All in Africa

Gimme, Gimme More

By 2013, more than 1.5 million Ethiopians will be displaced from their homes by the orders of their own government. Some will have to relocate to areas that lack stable access to food and water, and still more may find they can no longer support themselves financially.

Kony 2012 gave massive attention Invisible Children. It also distracted from the manifold issues at hand – tribal conflicts, warlordism, the victimization of indigenous civilians, government corruption, and control of mining and drilling rights – and attributed all of Uganda’s problems to one man.

Consider the flying toilet. The term comes from the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Within the slum, there is often less than one latrine per 50 shacks, with each 12-foot by 12-foot shack containing, on average, eight people. Kibera sits on government land that never fully transferred legally to its pre-independence residents, and, as such, the government treats residents as squatters with no right or entitlement to legal, social, or economic protection. A complete lack of governmental presence within the slum means that at night, with no street lights and collections of roving thugs (and, at times, predatory policemen looking for a shakedown), using toilets can become dangerous. In response, shacks stock up on plastic bags, defecate or urinate into them after dark, and fling them from their windows out into the streets to bake in the morning sun.

China’s recent activity in Africa goes beyond the mere muscle-flexing and oil-grabbing tendencies of an emerging global power. In the last five years, media reports of China’s growing presence in Africa have increasingly reinforced and intensified Western fears of an unrestrainable imperialist state. Articles brandishing headlines such as “China’s Economic Invasion of Africa” and “Africa: China’s New Backyard” depict Africa as the victim of China’s rapacious neo-imperialism.

Whenever Americans recall Somalia, whether considering lofty foreign policy aims or simply reflecting upon the chance encounter with the name, our minds inevitably snap back to October 3, 1993 and the tragedy that was the Battle of Mogadishu. This is a memory of eighteen U.S. soldiers lying senselessly dead and desecrated, one even decapitated, in the streets of a hostile city. Given the striking clarity with which Black Hawk Down has memorialized the chaos and the horror of this battle, it is no surprise that the trauma remains fresh in our collective consciousness. At the time, the shock of this loss and the seemingly intractable and inhuman belligerence and disorder of the nation compelled the U.S. and all other foreign forces to withdraw. Somalia did not fit with the spirit of the times, the notions of how intervention and aid was to be conducted. After 1993, Somalia dropped off the map of U.S. foreign policy, relegated to a distasteful and repressed memory, and no one has been able to make a great case for a return.

A few months ago, I was standing in line at the Gap when I overheard a mother talking to her young daughter. “Buying this shirt will help us to save Africans,” she said, smiling as she waved a child-size shirt that read “INSPI(RED)” across the chest. I wondered if this could possibly be true.

This July, while interning for l’Organisation Marocaine Des Droits de l’Homme (OMDH)/Moroccan Human Rights Organization, I saw the streets of Rabat, Morocco adorned with red and green. The Moroccan national flag was displayed at every street corner, and pictures of King Mohammed VI were hung in every restaurant. The country was preparing to celebrate Throne Day, the ten-year anniversary of King Mohammed VI’s ascension to the throne.

Rampant apathy and cynicism. Growing civic disengagement. Hedonistic individualism. These accusations have often been leveled at our generation of students. The lack of traditional engagement by the 18-24-year-old cohort has been seen as the end of student activism. But these criticisms are blind to the diversity and subtle power of the student action happening today.

“I don’t drink Starbucks.” That used to be my mantra. They had destroyed Spinelli’s and were squeezing Martha’s, and I did not appreciate it. It wasn’t that I did not love their orange-mocha frappuccinos (I did), but I felt like buying their coffee would be an unforgivable breach of my ethical codes.

“Extreme poverty can be ended, not in the time of our grandchildren, but our time,” wrote Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia’s Earth Institute and Special Adviser to Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals, in his new book, The End of Poverty.