(AP Photo/Giuseppe Giglia, Pool)
Pope Benedict today celebrated a special mass in Rome to open a synod of African Bishops. Africa currently has one of the fastest-growing Catholic communities in the world, with 197 Bishops and (as of 2007) 146 million Catholics. The synod is intended to study and help resolve the continent’s multiple decades-long woes of poverty, ethnic strife, and a host of other social injustices that have plagued modern Africa for more than 50 years.
Africa in particular deserves the world’s attention because the developed nations for the most part are content to mine the continent for raw materials, oil and diamonds while ignoring the grinding poverty, the spread of AIDS and continuous tribal violence. It also doesn’t help that the more prosperous countries of Africa stand idly by while their poorer neighbors descend into chaos. A specific example is Zimbabwe, currently ruled by the corrupt and noxious Mugabe regime. Close political ties exist between Zimbabwe and the ruling government of South Africa, which continually strives to defend Mugabe and his band of venal thugs.
But a comment by Pope Benedict had particular clarity and straightforwardness: He declared political colonialism is still in force, with materialism as "toxic spiritual rubbish" being exported to Africa. The Pope is absolutely right. But in addition to the First World being unrelenting in using Africa as a market for its goods, the Western nations and China have been cynical in their close associations with corrupt and repressive regimes in Africa, with raw materials being exported out and profits coming in to line the pockets of rulers. Oil companies routinely buy off government officials in order to secure contracts and services. The ‘blood diamond’, or ‘conflict diamond’ trade, is very much alive and kicking in Sierra Leone and Angola.
In a more egregious example of the First World using Africa as a market for useless products, one of the biggest exports are weapons. Africa is a huge market for fireams. Every single industrialized region in the world - America, Europe, Russia and China, sell legal and illegal firearms to Africa. It’s no wonder Africa is in a permanent state of strife at multiple spots on the continent. The global arms trade should be put out business permanently. And these are not private companies making profits. Too often arms are sold in massive bulk to African nations, rebel or tribal groups with the sanction of governments in the developed world. Even with arms embargoes by the United Nations, weapons still find their way from manufacturers (both government and private) to any number of middlemen from Asia, Europe or the Middle East, each all too willing to smuggle them in for a hefty service fee.
If you were willing to believe in conspiracy theories, you could be pardoned for suspecting a deeply hidden, multi-national and evil cabal in existence somewhere in the world whose pursuit of profits at all costs means that places like Africa are a material resource, its people be damned. But wait – it isn’t paranoia, there’s an actual historical precedent. In 1876 King Leopold II of Belgium created a colonial front company called the International African Society. Its public purpose was scientific exploration and humanitarian projects for Africa. In reality, it was a private company owned by Leopold who used it to map central Africa, and stake out a privately-owned territory that later became known as the Belgian Congo. Under Leopold, atrocities repugnant even by white colonialist standards were exacted upon the natives of the Congo. Children’s arms were cut off if they didn’t meet the work quota of their colonial overseers.
It’s a motivational lesson which is repeated by the goons overseeing child labor in the diamond mines of Angola and Sierra Leone. Leopold’s influence is still felt a hundred years later. Unfortunately, Africa has been getting the short end of the stick for far longer than a century. Pope Benedict has a whole lot of praying to do for that continent. As do we all.