africans care about activism too

Many times I hear that I am fighting a losing battle here in the US trying to get people to care about providing access to basic healthcare in Africa because ‘Africans’ don’t care. I am told that the African people who I am trying to help are not at all trying to help themselves, so why do I bother? Now you see this claim could not be more bogus. Just looking back at the history of African action in the news media it is easy to see that ‘Africans’ care. Recently I came across a WireTap article on African Activism which provides numerous examples of people in Africa working towards progress.

The WireTap article highlights pushes towards democracy in Senegal and the use of hip hop to involve more people in the February 2007 presidential elections, especially involvement of young people. The article goes on to note other youth-led activist organizations working across Africa. In Bling: A Planet Rock, GenerationEngage working with the UNDP, a set of screening were made to bring light to American MTV hip hop’s focus on diamonds and the detrimental effect on Sierra Leone and other countries where ‘conflict diamonds’ are mined. This is very much linked to the youth of Sierra Leone and American in that American youth promote the hip hop culture and the youth in Sierra Leone are affected by it.

In Cape Town, South Africa a youth development organisation uses the performing arts to teach the youth about cross-cultural understanding, leadership and non-violent conflict resolution. Named City at Peace the organization puts on workshops and trainings that allow youth to build dialogue in a diverse atmosphere. “participants are trained in leadership for social change as well as artistic training in drama, dance and music. They are required to create an original production based on the stories of their lives, which will tour around the city, and they will have to use the material of that production to initiate community change projects in their homes, schools and communities.”

Liberia’s Save My Future Foundation works to fight the impact of the Firestone rubber company and the effects of the civil war on youth in the country. The organization wants to end the tensions between groups and work to protect the environment as well as human rights.

Here is an interesting link to the blog of a Skoll Foundation (SocialEdge) Fellow working on grassroots initiatives for social change in Sierra Leone. Alyson will be stationed for a year in the country and her blog will attempt to tell of both struggles and successes.

why is the african dirt so red. . . blood spilled

Last night I finally made it out the the theater to see the latest of Hollywood’s Africa-related movies, Blood Diamond. I have to say I was a bit skeptical with Leonardo DiCaprio in the leading role. I have been very skeptical of the recent upswing in movies covering topics and issues around the African continent. Hollywood is running out of remakes and new material for movie production, maybe now they are deciding to open the world’s eyes to the harsh realities that our governments and media didn’t care to cover before. Blood is spilled on the African continent for many reasons, but none chains the West to the blood spilled more than conflicts over greed – gold, rubber, oil, and diamonds.

I was very impressed with the way the movie was produced. Bringing maps and information to the general public about conflict diamonds in Sierra Leone. Blood Diamond did not stray from bringing the suffering and blood shed to the big screen, it did not stray from highlighting the truths of such a conflict, it did not allow us to any longer duck and hide from the brutality that we fuel through our lust for shiny stones. It covered many important issues, more than just conflict or blood diamonds; it covered poverty, refugees, small arms, child soldiers, the West’s attempts to help, UN involvement, and the corruption that lies beneath it all. Blood Diamond some might say is too violent or too full of bang-bang shoot ’em up, but I would say the movie balanced the bloodshed with the storyline of a greedy diamond runner and a Sierra Leonenian (?) man and his family caught up in the profit-driven conflict.

As the movie came to a close with a heart wrenching end that nearly brings tears to the eyes, I hoped immensly that more people would not keep their ideas of Africa as just a conflict ridden land. The credits rolled and many were in awed silence, some had tears running down their cheeks, and some left with no reaction. Behind me there was a group of teenaged girls. “It was so sad, so sad,” said one. “It was horrible, I mean it was good, but horrible. I tried to hold it together, Stacy completely lost it, but I mean whatever.” I bit my lip so hard I am sure it almost bled. ‘Whatever!’ The movie, besides showing intense, bloody conflict and tear-producing situations also showed that if you really care and want to make a difference, you can. With the story line of an American journalist seeking the truth behind the diamond conflict and who runs it all, Blood Diamond showed that with passion anything can be possible. Along with telling viewers that it is their, our, responsibility to be sure that any diamond bought is ‘conflict-free’ or ‘clean’.

Foreign Policy magazine created a nice photo-essay about diamond conflicts, those affected, and the path of a conflict diamond from mine to storefront window. Foreign Policy interviewed the director, Edward Zwick about the movie. They noted that the new movie has the diamond industry worried about sales. Why is that an issue? They just might not make as exhorbitant an amount of profit as they once did. So sorry, your third Mercedes-Benz could save lives instead and supply a village with clean water and basic healthcare.

In additon National Geographic has a great article on blood diamonds and how to not buy illicit diamonds. I would recommend reading both articles by Foreign Policy and National Geographic. Likewise check out this website run by the World Diamond Council, an online source with a wealth of information on diamonds, conflict diamonds and the Kimberley Process, where the global diamond industry adopted a zero tolerance policy on conflict diamonds with the backing of the UN and many NGOs. They created the Kimberley Process is used by 71 goverments to certify that diamonds from their respective countries are conflict-free. The site also gives examples of how diamonds are helping people in Africa through healthcare, economy, and education.

This is really a great example of an African (over there) conflict that hits home and really affects us here in the West. I encourage and recommend that you all go and see Blood Diamond, read up on the issues, and learn about the positive uses and impacts that diamonds have for the people who usually suffer the consequences of conflict.