Whilst the world looks at Afghanistan, maybe it it time we focused on some of the other global trouble spots and poverty traps such as Angola.

But just why are hearts all over the world bleeding for Afghanistan? Firstly, the Taliban are Muslim loonies, and we’re scared of them. Second, they make women wear the full veil and withdraw from society, and we think that sucks. Thirdly, we care because we’re too lazy to work out for ourselves that there are places in the world worse off than Afghanistan.

Heresy, I hear you cry. Afghanistan was once a progressive (for that part of the world) nation, where people were free of religious oppression. Now it’s not. Boohoo.

Hands up anyone who can tell me anything about Angola? What’s its capital, who were its colonial masters, what country does it share its longest border with, how many lives have been lost in its 26-year old civil war?

The answers to those questions are Luanda, Portugal, Democratic Republic of Congo and 1.5 million, respectively. In fact, another 261 people were added to that total when rebel troops derailed a passenger train and started firing automatic weapons into the carriages at about the same time the refugees were enjoying their stay aboard the Tampa. Just this week, 24 people were slaughtered by rebels in the village of Longonjo. Did anyone care about that? Hell, did anyone even notice?

Of course not. Civil wars in Africa aren’t newsworthy enough: no Islamic repression, no people threatening to jump off Norwegian cargo ships. In fact, all Angola has are 4 million displaced people from a total population of 11 million and piles of dead people who didn’t get the chance to get themselves a good publicist.

Angola has never been free of violence. The Portuguese flipped Angola the one-finger salute in 1975 when they withdrew overnight after centuries of exploitation, leaving behind a poverty-stricken country. Almost immediately, civil war broke out between the Communist government and UNITA rebels (backed by the usual suspects of the US and South Africa). And it hasn’t stopped since.

To give you an idea of what a hellhole Angola is, you just need to look at the statistics. Death rate: 25.01 deaths per 1000 people (Afghanistan 18.01). Infant mortality rate: 195.78 deaths per 1000 live births (Afghanistan 149.28). Life expectancy at birth: 38.31 years (Afghanistan 45.88 years). Most Angolans would probably give their right arm to be on a boat heading for Christmas Island, if it hadn’t already been hacked off with a machete or blown off by unexploded ordnance. Just because they can’t afford to pay someone to get them out of Angola doesn’t make them any less desperate than someone fleeing Taliban rule.

And yet we still don’t care. People in Angola die quietly, without any protest. The only time we get to see them is when some Neighbours bimbo struts around the Third World in Country Road safari gear doing World Vision ads.

So why aren’t we outraged about the plight of people like the Angolans? Maybe it’s not a fashionable enough cause: freeing Tibet has a much more zen ring to it, after all. Perhaps it’s true that African lives just aren’t worth as much, meaning that those people who happily bandied around words like “racism” and “xenophobia” when talking about the Tampa should be made aware of that old axiom about glass houses. Or maybe it’s just that we’re ignorant: if we can’t see it, it isn’t happening.

So next time the civil libertarians pontificate about the plight of desperate people, ponder for just one second the refugees that no-one gives a damn about. And then, just maybe, you’ll have a reason to sob into your cafe51 latte.

Peter Fray

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