There are things we can control in our lives; there are things we cannot. There are hundreds of books written about Africa and her struggles. The question we hear lately is, what do we owe Africa? What does anyone “owe” anyone, really. You could say, and many do, “I wasn’t there when the European leaders carved up the African continent, and besides, that was a long time ago.” And it was a long time ago when Westerners began to avail themselves of the gold and diamonds and dozens of other minerals and metals with which Africa is so rich. Of course, you may know that a large percentage of the world’s gold, diamonds, chromite, cobalt, phosphate rock, manganese, uranium, and rare earth minerals have come from Africa for many years, and still do. (I just read the description of rare earth minerals because I collect rocks and I thought it would be interesting. It wasn’t. But they are in our cell phones.)
There are many reasons why countries so rich in resources are so impoverished. There’s a brilliant book by the late Nobel Prize Laureate, Wangari Maathai, called The Challenges for Africa. She neither places all the blame for Africa’s struggles on colonialism, nor does she absolve corrupt leaders or poor decision making. But she does examine the effects of eliminating people’s cultures and forcing upon others, no matter how good our intentions are, the cultures that we endorse.
But let’s get back to the idea of privileged and what we owe other people. Alexander McCall Smith, one of my favorite writers, puts it far better than I could- in the words of Isabel Dalhousie, philosopher. The ethical question posed: if several people find themselves stranded at sea in a lifeboat whose cargo is one person too heavy and all may die if someone isn’t tossed out, is it ok to toss someone out? “The focus moved from real lifeboats…to the earth as a lifeboat which it was, in a way…real people die everyday, in very large numbers, because the resources of the lifeboat were not fairly distributed. And if we might feel squeamish about throwing a real and immediate person out of a real lifeboat, then we had fewer compunctions about doing those things which had exactly that effect, somewhere far off, on people whom we did not know and could not name. It was relentless and harrowing- but most of our luxuries were purchased at the expense of somebody’s suffering and deprivation elsewhere.”
I’m certainly not a communist, and I’m not here because I “owe” something to Africa, although we all do if, for no other reason, we can remember that we first walked upright not too far from where I now live.
Swahili Quiz: what is a Paka? Our next post will be some more observations about shopping, one particularly good one from my friend here Sarah, and another about the difference between milk and yogurt, which apparently I didn’t know until Monday.