Man, and indeed all living beings inhabit a wild, indifferent world; a world where a tsunami could wield its destructive strength to full capacity without any pity for the lives that would perish. It returns to its calm state as if nothing wrong ever took place. And while humanity mourns and counts her loss, an earthquake or a hurricane could be warming up for its own woe-mongering exploit.
Control over these cataclysms is to a large extent beyond us though advancements in knowledge have been exceedingly useful in predicting and tracking them. While science continues to find a way out, one can only hope that our earth would find reasons to calm down.
However, of all the evils that bedevil our race, the one that is most harrowing, demeaning, yet preventable is the very one we unleash ourselves. The comity of nations has done humanity great good by classifying certain actions as crimes against humanity and instituting bodies that bring those deemed to have committed such crimes to book. This is no doubt one huge step in making the world a safer place and by the same token, upholding the dignity of man.
Nevertheless, the definition of crime against humanity is so limited in scope that while overt assaults on our race are being tackled, subtle and even more inimical ones are allowed to thrive. This is akin to overlooking a leprous lesion while frantically fighting ringworm. I shall proceed to tell you why I feel so in a moment.
In our lives, certain scenes, real or virtual, leave an indelible imprint on our minds that continue to gladden or haunt us from time to time for as long as we breathe. The most remarkable of such for me has been Kevin Carter’s Pullitzer prize winning photograph. He had gone to Sudan to cover the war and famine that was ravishing that nation.
The photograph in question was that of a young girl – of no more than five years of age – dejected and lonely, denuded and emaciated, who was summoning the last reserves of energy in her to trek to a relief center. Photographs are blunt talebearers. That shot loudly informs any beholder that the hapless girl was more likely fall to dead than complete the kilometers-long journey to safety. But that was by no means the most striking feature of that piece since death was so much cheaper than life in those regions.
A vulture! Rather it was the vulture who confidently and assuredly stalked the young girl so that she can feed on her carcass when the inevitable happens that struck me the most. A living human being – and a young one at that – was reduced to the object of salivation of a notorious scavenger. The young girl’s head was bowed, out of frustration perhaps, while the scavenger stood proudly in readiness for what it does best. How lower can the dignity of our race sink?
Another image that would haunt me for the rest of my life, a virtual one though, was formed in my mind when in 2002, at the peak of the Malawian food crisis. I had read about how children in that country pulled out grass from the ground and chewed on it like instinctive herbivores. No! These are no wanton children at the height of mischief but those who, having been pulverized to an abject pulp by the ruthless hammer of hunger, had their biological inclinations remodeled.
These are just two of the images that haunt me. I am quite certain that you would have your own astonishing catalogue too.
Often, there are those who orchestrate and reap from the suffering of the people whose images haunt us. In the case of the Malawian girl, I was to learn that the food scarcity that hit the nation like a whirlwind in those years was as a result of the mismanagement of an agricultural scheme in that country. Now, while young human beings, part of the next generation of our race, were reduced to rasorial feeders, some people in power or connected to power were probably taking luxurious holidays in the Caribbean or buying exquisite mansions in North London or Paris. The future, lives, and dignity of hundreds of thousands of children were bartered for the insatiable cravings of a few.
This subtle dehumanization of the voiceless and downtrodden is common place in the third world. In Nigeria for instance, I keep saying this over and over again, a legislator earns more than two times of the salary America’s president can afford to earn, while the min