Forgotten and ignored: The lack of humanitarian action in Africa

Namat Abulebada
Saturday 8 Jun 2024

A French song, titled “Mobali,” was released in 2017 depicting the harsh conditions of life in Africa. It addresses genocide, terrorism, fascism, and dictatorship as being the norm in the majority of African states.

 

However, one line of the song really hits hard due to the fact that it still applies today, seven years later. “Africa perd tous enfants”; Africa is losing all of its children. Famine, diseases, poverty, malnutrition, natural disasters, and chronic conflict are all hallmarks of the majority of the states that are encompassed within the African continent.

According to a recent report published by CARE International, a leading humanitarian agency, there are 10 under-reported humanitarian crises around the world, and all 10 crises are situated in Africa (CARE International, 2024). What is of great concern is that the world seems to have turned a blind eye to these humanitarian disasters, leaving millions of people in Africa to endure the most horrid of conditions. The question is then: why isn’t global attention drawn to these conflicts? In other words, why are these specific humanitarian crises ignored?

If one were to compare the world’s response to the conflict in Ukraine and any of the crises in Africa, the difference is utterly shocking. As a matter of fact, “the only fully funded operation in the world now is in Ukraine. All other operations are catastrophically underfunded” (Ramadane, Bavier & Farge, 2023). When Ukraine was invaded by Russia, the attention of the whole world was drawn to those fleeing their homeland.

According to Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, “political action for Ukrainians has been impactful and swift, borders kept open, funding plenty, and media coverage extensive” (Norwegian Refugee Council, 2023).

He went on to say that “those in power need to show the same humanity towards people affected by crises in places such as Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of the Congo” reminding the world that humanitarian action needs to be equal in all areas of the world (Norwegian Refugee Council, 2023),

The unfortunate truth is that humanitarian aid is, and has always been, political. Rarely is humanitarian aid ever about the human aspect. This is evident in the “stark differences between the amount and type of humanitarian assistance given to various countries facing acute crises, [which] show that humanitarian aid has never been disbursed solely on the basis of need” (Curtis, 2001).

For the West, Ukraine occupies an important and strategic position. This is why the United States and its Western allies rushed to its rescue. However, to these exact players, the current turmoil in Africa does not impact their strategic and economic interests. As a matter of fact, the instability in some regions of Africa offers more opportunities for exploitation. As a result, humanitarian action is always delayed and insufficient.

Not only is humanitarian action political, but it is also discriminatory. Going back to the example of Ukraine, millions of Ukrainian citizens have fled their country, seeking refuge in neighboring European countries. The Ukrainian refugees have been welcomed with open arms.

However, if one were to compare the treatment of Ukrainian refugees to the treatment of refugees from the Middle East or Africa the difference is as clear as day. This stark difference in behavior is rooted in the innate white supremacist ideology that most Western and European countries try so hard to deny that they exercise. As evident in the words of Bulgarian Prime Minister, Kiril Petkov, “these [Ukrainian refugees] are not the refugees we are used to… these people are Europeans. These people are intelligent, they are educated people” (Brito, 2022).

Similarly, in an interview conducted with former deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine, he openly states: “it’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed every day;” in reference to Ukrainian refugees (Bayoumi, 2022).

The undertone of these statements highlight a bias towards those who do not look a certain way or do not come from a certain geographic area of the world.

This inherent bias is also portrayed in the media. Media coverage of events has the power to increase public awareness, which in turn could “have an impact on the world’s response” (Gharib, 2022). However, when it comes to Africa, most crises continue to be under-reported.

For example, “in 2023, there were 273,279 online articles worldwide about the new Barbie movie, but only 1,049 articles about the humanitarian crisis in Angola” (CARE International, 2024). Such a fact is not only shameful, but also tragic. It shows that news media outlets also work to serve certain agendas and are only ‘interested’ in the topics that attract the most readership. Furthermore, this minimal coverage of Africa, and the way that African countries are mentioned in the news, “exposes the true essence of white supremacy prevailing in the West” (Wenwen, 2022).

“The greatest expression of humanity is the desire to help those in need, regardless of their race or country or origin” (Ehrenfeld, 2021). However, the unfortunate truth is that “the world is filled with suffering, but not all suffering matters, or equally, or becomes a matter of social concern” (Barnett, 2020).

Humanitarian action cannot continue to be reserved to or confined to certain people and certain areas; as that would be against the very core of international law. In other words, “the lives of millions of people suffering in silence can improve, if funding and resources are allocated based on need, not geopolitical interest, and media headlines of the day” (Ahmed, 2023).  Human life is sacred and it should not be overshadowed by race, color, or politics. 

*Namat Abulebada is a researcher at BUC’s Center for Global Affairs. She graduated with a Master of Arts in Middle East Studies from the American University in Cairo. Her research interests include International Relations, Conflict and Security Studies, Foreign Policy, and Comparative Politics.

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