continued manifestations of systemic injustices that take and devalue our lives, particularly in this case as it relates to whiteness. It also demands that our governments whose sworn mandate is to respect and protect our lives begin to move past the empty platitudes and hold themselves and others accountable.