Monday, February 18, 2008

Who Abandoned Africa?

marjorie says...

I am a big admirer of those who use art to not only generate awareness of social issues but to raise money or organize people toward ending social injustices. I've been looking forward to seeing the cradles all assembled, and maybe even bidding on one, when the Cradle Project finally comes to fruition. I hope the City will find some way of solving the issue of space, as this is an incredibly ambitious charity art project that will be quite powerful for those who experience it. Not to mention, it has the potential for raising a lot of money for children in Africa who are suffering from HIV/Aids.

As I was reading about the space issue this morning, I was struck by Naomi Natale's comment, regarding her desire to keep the installation at the railyard: "It's a dramatic site— an abandoned space to represent Africa herself, which is an abandoned land."

Of course, I have to is? And if so, abandoned by who?

While I'm sure she didn't intend it to come across otherwise, I think its important to point out that Africa is rich in culture, tradition, and community. Just as the U.S. was not "empty land" when the Europeans arrived, nor is Africa empty now. Rather, it's full of hard-working social activists and families trying to improve their living conditions, and trying to create a democratic system based in the rule of law.

If it is "abandoned"... it's in the sense that it's been abandoned by the people who went into Africa and changed its socio-political landscape forever. The colonizers. Us.

In the post-colonial age our government has seemed content to wash its hands of Africa. In recent years, we failed to act in Rwanda, barely have acted in Darfur, and seem content to watch brutal human rights abuses in a raging low-intensity Congolese war to control immense natural resources. To name just three that come to mind.

The difference in how we prioritize our involvement in the Middle East and Africa is instructive for surfacing our true geopolitical motivations. One is seen as integral to our energy needs, and look at how we fight for control in that region. The other does not come even near being of the same strategic importance, and we treat the dire poverty there as an afterthought. We need to examine our values, and our history, and commit ourselves to truly living our rhetoric. The history of the West demands that we not abandon Africa.

As much as I admire and look forward to the Cradle Project, charity is not sufficient. At the same time, there are serious questions about the ethics, not to mention the many unforeseen consequences, of how we involve ourselves in promoting solutions. The answer is to take the lead of the many Africans who tirelessly work for social justice and human rights. And we need to devote as many resources to the efforts of those Africans at the forefront of the social justice struggle there as we do to our futile attempts to control Iraq.