Africa’s deja vu crisis

By U-Wire

It is old news that in many African nations, misery and suffering are the norm. A tragically wide range of causes conspire to make life unpleasant and short.

For some perspective on Africa’s medical problems alone, consider that the G8 summit agreed last week to a $60 billion package to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Yet many anti-poverty activists who focus on Africa are unsatisfied with even this staggering amount. To get a clearer picture of the various problems that plague African nations, let us examine one prototypically miserable African country in detail. Perhaps you will be able to guess which nation is being referred to.

The country in question suffered through a debilitating civil war between two factions, the punaiset and the valkoiset. Over 36,000 died in the war. The winning valkoiset faction rounded up many punaiset soldiers into prison camps in which over 13,000 died of starvation, disease and neglect. Each side had European backers eager to extend their spheres of influence into the nation. Tragically, many soldiers who joined both sides to fight were motivated not by ideology but because of the pay, the free food or peer pressure.

The nation is split between two main languages. A large minority group is linguistically and ethnically linked to the neighboring country across a gulf only 150 miles wide, but is separated from their brothers by national boundaries that do not reflect ethnic boundaries.

The nations suffered under two different European colonial masters. Both have been characterized as imposing their language and culture on the nation. The second colonial master continued to meddle in domestic politics long after granting her former possession independence. The nations’ political leaders felt it necessary to tailor their foreign policy not to bring maximum benefit to citizens, but instead to placate the meddling ex-colonizer.

Stricken by civil war and internal division, and ravaged by the legacy of colonialism, surely our prototypical African nation is doomed to fail.

Wait a minute. The nation just described is not in Africa at all. It is in fact Finland – a peaceful, stable and rich Scandinavian welfare state. Mentioned above are the Finnish Civil War of 1918, the split between the Finnish majority and the Swedish minority, the legacy of Swedish and Russian imperialism and later Soviet political meddling.

Finland was wracked by many of the same tragedies that have repeatedly hit African nations. However, Finland managed to rebound from these disasters and to thrive.

The analogy is not perfect. Finland benefited from industrialization, an efficient government and a history of effective “rule of law.” African nations are, in this regard, often weaker than Finland was as it escaped from colonialism in 1918. But to fixate on these differences is to miss the big picture.

Many people look at Africa and her crises today and assume that there is no hope for African nations and African people. But a quick glance over to Europe will reveal that no matter how insurmountable Africa’s dilemmas seem, other nations have overcome similar crises in the past. It is on the shoulders of Africa’s statesmen of today and tomorrow to learn the lessons history teaches and to apply them to their own nations.