A cartoon portraying the lighter side of an African disaster drew me to a British magazine in 1985 during the first globally televised famine. That famine, in Ethiopia and Somalia, brought music stars together to compose We Are The World, a song that went on to dominate the popular music charts.
Pop stars’ contribution did not end with the millions raised by the Live Aid concert. The relief effort was led by a chap called Bob Geldof who, even by 1980s’ standards, was a fading rock star. Geldof’s effort to help suffering Africans not only raised much-needed support for relief, but it also saw him revive his stage act. The cartoonist at Private Eye, the satirical magazine, drew (rather racially, I must say) two African village chiefs discussing how to stage a famine to help fading pop stars regain their fame.
Now it is no laughing matter. With Eastern Africa facing one of its worst drought in 60 years, affecting 11 million people, the United Nations has declared a famine in our region for the first time in a generation.
It is the UN, not the African Union (which sits within an hour’s flight from the worst-affected parts). The question is, why is it always the foreigners, the West, to come to our rescue? Why can we not do something?
Images from Somalia
The tales coming out of Somalia and North-Eastern Kenya are harrowing: A mother walks for ages, arrives at a refugee camp, only to realise that the baby strapped to her back has been dead for two days. A 75-year-old woman and her 14 and 16-year-old granddaughters are all raped on their 12-day journey to find food and relief.
A Kenyan journalist told a Ugandan colleague from Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, on the Kenya-Somalia border: “I met a woman who waited in security lines on the border for hours. She had two children, one a 3-year-old by hand and another strapped to her back. The 3-year-old was too malnourished, she had to choose which child to leave behind to die and she left her 3-year-old (and) took a shortcut route into Kenya to save the younger one.”
The UN says $1.2b is needed, of which $300m has been raised. The AU’s Committee on Special Emergency Assistance Fund for Drought and Famine in Africa (phew!) has given a grant of $300,000, which is 0.1 per cent of what has been raised, or 0.025 per cent of what is needed. African governments are just not putting in money, though Uganda’s troop presence has helped relief distribution.
The AU is the same body that promptly raised an alarm when the West started hammering Gaddafi in Libya. They did not want him touched. Was it a case of self-preservation? How about people-preservation?
Complicity does not stop with governments. Many of us are as guilty, if not more. For instance, the Church, which is probably the biggest collection of individuals with a common agenda, is really missing in action. And yet it has the mandate to act.
Love for neighbours
God’s love, as Christians know it, is often expressed in His creation – be it the environment and the things (plants, animals, land, water, etc) in it, or the people (created in His Image). The injunction to look after these things enjoins the Church not only to mitigate the conditions that make human existence miserable, like in the Horn, but also to look after the people therein. That, I believe, is the essence of taking the love of God, the Gospel, to “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” For the Church in Uganda, Somalia is our Samaria.
As much as Christ preached the Gospel of Salvation, He also preached the need to look after those around us. Jesus talked as much about the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged, good use of resources and talents, as He did for prayer and salvation of the soul. Therefore, the Church needs to recognise that:
* Conventional evangelism is not enough
* Church planting is not enough
* Faithfulness to Christ’s broad mandate – heal the sick, feed the hungry, help the poor - must be done.
It is the essence of the prayer many believers pray: “Your will be done on EARTH as it is in Heaven”. It is a prayer not just in word, but also in deed. My pastor acknowledged the situation in the Horn and the Church’s underwhelming response. He believes a positive active response would make the gospel the holistic message (evangelism, discipleship, deliverance, social work) that the Church’s Founder expects even today.
Over to the pastor and other believers to look after our neighbours. Who is my neighbour? The one whose need I know. That need is in Africa’s Horn.