Africa – a place I both romanticize and despair for – is very much on my mind today because I always read the on-line edition of the New York Times (as much as I can read without a subscription). I warn you that if you look at the NYT, Africa will be on your mind all day too. The famine in Somalia is so terrible; the photos are so heart-wrenching that we almost wish for the old days when news would not have reached us in such immediate and graphic ways. The body we see on the front page does not resemble a living human being and we do not really comprehend how someone could survive such deprivation.
We see that shelters and food are available to these famine-stricken people, but we are told that they must walk for weeks with very little food and water in order to reach relief. The efforts of the relief agencies are also being stretched. Our first impulse is that we need to do something to save these families, but we are so far away and even if we make a donation to an agency we know we cannot protect everyone from painful fortune every time it strikes. In a way we have the whole world as a next door neighbor, but logistically we really don’t.
So the Africa of the movie Out of Africa, or the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy or the books of Alexander McCall Smith, the Africa of people with humor and pride, the Africa of sunsets and savannahs and Masai and exotic animals and cities is not the Africa we see most often lately. We see the Africa without a viable economy, the Africa decimated by Aids, the Africa of political upheaval and its own unique form of gang warfare.
Of course, both of these Africas still exist. Africa still holds beauty and horror, prosperity and extreme deprivation. What we would like to see is a strong Africa, an Africa that no longer has to struggle with living at the edge of disaster and beyond, but the things Africa needs in order to reach this ideal state are things we cannot supply. Africa needs an Pan-African union to help deal with the needs of all the disparate regions on the continent and it needs strong leaders, and it needs income sources and maybe it needs this council to coordinate resources on the entire continent, an African union that recognizes the strengths of the many different peoples who live on the African continent and controls the human predators that take such a toll in many areas of Africa. I may not really know anything about how to solve the problems of Africa, but Africa is on my mind today.