Monday, February 15, 2010

Curse, Fate or Human Action?

It seems that so many tragedies strike the countries ruled by the children of Africa – from the earthquake in Haiti to the tsunami that hit East Africa a few years ago to the many wars and incidents of genocide that have struck the continent over the years. One wonders from where these misfortunes spring.

For centuries, believers in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam used the so-called curse of Ham to justify racism against the children of Africa. The Middle Eastern and trans-Atlantic slave trade were based on the belief that African people lived under a curse and were doomed to servitude. This belief surfaced recently in the comments by evangelist Pat Robertson that Haitians were cursed because their liberators made a deal with Satan to gain their independence rather than achieve it on their own.

Or could Africans be the victims of Karmic rebalancing? Africans dominated early history – from the builders of the Egyptian pyramids to the Ethiopian, Songhai and Zulu empires. While Europe endured the Dark Ages and a mini-Ice Age, African empires flourished. Meanwhile, geography has not been kind to Africa or the Caribbean, with desertification, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and earthquakes disrupting societies that seem to be in the wrong place on the planet. Could it just be the Diaspora’s time to suffer a shift in fate?

What about the role of human actions? The promise of African riches brought European explorers to the continent, and they then unraveled the remaining African kingdoms they found and brought on the long period of colonialism. The post independence leadership, accustomed to the inter-tribal warfare used by the colonial powers to divide and conquer, stoked the fires of ethnic conflict. Corrupt leaders, all-too-often manipulated into power by colonial governments seeking to maintain neo-colonial control after independence, ruined not only their own countries, but troubled their neighbors who did manage good governance.

So what role do legendary curses, Karmic balance and human action play in the challenges Africa faces today? The curse of Ham has long been discredited as a justification for oppression of African people. Nevertheless, many believers in Christianity have said they are disgusted by Robertson’s false quoting of a mythical conversation between Haitian leaders and Satan, but do believe that worshippers of religions such as voodoo call upon dark powers that do bring retribution from God. Islam, the other most popular religion in Africa and among its Diaspora, also condemns those who believe in multiple deities as cursed.

Ethno-geographer Jared Diamond, in his award-winning book, Guns, Germs and Steel, made a more than credible case that geography does strongly impact destiny. Africa has fewer of the native farm animals that allowed the Middle East, Europe and Asia to develop more successful agricultural societies. Mountains, deserts, valleys and unnavigable rivers separated various ethnic groups and contributed to the multitude of languages and dialects that hindered the sharing of information and technology that could have advanced Africa. Caribbean countries are small and generally lack sufficient resources to become economic powerhouses. Moreover, lying in the perennial path of hurricanes and now earthquakes causes repeated devastation that makes building on each year’s success difficult if not impossible.

As for human action, Africa cannot blame colonialism alone for retarding progress. Poor governance and ethnic hatred that has gone far beyond reason have held Africa back long after colonial governments ceased to exist. The developed world certainly has done Africa and others in the African Diaspora at least as much harm as good, but it is in the power of Africans to stand together to overcome dependency and manipulation.

Whatever the causes of the depredations of Africa’s children, we are not helpless. Whether we pray for God’s forgiveness and blessing, better prepare to withstand natural disasters or unify to more successfully compete in the global economy, it is within our collective power to better our circumstances.

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