There is hope in sub-Saharan Africa. There are fewer wars, less violence and greater economic activity now than at any point in recent memory. The region, however, is still struggling mightily and, for the most part, the West turns its back on the enormous problems in what used to be called black Africa. Our blasé attitude to Africa is perhaps the greatest sign of what Pope Francis calls the globalization of indifference.
It takes an unusual event that tugs the heartstrings, such as the kidnapping of 276 Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria in mid-April by Muslim extremists, to grab the attention of the West.
Even then, however, reaction was slow in coming. The Nigerian government itself rounded up 6,000 soldiers to protect visiting dignitaries at the World Economic Forum in Abuja May 7 to 9, but has summoned up nowhere near those resources to rescue the girls. The UN took until late May to finally declare the kidnapping Boko Haram Islamic extremists a terrorist group.
Other African conflicts receive less attention. A March 2013 coup in the Central African Republic led to the killing of more than 2,000 people and another 900,000 – a fifth of the population – displaced from their homes.
"Coup" is likely too strong a word. According to a January New York Times report, the government no longer exists in the country – civil servants don't go to work, taxes are not collected and the schools are closed. There is no army, police force, president, Parliament, and no judges or jails. Economic interests, ranging from poachers to forestry and mining companies, rape the natural resources of the Central African Republic with impunity.
In South Sudan, a country founded with great hope only a couple of years ago, thousands of people have been killed and 1.3 million people have fled their homes since ethnic fighting erupted in December. The violence disrupted the planting season, and a massive famine looms as a result.
Kenya, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and even once-peaceful Mali are experiencing various levels of violent turmoil, much of it spurred by Islamic extremists. Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, remains the most worrisome situation; full-scale civil war there could spread to neighbouring countries.
Much of this is a legacy of colonialism which divided up Africa based on the power of colonizing nations rather than on indigenous needs and desires. The Islamic extremists now disrupting the continent see the Christian West as their ultimate enemy.
That attitude could make most potential forms of Western intervention counterproductive. What we can do is support those African organizations that strive to build peace and understanding between Christians and Muslims. We can also pray for peace, prayer being a weapon that is not employed anywhere near often enough.