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The Main Objectives of Sauper’s “Darwin’s Nightmare” Essay

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Updated: Sep 3rd, 2021


The aim of the present study is to examine and estimate the main objectives presented in the famous documentary film Darwin’s Nightmare written and directed by famous Austrian film director Hubert Sauper in 2004 in Tanzania with special reference to the issue of development. The major theme, issues, and points indicated in the film have also been elaborated. The generation and allocation of resources according to the basic human needs on the one hand and protection of the environment on the other have also been discussed in the paper. The decisive role of the world bank and other monetary funds has also supported the growth of poor states, which has been mentioned in the paper. The lust of the European powers to capture the resources of the third world countries has also been discussed in the present study. The exploitations of the big powers in the name of economic and military aid have also been mentioned. Though the film has thrashed out many controversial issues of global significance and has highlighted conditions and causes of conflict between the nations, yet the documentary has been declared as one of the most popular documentary films of contemporary years.


Man has always been curious about revealing the mysteries of the universe, exploring the ins and outs of his own creation, and knowing about the secrets of life ever since. It is his curiosity as well as struggle and longings for survival that he has successfully traveled from the world of primitive Paleolithic and Neolithic states into the contemporary modern age of technological advancements and industrialization. The studies show the very fact that countless changes have been made, during the course of time, in man’s biological and cultural structure, leading him towards his present physical appearance and environmental composition as well. The details of the evolution process show that existing animals and plants cannot have been separately created in their present form but must have evolved from earlier forms by slow transformations. (Darwin, 1959; quoted in Huxley, 1872: X) Theories have been articulated, and researches have been made to bring the realities of biological and cultural evolutions to the limelight. The study of the evolutionary process has also got unabated projection with the passage of time. Charles Darwin’s theory revolutionized the views regarding biological human evolution in modern times, and many of the future researchers and scholars followed the same while articulating their assumptions and making their analyses. Darwin always submitted that only those creatures could survive, which maintained the power to combat with the rival forces on the one hand and had the capability to mold themselves according to the changes taking place in their environment. The film “Darwin’s Nightmare” also submits the same notion, keeping in view the techniques and methodology of modern times.

The film above-mentioned presents the bitter reality that there remains conflict among the individuals and nations alike, both in the time of war and peace. These states and situations, according to the film, support the great powers to fry their own fish in the troubled waters by pushing the poor countries and different groups of one country as well into a position of constant conflict against one another. Such conflicts keep these countries backward and underdeveloped forever. The documentary argues the very fact that how big powers are responsible for the destruction of the environment of poor countries just to preserve food resources for their own masses. The film is highly symbolic, which emphatically views that the inclusion of foreign aid, foreign companies, and foreign investment are extremely jeopardizing for the local environment of the third world countries. It can be highly beneficial for the European powers and can produce food and revenue for them, but it is critically harmful to the third world. The role of world-class monetary organizations, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and the impact of their policies have also been elaborated in the film. The World Bank is a group of many institutions, and many organizations come under its fold. The basic motive behind that all was to support the poor countries in their development programs, though it now serves as the instrument of the cause of big powers. “The core mission of the organizations like International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA) is no longer to partner with middle-income countries in their pursuit of balanced and externally oriented growth; it is to alleviate poverty in poor countries and in the poorest pockets of middle-income countries.” (Einborn, 2006:17) Einhorn is of the view that since the contribution of the World Bank has eradicated poverty from the poor countries and the rich and developed states is no need for such organizations at all. Thus there is no need for these organizations anymore in the future.

The film also mentions how social movements, commercial activities, and economic engagements are indirectly and quite secretly launched and organized to comply with the interests of the big powers keeping the poor and third world countries in the state of slavery forever. “The agents of the big powers belonging to the poor countries”, Zaidi opines, “protect their interests and project their schemes in their own countries in the name of human rights, environment protection, proliferation and others; by this they simply mean to oblige their foreign masters rather raising the cause of rights, justice and equality altogether.” (2007: 31) Sauper shows how European nations are getting raw material and food products from the poor countries and giving them out-dated ammunition in the name of strengthening their defense. On the contrary, they simply mean to keep them in an uncertain socioeconomic situation of poverty and dependability, so that they can provide the European nations with natural resources and fresh and precious food. Walt Whitman Rostow, in his famous “The Stages of Economic Growth” describes how different nations and countries undergo various stages while climbing up the ladder of economic prosperity. These stages include the traditional society, the preconditions for take-off, the take-off, the drive to maturity and the age of high mass-consumption. While discussing the take-off stage, he submits that during this stage, a country becomes financially stabilized and its different social institutions work in coherence. The industry of the country flourishes and economic growth rate gains imperative boost. “The take-off is the interval”, Rostow argues, “when the old blocks and resistances to steady growth are finally overcome. The forces making for economic progress, which yielded limited bursts and enclaves of modern activity, expand and come to dominate the society. Growth becomes its normal condition. Compound interest becomes built, as it were, into its habits and institutional structure.” (1960: 11) Since the country makes unabated progress at this stage, there appear rival forces to block the speed of development. Consequently, they divert their attention from economic activities to defense. It seriously weakens the economic activities and resources are allocated in war purposes.

The major theme of the film reminds the spectators 19th century colonial age when the big powers of Europe had invaded the poor countries of Africa, captured their resources, made the local population as their slaves and established their own governments. Sauper discloses the very fact that though the days of colonization are over and no nation could be cowed down in such an era where media and the human rights organizations are not ready to allow any power to make the other its slave, the great powers have exercised their economic and trade policies in such a way that the poor countries are completely dependent of them in respect of their defense and trade activities. The political system of the poor African and Asian countries resembles the imperialism of colonial type, where the freedom movements launched by the patriot forces against the interests of imperialistic states of the globe, were crushed with an iron hand. Further, as these social movements are the sign of resistance, it is not only against the command or authority; rather, resistance might be in favor of some human right or so. “International law supports, Anghie states, “some of the social movements of poor countries which are perhaps in the interests of big powers. In the same way, it condemns those resisting forces launched by the oppressed that are contradictory to them.” (2005:19) The big powers want to go ahead far from the third world countries instead of taking them along with. It is therefore they always try to introduce and recommend age-old technology to these countries which they have given up for their own countries to adopt new ways of technological and cultural advancements. By this, they mean to keep third world backward and economically down-trodden. The great European powers, which are controlling the bridles of the third world governments, not only allocating their resources to feather their own caps from the platform of the international organizations, but also working vehemently to subjugate their ex-colonies. Sauper has discussed almost the same subjects in his film, which gave sound boost to knowledge and comprehension regarding international law, conflict and politics. It is not a state or a government, according to the famous French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault, which runs the affairs of a country. Rather, individuals play most important role in making as well as influencing political, social and economic policies of a country.

Colonialism is a kind of despotism and division of individuals on the basis of caste, clan, tribe, race, region, religion, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status give air to resistance movements in a society. The focal point of the Marxists, Fanon believes, is equal distribution of wealth to avoid conflict and confrontation between haves and haves-not. But mere national liberation or economic equality do not mean independence. Rather, suppression of some specific culture, civilization, religion, race and ethnic group are the factors that cause resistance movements within the purview of a political structure of government. International law does not allow anyone to suppress individuals on the basis of the race or religion etc. Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci stands for the difference between the war of position and the war of movement. Gramsci opines that conflicts, strikes and boycotts stand almost on equal footings and both of them cause revolution in a society even many classes do not participate in the campaign very actively. The Europeans’ scheme of taking the fillets of the Nile Perch fish from the Tanzanian Lake reveals the very fact that the Europeans are launching such investments which may jeopardize the very environment of the poor countries in the name of financial aid. By this, they ad not mean to perform something for the development of these countries; rather, they are interested in making these nations their dependants by giving them their cultural traits, technology and ammunition and having an unconditional access to their resources consequently.

Even then no one can negate the role of the World Bank in the development process of the poor countries. The first chapter of the annual reports of UNDP clearly reveals the reality that the World Bank has supported the backward states in decreasing high child mortality rate and raised standard of their living. But the report submits to state that the gap between the rich and poor countries are widening in this age of free trade and globalization. “Average incomes in developing countries have been growing far more strongly since 1990. Yet this income growth has not put the world on track for the MDGs—most of which will be missed in most countries. Part of the problem is that growth has been unequally distributed between and within countries.” (UNDP Human Development Report, 2005:19)


  1. Anghie, Antony. (2005) Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Darwin, Charles Robert. (1872) The Origin of Species A Mentor Book. New American Library, New York
  3. Einborn, Jessica (2006) Reforming the World Bank: Creative Destruction Volume 85 Number 1. Rajagopal, Balakrishnan. (2003) International Law from Below: Development, Social Movements and Third World Resistance. Cambridge University Press.
  4. W.W. Rostow. (1960) The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. UNDP. The State of Human Development. Annual Human Development Report, 2005. Chapter 1.
  6. · Zaidi, M. H. (2007) Re-insurgence of Russia Moosa Publications, Urdu Bazaar Lahore.
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