October 22, 2011

What Is It About Africa?

What’s wrong with Africa? The answer is, of course, nothing – at least not with the continent itself. Africa is a bountiful land of incredible diversity and productive potential, boasting the largest mammals, the great apes, geological diversity, vast panoramas of beauty, and numerous spectacular plants and animals. What comes to mind to many westerners, though, is starvation, drought, disease, war, genocide, and a long history of slavery, exploitation and corruption. For decades the charities have assaulted our emotions with heart-wrenching images of starving children with distended stomachs and flimsy arms, covered in flies and mosquitoes. Is Africa to blame? No; these are mostly human-caused problems, offering hope of solutions. A diverse continent with vastly different political systems, Africa offers striking contrasts of riches and horrors.

Take farming. According to Science Daily, parts of Africa have some of the most nutrient-depleted soils in the world (and this speaking of land south of the Sahara Desert). The BBC News said, “Researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre say poor soil fertility is one of the main obstacles to improving food production in Africa.” Here’s a simple solution: plant trees. The BBC News said that planting the right kind of trees can bring back the soil: “Fertiliser tree systems (FTS) ... help boost food security and play a role in ‘climate proofing‘ the region’s arable land”. Can this help forestall some of the desertification that worries scientists? According to the Science Daily article, some 400,000 farmers are now benefiting from this simple, elegant solution so economical it grows on trees. Readers may remember the amazing Moringa tree, a literal “tree of life” that provides food, fuel, clean water and soil fertilizer.

Take the desert. A BBC News nature feature reported that a rocky, arid part of Niger is a literal Noah’s Ark for migrating wildlife. The photo gallery affirms that this part of Africa is “one of the most inhospitable deserts,” and yet biologists are calling for its protection, because it is a “biodiversity hotspot.” Who would have thought? In America, deserts are no hindrance to booming, thriving cities (Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, and many others). Technologies are available to find and extract clean water, to derive energy, and to improve the standard of living for everyone – when there is the political will, the right principles, the right leadership and ability for the people to oust evil dictators.

But the atrocities continue. Recent news has called attention to America’s latest effort to help stop the misnamed “Lord’s Resistance Army” led by brutal bad guy Joseph Kony in Uganda, who sends children into villages to massacre everyone and tortures them if they don’t. South Sudan is trying to hold onto a flimsy new sovereignty after 15 years of civll war. Robert Mugabe destroyed once-productive Zimbabwe with his irrational, ego-driven policies. One of the worst sudden genocides happened in Rwanda just 17 years ago. Somalia remains a hotbed of death, piracy and terrorism. This is all recent history in “darkest Africa,” in spite of the fact that the old slave trade is gone, and the old colonial empires are gone. What’s wrong with Africa?

“The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice” (Proverbs 13:23).

“There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away” (Hosea 4:1-3).