Friday, January 27, 2006

Do African leaders hear the cries of hungry children as they savior on French gourmet ?

A Somali anecdote says that a mother couldn't find anything to cook for her children for dinner so she put strange looking stones in a pot, added water and spices and placed it on the stove. She then started telling stories and singing lullabies to the children. The water gurgling in the pot and the smell of the spices had given the children the illusion of food coming. The mother continued singing and chastising the obstinate pot for refusing to yield. Waiting as long as long as they could, the children were finally overcome by sleep and each one of them had dozed off on the mother’s sweet lullaby.

In contrast to this steadfast mother, African leaders are meeting this week on the banks of the Blue Nile of Khartoum to a lavish welcome with newly built villas, swimming pools, health clubs and latest fashion furniture and interior decorations imported from Europe; while they dine on gourmet food served on fine china sets specially flown from France.

While millions of African children and women sleep under the open sky with nothing to protect them from the biting cold, rains and hungry wildlife looking for anything to bite even emaciated human flesh, African leaders will sleep on beautiful linen and will have French trained butlers on standby at their door steps to respond to every groan and moan they make.

Sudan, the host country, has built new buildings, transformed dusty roundabouts into lush gardens and repainted old buildings while massive billboard were erected to hide shanty houses, squalid neighborhoods and the ugly faces of the African poor.

“We are investing to change the image of Sudan,” told a Sudanese official to the BBC. The dignified official, however, forgot to mention that he is investing the Aid extended by taxpayers of donor countries to feed Sudan’s poor and war-torn people.

The official has failed to point out that international organizations are begging donor countries for funds estimated at $1.96 billion for humanitarian assistance and recovery and development program for his country. He skirted the truth that the African Union had appealed a total of $723 million to expand its peacekeeping workforce in Darfur to 12,300 by end of 2006. Why should the official and his government care about the millions of Sudanese people living under gruesome conditions in abominable refugee camps in neighboring countries or thousands of internally displaced individuals residing in appalling conditions in ghettos in Rumbek and around Khartoum or the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, when they can buy the loyalty of African leaders with lavish hospitality and outrageous spending of the country’s meager resources.

With a daunting agenda laden with the continent's most pressing issues such as chronic poverty, diseases, ongoing crimes against humanity, internecine wars and unforetold human misery, one may wonder how could the leaders find the appetite for even a bowl of soup.

In a continent where 127 million out of 280 million population in Africa south of the Sahara live in extreme poverty according to International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), where the UN World Food Programme in January 2006 appealed for urgent food supplies to millions of drought affected nomads and farmers in East and Horn of African countries, where the UN food aid agency aims to feed 10 million West Africans in 2006 and is begging US $237 million from donors to avert a humanitarian disaster, one would think that African leaders would come to the summit with the sensitivity of a father, laden with the worries for his hungry children, sick wives and dying mothers.

As a gesture of appreciation for the generosity of the international community and to show their seriousness about spending every dollar of humanitarian assistance to feeding a child, saving a mother or sheltering the shivering elderly, the African leaders should have met in the traditional way - under a Marula Tree. They should have slept under the open skies, held their discussions around a bonfire in the African desert; they should have eaten corn and porridge from Calabash Bowls or even better they should have fasted for the two days of the summit in solidarity of the millions of African children sleeping on empty stomach every night of the year. It may even have been far better and much wiser for the Sudanese president to boil stones for his disconcerted guests to give them the illusion of a gourmet food coming their way.

As any concerned and self-respecting elder is expected to do, African leaders should have made sure that their children had eaten first and filled their stomachs before they loaded their own bellies. It seems, however, that they don’t mind to borrow the famous words of Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI, and tell their people ("Qu'ils mangent de la brioche- let them eat cake”).

Bashir Goth

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