A reality check for Africa’s leaders

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.

By Bashir Goth

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Published: Tue 24 Jan 2006, 8:45 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 1:35 PM

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 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 neighbourhoods and the ugly faces of the African poor. “We are investing to change the image of Sudan,” a Sudanese official told 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 ignored the fact that international agencies are begging donor countries for funds estimated at $1.96 for humanitarian assistance and recovery and development programme for his country. He skirted the truth that the African Union had appealed for a total of $723 million to expand its peacekeeping workforce in Darfur to 12,300 by the end of 2006. Why should the leaders care about the millions of Sudanese people living in appalling conditions in refugee camps in neighbouring countries or thousands of internally displaced individuals living in ghettos in Rumbek and around Khartoum or the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, when they are enjoying this lavish hospitality and outrageous spending of Sudan’s meagre resources.

With the continent’s most pressing issues such as chronic poverty, diseases, ongoing crimes against humanity, internecine wars and untold human misery on the agenda, one wonders how Africa’s leaders could find the appetite for even a bowl of soup.

In a continent where 127 million out of 280 million population south of Sahara live in extreme poverty, where the UN has appealed for urgent food supplies to millions of drought affected nomads and farmers, where $237 million are urgently needed to avert a humanitarian disaster, you would think 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 on 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 with the millions of African children sleeping on empty stomach every night of the year.

As any concerned and self-respecting elder is expected to do, African leaders should have made sure their children had eaten first before loading their own bellies. It seems, however, 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 is an African journalist

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