April 4, 2006:
While Iraq gets all the attention from media looking for overseas mayhem stories, it is not the place with the highest degree of death and destruction. But the real story here is not that more people are dying from terrorists and gangs of gunmen in Africa, than in Iraq, but that the numbers are being cooked by aid organizations looking for more attention. A group (Civil Society Organizations for Peace in Northern Uganda) of fifty NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) issued a report claiming that the rate of deaths from violence was three times higher, in northern Uganda, than it was in Iraq. Both Uganda and Iraq have about the same population (25 million for Iraq, 23 million for Uganda). But the report only counts the population of northern Uganda, against the entire population of Iraq (although the violence there is concentrated in the central third of the country), to show that an annual death toll of 7,600 in northern Uganda is three times higher, per 100,000 population, than 47,000 dead in Iraq. A pretty desperate ploy, which will no doubt fool a few innumerate editors and journalists.
The NGOs in Africa do have a major image problem. Africa has little oil, and a long history of corruption and unending civil disorder. Compared to most African dictators, Saddam Hussein was a paragon of efficiency and compassion. The term "compassion fatigue" first appeared in reference to African disasters that never seemed to end, and often got worse. For example, local violence drove most NGOs out of Somalia over a decade ago, and Sudan is trying to do the same thing in Darfur.
The horrors of the disorderly parts of Africa have become an indistinct blur. Few media organizations bother to cover the misery any more, and donor nations feel they are just feeding the warlords and dictators when they give money and other aid. Even the NGOs admit that their services are often hijacked by the local bad guys, who use threats to get a share of the relief supplies. There are plenty of proposed solutions, but against a backdrop of so many spectacular failures, it's hard to get anyone to bite, or contribute.