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Africa is neither helpless nor hopeless

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, April 12, 2005

When we think of Africa, many of us think of horrible problems and may think that Africa is helpless and hopeless and that the United States and other wealthy countries would be better off focusing their attention elsewhere. For the most part, this is in fact what the wealthiest countries of the world have done. Thus, we have what amounts to a self-fulfilling prophecy: We don’t think we can make a difference, so we don’t make a difference. Meanwhile, conditions on the ground in many African countries do not change or worsen, and, therefore, we think we are proven correct. At the same time, parts of Africa become increasingly susceptible to religious extremism and transnational terrorist networks.There can be no doubt that, in many parts of Africa, the problems are serious and have been getting worse. It is estimated that nearly 50 percent – up from 40 percent in 1980 – of the population in sub-Saharan Africa lives in extreme poverty or less than $2 per day. People in Africa continue to suffer greatly because of poor healthcare and no access to medicines that people in much of the rest of the world take for granted. As a result, HIV/AIDS leaves millions of orphans. People suffer from war and genocide. It is estimated that 300,000 people have died in the genocide supported by the government of Sudan, and 1.65 million people have been made refugees. It is clear that the gap between the way most Africans must live – poor, sick, orphaned and on the run – and the way most people in the world’s wealthiest countries live is perhaps today’s greatest scandal.Africa Week April 10-16 here at Notre Dame is intended to promote the realization that serious and getting worse problems are not insurmountable and that, with the right kind of attention from the wealthiest countries, Africans have proven and will prove themselves to be neither helpless nor hopeless. We have been given the time and resources to learn and to be creative in developing solutions to the world’s problems. We are called to reject easy answers like, “there is nothing we can do” or “those people are hopeless.” May our study be increasingly devoted to tackling the gravest scandals of our time, like the gap between Africa and the rest of the world.

Robert Dowd, C.S.C.Assistant Professor of Political ScienceApril 11