Answering Africa’s Call

Did you cry during “Hotel Rwanda”? Secretly root on Don Cheadle’s nomination last night? Have you been wearing your green “Save Darfur” bracelet despite it not always *gasp* matching the rest of your outfit?

And when thousands of people died yesterday in Africa, did you even blink an eye?

Yes, it’s that time again. Time for the obligatory plea for the forgotten continent. What argument might work:

In the name of national security, we need to address the underlying contributors to the spread of global terrorism — “the lethal combination of corrupt or destructive leaders, porous and unmonitored borders and rootless or hopeless young men” — with more than just military action, yet we continue to spend more than 30 times more on military operations than “foreign aid that addresses the plight of the poorest of the world’s poor.” Right now terrorists are feeding people (and feeding into their desperation) while we continue to be wasteful and negligent, funneling money into an ill-begotten war instead of actually focusing on the war on terror.

In the interests of keeping our word, the United States needs to start making real progress in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals set forth a few years ago. Alongside several other countries, we vowed that by the year 2015 we would be “giving 0.7 percent of [our] national incomes for development aid for poor countries,” a commitment that could eradicate world poverty by 2025. Britain and France are already halfway there, but we putter along “near rock bottom at 0.18 percent.” President Bush praises his Millennium Challenge Account but the provisions of that vastly underfunded program, which “has yet to disburse a single dollar,” preclude those most in need from receiving any aid whatsoever.

In the name of human decency, we must. “We are the first generation able to afford to end poverty and the diseases it spawns.” It is true that “not every African state is failing,” but we are failing them. At a time when technology has allowed us to have the world at our fingertips, we continue to keep Africa at arm’s length. Nominating socially conscious movies is not enough; not when the “official” Oscar baskets being doled out cost more than what whole villages of people will see in their lifetimes. More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty. Some may call it “the silent tsunami,” but the cries of hunger that escape from the lips of orphaned children are far from quiet; it is we who have gone deaf to their wails.

Thousands of people will die today in Africa; how will we respond?