A month or so ago, Adou and I listened to the original version of “We are the world” walking through the dirt roads of Bassam one night. I looked at him and said, “We love your problems.” We both laughed. It’s true, but we love their problems when they’re convenient, when we can profit from them, and when we can be assured things will be on our terms.
Since the attack, one question I find myself asking a lot is “Where are they?” Where are the governments, international institutions, and NGOs? Where are those promoting aid…those promoting global health?...those promoting global development?
Where is Bono? Where is the Gates Foundation? Where is US Aid? Where is the US Embassy? Where is the EU? Where is the World Bank? Where is the UN?
Where are they?
Not in Bassam.
Realistically, the system of international aid works on its terms when it is glamorous to be associated with global development accruing the accolades of saving some exotic village in Africa. But, when it’s needed most, when it’s difficult, it can’t be found.
I was here when the attacks happened, I remained in my apartment that night, and I have stayed in Bassam since that day. I have had a bird’s-eye view and I see what it’s like to be forgotten. The Embassy is not here. No visits from the Ambassador, no flowers, no supportive words. From the confines of their walled fortress in Abidjan they have displayed a shocking incompetence and ignorance. The same goes for the rest.
Of course, the people here say nothing about the lack of help. They just go on, but someone needs to say something. The absence is all too real.
Those dedicated to promoting development must ask themselves every day what they are doing to help those at the bottom. If you are part of the development crowd, ask how your actions help those at the bottom. If you are studying global development then ask how the theory or data matter for those at the bottom. If you don’t know then you are not promoting development nor studying it.
And, those from rich countries solving problems in poor countries, going to fancy parties at swanky hotels, feel a little uneasy, a little torn inside about the irony of it all.
And, above all, never condone nor perpetuate the cage that treats the poor as invisible. It’s real and nothing will truly change until it is gone.
John Doces. Je vous écris de la Côte-d'Ivoire en Afrique.