Feeding Africa

Hello everybody,

just recently I’ve come about an article I wrote for a Switzerland e-zine in October 2008, when the World Economic Crisis, had just started. Actually I might translate it into English some time soon – if I find the time to do so for Swine Flu hasn’t yet locked me indoors. Back last October I declared the World Economic Crisis wouldn’t mean the end to the world as we know it. There wouldn’t be a World War III. Just none of all the horror parcel some people were expecting (and might still be).

One morning as I went through my usual news – Austrian news, as I’ve become lazy with international sources lately – I got reminded that for some it might indeed be the End of the World. The end of their world. Their life. Austrian public news network ORF reported how United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) claimed due to the Crisis there would be too little money to feed the „poorest of the poor“. Only a budget of 2,62 Billion Euros had been granted to WFP – half of what would be needed to feed the top 1% of an estimated 1 Billion starving people worldwide. Aid had already been cut due to that, WFP claimed.

Of course I surfed WFP’s website for additional information: Migdalit’s journalism rule no.1: Get as close to the primary source as possible! And though the article was published by ORF on July 31st – is there a Pagan around who remembered to talk about food on Lughnasad? – I had to scroll down their press section pretty far to find a press release related to the article presented as hot news by ORF. It was issued on June 19th. Really, it’s moments like this, that really give you a clue how the media functions. I wonder how they do it: Do they just save potentially interesting press releases for later on when they might be needed for days without any „real“ news? Or do they keep some kind of a list of „usual suspects“ of agencies that would always have something to report on as „hot news“?

However, back to food and the food crisis. It really is a tough issue and, though I am not too much of a fan of any UN agencies anymore since I’ve had the joy of my own set of experiences with them, I admit that I wouldn’t want to be in any WFP official’s shoes.

I’ve been having some rather vivid arguments with my common-law husband (in Germany regularly referred to as „boyfriend or life partner or spouse or whatever that’s supposed to be“), who used to live in Africa, about Africans and whether Europeans really screwed them up to the point most believe them to. As a 1990ies’ child I sure came of age believing Europe had a historic responsibility to Africa because it was us who screwed them up during colonialism. Later on I realized that, for most African states, actual colonialism lasted hardly a lifetime. Indirect rule systems might have for a century or two, at most. Does it really take so little time to screw up an entire society to the point of it seemingly being unrecoverable wounded? History tells us that most of the time things are rapidly destroyed, in fact, are rather rapidly rebuilt too without devastating chaos following them keeping the place and society from recovery.

Perhaps in the end it’s mostly about the people affected that need to be kept sane and hopeful. As long as they are natural disasters and wars and alike might devastatingly wash over them, they might change lifes forever but in the end society – as a whole entity – will start recovery as soon as the major effect is over. Just take Croatia. Hardly more then ten years after a major civil war there are hardly any sights of it anymore. It’s astonishing how much capacity of healing human society has in the end. Even after two devastating wars in Europe she recovered. Society got over it. People concentrated on other issues then their wounds to tend for. Most major tragedies of history had a beginning and they had an end. But for some reason the tragedy of Africa doesn’t seem to have an ending. Does it have a beginning?

It’s understandable how people would just assume the obvious: Europeans went to Africa and screwed it up. They destroyed their societies, their agricultural systems, their hierarchy and when they were forced out of the continent again by the end of the 20th century they left her in chaos. But why didn’t Africans, other then other peoples, just restart where they ended before Europeans conquered them? Why did things get even worse when Europeans left? There’s quite a list of post-colonial nations all around the world that managed pretty fine (though most do have their issues). Why didn’t Africa do? It’s not like it was a continent naturally lacking resources of any kind. There is nothing Africa wouldn’t have. There’s that story, indeed, of how

God, when creating the world, went this place and that place, putting that little bit of resources everywhere. However when (s)he cam to Africa (s)he would just shake everything that was left her/his hands.

So this is where the argument starts – and you’re heavily encouraged to join in in your own blogs or simply adding your comments – as my partner has been raising the idea Africa might in fact already have been in chaos by the time Europeans arrived there. Which sure has a point given how Africans do have a history of slave trade pre European arrival, for instance. And assuming chaos wasn’t implemented on Africa by Europe it would be all too natural if she fell back into even more chaos after Europeans left. But if this was true, how could be possibly help? Keeping people dependent on food aid can hardly be the solution but, in my opinion, only adds to African governments keeping their attention on their own business instead of on their starving population. What is the appropriate response, the one that will help most on the long run? Interestingly enough it leads to the same two options I have often seen confronted with as regards the Middle East Region:

  1. Try to teach them, help them, set an example and push them into whatever direction some team of experts thinks will help by means of outside power or
  2. Have the guts to keep out. Debrief them of international attention, make sure nobody else interferes where „Western“ World backs out and have them sort it out on their own, even if it might have things escalating in the first, if escalation is part of a self-regulation process.

Nobody ever claimed making a difference would be easy …

Shalom and As’salama




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