Friday, February 10, 2006

There's a lot of talk about Africa these days. It seems that after so many years of freedom from the colonial powers, things are still going shitty on the continent. I'm not here to say why they are, though most of it comes from racist and dehumanizing colonial politics that left African nations poorly equipped to deal with the onslaught of democracy and global economics.

But I will say this: there lies a deep-seeded prejudice against Africa, and it is quite possibly the saddest thing I have ever heard of.

Forever the 'Dark' continent, even in this most 'enlightened' year of 2006, Africa gets the short end of the stick in virtually every way. Since Christian missionaries headed to Africa to "convert the heathens", there has been - in my estimation - only two ways in which people have set out to wrestle with the place.

1. Convert them. I mean, if only they were Christians, then maybe they would stop being so weird and tribal and actually become civilized. Luckily, this mode of thinking has been almost universally dismissed as backward and racist.

2. Unfortunately, the second way has not been unmasked for what it is. People in this camp see Africa as their own personal means of salvation, and either try and get Africans out of Africa to places where, admittedly, they have a better chance to live a life with dignity, or people underestimate the continent and somehow believe that they can go there and shape it to their own will. (See: Many government-owned 'aid agencies')

I am not suggesting that there are not people in Africa who truly want to help and put their entire heart into working for the marginalized and disenfranchised. There are. But I see the overarching sentiment to be expressed as a naive notion that "we" can help "them" which, in the long run, perpetuates a stereotype that all Africans are good for is sitting around and waiting to be helped. I think a more appropriate line of thinking admits that we are all in this together - all human beings - and the things that are happening in Africa hurt us all.

I don't lay any blame at the feet of people who, just like people in Africa, had no choice about where they were born. I lay it all - and I have no reservations doing so - at the feet of multinational corporations and the Western, industrialized countries that pander to them. The actions of governments in the West say one thing, and they say it clearly and distinctly:

People in Africa do not matter as much as other people.

Deep down, I can see no other explanation for policies and programs (and the lack thereof) than the underlying idea that Africans are disposable.

This is not a rip even on people who work for multinational corporations that are involved in Africa. I think we are all part of a system that has created the Africa of today, and I don't think we can honestly say that if what was happening in Africa was happening in California, or Ireland, or Canada, that we wouldn't do anything about it. This is not a call just to America, but to all nations who have their wealth and comfort partly because of the actions taken in Africa, from 17th century slavery to modern-day slave-like economic conditions.

And that includes people who live like kings in African nations, taking the spoils of war and using it for themselves and their political cronies while people starve right outside their magnificent castles and palaces. In fact, I think my main loathing is reserved for those bastards.

It makes me sad, sure. But even more than that, it makes me angry as shit. Centuries of condecension, ignorance, and pure ambivalence towards Africa has resulted in a world largely clueless about the place itself and even less aware of the disastrous effect colonialism wrought on the once-sovereign land.

It's so ironic to think of the reality of Africa today, knowing that all human life had their beginnings in this vast and complex sweep of earth. We are all connected to Africa, and in a deep and unintelligible way we must look at the atrocities and starvation and AIDS epidemics as part of our own suffering.

Africa is a part of me, and yes - I only spent four months there. And then I went back to my comfortable existence in America. And yes, I am looking at going to seminary next year. And there were times when I wanted to scream at the kids begging for money in Cape Town. And there were times when I did.

But there are times when all I want to do is go to Africa and never come back. Will I? Probably not. America is my home, for better and for worse. Yet the power of Africa continues to lay dormant in the wrenching screams of Her suffering children, and it cries out with a haunting voice across the lands and oceans and directly into our hearts.

It doesn't ask for help. It's much more demanding. It says, in the words of someone I cannot remember right now (and probably horribly paraphrased), "Don't come to help me. I don't need your help. But if you realize that your liberation is tied up with mine, then come, and we'll work together."

There is hope in Africa. I just wish that we came to see Africa for what she is: The soul of this world. I can only imagine that our future generations will come to judge us not for the amount of money made or prosperity achieved by our wealthy nations, but by the radical actions taken to affirm, once and for all, that we are all equally beautiful children of God, no matter where we happen to be born on this earth.

May the severe beauty of Africa grace the world with its presence, wisdom, and love.


At 10:10 AM , Blogger Scott said...

Your perspective on Africa is really insightful... if only we all could be more aware of things that go on over there! Found your blog by looking up "LVC" on Technorati... I'm interested in learning more about it/applying to do it, so if you don't mind, I have some questions for you!

Many thanks!

sakuha AT wm DOT edu


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