Una vita in Africa – A life in Africa Rotating Header Image

Costruire Giustizia in un’Africa che Cambia – Building Justice in a Changing Africa

Africa is a place of great crises and humanitarian disasters. Or at least that is the image that exists in the minds of many Westerners. Speaking of Africa inevitably evokes the popular interpretation of the horsemen of the Apocalypse: Pestilence, War, Famine And Death. The litany of negative stereotypes continues when the discourse becomes more specific: underdevelopment, corruption, violation of human rights, malaria and HIV/AIDS, environmental disasters, land grabbing, exploitation of women and children, human trafficking, child soldiers, sorcerers, street children…the list is endless.

Most proposed interventions – despite being well intended in terms of setting things right – start from the assumption that Africa cannot succeed on its own. Rather, it needs foreign assistance, even just to survive.
In recent days, a video posted on the internet has attracted the attention of the world. It proposes ways to stop Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel movement without a cause that has existed in Uganda for over twenty years. The video, titled Kony 2012, is very innovative in terms of its communication design, but not for its proposed solutions because its begs for an American military intervention to stop Kony. Once again, it seems to suggest that salvation for Africa can only come from the outside.

For decades in the missionary world, we have asked ourselves whether it is ethical to use negative images of Africa to raise money (or to invoke action) for African causes. Most missionaries today reject this strategy, although there are occasional exceptions. But many aid organizations, even those of international stature, still use these methods.
When I turned on my computer this morning, I visited the website of an Italian newspaper. For several weeks I had noticed, at the bottom of the newspaper’s webpage, an icon with the face of an African baby imploring to be supported. This morning I clicked on the icon and the following text by a well-known aid agency appeared:
“In 2011, the Horn of Africa was hit by a terrible drought, the worst in 60 years. We are in 2012, but thousands of children continue to die of hunger and thirst every day. Eastern Africa is just one of the most problematic regions in Africa. The entire continent is constantly plagued by wars, famines, disease and extreme poverty. The children are always the part of the population that suffers the most. Together, we can change their destiny.”
This is an oversimplification that highlights only the negative aspects of Africa. Yet it is only an example, and not even one that uses the strongest pictures and words, compared to the numerous humanitarian appeals, including those with the positive intent to move towards a greater sense of solidarity, depict the entire continent as a failure, a place where the apocalypse has already begun.

But in Africa – surprise! – there is also an acceleration of economic development. While the West is in crisis, and while China and India are giving signs of economic fatigue, the economies of most African countries continue to grow at rates between 6-7% per annum. The era of the Asian Tigers appears to have passed; could this mean the era of the African Lions is arriving?

According to the IMF, Ghana is projected to grow by 13.5% in 2012, Niger by 12.5% and Angola by 10.5%. A good number of other countries, among them Kenya, will stabilize at an annual growth of around 7%. Sierra Leone’s economic growth is expected to leap by more than 51 %! On the average, the continent’s economic growth will be around 6%. Quite emblematic is the case of Angola, which is negotiating with Portugal, ready to extend a helping hand to its former colonial power. The authoritative British weekly, The Economist, last December devoted an entire issue to the topic of Africa’s economic growth.

How can we reconcile these two conflicting images? Common misconceptions and prejudices die hard, but this may not be sufficient to explain such a gap between perception and reality.
Perhaps the simplest explanation is that both images of Africa – that of a terminal case and that of a potential economic Lion, are true. Things are happening at a very fast pace in Africa and around the world, and just as Pope Paul VI denounced already almost 40 years ago, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

According to the calculations of the financial group Credit Suisse, the poorest half of the global adult population owns only 1% of the world’s wealth. A total of 3.051 million adults, representing 67.6% of the global adult population, has only 3.3% of the world’s wealth. In contrast, the richest 10% have 84% of global wealth, the richest 1% owns 44% and the richest 0.5% of the world population own 38.5% of the world’s wealth.
The world economic crisis has only enhanced the concentration of a high proportion of the world’s wealth in the hands of a small minority. In 2010, the companies Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management published a report on the situation of the rich world, where we read that the total number of individuals in the global high income bracket grew by 17.1% in 2009, and even though the global economy contracted by 2%, the total wealth of these individuals increased by 18.9%.

In Nairobi, the coexistence of two parallel economies is increasingly visible, at least for those who have the eyes to see. Affluence, technological development, sophisticated media are accessible to 20% of the population, while another 60% live in a state of serious degradation. The 20% who live in the middle are dwindling because few of them are able to jump a step higher, and the rest find themselves slowly being reabsorbed into the lower bracket. The same situation repeats itself at the national level: the drought that last year caused famine and death in the country’s North-East has been experienced in Nairobi by a significant proportion of people, not for what it was – a national problem regarding the redistribution of resources and justice – but as a media opportunity for large companies to show off their “corporate responsibility” programmes.

So what should we do? Should we deny assistance to the poor who are not assisted by their wealthy countrymen? Should we close the era of aid and open the era of the trade? Should we allow international corporations to be in charge of establishing justice with their “social responsibility” programmes? Should we surrender to the fact that human progress is only measured by the index of economic growth? Should we accept that the new global political equilibrium is controlled by those who have more weapons and are more arrogant? Better yet, should we become determined to be in the group of the rich, and keep the poor at a safe distance, letting them learn to fend for themselves if they are unable to compete in the social ladder?

In the Christian tradition there are social principles such as the common good, responsibility, justice and solidarity, just to name a few. These are principles that, by their own internal dynamics, ask to be applied on a global scale.
In recent years have we seen that with globalization and new means of communication, interdependence between nations has increased and has become more and more visible. Unfortunately it does not appear to increase neither the sense of global responsibility, nor the spirit of solidarity and justice.
The small contribution, as much in Africa as in Europe, that we can provide is the practice and teaching of justice and solidarity. Without ceasing, without imposing, and without applying violence of any kind. Together, with perseverance and respect, we can slowly discover new ways of learning to be one humanity.

Nairobi. Dawn

One Comment

  1. Mikele Mau Mau says:

    Siamo una sola Tribù, siamo un solo Spirito: è un tamburo che rimbomba nell’Anima

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