February 12th, 2009
04:21 PM ET

A glimmer of hope in Africa

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/africa/01/25/congo.fighting/art.rwanda.reb.afp.jpg]
Ben Affleck
Time Magazine

The picture of the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo has grown tragically familiar: a region with great natural wealth, riven by war, racked with hunger and traumatized by a long history of colonial abuse, postcolonial kleptocracy and plunder. In the past 10 years alone, millions have died here, and more die each day as a result of the conflict. Most die not from war wounds but from starvation or disease. A lack of infrastructure means there is little medical care in the cities and none in rural communities, so any infection can be a death sentence. The most vulnerable suffer the worst. One in five children in Congo will die before reaching the age of 5 — and will do so out of sight of the world, in places that camera crews cannot reach, deep in a vast landscape and concealed under a canopy of bucolic jungle.

It is common in the West to read about African lives in grim statistical terms, so we've become inured to these huge numbers of deaths. Making matters worse, the conflict in Congo is often seen as a hopelessly byzantine African tribal war, encouraging the damning notion that nothing will ever change. This, of course, creates a sense of hopelessness — and nothing cuts down on humanitarian, foreign and development assistance so much as the jaded diminution of hope. The nation most in need of investment gets the least by the cruel logic that it is the most broken. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that ultimately fosters indifference in the guise of wisdom. (See pictures of the fallout in the Congo by James Nachtwey.)

That should not be the case in Congo.
I've been traveling to Congo since 2007 to learn. TIME has agreed to publish my amateur journalism on the merits of this urgent crisis and on my good luck with photographers. James Nachtwey, the world's finest war photographer, accompanied me on one of my trips, and his extraordinary work fills the following pages.


soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. martina ilstad germany

    All i knew from Ben Affleck was,that he is an acter,and he is asking for help people in Darfu,many years.That at least make him verry kind,but i whant to thank him for, making us dont forget Africa and all the problems the people have to live there in a war zone.He makes clear that in our "bad economc time"people in africa are dieng.

    February 13, 2009 at 7:38 am |
  2. Michael Franklin Bridgewater, N.J.

    Hey Bud... My name is Michael Franklin, over hear in NJ and I'm a Water /Wastewater Treatment person , and if I could be of any help in your cause, by all means drop a line. Keep up the Good Fight.
    All the Best

    February 12, 2009 at 9:40 pm |
  3. EJ (USA)

    Ben – you did a cool job playing Keith Olbermann on SNL!

    February 12, 2009 at 9:25 pm |
  4. Corey Sebens, North Dakota

    Ms. McKinley – The Bush administration gave millions of dollars to Africa for AIDS relief but the fact of the matter is that there was and still isn't a health infrastructure setup to deliver those AIDS medications/education. What should've been done is money invested in developing a health care system that could do things with AIDS medications and education. Simply giving them to the governments or NGOs that operate there does nothing unless the existing health care facilities can help.

    Back to the article at hand, Mr. Affleck has done an amazing job and will hopefully get people interested in helping out in the Congo. 5 million people dead since 1998 and finally someone cares. I'm glad that this is finally being put to light.

    February 12, 2009 at 9:17 pm |
  5. Don, WA

    So much plunder from glimmers in the mud.

    February 12, 2009 at 8:17 pm |
  6. African

    Ms. McKinley makes a claim that "someone like Ben Affleck" would not acknowledge President Bush's efforts on AIDS in Africa. She presents no proof of that, and Mr. Affleck, his friend Matt Damon (on Real Time with Bill Maher), and others of their similar political and social bent have indeed warmly praised President Bush's efforts on this problem. Also, she doesn't specify what "someone like" Mr. Affleck is "like". Does she mean a man who would go into an active war zone to cover and help the lives of the population living through those situations?

    February 12, 2009 at 8:07 pm |
  7. Mike in NYC

    Westerners have become inured to African violence and savagery because there's so much of it. The continent really is a lost cause. Yes, Africa does comprise many ethnic groups, cultures, and languages, but even modest success stories are few and far between. Failure - political, social and economic - is by far the dominant refrain.

    I think Ben's looking for brownie points because his career is flagging.

    February 12, 2009 at 7:43 pm |
  8. Stacy

    We often mock celebrities who become involved with politics or world affairs, but I have nothing but respect for Ben Affleck's efforts to bring the horrible situation in the Congo into the public's consciousness. I watched his "Nightline" special from the region that aired last year and was very impressed. Kudos to TIME for allowing him a print outlet as well. It's inconceivable to me how many people have died in the country, yet how little attention it has gotten.

    Anderson Cooper should be praised as well for broadcasting from the region. Now that the election is over, will CNN allow him to return for a follow up?

    February 12, 2009 at 7:04 pm |
  9. Cherisa

    It looks like they are on a path to peace, though it may be a long and rough road.

    Hope for Congo. What about Darfur? I hear rumors a warrant is on the way for Bashir.

    February 12, 2009 at 6:49 pm |
  10. JC- Los Angeles

    I had no idea Mr. Affleck could read or write.

    February 12, 2009 at 6:25 pm |
  11. L- Richardson, TX

    I agree with Biba's comment. Africa is a nation, not a country. Not that Sarah Palin knows...

    February 12, 2009 at 6:21 pm |
  12. biba

    very good article...but since you are talking about Congo and Rwanda, the title should have been :"glimmer of hope in Rwanda and Congo". People always talk about Africa as if it was a country, It is a continent with 54 different countries, with different languages, different cultures, religions, social and political issues...

    February 12, 2009 at 5:38 pm |
  13. Kathleen McKinley

    When President Bush became President in 2001, the US spent $1.4 billion a year on humanitarian and development aid in Africa. By 2006, the figure had quadrupled to $5.6 billion a year. The centrepiece of Mr Bush's aid to Africa was the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar), a five-year, $15 billion Aids prevention and treatment programme launched in 2003.

    No one has done more for Africa than Pres. Bush. Not that someone like Ben Affleck would acknowledge that.

    February 12, 2009 at 5:00 pm |
  14. Annie Kate

    Hopefully the capture of Nikunda will be the beginning of better times for Congo and its people.

    February 12, 2009 at 4:32 pm |