forever enslaved: past and present

We will be forever enslaved by the deeds of the past. There is no way that we can separate ourselves from the historic wrong-doings of our ancestors. I like to think that there is only the present and that everything hinges on the present course and action. That idea is true I feel, but we cannot forget the past and we cannot discredit working towards the future. Last month there was a rememberance of slavery at the Elmina Castle in Ghana. Hundreds of locals gathered, the British Council and UK representatives were present and the crimes committed and journeys of slaves were remembered. In the BBC article Baroness Amos, who expressed pride at being a member of the African Diaspora, said transatlantic slave trade had been “responsible for some of the most appalling crimes perpetrated by humankind against its own citizens.”

Elmina Castle, which was built by Portuguese traders in the late 1400s before being taken over by the Dutch and later the British, was capable of holding 1,000 male and female slaves at one time. I feel like commemorations like these are repeated in different parts of Africa and yet they remain only symbolic gestures where words are spoken and the only actions that follow is that of representatives traveling back to their respective countries. This is where the idea that everything hinges of the present action is needed. If we are truly dedicated to healing past crimes and reversing the effects of those actions, then how can we remain inactive?

Even as we commemorate and remember and honor those enslaved and those affected by slavery – it continues to be a prevalent issue even today. The Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) is the world’s leading producer of cocoa. When you explore deep into the cocoa plantations you will come across a frightening discovery: forced child labor – slaves. These children are enslaved, forced to harvest cocoa, kept out of school, not treated for wounds recieved from working, and kept from their families. As the BBC reports: “In 2001, under pressure from the US Congress, the chocolate manufacturers promised to start eradicating forced child labour. They failed to meet an initial deadline of 2005, were given until 2008, and now patience is running out.”

We see slavery in new forms, much as we see colonialism in new forms. Child soldiers are recruited and brainwashed to fight in conflicts of which they know nothing. Many of these conflicts are perpetuations of the ‘developed’ world’s desire for some commodity or resource. We see slavery in an economic form as well. Women selling their bodies in order to feed their families, people taking on dangerous jobs to provide for their families – this economic slavery is very much linked to the actions of the past that have come to fruition now. Economic conditions as well as past historic incidents keep us enslaved. Those of us with privilege are enslaved to the deeds of our ancestors and governments, those who are forcible held and those who suffer from economic are enslaved by the systems that are so often perpetuated by our privileged wants. We are forever enslaved by our actions – whether they were in the past, or are happening present day – we are enslaved by our deeds. Are you prepared to own your actions when the time comes?

beyond the tragedy, the hope of africa

Africa is far from being without tragedy, but when you look past all the blaring news article headlines you will see that there are many reasons to be optimistic for the future of African and its people. Beyond the Western media’s fixation with the African tragedy there is so much hope and joy that gets pushed under the rug. Why? Is it because there is an othering and the problems and issues are over there? Is it because there is no hope on the ‘dark’ continent? Is it because the West would rather not admit that Africa is ‘developing’ and is really doing well? There are plenty of articles in the news that would deter even the staunchest optimist. Most of Africa lives in extreme and absolute poverty. Crises in Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and a few other countries are far from resolved. The conflict in the DRC has been inflamed by its recent free election results. Uganda is moving closer to a peaceful resolution of its conflict, but the rebels have backed out again. There is growing tension between Somalia and Ethiopia. And now Chadian rebels are storming across the country capturing major cities. The conflict in the western Darfur region of the Sudan is becoming further and further from resolution it seems. The African Union peacekeeping force’s mandate has been extended, but a UN force is still being rejected. All these armed conflicts are frightening, but then there is also many preventable diseases and basic essential needs that kill more people each year. HIV/AIDS is a growing problem and has yet to reach its peak in Africa.

The first great example of African hope is the amazing diversity of ideas and cultures. The people are shaping a better future for themselves and advancements are being made. African culture is thriving. Before we, who are not in Africa, can begin to understand how to assist Africa we have to first understand the intricate links between Africa’s people, culture, and wildlife. Africa’s middle class is growing, African entrepeneurs are becoming more prominent and have incredible ideas and solutions to problems that they know and live with.

On the continent the advances in medicine, technology, and science are taking hold. I remember when I was in Africa almost everyone had a cell phone and could easily stay connected. Advances in medicine are slow to be adopted mostly because of their costly nature, but there are growing efforts to provide services. We all need to remember that Africans are not just vulnerable people, but also solvers of problems. They may live in dire situations, but they still have the capacity to run a more effective program that pinpoints the real issue, which many times Western donors miss. The greatest innovation that I have seen developed so far has been the PlayPump. Discovered and designed by a man visiting South Africa. The pumps are set up to provide children a way to release their energy on a roundabout and also pump clean water for their community. There is a wealth of children’s energy, but a lack of means to use that energy. The water pumped through play is then stored in a 600 gallon container with billboards promoting HIV/AIDS education and other healthy messages. These billboards assist in paying for upkeep and maintenance of the pump. No worries children are not forced to play or pump, they just enjoy playing and that helps their community to have clean water. Water-related diseases are the leading cause of death in Africa and the ‘developing’ world. It is estimated that two out of every five Africans live without a clean water source. With the PlayPump children are able to stay in school instead of getting water. Women and children benefit from less injuries due to carrying heavy water containers over long distance. Women can focus more on their families and children with extra time not spent on water fetching. Some women have been able to start-up small businesses to provide an added income source and more food for their families.

Beyond the calls of corruption, falsified elections, and conflict between candidates, there is an increase in credible leaders in African countries. The first woman leader was elected last year. Leadership is growing as Africans step up to help one another and show their fellow citizens effective ways to improve life. There has also been a venture launched by an African millionaire to combat corruption within African governments. Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese multi-millionaire, is offering $5 million to African heads of state who deliver security, health, and economic development to its people. The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership was launched on the 28th of November this year. This is obviously a very controversial idea and many have stated that African leaders that are oppressing and killing their people will continue to do just that. Mo Ibrahim has said, “The day we do not need any aid will be the most wonderful day in my life.” The award will be given out as $200,000 for 10 years after the leader is out of office, so that the African leaders will have a life after office. Secretary General Annan has thanked Ibrahim for offering such a generous prize, but many still remain skeptical. Keep a watch on this one, time will tell if it will be successful.

Along with all the innovation and advancement there is also a great opportunity fro those of us in the ‘developed’ Western world. Doing your research, finding a sustainable project to assist, and becoming personally involved in working for Africa provides so many opportunities for personal development and happiness. I can tell you working in Africa is a joy and an amazing way to self-actualize your potential to change the world. Don’t wait, jump in – each year that you wait is a missed opportunity, each day that you do not challenge yourself is a wasted day, each minute is a lost life.

idealism, action, and reality

Through my personal mission to help save lives in Africa I have often been called an idealist. However I don’t think there is any other constructed term that can be used to describe me and my work. I am an idealist, some say I am a naive idealist, and that is where I tell them they are wrong. My ideals have become realities, my ideals have never been so naive and seemingly unattainable. I define myself by my chosen actions, that is, the choices I make embodied. Therefore I see a time where everyone acts on what they truly believe and not what the popular society tells them. A time where people are motivated solely by the most basic human emotion of compassion and that compassion is demonstrated through their actions to help others and change the world for the better. Your choices define you, your actions define you – how will you choose to act today? How will you show compassion to another person in need today? Your name means nothing, your clothes mean nothing, your amount of income means nothing, your body means nothing – meaning is created in how you dream, how you choose, and how you act. I have seen so many people fall victim to society and the newest pair of jeans wins out over a life in Africa, I have seen a pair of shoes take precedence over the medication for a dying child, I have seen ignorance defeat hope – yet, after all that I have seen so many people let go of their name, their material wants, and their incomes and become dedicated to saving lives in Africa. There is a long and terrible past of exploits and screw-ups in our nation’s name on the African continent, too many to name, too many to discuss because what is most important now is that as we are saving lives in Africa now, Africa is reciprocally saving our lives from a life without meaning. Add meaning to your life, choose to act and not to sit by idly, choose to stand up and create the new reality. Neither one can happen without the other. It may be difficult to see the direct impact of your choices and actions, but you must know and remember that people are being helped. Recognition is not the end to the means. Saving lives and making a difference is the means and the end. Some may get all of the recognition, but that does not discount anything that anyone else has done.

each day as we arise
thousands fall just outside
where good intentions
pave the streets they call home
and tomorrow never comes

the time is now
we are called to take a stand
we are a rallying cry for
the voiceless

(poem from Mathitis)