Light Up the “Dark Continent”

If you turned on your television last spring, you may have seen an attractive commercial featuring Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Orlando Bloom, and a number of other celebrities. Clad in white t-shirts, and set against a non-descript grey backdrop, these celebrities urged the viewers to support the One campaign. “We don’t want your money,” they insisted, “we just want your voice.” If you opened TIME magazine you might have read about Jeffrey Sachs, advisor to U.N Secretary General Kofi Annan, who was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world. His book, The End of Poverty, sat on the new releases shelf in bookstores all around the world. If you read a newspaper you might have noticed that Bono and Sir Bob Geldoff (who has already been knighted for his efforts to eradicate poverty as a result of his 1985 LiveAid Concert) were making headlines again. This summer the two rock and roll legends orchestrated a sequel project called Live8, the mission of which was to create awareness about the global economic issues being decided at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. All of these events were ripple effects of what could have been the most crucial step of our time towards eliminating extreme poverty, in Africa, the continent it most severely affects. For three days in July this summer the world’s eight wealthiest, and most powerful nations convened in Gleneagles, Scotland for the annual G8 summit. This year, extreme poverty in Africa was at the top of the agenda. Tony Blair, who had recently become an outspoken advocate for this issue, hosted the summit. But the issue has not evolved out of Blair’s developed interest, Sachs’ observations, or Geldof’s event planning; it is one seeped in years of disease, post-colonial struggle, and above all, unfortunate geographic circumstances. Africa, sinisterly nicknamed the “dark continent” by many historical pundits, is infested with AIDS, malaria, poverty and corrupted governments. The latter is often assumed to be responsible for Africa’s situation: the conventional wisdom suggests that such evils are internal, the result of having the wrong people in power. Geography, however, is a factor that the global superpowers conveniently fail to address and acknowledge, and is the greatest evil. Sachs presents such a case in The End of Poverty. Vast economic depravity is largely triggered by location; the lands suitability for agriculture, and its access to global commerce via navigable bodies of water greatly affect the continent’s prosperity. Disease, another result of poverty, is also triggered by the climate. The fact that sub-Saharan Africa is so susceptible to disease is no coincidence. Regardless of the magnitude of the problem, poverty in Africa can be combated without the willingness to give. Hence the G8’s vast shortcomings. Poverty is the disease to top all diseases. Extreme poverty constitutes the gravest circumstance the world face. In Africa, living on less than one dollar a day qualifies as extreme poverty. Of the approximately 7 billion people on Earth, an estimated 20 to 35 percent live with this as their daily income. The G8 proposed that all nations involved each contribute a meager .07% of their GNP annually; enough they claimed to end extreme poverty in the world.The build-up was immense, and the let down heavy. In the opening lines of his book Sachs writes, “This book is about ending poverty in our time. It is not a forecast. I am not predicting what will happen, only explaining what could happen. Currently eight million people around the world die each year because they are too poor to stay alive. Our generation can choose to end that extreme poverty by the year 2025.” Unfortunately, our world leaders have taken the word “could” in the passage too literally. Of the 160 billion dollars deemed necessary, the world is currently giving between 65 and 80 billion dollars—half of what is needed. Collectively, the G8 nations have resolved to contribute 50 billion dollars. While this figure doubles their former amount, it is still, to be blunt, a spit in the bucket. While the United States alone will spend $450 billion dollars on the military this year alone, as Sachs comments, “ (it) will never buy peace if it continues to spend around one thirtieth of that, just $15 billion, to address the plight of the worlds poorest of the poor…” If the United States should vanquish any enemy in the war on terror, the disparity of wealth in the world should be the first to go. Such monetary polarity breeds hatred of the more fortunate nations that are too wrapped up in their power-hungry foreign policy to take a look at the real plague of the world. The responsibility does not belong to the United States alone. Politics for once is not the issue, nor should they be made out to be. What is at stake is our apathy towards the well being of the world. While some might consider this a melodramatic statement, wrapped up in its own idealism, viable solutions can only be sprung from ideas. There is no excuse for allowing such injustice in a world with the means necessary to abolish it. Bono provided the most telling description of the issue, when he said “ We can’t say our generation didn’t know how to do it. We can’t say our generation couldn’t afford to do it. And we can’t say our generation didn’t have reason to do it. It’s up to us. We can shift the responsibility, or…..we can choose to shift the paradigm.”