I recently happened to see Blood Diamond at the same time that I was reading Ismael Baeh’s riveting but disturbing A Long Way Gone. Both are concerned with the horrendous civil war that wrenched Sierra Leone.
I, of course, had known nothing about it. African civil wars, genocides and massacres are extremely under-reported in this country. Everyone has heard about Darfur but has anyone heard of the Congo war that wiped out three million people? Where are the Hollywood celebs tossing away their iPods because of the coltan?
Of course, whenever I read about Africa, I keeping coming back to the obvious question: can it be saved? Is the continent doomed to be the perpetual stomping ground of the Four Horsemen?
It’s obvious that foreign aide isn’t working as we’ve poured billions in it for no apparent effect. It’s obvious Bono isn’t working although maybe if we keep sending him there, someone will shoot him. The various ism’s of socialism and islamism are only making things worse, as we could have expected. What can we do? Invade? Yeah, that’ll work. Throw in more money? Yeah, more money always solves complex problems.
I’m just an egghead astronomer who likes to read, not an expert on Africa or poverty or warfare. But given the track record of people who are experts, I don’t see that detailed knowledge is necessarily helpful. Perhaps if a million monkey decendants type on a millions blogs, someone will create the perfect plan to save Africa.
So here are my thoughts. At the very least, I can’t be stupider than Bono.
Note: I am not talking about stopping humanitarian aide, which could be increased if anything. And private organizations such as the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and even the Catholic Church are doing amazing work. What I’m saying is we should stop handing out sacks of money specifically to dysfunctional governments. It’s not helping.
But actually, these fixes are just band-aids. When I was reading through A Long Way Gone, the one idea the kept circulating in my head was that, in Africa, life is cheap. Thanks to AIDS and warfare, the average lifespan in Sierra Leone is just 40.
When life is that short, it is also cheap. And people act accordingly. Why build a future society you’re never going to see? Why provide for children who might never be adults?
In order to get Africa to function, we have to make life less cheap. And we can do it with a fraction of the money we’re currently spending. How?
Our species is richer by a billion people because of the Green Revolution. And it also significantly more pacific. It’s time we spread the revolution to Africa with genetically modified crops. The environmentalists can get bent — they don’t want Africa to advance at all because it would ruin their nature safaris. But as Penn Gillete says, “If you have enough food for you and your family, shut the fuck up!”
Of course, if we empower Africa, we might end up regretting it. Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia sprang out of impoverished nations, too. Japan emerged from feudalism to eventually create a brutal occupation of China; when Europeans got rich enough to cross the Atlantic, they wiped out tens of millions of Native Americans; China is killing babies to keep its population in check.
Prosperity does not necessarily equal civility.
But that’s a problem we can screw up when we get there. The point is that Africa is not beyond hope. There are huge problems involving backward cultures, misogyny and superstition. But our policies of international welfare, trade protectionism, radical environmentalism and frankly, liberal racism (“You blacks can’t succeed without our help!”) have been making things worse.