Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Let's get one...ok, maybe four things straight

Before I move on with my country overviews of Ethiopia and Rwanda, I want to take this moment to be clear about a few things. I've bolded the key statements to make sure that you get at what I'm saying. It's that important.

It's going to be some heavy stuff, so here's a nice aerial view of Rwanda that I took. It should help to ease you in:

My Four - Very Important - Things

First, many people use the entirety of Africa as an example of poverty and underdevelopment. This is not what I want to communicate throughout my posts in the least. This kind of thinking is dangerous. While it is true than many African countries are poor and undeveloped, this has a lot more to do with history of these countries than a fault of the African people. To put it simply, no one likes to be generalized, the continent of Africa included. I try to avoid it as much as possible. Forgive me when I do not live up to that standard.

Furthermore, for the next two countries - Rwanda and Ethiopia - which happen to be in Africa, I will be talking almost exclusively about child sexual abuse, rather than the sexual exploitation of adults, as I did during my time in Europe. This is due to the fact that, as far as I understand, this is the more prevalent problem within these countries. While child sexual abuse is horrifying, so is sexual exploitation of adult victims. People may view manipulating women to work in prostitution as a more 'civilized' crime than the sexual abuse of a child. It is not. From what I have seen, there is nothing civilized about either crime: sexual exploitation of adults and sexual abuse of children; both are atrocious human rights abuses.

Additionally, I fear that people may read into the fact that child sexual abuse is more common in the African countries I visited than in Europe and conclude that there is something inherent in these countries being African that accounts for this. Nothing could be further from the truth. Colonialism, apartheid, genocides, corruption, failure of the West to provide effective aid: all are a piece of the puzzle in explaining the fact that child sexual abuse is a rampant problem in many African countries. Those who accept or adopt "Because it's Africa!" as an adequate explanation are dangerously close to the line of thinking that has historically lead to the justification of slavery and genocides.

Finally, no country has remained unscathed from this problem. Rampant child sexual abuse is a black mark on the face of every country's development process. The U.S. is not exempt. It still is not (just ask the members of my family in social services); awareness and enforcement of the law have increased significantly - but only in the last few decades. Please do not respond to my descriptions of the next two countries - Ethiopia and Rwanda - with disgust and disdain. Please respond with compassion and understanding of the larger context involved. I will do my best to explain these contexts as best as I can in each country overview.

Why I'm Saying All of This

I originally planned to include all of that in my first country overview in Africa. However, as you can see, I had a lot more to say than I realized. I felt that it was very important to make these things clear. The West has not done right by many African countries in immeasurable ways. I want to do the best I can to respect the people and cultures that I will be describing.

Also, I want it to be clearly understood that when I share a few humorous stories about my experiences in Ethiopia and Rwanda, I do not want it to be taken as belittling of the culture. These stories happened because I do not belong to the culture in which I find myself, not because their culture is bad or mine is better. I have a feeling that Ethiopians and Rwandans who have gone to America have just as many, if not more, stories about the quirks of our culture.

The final reason I felt the need to post about this is the recent events in the U.S. regarding police brutality towards African-Americans. While African-Americans have a different history than Ethiopians and Rwandans, the sentiment behind some of the pitfalls I've described in this post are very similar to some of the notions that are flying around the media these days. I'm not going to write too much about this, but I feel it's worth mentioning that from across an ocean I am closely watching the events that are unfolding in the States with a heavy heart and the same passion you may have picked up on in this post. This is about more than just one boy who was tragically shot in Ferguson. It's about a devastating history of injustice and discrimination.

Thanks to those of you who took the time to read this. I hope it helps to frame my coming posts about Ethiopia and Rwanda.




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