The return of the Dark Continent

For centuries Africa was known as the Dark Continent. It was place of mystery, exotic animals, vast wilderness, all manner of beasts, evil spirits, disease, cannibals and pretty much anything else you’d care to imagine. You just have to take a look at this 1838 map to see how little was known of the interior. Although of course it wasn’t that bad (not in every case, anyway) it’s something of a shame that so few places hold such mystery any more. The world has been pretty much explored and explained (and in some cases exploited) and that’s the end of that. Shame the wonderfully named Mountains of the Moon never existed.

Today the words Dark Continent mean something quite different. Over 150 years may have passed since the map was drawn – it’s now been pretty-much filled in – but once the sun sets it’s time to turn back the clock.

Africa at night. Use a little imagination, and the mystery returns…

Are we really so completely and utterly powerless?

Let me just start off by saying that I’m not one of these people who sees Africa as a desperate, struggling land full of death, famine, disease and misery with little or no hope for the future. There’s plenty of negativity surrounding the continent already. My outlook is much more positive, but there are times when we need to face up to what is happening. One of those times is now… [End]

So, you want to be able top pop down the local supermarket and grab yourself those avocados, strawberries, starfruit, bananas, pineapples, kiwis, cherries, papayas, mangos or lychees any time of year whenever it takes your fancy. And you’ll happily grab that bunch of flowers – flown in especially from Kenya for your convenience the night before – on your way out – along with some of that lovely Ugandan coffee. Isn’t it all so wonderful?

You’re happy that you live in the age of globalisation where so much of what the world has to offer is so conveniently delivered directly to your doorstep. And, thanks to the hard-nosed negotiators and the shear power of the multinationals who fight so hard on your behalf, it’s all available at such an amazingly low price. How on earth do they do it?

Globalisation may bring all manner of exotic produce to our shores, but it also carries with it huge amounts of responsibility. A globalised world is a smaller world. News reaches our TV screens in a matter of minutes and not days. Events thousands of miles away push up the price of petrol at our local garage. A stock market crash leads to a global recession and mass unemployment, and Bert down the road – who knows nothing about the intricicies of global economics, and doesn’t particularly care – loses his job and maybe his home. An attack on a pipeline in Georgia pushes up the price of gas, and suddenly elderly people find themselves unable to keep warm in the winter.

Events far, far away suddenly feel much closer to home.

At the same time what we decide to purchase in our shops, and how we choose to live our lives, has direct impact on people living on the ‘other’ side of the world. Governments – who we vote in – give unfair (and in some cases downright illegal) subsidies which ‘help’ push third world farmers out of business. Carbon emissions drive global warming, drowning small island communities, causing drought and floods and reeking havoc with the weather across the globe. Small-scale coffee growers live at the mercy of people they’ve never met getting together and deciding where to set wholesale coffee prices.

Things aren’t right in the global order, but often things just tick along and people don’t really pay much attention. A few thousand people die here or there, a drought occurs here or there, a war is fought here or there… As long as they can get their starfruit, why should they care?

Famine once again grips parts of Africa. Tens of millions of people are on the edge. Aid workers don’t even want to think what might happen if the rains fail again this spring. The international community once again drags its heals – this famine was hardly unexpected. Out of a requested $138 million, agencies are still over $100 million short. Can this really all be happening again?

As a citizen of the global community, I feel totally powerless to all of this. It’s all too easy to point the finger at national governments. After all, this has to be someone’s fault, doesn’t it?

The reality is that not all the money – or will – in the world can make it rain.

But why do the majority of people appear to continually ‘accept’ what’s happening and merrily get on with their lives regardless? Is is because they don’t care, or simply don’t know what’s happening? Or is it because, like me, they haven’t got a bloody clue what they can do about it? Can someone please tell me what I can do about it? It’s at times like these that I can relate to the activist/protest mentality.

If we want to live in a globalised world and reap all the benefits that it brings, then we also need to learn to take the rough with the smooth and take our fair share of responsibility for what goes on in it. That means compassionately and ethically, as well as economically.

And that goes for when it doesn’t directly effect us, too. We’re either a citizen of the global community or we’re not.