Build A Bridge of Hope to "The Forgotten Continent"
By Ishi Hiroyuki, 2005, Iwanami Shoten Yen1,700
Jesuit Social Center
Let's bring our imagination to Africa. Lions and zebras run through the savanna. People living in the midst of nature. Traditional lives and noisy music. Nevertheless, when we listen to people working in African countries we hear a lot about civil wars, corruption of politicians, poverty and a continent covered by Aids, the gap between the images and the realities leaves us in blank surprise. I do not know much about Africa.

This book taught me, ignorant of African realities, a situation beyond imagination of the African children, the weakest in that continent. The book provides new data and rich information about African social problems that are usually difficult to find elsewhere. Let me introduce the book in detail.

The African continent is 80 times the size of Japan. Europe and the United States fit entirely inside Africa. High mountains, like the Kilimanjaro, with perpetual snow as well as a desert that combines 30% of all deserts in the world are found there. All kinds of wild animals live in its savanna and tropical zones and the ocean that surrounds it is abundant in corals and swamps. Africa, it is said, is constituted of more than 800 tribal groups and about 1,500 languages or dialects are spoken there. It is so huge and abundant in diversity that it is impossible to bring it together in one unit. In spite of its abundance the continent suffers from aids and poverty, crime and wars.
In 2003 the number of aids patients in Africa reached 25 million and when one takes into account that the African population is about 10% of the world's population, two thirds of all aids patients are to be found in that continent... During the year 2003, three million new persons were infected with aids and 2,200,000 aids patients died... About 7.5% of all adults (age 15-49) have aids and in some African countries as much as 40% of all adults have aids... Back in 1975, the average age of Africans reached 47 years, but in 2002 it went down to just 40 years.

40% of Africans live in extreme poverty with less than one US dollar a day... According to the United Nations Human Development Report that combines the main development coefficients like, average age, literacy, income, job percentage etc., the lowest 25 countries in the world are African countries. "Transparency International," a NGO based in Berlin, published in 2004 the results of a survey on political corruption of 146 countries and regions, called "Ranking of Political Transparency." According to it, among the worst 20 countries, 9 of them are from Africa... When there is a blackout, people take away electric cables and transformers. Big quantities of construction materials to build roads and bridges are stolen and married women tear off and carry away the asphalt of newly paved roads for use as cooking fuel. During the times of the cold war, both the United States and the Soviet Union competed with each other to grant big amounts of weapons, and even now superpowers sell African countries high tech arms, with the result that the military sell them again in the black market and become a cause for an unending crime situation.
Various analysis are offered to understand the origin of such situation like, former western colonization and slavery trade practices, the intervention in the internal affairs of fighting countries by big countries during the cold war and modern globalization trends. But, the situation remains critical and there is no time left for such analysis.

  Orphans from Aids
Surveys done (2002) by the UN and other international organizations show that there are 13,440,000 orphan children in the world, below 15 years old that have lost their parents because of aids. More than 80% of them are Africans. This is 10 times more than in 1990. The numbers will increase to 20 million (about 6% of all children in the world) by 2010. Poverty and lack of knowledge about safe sex, combined with other reasons, especially the high price of medicine to cure aids, no matter its decline in price, are the main cause of the background situation.
Aids orphans are the breeding ground that nurtures sex workers, child soldiers and slaves. Urgent solutions must be found, but the road ahead is full of obstacles.

  Sexual Abuse
Actually, even in industrial societies, sexual abuse is a hot issue but, in African countries where a macho society is prevalent, this sexual abuse of children has reached chronic proportions without comparison in other societies. For example, many civil organizations have reported on cases of sexual abuse of girl students, conducted by schoolteachers.

It is said that many children living in regions where military conflict is going on suffer from sexual attacks. Further on, reports have been published with the shocking information that soldiers, UN and NGOs' staff have forced girls into prostitution in exchange for aid programs.
As a matter of fact, rape and prostitution happen everyday. A myth goes on affirming that aids is cured by sexual intercourse with a virgin and, as a lamentable result, sexual attacks on minors are increasing. Governments are starting to act, under the pressure of international and private citizens' organizations, but unless the basic issue of poverty is attacked, there is little hope of success.

  Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has attracted public concern thanks to the work done by feminist groups. WHO estimates that 29 African countries practice, yearly, the FGM of 2 million women. The problem is acute because the ones performing FGM are midwives, sorcerers, barbers and blacksmith workers, besides medical doctors, and due to lack of sanitary conditions people get infections or lose their blood. Of course, the practice is harmful to sex life.
Legislation to control the FGM, thanks to International organizations and human rights groups, has made some inroads, but there is also a strong opposition as if such pressures would interfere with local traditional culture.

  Children Workers and Slaves
In Guinea Equatorial about 32% of children, age 10-14, do not go to school and are working. 43% of all workers in the biggest mine of plaster stone of Niger are children below 18 years old. 16% of them are age 10-13 and 6.9% are only age 6-9. The situation is similar in other countries like, Mali, Burundi and Burkina Faso where almost half of the workers are children, age 5-14.
Many are working in agriculture and, often, children have to work as slaves in rural plantations. For example, the Republic of Ivory Coast produces 40% of the world's cacao beans, and 15,000 children work as slaves in its cacao plantations 100 hours a week.
The saying: "modern chocolate is produced from cacao beans, milk, sugar and the sweat, blood and tears of children" has become quite famous. Agriculture is the field most exposed to the competitive movements of the modern market. The only way left to Africa to compete with industrial countries is through cheap labor, and thus the demand for slave workers will not stop.

  Child Soldiers
To some extent, the most horrible situation is that of children working as soldiers. There are about 800,000 child soldiers in the world. Brain washing education is easy and it is simple to find new ones to replace them, in case they are killed. About 300,000 child soldiers are in the battlefields and 13 African countries have 100,000 children fighting in their fronts. Africa holds millions of children, as refugees, street children or aids orphans, thus child soldiers are never lacking.
Such children are not only exposed to be killed but also to be raped; when they kill people they suffer from psychological traumas and because of social prejudices their rehabilitation becomes difficult. Most of all, since it is very difficult for African children without technical education to find a job, the military are attractive employment.
The world trend is for a decrease of military expenditure but, from 1985-2001, African military expenses went up 1.5 times. Capital meant for economic development goes to military expenses with the results of robbing children their future.

I went through the chapters of the book and found everywhere the same conclusion, "the prospects are discouraging." The author calls it "Afro-pessimism." What should we do, then?
The author is a journalist and UN staff member involved in environmental issues. He worked in Africa and spent 2 years as Japanese Ambassador to Zambia. On one side, he gets irritated as if his brains will blow up in front of the corruption of high officials with privileges and of the dependent tendencies of Africa on foreign aid, but on the other side, points out clearly the responsibility of donor countries for providing assistance without complications. The author stresses that more than to think, "what should be done," donors should rather ask: "What is not to be done." Nevertheless beyond that, the highest priority would be to save the children from the dangers exposed in the book.
At the end, the book indicates web sites, a list of NGOs, bibliography of main articles and an introduction to information on African countries. Abundant case studies are also offered and I thought that high school students could easily understand them. The book could be fruitfully used as resource material.
(Shibata Yukinori / Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
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