Thursday, February 14, 2008

Africa - My Thoughts

Last week Zimbabwe issued a ten million dollar bill (about 4 U.S. dollars)! That’s because their inflation rate is 25000 percent! A hamburger costs 15 million dollars. Look at it. I laughed, and then it broke my heart. I love Africa! I was born in Africa. I can’t describe what it’s like to experience the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Africa. Africa is not the cause of the month for me, or a photo opportunity. I lived in South Africa for the first 20 years of my life. The people are wonderful - full of joy, welcoming, and hospitable. I’ve been to Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. I’ve seen the Cape of Good Hope, climbed Table Mountain, smelled the pines of Tstsikamma, seen Victoria Falls, and stood at the convergence of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique in the Luangwa Valley, as the mighty Zambezi rolls towards Cabora Bassa. So here are my thoughts.

Most of Africa is a continent without much hope for its people. According to the Hoover Institution, two-thirds of African countries have either stagnated or shrunk economically since independence in the 1960s. Most African nations today are poorer than they were in 1980 - by very wide margins. Poverty is not a cause but a result of Africa's problems. According to Genocide Watch, about 9 million black Africans have been slaughtered through genocide and mass murder since 1960. There are a couple of sad observations one can make about this ongoing tragedy. The first is that if an equivalent number of rhinos, giraffes and lions had been similarly slaughtered, the world would be in an uproar. The second observation is that there was one African country that was the focal point of mass demonstrations, moral outcry, and economic reprisals. It was South Africa. But was South Africa the worst in terms of black lives lost? It turns out that only about 5000 South African blacks lost their lives during apartheid. World silence in the wake of millions upon millions of black lives lost on the rest of the continent, but world outrage in the case of South African apartheid and 5000 lives lost. Could it be that white Africans are held to higher standards of civility, thus our mistreatment of blacks is unacceptable, while blacks and Arabs are held to a lower standard of civility and their mistreatment of blacks is less offensive? This is the bigotry of low expectations.

According to the World Bank it takes 2 days to incorporate a company in Canada. In Mozambique it takes 153 days. Meanwhile, next door in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe's government is being given hundreds of thousands of tons of emergency supplies from the U.N.'s World Food Program. At the U.N. the head of the WFP emphasized that the famine was all due to drought and Aids, and nothing to do with Mugabe's stewardship of the economy. In 2002 Zimbabwe's government ordered those commercial farmers whose land had not yet been confiscated to cease all operations. Until we get serious about the thugs in power, no amount of “aid” will aid, because foreign aid goes to governments. So instead of helping the poor, foreign aid has enabled African tyrants to buy cronies and military equipment to stay in power, not to mention establishing multimillion dollar “retirement” accounts in Swiss banks.

What African countries need, the West cannot give. What Africans need is personal liberty. That means a political system where there are guarantees of private property rights and the rule of law. If you’re living in some impoverished African village, would you want any “wealth” if there is the constant likelihood that the government or some irate chief will take it from you, and maybe even take your life in the process? The Index of Economic Freedom published by the Wall Street Journal, lists Botswana, South Africa and Namibia as “mostly free.” Is there any mystery why they're well ahead of their neighbors? The lack of liberty means something else: A faltering nation loses its best and brightest people first. According to the last census, there were 881,300 African-born U.S. residents, of whom I am one. Want to end poverty in Africa? The first step must be removing those petty dictators who rule throughout that continent - dictatorial mini-giants like Robert Mugabe. Yes, there's hunger and poverty in Zimbabwe, and a history of racism and injustice; but the blame is to be placed squarely on Mugabe, not on a lack of help from the West.


Ryan said...

As you know I am quite vocal about Robert Mugabe and how the world ignores the atrocities of his regime. Actually, the world has not completely ignored the atrocities. Mugabe, you may not know, is not allowed to travel withing the EU or the USA and we don't import any Zimbabwean products. Good for us and the Euros.

Mugabe had a section of Harare bulldozed when he heard that people in that part of town voted for his opponent in the last election. The residents were given no warning. Some of them were still in their homes when the demolition started.

I am not a revisionist nor do I make any excuses for apartheid. It was just plain wrong. However, apartheid is not the greatest blemish on South Africa's national conscience. The protection and enabling of Robert Mugabe is. Current president Mbeki's father was protected by Mugabe when he was a wanted terrorist by the South African government. And so Mugabe is protected by Mbeki in return.

The west continues to coddle African leaders. We make excuses for their actions instead of holding them accountable for them. Sure Zimbabwe has hunger and poverty, but those are results not causes of the real problem. The real problem is Robert Mugabe.

I have some thoughts on why Bono is a misguided do-gooder, but I don't have the time to share them now.

David said...

Great post on the problems in Africa. I was only in Africa for 3 months and I was appalled at how many times it seemed like we had to bribe someone to cross a border, how much mob justice seems to reign supreme,and the strak contrast between major cities like Kumasi and Accra and small villages. In one of those villages we broke down at and the water they brought us to help cool down our engine was literally orange! To make things even worse, I saw Hotel Rwanda for the first time in Africa and watching a movie about a recent event that I was completely ignorant about and that the West did nothing to prevent was equally as appalling.

Yet what can we as Christians do about this problem, especially if we are Christians who support nonviolence. We can support boycots, we can appeal congress, make documentaries, inform others, and go over there to assist, but can we really overthrow a political leader? And even if Ameria did it, wouldn't the rest of the world accuse of being the world's police and starting another Iraq?

I just don't know what the answer is. One of the problems with Africa is its mess is our fault. We conquered it, divided up tribes, families, and homes, gave them technology and excelerated them at an ungodly pace, all in the name of resources, and now we have left them to figure out things themselvs, yet are still trying to get our hands on their resources. So in some sense we should be responsible for problems we're causing but again I do not know what Christians can do. And this is not coming from some one who simply wants to throw up my hands and give up but just someone who is trying to look at real problem through the lens of the cross and is uncertain what actions Christ would perform if he were here today.

P.S. For those who want a good movie that illustrates a lot of the corruption in Africa go see "Blood Diamond." Yet it has DiCaprio but is still a good movie.

David said...

Oh and I know that its probably some blogging faux paux to respond to older posts, but in regard to your human sacrifice/cross blog, I think that you might find it interesting to read Jon Levenson's "The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son." His books is divided into three parts. The first, talks about how pervasive human sacrifice was in Canaanite religion, especially the sacrifice of the first born, which is also pervasive in the OT except Israelite religin had a way to redeem the first born. The second, argues that theme of death and resurrection of the beloved son is pervasive in Genesis (whether literally or symbolically) and focuses especially on the near sacrifice of Isaac. And the final section shows how the near sacrifice of Isaac became a foundational event for Jews in the Intertestamental period who connected it to the Passover, their own martyrdom, etc. and that this was in turn became one of the primary lens through which Christians saw Christ's death (especially John and Paul) Also, I would not say the East did not emphasis the crucifixion. It is just for the East the saw the crucifixion as a victory over Satan, and this was actually the primary way the church talked about the crucifixion until Anselm's view became so popular (atonement)

jenn said...

I will withold my comments about Africa until I have been there! :)

Mark said...

Be careful talking about removing a dictator... The problem is, there are only other, worse dictators standing in line to take the current dictator's place.

The best we can do is provide food and aid to as many as we can while we work with the current leadership to ensure as much of that aide as possible gets to the people.

Charles North said...

Jenn. You're a girl. I think Africa may be too rough for you. Just kidding :)

Mark. That's safe foreign policy for the most part. It's just that Zimbabwe hits home because it's so close (and similar) to where I grew up. Plus, I come from good, old-fashioned British colonial roots!

jenn said...

You know Charles, I can hang with the best of 'em! I think I can take care of myself, but thank you for your concern!