It’s because the weather is hot, innit?

Jul 20th, 2011 | Filed under Uncategorized

Ugh, I’ve just seen an absurd comment thread on CiF (why I ever read that cesspit of trolls I have no idea) talking about the famine in Somalia, basically involving a whole bunch of victim blaming, and “hey, not our problem” crap.

A key point that was made was around how the conditions in Somalia that allow droughts to threaten such a huge number of people are geographic, not economic. The country is situated in such a way as to make the cultivation of crops difficult, and this sort of thing is to be expected. How are we, in the west, responsible for the climate conditions in Africa?

Of course, anybody who suggests “well why don’t they all move here then, if it’s so much more conducive to life?” will naturally be told that there are many Somalis here, breeding, breaking the law, and that we should repatriate them. No, seriously, there is a comment that says that. Which once more illustrates why I shouldn’t read CiF.

But of course the issue is one of economics. Britain doesn’t produce all its own food – it has the economic luxury of being able to import what it likes, and thus our population does not depend on our local conditions for its survival. The level of economic and social advancement required to decouple your agricultural industry from your survival as a nation is not something that we have particularly encouraged among “third world” countries. In fact, our stripping them of their natural resources without paying a fair price to the peoples of those nations is a huge contributing factor to them remaining third world countries, but that’s another issue that I won’t get into now.

The problem is one of local solidarity. When a member of the Eurozone is in economic trouble, we feel that as their neighbours, we must help them. Greece, Ireland, basically any EU country at this point that asks for money is probably going to get it, and it will come from their neighbours, with their sense of common purpose in Europe and close bonds. Thus the risk of failure is distributed across the wider group, and is mitigated by the guarantees of a country’s neighbours to prevent such failure where possible.

This is not a situation which has been allowed to flourish (unless you really want to argue that the African Union has anything like the sort of power of the EU or UN). In much of Africa, you’re on your own, for various reasons. Cultural reasons are in there – that sense of common purpose among European nations is lacking in areas of Africa where tribal and ethnic loyalties start to intersect with national identity. Your neighbour is different from you, and you don’t feel part of a common struggle. Then there are economic factors – many countries in Africa wouldn’t be in a position to help out even if they wanted to. It’s all very well British banks lending vast sums of money to Ireland to keep them afloat, but there aren’t African nations sitting around with vast warehouses of spare food to send to Somalia. Well, there are, but they don’t own the food, so they don’t get to share it like that.

Ultimately the fragmented nature of Africa comes down to a lack of technological, economic and cultural advancement. All three of those things were inflicted on Africa by the west, over the last thousand years. Do you think that the people of Wales independently came up with Newton’s laws of physics, with the technological innovations that revolutionised large-scale agriculture, or with the fundamental building blocks of modern society? No, they didn’t – those “gifts” if you like came from elsewhere, shared (like most advancement) through the free movement of people and the free exchange of ideas. And probably some money.

No one western state came up with all the advancements that put them in the “first world” category. Progress permeated across borders, transcending nation states, and moved the west forward collectively, even if half the countries were at war for a decent chunk of those thousand years. Eventually somebody’s daughter married somebody’s brother, nations became friends, shared ideas, and then got back to fighting. In spite of the apparent barriers to cooperation, ultimately “progress” found a way.

Not so with Africa. I dare say the existence of a great big lake between Europe and Africa was itself something of a barrier to free cultural exchange, but ultimately they weren’t included. They weren’t part of this advancement. They didn’t acquire religion through the (sometimes bloody) permeation of ideas throughout “civilised” society. They were given religion as it suited western nations, through patronising missionaries. And when it came time to find cheap labour for the colonisation of the New World, Africa supplied that through the slave trade.

The gifts of progress were not shared with Africa by Europe. Having shared such ideas internally, Europe left Africa behind and then came back to take advantage of what was left. Arguments about how “well, they should have gotten together and done the same” miss how these dynamics are created. In school, if the unpopular majority were to declare to the popular minority that they were in fact the unpopular ones, and the majority was now “cool”, would that have actually worked? It’s about momentum. Yes, geographically speaking Europe had advantages that promoted advancement, but it held onto those through a deliberate effort to keep such advancements from “those that are different to us”.

I’m rambling now, I can see that…

My point is that we haven’t allowed Africa to be a continent that’s able to look after its own. We kept our advancements to ourselves until we were able to use them to exploit Africa, learning our own lessons over centuries about the dangers of tribal thinking while sharing nothing of what we’d learned, because we had no structures in place to support cultural exchange. Capitalism requires that in order for the rich to exist, so too must the poor. Africa is the continent that gives us our “first world” status by providing an alternative, and the system is happy for that to continue because it makes our lives better.

The idea that the plight of Somalia can be reduced to their location relative to the Equator is to ignore a thousand years of history, and all the ways in which we’ve engineered an Africa that suits us, to the detriment of its own people.

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  1. Phil Ruse
    Jul 28th, 2011 at 08:02
    Reply | Quote | #1

    With regards to agriculture, I’ve heard that in some cases the problem is (or at least used to be) the food surplus that the EU builds up and then ‘dumps’ on Africa, leaving African farmers unable to compete. I think we make the mistake of assuming it’s always starving people when sometimes they need help and investment of a different kind. And I think it’s an argument that can appeal regardless of political sentiment; invest for altruistic [you would hope] *or* economic reasons – a healthy prosperous Africa benefits us all.