Africa, once relegated to the margins of the modern world, has finally made it. The New York Times ('Into Africa,' August 13) has declared that "Africa…is suddenly 'hot'". This was no report on global warming or more dreary news, but the Sunday "Fashion & Style" section celebrating the wave of popular attention showered on the continent by movie stars and the benevolent masses alike.
Between baby Brangelina, a new cohort of bright-eyed college students, and the burgeoning goodwill among the pinot grigio-set, the Dark Continent is, in 2006, all the rage. Everyone, so it seems, is saving Africa.
If this is news to you, don't fret. Even the Times seems not to have realized the cornucopia of concern out there and the sheer range of opportunities in Africa. There is plenty of carnage and mayhem for everyone. The article claims, "Those newly interested in the continent have been motivated by different atrocities." But what a wide array of atrocities from which to choose! Not just the old biblical favorites of famine, drought, and locusts. Now we have post-modern crises too: AIDS orphans, child soldiers, and the unconscionable lack of internet access.
Just as important as the ample supply of bedlam and the sheer number of poor souls in need of rescue, is the utter simplicity of Africa. Forget about 50-odd countries and god-knows-how-many languages. It's all just one big mess. There's no need for the complexity or moral ambiguities that give you such a headache from thinking about the Middle East or whether we should privatize Social Security. The problems in Africa are black and white.
Fortunately, this makes them straightforward and quick to fix--if we really, really try. Disease? Send medicine. Too many poor people? Send money. Senseless ethnic bloodletting? Send diversity trainers for conflict resolution workshops. Stopping Armageddon has never been so convenient!
Celebrities are blazing the trail these days, clarifying humanity's need to stand up against injustice. Just last month, Henry Winkler trekked across the Sahara to publicize the plight of homeless Tuaregs, while Mary Kate and Ashley launched a new line of haircare products made from the bark of the Baobab tree by pygmies with attention-deficit disorder. In the fall lineup watch for The Simple Life: Congo where Paris and Nicole will dodge the Ebola virus while trying to disarm a band of Mai-Mai rebels by charming the glue-sniffing murderers out of their AK-47s and teaching them the value of a good education. (They'll probably fail, but boy will it be fun to watch!)
But saving Africa isn't only for the rich and famous. Students can take classes to learn how to mend ancient feuds and end poverty. No experience or previous coursework is necessary, especially anything in history or politics. (Whew!)
If you are too old for school, don't worry. You won't be left out if you take one of the new Safaris for Saviors. Forget the traditional Big Five tour to see elephant, lion, rhino, leopard, and buffalo. (So 2004.) The latest Fashionable Five are the crowded hospital, a smelly urban slum, the school without a roof, a basket-weaving shop run by the disabled, and (to end on a high note) a micro-loan project for big-bottomed women in colorful clothes. All available, with air conditioning. You can book online.
If the real Africa is too far away, there's still plenty for armchair humanitarians who don't want to feel passé around their friends. You can sponsor a volunteer to make PB and J sandwiches for hungry Nigerians or pay an unemployed youth in Addis Ababa to swat flies off those babies' eyes. If you sponsor two, you win an "AFR" sticker for your SUV so everyone will know you care.
And so you never forget that Africa always needs you, there is Tamagotchi Afrika from Japan, an electronic pet Zulu that you can put in your pocket. It will remind you if you don't feed it daily or press the 'deliver anti-malarial bednet' button every four weeks. Get them quick, before the Christmas season rush.
You should also read Ethan Zuckerman's post on the NYT article from his blog My Heart's in Accra.