Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Faltering Africa

I read an article about the state of war in Africa and have been rolling it around in my head for the last few days.  Sometimes you read something about the world which just slaps you in the face, and this was one of those times for me.

I tend to be an optimist on both a micro and macro level.  Many would call this naivete or willful delusion, but I consider it asset.  I believe that things will work out okay for me personally during difficult times (my wife might say this causes me to be less proactive than I should be, and maybe she's right), and I believe that the world is actually doing okay.  Sure there are problems, big ugly problems, but there are also a lot of good people doing their best to solve those problems.

We live in a world that has less slavery than ever before, less racism and sexism, more tolerance and understanding.  Mass communication has allowed us to perceive and react to inhumanities worldwide where before they would go unnoticed.  For every war or earthquake there are aid groups like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders who rush in to help improve the situation.  And, of course, our church and many others donate hundreds of millions of dollars worth of supplies and volunteer time every year to help the disadvantaged.  For every instance of cruelty in the world I look for and see equal instances of charity.

But, man, Africa.

That article from Foreign Policy is sobering.  The county is teeming with armed groups whose only goals are crime, banditry, rape, and terror.  But not terror in the sense of terrorism with a political motivation, terror for terror's sake.  You cannot negotiate with them because they want no land, seek no political power, have no demands.  They only want to keep committing crime.  And because the people hate them, they can't muster up recruits, so they steal children from villagers and teach them to be killers before they reach puberty.

It's not that I didn't know things were bad in Africa, we've all heard about genocides, failed states, blood diamonds, military coups, oppressive totalitarians, famine, hunger, and disease.  But we also know about the temples, the fall of apartheid, and successful nations like Kenya.  When I served my mission in France there were many Africans who had immigrated and they were generally good, humble, God-fearing people.  They really don't deserve what is happening.

So the hard question is what to do about it.  There is always the no-action alternative where we do nothing because it's not our problem.  There is the military alternative where we go in and maintain the peace by force.  There is the foreign aid option where we try to pump money into African economies and the World Bank/IMF and hope the improved economic conditions can lift the countries out of chaos.

America spends about 25 times more on military matters than foreign aid.  We spend about 0.1% of GNP on foreign aid, well below other developed countries and below the NATO goal of 0.7% of GNP.  As a side note, the church has spent tens of millions of dollars in supplies, volunteer hours, and loans to Africa over the past 25 years.  Pres. Obama promised to increase America's foreign aid, but with a faltering economy has not had the political capital to increase that spending.

In a world where our foreign policy is most concerned about stopping terrorism and rogue nuclear weapons, we have to put an emphasis on Africa.  The lawlessness and despair in many African countries is a cauldron for the creation of terrorists and failed states.  America has to be dedicated to improving conditions in Africa just like we are dedicated to spreading democracy in the Middle East.  I am truly grateful to be a member of a church that has donated so much in humanitarian aid to Africa, but I realize that it is not enough.  Our nation has to increase our reach in Africa.

But we shouldn't just do it as a mechanism for self-protection, though that is a persuasive political argument.  If we want true success our motivation will be purely humanitarian, what Christians would call charity.  We should do it because it's right, because we are all God's children and as citizens of the most prosperous and powerful nation on earth we have the added responsibility to help those that are in need.  I can't think of any people in greater need right now than Africa.


Daniel H said...

Jacob, I have to agree with you on this - we need to do something, because truly, the Africans that I've met are just wonderful people. My wife and I swap stories about West Africans that we met on our mission to France and Switzerland and they're some of the best people, just as you experienced.

It's hard to say what we can do to help stem this lawlessness.

GreatWhiteHope said...

Don't know where you got the graphic but as far as stating that South Africa is stable..... well, it's either an old graphic or if that's the stable marker then the rest of Africa ought to resemble a nuclear holocaust. South Africa is one of the most dangerous nations in the world currently next to Mexico.

Jacob S. said...

And Mexico is also a stable country. It's not a graphic that shows how violent a country is or how much crime it has, it's a graphic that shows how politically stable the country is. South Africa is politically stable even as they deal with high crime.

GreatWhiteHope said...

Ah.... I would think stability would be an overall measure; a veritable index if you will, combining crime/violence, political climate, and other indicators to get an overall picture of the stability of a place. But.... ok, that makes the graphic sensible. I'm just glad you didn't try to argue with me about Mexico.