Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A Group of Thoughtful Committed Citizens

       "It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.  Each time a man ( or woman ) stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he (she) sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."  Robert Kennedy

This is a powerpoint image that I use in all my powerpoint presentations.  My son fancied it up for me a while back.  Imagine the visual:  It starts with an empty map and then one by one, starting with North America then South America, moving east to Europe and Asia, each number lands on the map.  Then there is a pause....... and a universal gasp in the crowd as '25 million' falls into place in sub-Saharan Africa.  That the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Africa so outnumbers any other continent is astonishing.

I know what some of you might be thinking.  It's Africa.  They are always desperate, a continent riddled with problems:  Disease, famine, corrupt governments, immense poverty.  One of the most important things I have learned in the last 10 years of trying my hand at international development work is that Africa is not helpless and Africans are no different than we are.  Our affluence, our opportunities, our vast capabilities all evolved from our birthplace.  We were born in resource rich countries that adopted democracy as their form of government at conception.  We live, breath, ignore and take for granted, democracy and all of the rights and privileges it bestows on each of it's citizens.

So, how did Africa end up in such a desperate state?  Over centuries, the continent has lived within the mightiest walls of oppression.  Bear with me.  This history lesson will be quick and painless.

Africa is extremely rich in natural resources and human labour power.  For almost a thousand years, first for the benefit of Muslim countries and then for the benefit of European countries, millions of Africans were traded into slavery.  

Starting in the 1600's, European countries began building overseas empires and economies mostly in the new world ( North America and South America).  These new world empires were built on the backs of 15 million African slaves who were shipped across the Atlantic to work on massive plantations that produced sugar, coffee, cotton and tobacco. The African continent was essentially bled of it's human resources.

The export of so many people created a demographic disaster.  Entire ethnic groups, 45 in all, were taken to the Americas during the trade.  Individuals, families,economies, political structures and cultures were destroyed leaving Africa permanently disadvantaged compared to other parts of the world.

 The slave trade has aptly been named the "African Holocuast".  Africans call it the Maafa meaning "great disaster" in Swahili.

   "the morally monstrous destruction of human possibility involved redefining African humanity to the world, poisoning past, present and future relations with others who only know us through this stereotyping and thus damaging the truly human relations among peoples."  The slave trade "constituted the destruction of culture, language, religion and human possibility." Professor Maulana Karenga

The mightiest walls of oppression.......

By the 1860's all European countries had abolished the slave trade starting with Britain and the well known British abolitionist, William Wilberforce.  But oppression did not end here.  Africa, now reduced to a tiny fraction of it's previous strength and integrity was left globally vulnerable to further oppression and exploitation.

At the Berlin Conference in 1885, 13 European states and the United States gathered to settle the political partitioning of this vulnerable continent.  They gathered to decide who should have what.  Under the auspices of promoting peace in African countries in conflict, the conference attendees divided the African continent into new geopolitical boundaries.  Three centuries of slave trade were followed by a century of brutal colonial rule that left Africa bereft of educated citizens and leaders and deprived of basic social, educational and public health infrastructures; new nations with new borders, under-developed and in conflict with one another.  The people of Africa became sitting ducks for global health pandemics, economic insecurity, famine and extreme poverty.

A tinder box waiting to be ignited.  The AIDS virus was the match.  The resultant inferno has left 25 million people infected in sub Saharan Africa and created a human catastrophe that is globally unprecedented.

Our free, democratic and affluent society is our birthplace, but it is not our birth right.  We are who we are as a country and a continent, in part, because we contributed to those mighty walls of oppression.  We were part of that oppressive force.  There are many moral and just reasons to now reshape history. The shame of centuries of oppression need not be part of the justification for addressing it's profound, prolonged  and deeply destructive consequences.  But the shame of it certainly makes me think.

What will it take to re-shape history?  Robert Kennedy was right.  You and I can re-shape history armed with the belief that we can and we must.  Understanding that we have the tools and the intellectual property to make massive changes in countries devastated by the HIV virus.  Knowing that in each of us there is a deep desire to stand up against injustice and that when we do, the contagion that is created inspires so many others to follow.  The mightiest walls of oppression are no match for our collective and committed strength and power and determination.

Reshaping Relationships, Redefining History

Follow the story in the next few blogs and I will tell you how we will reshape history.  One glorious relationship, one brick at a time.

Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik
Founder Bracelet of Hope
One Country AIDS Free

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I love your writing. I say, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Thanks all!!!
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