Finding Our Voices in a Crisis
By Rev. Derrick Boykin and Dr. Gaidi Faraj on December 9, 2011
© The Washington Informer
Many of you probably ate breakfast this morning. If you didn't, chances are it was by choice. But imagine that you live in Somalia, a region plagued by civil war, famine, and chronic malnutrition. Breakfast probably wasn't an option for you and your family as you walked hundreds of miles to a refugee camp in Kenya or Ethiopia, hoping for some aid and relief—along with millions of others in the same predicament.
Why do some people have access to a steady supply of nutritious foods and others do not? Doesn't every human being have a right to food? As we observe International Human Rights Day this year, we should consider this startling juxtaposition.
With a plethora of messages about conflict in developing countries in the media and throughout history, it's natural to view the humanitarian emergency in the Horn of Africa as simply one in a long list of catastrophes that have plagued Africa for years. Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Zaire, and Somalia have all faced complex humanitarian crises within the past 20 years. Without studying and understanding the colonial, political, and cultural implications of Africa's rich history, it's easy to become jaded by images of starving children, corruption, and war.
But we can't accept famine, malnutrition, limited access to education, and the spread of disease as the norm. As people of faith and conscience, we must first pray for peace and prosperity in this region—and then we must act. While there can't be economic and food security in the region without peace and stability, we can address the crisis in the interim via short-term aid and long-term policy solutions.
People in the Horn of Africa need food and medical supplies now, and sending them should be a priority of our nation's decision makers. In the long term, the United States must support small- and medium-scale agriculture across the region that will allow these countries to produce and store their own food in reserves—adequate amounts of food to get them through times of drought or disruptions such as war. With the proper tools and resources, these countries could feed themselves and lessen their dependence on direct food aid, which often discourages small-scale farming and undermines local food prices.
So where is our voice—that of African-Americans—on this issue? Historically, African-Americans have championed African issues: Frederick Douglass and other formerly enslaved people spoke out against the African slave trade. W.E.B. Dubois organized the first Pan-African Congresses in the early 20th century and helped a campaign against colonialism. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in support of African freedom struggles and was a guest of honor at Ghana's independence celebrations in 1958. Malcolm X tried to support newly independent African countries by mirroring their efforts to create the Organization of African Unity (the precursor to the contemporary African Union). As recently as 20 years ago, Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, and others championed a movement against apartheid in South Africa.
As leaders within the African-American community, we have an obligation to bring attention to the challenges vulnerable members of our diaspora are facing by creating a strong voice against injustices such as famine and poverty. Now more than ever, we must challenge the notion that social injustice in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere around the continent is acceptable. We must push for strong policy changes that support food production and food security.
We plan to celebrate International Human Rights Day by supporting our neighbors in Africa, advocating for policies that will ensure everyone has the basic essentials of life—food, clean drinking water, shelter, and access to education. Won't you join us?
Rev. Derrick Boykin serves as associate for African-American leadership outreach at Bread for the World, a collective Christian voice urging our nation's decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad. Dr. Gaidi Faraj is the co-founder of the African Americans Act 4 Africa movement.