October 25, 2001
2:28 PM   Subscribe

Meanwhile, back in some secluded spot...Refugees are fleeing for their lives as a town of 20,000 people is completely demolished-in Nigeria. The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has agreed to take urgent action to eradicate slavery, i.e.children making chocolate. I could go on and on. Why does Africa receive such little attention when it's really the bigtop in the circus of world suffering?
posted by quercus (25 comments total)
Such little attention from whom?
posted by sudama at 2:34 PM on October 25, 2001

Our government. The problem is the "brown" people don't have much of value naturally - ergo, our government could give a crap. Every decade or so, there's USA for Africa, but that's more a passing fad than anything else. For a similar situation closer to home, see Haiti.
posted by owillis at 2:39 PM on October 25, 2001

Uh, last I checked most of the Muslim world is pretty brown...
posted by Cyrano at 2:53 PM on October 25, 2001

i came across this article recently about why africa matters that i thought was pretty good. it's by david hale, chief economist for zurich financial services.
posted by kliuless at 2:56 PM on October 25, 2001

"Such little attention from whom?"

Among other catastrophic events on the continent, according to the CIA World Factbook the estimated number of those who died in the genocide in Rwanda was 800,000. Almost a million people.

Maybe this this will underscore the lack of attention the continent gets.

Maybe some information on how Sudan can massacre its own civilians is in order.

All you need to do is dig and you will see just how ignored Africa is.
posted by mmarcos at 3:08 PM on October 25, 2001

I imagine it has to do with resources and our access to them. if we have easy access, there's no reason to pay much attention. if we have to fight for access (middle east) then that becomes a compelling place.

I've been wondering what happened to north korea and the terrible famine there (people eating grass, grandparents deliberately not eating what little food there is, so that the children and child-producing adults could have what little there is). I haven't heard a word about it in ages.
posted by rebeccablood at 3:20 PM on October 25, 2001

As rebeccablood says, because there's no oil there. Mind you, the only attention Afghanistan used to get was from lefty pinkos talking about human rights abuses.
posted by Summer at 3:28 PM on October 25, 2001

There is also the fairly widespread perception that Africa is so completely screwed that it's pointless trying to save it. This is probably related to the oft-discussed "donor fatigue". After a while, people just stop caring.

...and even a couple hundred villagers killed is just small potatoes compared to the continent at large. HIV is very nearly apocalyptic in subsaharan Africa; barring major major major advances, huge chunks of the population will die. It boggles the mind; we're whining about a half-dozen people getting anthrax, of which two or three die, and there are entire swaths of countryside where nearly half of the adult population is effectively doomed.

Don't even get me started on African history -- I'm still pissed that the Belgians got off so cheaply in Africa. They were, for a very long time, monsters. Absolute monsters, and today nobody remembers a dang thing -- they want to complain about some farmer somewhere getting shot by a death squad that may or may not have had indirect funding via third parties from some "first-world" nation.

We're so frickin eager to label every political action a "genocide" that the word no longer has meaning. Check out Africa, and you get a feel for what it really means, in all its many forms. But people just sit around, twiddle their thumbs, and mutter about meaningless "atrocities" inflicted elsewhere.

Sixteen unarmed people accidentally get blown up in central asia, and half the world freaks out. Meanwhile millions of people will die agonizing deaths, and most folks just cluck their tongues and move one to sexier causes.
posted by aramaic at 3:58 PM on October 25, 2001

btw, africa has been playing on pbs, a gorgeous nature/nat.graphic collab. it gets kind of ridiculous sometimes, like the soundtrack/narration/editing can get a little much, but there are moments of beauty that are just so amazing. and it's not all eye-candy either, really! get to know its people, culture and problems.
posted by kliuless at 4:18 PM on October 25, 2001

well, there is petroleum in africa, nigeria, niger, chad and libya all have petroleum, and probably many more countries (the cia world handbook doesn't have a comprehensive listing that I can find.)

resources are only an impetus for conflict when more than one group wants to control them.
posted by rebeccablood at 4:21 PM on October 25, 2001

It amazes me that those who follow an issue closely expect everyone else to be fully informed, or else worthy of derision. As has been pointed out here on MeFi, Americans are becoming more informed about the Middle East (and I think the world in general). I would suggest that we not lament what has happened (ignorance wise) before we work to inform a public ready to learn.

By the way, this thread is that very kind of eduacation that we may need. If you want to jump my shit because I'm defending the fact that many people don't know what's gone on in Africa, ask yourself why this post was phrased as a desperate and accusatory question.
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:22 PM on October 25, 2001

i think it's because there's a desire to relieve suffering and make everything alright. like if you see something obviously wrong your natural reaction is to do something about it. and then, if it doesn't happen, or go as planned, things get "desperate and accusatory," although i don't think that's the fairest way to characterize what might also be registered as concern.

it's not a bad thing, but i think there is the danger of paternalism. i think you have to recognize people's right to self-determination as well and also not to underestimate the value of people figuring it out on their own without "outside" intervention no matter its intentions. (hitchens is getting there :)
posted by kliuless at 4:48 PM on October 25, 2001

I'm not sure I understand the point of this post. Is it a plea for attention to Africa and its problems? Is the implication that the U.S. should be doing more as a nation, or that we, as Americans, should be doing more individually? Or is it that we somehow owe those in need...something? Please clarify this for me.
posted by rushmc at 5:04 PM on October 25, 2001

"resources are only an impetus for conflict when more than one group wants to control them." more then a mere impetus.
posted by clavdivs at 5:24 PM on October 25, 2001

The thing I find interesting about 'Americans becoming more knowledgeable about the middle east' is that I would characterize the area where most of the stuff is happening as 'central asia' (I'd at least call Uzbekistan, Afganistan and such as Central Asia) Pakistan maybe not, definately not the Middle East, more part of the 'Indian Subcontinent'....

So a lot of what people are learning isn't quite 100% properly classified.
posted by QrysDonnell at 6:07 PM on October 25, 2001

So a lot of what people are learning isn't quite 100% properly classified.

You crack me up, hehe. Please, tell people that are trying to learn how stupid and misinformed they really are. (Clue, I said the world in general, my opinion of coarse).
posted by Wulfgar! at 6:19 PM on October 25, 2001

Actually - i was just wondering about exactly what I asked-why does Africa receive such relatively scant attention?
A small example:
It was in late may 1994-after the first wave of slaughter had broke in Rwanda and people were on the run. A group of about 1100 Tutsi made their last stand on a small hilltop-and for three weeks fought off a horde of Hutsi who wanted nothing else but to massacre them. Which is what eventually happened. A drama of the utmost humanity and horror fought in complete anonymity.
People seem to get defensive about the bare fact that 35,000 children died in Africa today. The right thinks you're calling them racists; the left thinks you're calling them hypocrites.
i'm not trying to accuse anybody. I certainly don't have any quick and easy solutions to offer. This is human suffering we're talking about, hardly a new phenomenon on earth, and one hardly in danger of extinction.
I actually posted just to guage the interest level for these things. We're running even on comments with the post just above about the 1986 Red Sox loss in the World Series.
Thanks for everyone's thoughts. Some very interesting comments.
posted by quercus at 6:30 PM on October 25, 2001

"In newsrooms, [Scott Peterson] notes angrily, there is this well-known algebra for headlines: 'One dead American is equal to a handful of dead Europeans.' Hundreds of Asians might die to 'rate' the same treatment. And bottom of the list, shamefully, are the thousands of Africans who must die before their tragedy will measure up at all."
posted by Carol Anne at 6:35 PM on October 25, 2001

How`s this for an answer to your question, quercus?

"The West" (a large and non-cohesive group, much like "the Left"), has more of a connection, historically, emotionally and financially, with other area of the world. We tend to think about the U.S. and Europe, then consider other area, with Africa being the last. Even the Western population that was at one point African was brought to the west, in large part, in a way that deprived them of connection to Africa, unlike most immigrants to the West from other places.

"The West" just doesn`t see itself as African.

The same sort of thing applies to the reasoning behind the comment that Carol Anne relates: Americans feel more Asians than Africans, more to Europeans than Asians and more connected to Americans than Europeans.
posted by chiheisen at 11:06 PM on October 25, 2001

I think you meant to link here, perhaps? Or somewhere thereabouts. The above link is to a review of Peterson's book Me and My Brother by the author of Black Hawk Down, soon to be a major motion picture.

Atrocity is awful, awful, awful. But all too often, when news from Africa gets published at all, it's only about famine, or occasional atrocities. Day-to-day politics, economic policies, international relations, etc., get no hearing at all, so when Americans think about Africa, they can only recall contextless famine that seems beyond all human control. How much thought do you want to devote to things that (as far as you can tell) no one can change?

I think it's that lack of hope, coupled with what was, until recently, an entrenched indifference to all things international that didn't relate directly to American lives, that has put Africa on the backburner. Tragically, it's fed upon itself, as newsrooms feel more and more pressure to put out what will bring in eyeballs rather than what people need to read about. That pressure squeezes out the stories that would bring context and humanity and a sense that Africa is both important and salvageable, which discourages people from caring, which discourages them from thinking or reading about it, which....

The way out is to care like you were from there, to recognize that Africa's (like many of the world's) problems are created by human beings, and that solutions are therefore humanly possible.
posted by skoosh at 11:38 PM on October 25, 2001

#42 sure seems to have demonstrated a keener interest in Africa affairs than #41 or #43 which (I think) is a factor in Clinton's popularity among blacks.
posted by owillis at 12:36 AM on October 26, 2001

skoosh: many thanks for grabbing the right link [oops]
posted by Carol Anne at 5:29 AM on October 26, 2001

found a candid interview (5/29) with colin powell that's pretty illuminating with respect to official attitudes and foreign policy towards africa, but reading between the lines (as even the interviewer suspects) africa doesn't seem a very high priority, especially now.


Some activists in Africa have scoffed at, and even been quite angry about the US$200m that President George W. Bush pledged to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Global Fund for Aids. Former President Clinton, I think, said, the US could afford US$2bn. Why such a'small amount’ when you could have put more in?

It’s US$200m more than there was the day before. It’s on top of US$5m dollars that the State Department is spending. It’s on top of billions of dollars that the United States’ government is spending to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, so there is a lot of money. US$200m is more than anyone else has put into this new global trust fund. It’s a new programme and I hope it will grow over time and there will be more money put into it. But it was out of our budget cycle, and we essentially took from other accounts all around the government to jump-start this US$200m account.

So, are you saying; "Don’t be ungrateful"?

No, I’m not saying "don’t be ungrateful." You should always ask for more: but don’t belittle US$200m. It is a significant amount of money.
posted by kliuless at 6:18 AM on October 26, 2001

We are criticized for intervention and we are criticized for non-intervention. GO FIGURE...
posted by Mack Twain at 12:30 AM on October 27, 2001

or go figure skating :)
posted by kliuless at 7:56 AM on October 27, 2001

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