Let Africa Sink?

January 28, 2008

This is a long promised response to something I read a while ago. It is neither exhaustive nor paints a complete picture of Africa. It is written mainly to say there is hope for Africa. Even as my heart breaks for Kenya hope is not lost. People in Africa long for change, people in the West long for change, we will see change in Africa when the right strategies are put in place and the right people work them.

I had a friend recommend I read this essay. It’s written by Kim du Toit, an Afrikaner living in the U.S. (His life story page talks about his descent from Europeans) The title of the essay is “Let Africa Sink.” When my friend was talking about it, it sounded more reasonable than it is. Let’s outline the basic arguments and then I’ll present my issues with this essay.

His basic premise is that in Africa, life is cheap. He knows this because he lived there for over 30 years. Of his group of 18 close friends, only 10 survive today due to various, specifically African, causes. This creates an understanding of death very different from ours in the West, one where death is generally accepted as a fact of life and rarely tragic.

He then says that this is part of the reason why aid doesn’t work. There is an inherent attitude in Africa that sees death as a fact of life. Africa is a dog eat dog continent, whether those dogs are dogs or people. The billions of dollars in aid has only accomplished regression. Finding its way into the hands of tribal leaders and dictator’s swiss bank accounts, not into the hands of those who need it.

His final point is that the best thing the West can do is ignore Africa. Stop sending aid, stop covering it in the news, and stop sending medication. His solution?

…here’s my (tongue-in-cheek) solution for the African fiasco: a high wall around the whole continent, all the guns and bombs in the world for everyone inside, and at the end, the last one alive should do us all a favor and kill himself.

The argument is actually quite coherent right up until that little paragraph. Apart from his lack of references he reflects issues and frustrations that many of us in the West have with Africa. Nothing seems to work.

His argument although, is simplistic and he misrepresents himself as an authority.* There are many problems in Africa. Many are man made, some are man made from before trade and colonization. Cannibalism was in practice before the East Coast was settled, slavery was first practiced by different tribes*, then picked up by the arabs, and finally brought into its most massive form by europeans. These things all had different consequences, but it is hard to underestimate what withdrawing 25 million people, mostly men, does to a continent sociologically. This is my first argument, there is a blood debt owed by europeans and white north and south americans for what they did to Africa demographically.

More important than that though is an overall mishandling of trying to “fix” Africa. Money has been given without accountability to corrupt governments. Groups like U.N. peacekeepers have had their hands tied during catastrophes like Rwanda due to the interests of non-African countries. Places like the recently mentioned Darfur are playgrounds for world interests like China and Russia. Yet there are groups that are making a difference. World Vision and Compassion International are feeding and educating children, changing the next generation of leaders in Africa. Organizations like KIVA are working from the ground up to invest paltry sums that make a big difference in small businesses, in Africa and around the Third World. Then there are people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, people wealthy beyond belief who are giving most of it away. They’re not being stupid about it though, demanding accountability and results. Unlike the U.N. where more than 50% of every dollar spent is swallowed by bureacracy alone, before the corruption even has a chance to touch it.*

The question was put forward in the title: Let Africa sink? I can emphatically answer NO! What we are finally seeing is innovative ways to deal with the situation in Africa. Solutions brought forward by people who haven’t lost hope in change, even if they don’t believe in the big government style of changing the world. The solution is not ignoring the problem. Globalization means that we will not remain unaffected if we watch a continent implode. We have a moral responsibility because of our past and a duty to our future to work for change in Africa until change occurs.

*His claim to being born and raised in Africa neglects one important detail. He is an Afrikaner who now lives in the U.S. He also fails to give adequate evidence apart from his eloquent sophistry.

* African slavery though was much different from European Slavery. Including things like the ability to move from Slave to becoming a member and sometimes even leader of a tribe. Another thing to note is that Slaves were brought by Africans to trading posts set up on the coast. Trading posts that had to be constantly resupplied with workers from Europe as there was no immunity to African disease.

* As a case study check out this page. Money Quote: “Prof. Sachs is right about tougher seeds but not about more aid. By his own calculation, “out of every dollar of aid given to Africa, an estimated 16% went to consultants from donor countries, 26% went into emergency aid and relief operations, and 14% went into debt servicing.” He could not account for how much of the remaining 44% got siphoned off by corrupt officials, nor could he explain why $400 billion dollars of aid over the last 30 years has left the average African poorer.”
Part of the reason African countries haven’t been helped by Western Aid is because a third of it has gone back to the West and 26% has been used on immediate issues. Mismanagement has prevented long term solutions from being implemented.



  1. I would further say that we have an obligation to Africa because Africa is peopled by human beings, and all human beings have intrinsic worth, regardless of whether or not death is viewed as “just part of life.” If all human beings have intrinsic worth–worth so enormous, so inestimable that the Divine Mind would choose to become one and then die for them–then we who have the power and the opportunities and the plans and the skills to help those in need — whether it be the homeless on Queen St., the AIDS victims in Zimbabwe, or the remnants from ethnic cleansing in E Europe.

    To choose to stock up our money, our talent, our resources and use them for ourselves alone or save them because we are “prudent”, to not empower people with sustainable development plans, to not finance an operable hospital in Angola, to stay at home because we’re not sure we could “afford” to go — this is the selfishness we Western Christians exhibit on a daily basis, choosing to maintain our wealth, our comfort, our health, our skills, our time, our emotions.

    Jackie Pullinger, who worked with whores and druggies in Hong Kong said that the Lord calls us to have soft hearts and hard feet, but far too many of us have hard hearts and soft feet.

  2. Matthew, that is definitely a very valid point, and one I failed to take into account, attempting to respond in the “pure intellect” type way. This is the truth: these people are people. As Christians we are called to love them, not in that “I love all my christian brethren but do nothing in reality way,” but in the way Jesus called us to when he said “When I was hungry you fed me, when I was naked you clothed me, when I was being killed by my fellow countryman you protected me, when I was being financially ruined by debt you relieved me.” Ok, I added those last two bits but you are right on. Thanks for putting me back on track.

  3. “This is my first argument, there is a blood debt owed by europeans and white north and south americans for what they did to Africa demographically.”

    Nonsense. That’s like saying that Germany owes France a blood debt because of the slaughter they inflicted during WWI (proportionately, a higher p[ercentage of the population than the ravages of slavery on the African continent).

    You decry my lack of attributions and sources. Fine: try this one: Tanzania. Twenty years after independence, over $6 billion in aid; seventy-seven miles of tarred roads.

    As for the “expertise” you profess (mistakenly) that I claim, I did and do no such thing. There’s a huge difference between expertise and experience, and it’s the latter I claim.

    The plain fact is that Africa (especially sub-Saharan Africa) is hopeless. For every decent society (eg. Botswana), I can give you four hell-holes, eg. Zimbabwe; which, by the way, never suffered from the ravages of slavery, and for only twenty years, a mild form of apartheid — and during which time, managed to feed not only its own people, but most of the surrounding countries as well.

    Not doing so well now, are they? And yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, people still think that aid (even properly-managed aid like Bill Gates’s) will somehow turn Africa into a prosperous democratic and free society.

    By all means, continue to think so. Just don’t think that money will solve the problem.

    Which was the point of the whole essay.

    And speaking of which: what part of “tongue in cheek” was not clear to you?

    • Kim du Toit, Wonderful response! I suspect that Liam Kinnon is well intentioned and sympathetic, despite his naivety. Unfortunately, it is precisely this naivety which has gotten us all into trouble and ultimately, does not help the situation in the slightest. In general, the people in power in Africa do NOT want “help” in the true sense of the word (in other words, what we in the west mean by “help”). They just want money, and like spoiled children, it is NEVER ENOUGH. I think every western leader needs to take a course in child psychology!

      • The dude thinks that fuzz on his face is a good-looking beard, you don’t really expect him to understand global politics, do you?

  4. To Kim, Thanks for commenting. I tried writing a comment but it got too long. Post coming soon.
    To Jordin
    Two things.
    1. The 25 million number only represents people being taken out of Africa as slaves, a number unparalleled anywhere else.

    2. As we’ll see in the coming response to Kim du Toit the extenuating circumstances in all or most of these cases renders them irrelevant for comparison. The biggest point being your numbers represent people killed, my number represents people removed for the purposes of slavery. They are not analogous. For the record you’re time frame is a bit off and fails to take into account the ramp up time. The slave trade is abolished earliest in Denmark, in 1803, followed by Great Britain in 1807. The last country in Europe to abolish the trade was Spain in 1845. Clandestine trade did continue until 1867 but at a highly reduced rate. (From my British History class)

    As we’ll also see in my coming post, I really don’t see a point in arguing because you aren’t going to change your mind. I’m doing this because this is a public forum and I’m hoping people will stop using people like Kim du Toit as a reference for their opinions.

  5. […] to Kim du Toit. February 4, 2008 I’ve written this in response to Mr. du Toit’s comment here I’d rather not post it verbatim because of it’s […]

  6. Kim du Toit,

    Recognising that life in Africa is cheap and having seen so many of your close friends die, would you not want to change this? This would seem – to me – to be a moral obligation. I would hope that the majority of people that have made the country you currently live in a decent place would not be so callous as you have been in your disregard for human life in Africa.

    • How could Kim du Toit possibly “change this?” – by being sympathetic?; by donating time and money – to what? There is absolutely no virtue in self-sacrifice, for it ultimately does not accomplish anything. Kim du Toit would probably love to change things for the better, but wanting to change things is very different from being able to effect any kind of change and he is very realistic about this.I do not believe that Kim du Toit is callous in his disregard for human life. In fact, he is stating that it is the Africans who place little value on human life. I teach in a school where there are many immigrants from Africa and they all say the same thing. (Many of them) having escaped genocide and brutal living conditions in their home countries which care little for their people, are very aware how lucky they are to be living in a country which values and cherishes human life.

  7. somehow everyone posting here ignores the tens of millions of slaves taken from africa by the arabs, who conducted their slave trade for much longer and later than the europeans, started roughly around 650 AD and ending only in 1956 (or so the saudis say)between 11 and 20 million africans where taken from subsaharan africa accross the red sea to the arabian peninsula. the arab slave trade was much more damaging over a longer time to african populations than the transatlantic slave trade (estimated 8-14 million slaves at most crossed the atlantic altogether).

    • I was just about to post a comment about this. Arabs do not want anyone to pay attention to this – they want to put all the guilt for slavery on the West. In the Arabic language even before Muhammad, the word Slave/ Abd was – and still is – associated with black Africans. Slavery in Mauritania was criminalized in August 2007, but even today in some places there, it is still practised. Slavery is passed down through the generations. This evil is monstrous and should be talked about.

  8. I wonder where this so-called “obligation” to fix the place comes from. This is sophistry. To be obligated, one has to agree to the obligation. Otherwise it is nothing but the same-old, ruling class polishing their consciences by stealing from one group of people and giving to another group. If you want to do charitable works on your own dime, fine. If you want to induce guilt in others, hoping thereby to get them to help with your project, also fine. Anything beyond that is theft and violence on your part.

    • This “so-called obligation” which some people feel comes from a kind of racism of lowered expectations. They think of others as people who are incapable of helping themselves or doing anything themselves. It is a hard lesson to learn that one cannot help them. Not only that, most of, if not ALL, the aid going to Africa gets hijacked and/or expropriated by powerful tyrants who pocket it themselves and let their people or countrymen starve.

  9. “As Christians we are called to love them”

    There’s your problem right there

  10. Glad I’m not a christian.

    Those monkeys have no value. I’d rather see my money burned in the street then used to feed those things.

  11. How wonderful! It has been four years (at least) since we have discovered the new and innovative solutions you spoke of that will let us at last solve the African Problem. How has it been going?

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