Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Believe in Africa

The focus of the blog to date has been mainly about the massive humanitarian challenges facing people in the Horn of Africa and Zimbabwe.

In a rare 'good news' story from Africa in the Guardian (the story itself not online unfortunately) I was thrilled to read about the incredible work of Mo Ibrahim, a self-made telecoms billionaire from Sudan. His story moved me to blog this and to re-commit to share more good news about Africa.

For every harrowing experience one may encounter there will be truly inspiring stories not far beneath the surface. Stories of communities uniting together to change their situations and forge out a positive future for their children. I have witnessed, for instance, Croatian families, at huge personal risk, providing safe harbor for Serb neighbors. Or meeting a man on the third day of a bicycle journey into the deep bush of Southern Sudan. He was delivering a letter from a girl separated from her mother because of conflict. The lone cyclist did not know the woman to whom he was about to deliver such a great gift. But he felt compelled to carry out this humanitarian gesture. Maybe he knew the personal heartache of separation and needed to help mend his own hurt. Maybe it was the true spirit of humanity that you so often find in the African light.

I wonder what was the last story you read about Africa? What was it about? I would wager a guess that it wasn’t a positive story. I’m guessing that it was probably another depressing story painting a continent without hope: a continent rife with corruption, disease, famine and conflict.

We recently ran a survey of how the media and key international decision makers perceive Africa. According to the findings about three quarters of the 2,607 monitored news articles were negative. The few positive stories typically focused on business rather than successes in development or health.

Now, we should be clear that this is not a criticism of the media. Journalists are often the ones uncovering hidden issues and suffering that needs our attention. They are often the ones who take risks to find out what is happening far away from cities. The media is an invaluable ally for all humanitarian organizations.

As humanitarians we need to shoulder a large part of the responsibility. We know that positive news rarely make the headlines, they don’t make prime time, and they don’t always move people to donate.

But there is good news. There are real and meaningful developments being achieved every day in Africa. Amidst the images of conflict, famine and drought, health risks, corruption and political instability, there are countless untold stories of progress and achievements.

Let’s start with the big ones: since 2000 there has been a staggering 91 per cent reduction in measles deaths, an extraordinary effort achieved largely thanks to the determination and commitment of community-based Red Cross volunteers. Its essential to acknowledge that people are actively working to change their lives for the better.

If we dig our way down to the cities, townships and settlements that scatter the African continent we will hear the story of the volunteers in Zimbabwe, who, in the midst of a cholera and food crisis are selflessly working around the clock. Let’s hear the story of Hortense in Cameroon who works to protect young women exposed to the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases.

This grassroots action is at the heart of the Red Cross. It is the source of its strength and its incredible reach. Problems are not solved in London, New York or Geneva: they are solved in the cities, communities and townships across Africa. And the Red Cross Red Crescent is at the heart of these communities.

We must not shy away from the profound challenges that Africa continent faces. But we must not get lost. We need to celebrate the micro-successes that are happening everyday. These successes, though they seem small, will be the seeds of meaningful development on this continent. We must Believe in Africa.


1 comment:

  1. The story about the guy on the bike reminds me of something my professor talks about a lot - the moral opposite of war. When we take time to care for each other in these very small ways, they have a huge impact. Thanks for bringing the human out of the humanity.