Chronicle Why doesn’t Africa help its own people?

Swedish newspapers were recently full of images of politicians holding empty plates in front of themselves saying that they had donated their lunches to those plagued by starvation in the Horn of Africa. The NGO Diakonia initiated this campaign, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Who does not want to help?

What does it mean to starve? No one has said it better than the former head of SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) Bo Göransson, when he described it as ‘forced suicide’. This means that the hungry body begins to feed on itself, its own fat and its own muscles, as the ultimate diet.

Thus starving is grisly. Especially when you consider that hunger today is hardly something that could not have been prevented. Because it can be prevented. Disasters such as the one in the Horn of Africa can be avoided.

For this to happen in Africa, however, a fundamental and dramatic change is needed: for Africans to begin to help their own people. It may sound harsh when I say this, even crude, but it is undoubtedly true. As a matter of fact, everyone, even Africans them selves, now assume that help will come from other continents, especially the West.

There is another dimension to this that is rarely, if ever, mentioned seriously. Lonzen Rugira wrote an important column in News Africa on the 31st of August 2011. He states that the ongoing humanitarian disaster in the Horn of Africa would have been an excellent opportunity for the leaders of African states to turn their words, ‘African solutions to African problems’, into action. The fact that there are African leaders who ignore their own people is something we must condemn. However, at the same time we must support those who want to get rid of these tyrants. The issue raised by Lonzen Rugira focuses on the fact that Africans also must contribute with what they have, no matter how little or how much. Instead of appearing indifferent to the issue and leave it to the West to come to the rescue and try to ease and perhaps even eradicate the problem at hand Africans too can make a contribution.

Sometimes I ask myself if Sweden ought to focus more on building and supporting African aid organisations that can deal with future disasters that are lurking in the shadows? In addition, we should, of course, make even more energetic efforts in helping the development of African agriculture, which is and must remain the lifeline of the African continent for a long time to come.

There is no practical philosophy or idea of solidarity that does not take as its starting point to help your own, given that you have that possibility, with what little you might have. And more often than not you discover that you are able to do much more than you think!

In his article Rugira also refers to the important African concept of ubuntu, which basically means that Africans generally see themselves through others. That is, it is a collective form of thinking that, not least, contrasts with the emphasis that the colonial era put on individualism.

There is no doubt that there is a growing discontent with the politicians in Africa who, instead of helping their own, chose to outsource the necessary aid to the Western world when disaster strikes. The cynicism is striking.

It is also clear that the ruling circles in Sub Saharan African countries closely and with great concern monitor, the development in the countries North of the great desert.

No one shall think that the great uprisings cannot also take place in the South of Africa! Uprisings almost always start with the question of bread!

At the same time as we try to help those starving in the Horn, we must also dare to address the difficult issue, which means that we openly criticise the African leaders who chose to ignore their own suffering and starving populations.

Henning Mankell

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