Accused of killing more than 100 Ugandan children, Renee Bach, a former missionary, gets a three-part HBO docuseries instead of jail time. First, Sally Struthers’ pleas to “Save the Children,” and now HBO’s “Savior Complex,” the miniseries provides yet another needless example of white saviorism and settler colonialism.
White saviorism is “a centuries-old concept that dates back to when many White Westerners believed they inherently had the knowledge, ingenuity, and skills to solve other people’s problems worldwide.” It mainly targets African people.
Bach said she felt “called” to create a charity for malnourished children in Jinja, Uganda in 2009, but between 2010 and 2015, 105 of the children died after receiving “treatment” from her. No medical license and no formal training, the homeschooled high school graduate oversaw a food distribution center and health clinic.
“She set up a Christian nonprofit, Serving His Children, in southeast Uganda in 2009, first providing free meals to families in need, then offering free inpatient and outpatient treatment for malnourished children as well as community engagement programs aimed at breaking the cycle of malnutrition,” wrote Morgan Winsor for ABC News in 2019. “The organization’s website is peppered with Bible verses, appeals for donations and images of Ugandan children, many with the telltale signs of severe malnutrition: sunken eyes, protruding ribs and bloated bellies.”
African bodies as the sole face of need are a typical fundraising image for Christians racialized as white. I grew up seeing commercials of European American women holding African children and saying, “For 25 cents a day, you can feed this child.” It is an incomplete narrative and a gross generalization of the continent’s 54 countries.
“They just like taking pictures…They don’t care that we are embarrassed by our dirt and torn clothing, that we would prefer they didn’t do it; they just take pictures anyway, take and take,” NoViolet Bulawayo wrote in We Need New Names.
Bach even blogged about her experience: “I hooked the baby up to oxygen and got to work,” she wrote. “Took her temperature, started an IV, checked her blood sugar, tested for malaria, and looked at her HB (hemoglobin) count.”
The center was later closed. Bach was sued by two of the dead children’s parents and they later reached a settlement: $9,500 to each of the mothers with no admission of liability.
But the determined blonde accused of having blood on her hands remains the center of attention. It’s her word against the Ugandans, and Bach felt it was “something that I was supposed to do.”
“For me, this is the latest wave of colonialism,” Roger Ross Williams, who served as an executive producer for the series, said. “I’m really interested in this subject of American evangelicals who go into Uganda and, you know, cause a wave of destruction. This is just one small chapter in a long, historic wave of American evangelicals going to Uganda.”
Bach offered food and medical care to the children, and nutrition classes and Bible lessons to their mothers. But have these families learned about God from Bach? What have we learned after hundreds of years of this “missional” strategy?
“While we as people of God are certainly called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, that whole ‘we’re blessed to be a blessing’ thing can still be kind of dangerous,” Nadia Bolz- Weber wrote in Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. “It can be dangerous when we self-importantly place ourselves above the world, waiting to descend on those below so we can be the ‘blessing’ they’ve been waiting for, like it or not.”
Because all 105 of those babies were a blessing to their families. Sadly, their parents will never receive them in their hands or in their homes again.
Today, Bach lives in Virginia with her adopted Ugandan children, which reminds me of another story. Kisses from Katie: A Relentless Story of Love and Redemption is Katie Davis Majors’ story of adopting, as a 20-year-old, 13 Ugandan children.
Like Bach, she, too, has been accused of manipulating the Ugandans, but that’s another column for another day. Hopefully, she doesn’t get a docuseries too.