Saturday, November 8, 2008
The Irony that is Africa
The euphoria over the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States may have waned but the gunshots in Eastern Congo have not. As thousands across the world including a huge majority in Africa ran in the streets proclaiming the dawn of a new era, thousands fled from the Eastern Congo, creating a humanitarian crisis that has most watch groups concerned. When the voice of the people was raised in victory in Kenya last week did it echo in the DRC, or were the sounds of guns louder? Could it be that right before our very eyes a genocide is occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)?
The history of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been marred by war, strife, and infighting. Becoming independent from Belgian rule in 1960. The Congo has been unable to pull herself up by her bootstraps and become an effectively governed state. It is without question that the Congo has been severely plundered by foreign rule and unfortunately so. Nonetheless, the sins of rulers past cannot be a constant excuse anymore than slavery can be in the United States. It is often noted that the DRC is the richest nation in the world. For there is no other nation in the world so enriched with the resources found in that nation, yet, a great majority of the Congolese people live in abject poverty.
Like most countries, the Congo has it class wars. There are the abjectly poor and the unbelievably rich. I recently came upon pictures took in the DRC by some friends and I was shocked. There are only a few places in the world where I had seen the kind of squalor I saw in the DRC. Yet, in the midst of the squalor where mansions of gold and ivory behind fortified walls. Lives lived in carpeted splendor and air-conditioned rooms. But, on the other side of the road, there were people who had no inkling where their next meal would come from. Now, I make this example not to derided the DRC, for this picture is common in many African countries. However, the extent to which it occurs in the DRC is startling. For poverty is the norm with riches the exception.
I do understand that there must be some administrative challenges with governing a nation as big as the DRC. Notwithstanding, it is not impossible to govern. If the right individuals are put in office then it makes the task of governing easier. However, Joseph Kabila who is the current President of the DRC was never elected. He succeeded his father Laurent Kabila who was neither an elected officer but rather a rebel. I will never understand the mentality of children or spouses succeeding their relatives in an entity that is not a monarchy. Laurent Kabila was not elected and I believe the people did not want his son either. I can't imagine one of the Bush daughters assuming power should Bush die in office. I understand there wasn't a functioning government and that the peace had to be preserved. However, what happened to Laurent Kabila's generals? Wasn't there any one fit to govern the DRC following Laurent's death. Did Joseph Kabila have a platform? Where the ideas of his father his and did he have the desire for office? What happened to the voice of the people?
Although, the voice of the people may have been shut in the DRC, in the United States, it was heard last week. I say this unequivocally that more than being a victory for people of color in the United States, the election of Barack Obama is a victory of Africans. For lest we forget, Barack Obama unlike his predecessors was able to have mass appeal because he did not parade the injustice of slavery and neither did he remind white America of their sins. This is in no way implying that Barack is insensitive to these issues. Far from it. However, it is safe to say that unlike the Jacksons, Sharptons, and those of the old guard, Barack's history is not rooted in American slavery. His ancestry is African and this gave him an edge. Hence, he did not have to wrestle with issues of identity because he knew who he was.
I am making a case for Barack's ancestry because I am trying to go somewhere with this. In the Bible, Africa on many occasions was synonymous with refuge. Joseph the son of Jacob and the great-grand son of Abraham was enslaved in Egypt. His story however is significant because he went from incarceration to the throne. Further, he was significant in directing the agricultural economy of Egypt to the benefit of several empires in what was perhaps one of the worst famines in ancient times. In addition, following the birth of Jesus Christ, his parents were instructed to take him to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod who for fear that Jesus was the Messiah sought to kill the babe. In another incidence Joseph of Arrimathea bore the cross of Jesus when he got too weak to carry it. What significance does this all have you may ask? Barack Obama is the direct descendant of an African.
I make this argument not to lay claim to Obama or to in any way discredit his ties to the United States. Nonetheless, he cannot deny Africa any more than he can America. However, while he is being elected to the most powerful position in the world Africans unable to overcome the stronghold of tribalism are busy killing one another. The footage of those fleeing is heart wrenching. For those who flee, while it is inconvenient, it is not uncommon. They may have made this same journey in 1994 and have only become too familiar with these journeys. They have become used to the camps awash in dysentery and diarrhea. They have become used to the flies and the malnutrition. They are used to camps and answer to "refugee" when called. They have no identity. This is the Africa we have become used to.
While I choose to single out the DRC it is not alone. Let us not forget the Sudan. The Janjaweed militia is still on the loose. Women are still been raped and hundreds still die from malnutrition and malaria. That CNN doesn't carry the news doesn't mean the tape stopped rolling. Or how about South Africa? The shanty towns have not been upgraded. The indigenous South Africans are still been teased by the beauty of Cape Town and Johannesburg while they live in cardboard boxes. Remember Sarafina or Tsotsi? Those movies were made for Hollywood but they are not far from reality. Or remember Nigeria? In the days following the death of Sani Abacha, news of his foreign accounts made me ill for days. With the mass pollution and disorder in Lagos for example, I couldn't believe he had amassed a fortune that could truly change the country.
So, Barack Obama is President. It is not an accident that he is African, but rather it is a challenge to his Presidency and to the souls of the African people. I remember about a year ago, I met Jendayi Frazer the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs for the Bush administration. I was concerned about what would happen to Africa in terms of foreign aid following the end of the Bush years. I am still concerned. As Obama assembles his cabinet, I would love for Africa to be remembered. Our challenges are great but not impossible. We have the talent and the resources. If we are guided we can grow. We can learn and we can change. The operative word here is "change." Is it possible that Barack Obama came to office for such a time as this?
Photo courtesy of BBC.com