.Top Stories

.Front Page


.Student Life

.Science & Environment

.Arts & Entertainment



.People & Places

.Women's Life

.Military Matters





.About Us


by Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, general secretary of the Pan African Movemen. Forwarded by Zuki Wanner '03


It is now the second week after the natural disaster, and we are nowhere near a common understanding of why the world’s richest, and allegedly most powerful, country appeared prostrate before the forces of nature. The controversy is based on a number of questions, the most important of which is how natural was the disaster if the communities destroyed in and around New Orleans had been long forewarned that it could happen? If it could not have been prevented, should not the communities have been better prepared to deal with the consequences? What was the level of culpability of local, state, and federal officials in making the consequences of the disaster even more tragic either by acts of omission or commission, actions, and inactions?

Above all, is the question of political accountability and responsibility for the consequences of the disaster.

The rest of the world has continued to watch with horror at the devastation and with subdued bemusement and incredulity at the ill-preparedness of the Americans in the face of this tragedy. If this happened in some third world country (especially Africa), there would be loud cries (none more louder than those from Washington) about irresponsible leadership.

I see three immediate lessons. The first is a simple one. Every one of us, in emergencies, needs help, rich or poor, big or small. Who would have thought that less than a year after the tragic tsunami that devastated sev-eral countries in South East Asia and parts of East Africa, some of these countries, including Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia would be coming forward to offer help to the USA!
The second one is that natural disasters do happen and can happen to any country. It only proves that we inhabit the same world even if some countries, or their leaders, may deceive themselves into believing that they are God’s landlords on earth. There is no territorial sovereignty over natural disasters.

The third lesson has to do with being humble and never saying never. Last September, a Category 5 hurricane devastated Cuba with 160-mile-per-hour winds. Cuba evacuated 1.5 million of its citizens before the storm. Consequently, even though many homes were destroyed, not a single Cuban died! The United States does not have all the answers to its own problems, let alone global challenges. It can and must learn from others whose system it may not like, whose leaders it may detest, but who have better knowledge and experience than the United States in managing emergencies.

The role of racism and classism
Another aspect of the disaster has to do with what it teaches us about America’s self-image and its way of life, its projection of global military power and the reality of life inside the country. The controversies are still raging as to whether race or class were reasons why Bush and the U.S. establishment responded so slowly and shoddily. Personally, I do not think it is a case of either-or, and I do not believe that one reason alone can explain the situation. It is a combination of reasons at the heart of which both class and race are fundamental factors.

America does not care about its poor people. This is not unique to the U.S. ruling class, since many rulers do not care about their poorest, as most Africans will attest. However, America, as the richest country on earth, is expected to look after its own. If it cannot, why should anybody in the world accept its claims to be able to solve other peoples’ problems for them?

The truth is that the American dream has always been a self-rationalizing ideology for the rich, just as it has always been a huge nightmare for the poor. Statistically and historically, a disproportionate majority of the poor are of African-American origin, therefore they bear a greater part of the suffering. I am sure middle-class African Americans, with SUVs and 4-by-4s, wider social networks beyond New Orleans, and credit cards got out of harm’s way as quickly as their white counterparts, but the bulk of their poor cousins had nowhere to go and many of them perished.

African responsibility
As a predominantly black place, the majority of New Orleans’ victims would be black. Indeed, so black is the face of suffering globally that many people, including many Africans, initially thought the pictures were from yet another blighted African country. The shock was that these were pictures from America.

Africans are known for their generosity, solidarity, and kindness in the face of extremes of adversity, but somehow we have not responded predictably to the tragedy in New Orleans despite the obvious connection. Are we so numbed by it that we are also shocked into delayed reaction, or have we become inured by familiar suffering that we cannot be bothered anymore?
This is not just about African government’s responding. It is about African leaders in the diaspora too. It is not about Africans in Africa alone. It is about global Africa, at home and abroad. Where are we at this hour of need for our people stranded in New Orleans? We have to show that we as Africans are willing to embrace our duty to care for other Africans, and other peoples, and that we take the obligation seriously.

That solidarity comes in different forms. America needs the rest of the world even if it was initially reluctant to ask for help. It has no missile defense system against natural disasters.
One good that may come out of this could be a grudging restoration of American faith in global institutions such as the United Nations, whose humanitarian agencies (in spite of general criticisms) are well equipped to deal with these types of emergencies. If the United States learns from this disaster that it is a cotenant, not the landlord of the world, then this tragedy could become a catalyst for global cooperation, and the suffering of the people of New Orleans would not have been in vain.
Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is general-secretary of the Pan African Movement, Kampala (Uganda), and co-director of Justice Africa. He can be reached at tajudeen28@yahoo.com. Zuki Wanner is a media associate for CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation in Newtown, Johannesburg, South Africa. She can be reached at www.civicus.org.




Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Web site designed and maintained by Robin Hansson.

Untitled Document