Unification News for May 1996


Africa! Purposely a Loser?

by Massimo Trombin-Rome, Italy

This article was published in the Italy IRFF magazine "Senza Frontiere" and given as part of a series of talks by Massimo Trombin in the public schools of Italy.

The International Relief Friendship Foundation is a non-governmental organization (N.G.O.) dedicated to relief activities, addressing such problems as poverty, malnutrition and disease. Its purpose is to make a positive contribution to social changes and towards more harmonious and balanced progress. One important condition to fulfill this program and purpose is to inform people concerning the roots of problems and to look for potential long-lasting solutions.

Today, the African continent is made up of 54 nations: some follow a democratic type of system, others are controlled by military power or an elite group which has found its most refined expression in the one- party system. Some states, like Sudan, are controlled by an Islamic regime. Consequently, one can see the great variety and differences in the political, social, cultural and economic contexts in the continent. In the last few years, for example, we have witnessed radical social change, such as the fall of apartheid in South Africa with the birth of a new, steadier social system which has drawn the international economic interest of investors; or the collapse of Nigeria, once considered the country with the highest economic potential and now branded as an at-risk nation exporting crime and corruption. The world could witness the genocide of the Rwandan population, reminding us of the massacre by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia or the holocaust in Europe. Such situations have been going on since 1993 and it is now expanding into Burundi. Think about the conflicts of power in Somalia, where speaking of a Somali nation sounds almost ridiculous. Here we saw the clear failure of international involvement which could neither bring nor propose any solution to the civil war.

Then, what are the causes allowing such a dangerous and unsteady situation to arise on the African continent? Let's identify some of them.

From 1980 to 1990 in Africa, the per-capita income was 1.2%, whereas in Asia, in the same period, it was 6.2%. One of the consequences was that, from 1990, 24 out of the 36 poorest nations in the world have been located on the African continent. Humanitarian agencies were found to be the main recipient and beneficiary in the "African situation." In Somalia alone, in 1992, $2.6 billion was spent, yet the investment needed to rebuild this nation will be much higher ($10 billion at least) and more complicated.

According to a UNDP report, today there are nine nations seriously at risk, whose explosion might cause further impoverishment and destabilization for the continent. The tragic aspect of such a situation is that the method and mechanics leading to war, genocide and tyranny in these territories never change and are familiar to the nations and organizations which could act in time to prevent and avoid useless suffering and abuses. For instance, in Nigeria a local newspaper published a list of key people to be liquidated in Rwanda; this list had been exposed before the active slaughter began, thus showing that the massacre had been planned in advance.

Here is what happens when these nations explode: the number of refugees and displaced people increases, foreigners escape, the international community makes its humanitarian effort, "advertising" is broadcast through the media headed by CNN reports. Then the event fades away, blood flows no more, the explosions cease and so the "crisis" falls into oblivion, leaving people's consciences and joining the archives of the African crises. All this, till the eruption of a new "crisis". I think all of us have witnessed such phenomena. The solution lies in the word PREVENTION. The type of message which is launched is absolutely inconceivable: These crises are as inevitable as the seasons in the course of the year. Those of us in the West in particular generally have such an idea about African historical reality.

What we need, instead, is research assisted by humanitarian and educational aids, as well as a definite, long-term solution. This cannot be accomplished by NGO's or good intentions, but by an international policy which takes into account the actions and investments of Africans in particular, the people who really want to solve their problems at the root. It cannot be the responsibility of the United Nations, FAO or EEC, Japan or USA to help or solve the African crises. This is the responsibility of African leaders and governments. The worldwide community can help and provide stimulation, but the initiative must come from the African people themselves; if they have no intention to act in this direction-preventing and solving by constructive actions for the public good-any external effort to achieve all this will be to no avail.

What are the roots of the problem? Racism, tribalism, the national boundaries established by the old colonial systems, and economic and ideological imperialism. In fact, we can still witness the consequences of communist imperialism in many African areas. But the point is that today, Africa is ruled only by Africans and therefore it is they who determine the socio-economic policies connected to such causes. At the same time, we can see the example of Mandela, who understands that workable, concrete solutions do exist.

One of the deepest causes of such conflicts stems from the centralization of power, causing the tribal center-associated group to thrive, while the other groups struggle through poverty and alienation. The oligarchies manage to get control over all development sectors, often clashing with the policies established by the World Bank or IMF. At the same time, these policies often do not take into account local situations, especially of minority ethnic groups, but are only grounded on the Western concept of development, giving rise to further tensions, failures and misunderstandings. For example, from 1981 to 1991, $25 billion has been spent for the economy of 29 African countries but only six of them have registered an increase. It is evident that the World Bank must change its intervention system.

In the final analysis, the people capable of bringing welfare to Africa, through long-term programs linked to the territory and local cultures, are basically the farmers. Unfortunately, even if 90% of their income is in foreign currency, they are entirely excluded from political and economic realities, and are often completely controlled by state policies and the interests of a few people. Only when there is a decentralization of territories and markets as well as basic socio-economic information in the rural world will a process of potential stability begin in Africa. African people must also look to discover their own progress formula attuned to their cultures and roots. Today, only 13 African nations have a democratic system. The strong-man system is generally used by leaders to run Africa. As a result, endless civil wars break out, fueled by all kinds of interests and arms-traders. Moreover, there is no African institution capable of intervening to begin a process of reconciliation. The Organization of African Unity is more formal than operative and lacks true direction. As a consequence, conflict situations, which could be solved in the beginning, burst into never-ending bloody wars. The work necessary for these countries is, as one can imagine, great. Evidently, what Africa needs is young, motivated leaders longing to establish true solutions.

In this sense, an interesting testimony comes from the southern African countries where, in order to face the new drought-provoked food crisis, they have formed an active coalition, planning funds and joint efforts without waiting for international relief-intervention, but engaging in the search for practical strategies without having to depend on external aid.

Massimo Trombin is the executive director of I.R.F.F. Italy.


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