Saturday, March 15, 2008

Black Hole?

There’s nothing sexy about the country of Sudan. It’s not a place that most journalists, tourists or policymakers choose to visit. Its geography is largely dry and flat with nothing more to offer the world than modest reserves of crude oil and strife. The name Sudan is derived from Arabic “Bilad-al-Sudan,” literally meaning, “land of all blacks.” It is that translation that perhaps resonates most for Americans as it is seen as a country of little to no value to the western world.
If you don’t want to know more and want to continue to live in the blissful ignorance that you have become accustomed to, then I would suggest that you stop reading here. It only gets worse. To continue reading would seriously jeopardize the neat little safe haven that you are comfortable with. The truth is that Sudan along with many other countries in Africa (that get even less publicity) are in dire need of outside help and if assistance is not given to them in the immediate future, then their place in the world will perish and the rest will be history.

It should come as no surprise that 20% of young Americans believe Sudan to be part of Asia, even though it is the largest country in Africa. And while Hollywood has been making strides towards awareness by marketing the genocide within the country with popular movements such as “Save Darfur,” “the enough project,” “Not on our Watch,” and “Live 8, the conventional wisdom has still been to ignore the continent of Africa in its entirety and to discard it as a land of hopelessness.

Since 2003 experts have estimated that over 200,000 men, women and children have died at the hands of government sponsored militants known as the janjaweed in Darfur. What’s more is that this number is low balled from estimates that have the death toll well over 350,000 with an equal number projected to die in the coming months according to the United States Agency for International Development. If broken down that would be more than 500 killed each day or 15,000 a month. Additionally, of those who have survived this brutality, 2.5 million have been displaced from their homes, many of whom are women and children who are suffering from malnourishment.

The story does not end here though.

Internal conflict is not exclusive to just Sudan. Similar displacements to the tune of 1.4 million are escalating in Uganda where young boys and girls known by some as the “invisible children,” are abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and forced to join their ranks.
The United Nations largest peacekeeping force is not in Sudan or Uganda but rather the Democratic Republic of Congo where last year 500,000 were displaced and 45,000 die each month. Stories of women and children are also routinely reported for the horrendous sexual torture that is forced upon them.

I could go on with a laundry list of examples of countries under the same plight but out of fear that they would be treated as just that by viewers (a laundry list) where people would wash themselves clean of the horrors that affect millions of people, I’ll simply list them and allow the readers to look up their backgrounds at their leisure: Angola, Algeria, Burundi, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Rwanda.

So the questions that I can never find answers to are; Has this blog reached anybody that will do something useful with their time to change the life of maybe just one human being in Africa? Do numbers and statistics reach our conscience? Do pictures and images of slaughter and rape push us into action? Are eloquent words about humanity and suffering worthless? Are trendy Hollywood ambassadors useful? Ah…the rub?

Maybe we do need Paris Hilton and Britney Spears to visit Africa to bring attention to the world. I think that if the paparazzi were to follow them down there and see for themselves the violence that is afflicting Africans all over the continent, then maybe they would put their cameras to good use and enlighten the rest of us. As much as it pains me to see Kanye West saying anything other than “Welcome to the good life,” perhaps his presence in Darfur could open our eyes and awaken our consciences.

Then again, the Live 8 concerts had a remarkable turnout and produced little in terms of putting pressure on the Sudan government to halt its practices of backdoor support to the janjaweed or demands on the Chinese government and major corporations to divest from Sudan. No, I think this is one problem that not even Bono will be able to fix. The intervention required will take the serious attention and interest of western populations that care to look at Africa not as a continent infested with civil war and AIDS but as a place where human beings have the right to live.

I haven’t gone into gruesome detail of violence that I have read so much about. Nor have I given a thorough background paper on what is actually going on in parts like Darfur. Instead, I ended the last few paragraphs talking about celebrities just like the rest of the news; I’m no better. And for that, I like the others who have tried to reach a tiny cross section of the world have come up short.

My main point which sometimes gets lost in the convoluted and at times incoherent sentences of mine, is that we choose not to act. It would certainly be one thing if we didn’t know about the crisis out of the lack of reporting or information at our disposal. The reality is that any search engine with the word “Darfur, Sudan, Congo, Uganda etc…” will bring up a myriad of hits that talk to the heart of the matter. Americans cry apathy far too much, citing elections as just one example. I don’t buy it in this case. Genocide is a cause we can take up and is the exact word that the US and UN have used repeatedly to describe parts of Africa.

For once we need to listen to our President who in the past may have led us astray in his leadership but in case is spot on, "I promise this to the people of Darfur: The United States will not avert our eyes from a crisis that challenges the conscience of the world.”

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