At the height of the news flurry about the earthquake in Haiti, my neighbor showed up at my door. She was visibly depressed. She lamented about the horrific pictures that were coming out of the devastated area, about the growing number of earthquake victims.
Then I asked her a question: Are you also upset about what’s going on in Africa?
She looked at me with a blank stare. So I enlightened her. Thousands of people are maimed, raped, killed and forced out of their homes in countries in Africa on a daily basis as a result of civil and tribal wars. The fact that the Western media chooses to focus its cameras and column inches away from that God-forsaken continent is part of its successful mission to set the agendas of the media consuming public around the globe. It’s too far away from the US to be noteworthy; there are no oil fields in Congo or Rwanda. So who cares if tribal violence has resulted in millions of deaths over the past decades?
With that, I made her even more depressed. But that’s OK. I am appalled by the death and destruction that has been visited on Haiti, and I am shocked when I read about how that country was so poverty-stricken to start with, and now has been left even worse off than anyone could have imagined. Still, we jump to donate via telethons and website pop-ups the minute the mainstream news media tell us what’s “really” important. We conveniently forget that there are also other areas of the world that experience daily horrors that don’t find their way onto the screens on CNN or onto the pages of YouTube.
So I was heartened to read Nicholas D. Kristof’s op-ed piece “Orphaned, Raped and Ignored” in The New York Times, reported from Congo. He so rightly points out that Congo’s civil war has claimed 30 times as many lives as were lost in the Haitian earthquake, and that as odd as it sounds, maybe a massive natural disaster would turn the world’s focus onto this untenable situation. It’s sad to think that this is what it takes to get some attention, but if wishing an earthquake on Africa is what it takes to get the world to throw some focus on those horrors, then why not?