Imagine that in the near future another terrible famine strikes sub-Saharan Africa, at a time when most Western governments are preoccupied with fighting and funding the never-ending war on terrorism. The ghastly images are duly laid out for public consumption on the nightly news, but the public is jaded by too many images of a suffering world. Then some bright spark in one of the better-funded NGOs offers individuals the chance to 'adopt' particular children or families in the refugee camps, and to keep an eye on their progress through a direct video-link to their mobile phone. Instead of neatly written letters once a month bringing news of clean water and fresh textbooks, First World benefactors get the chance to monitor, minute by minute, the progress of their charges: to watch them eat, see them get better, hear them say thank you. The response is overwhelming, and a fully engaged public donates sums that dwarf anything being considered by even the most concerned politicians. Success in this enterprise breeds success, as more money is used to purchase better equipment to offer clearer pictures of the difference that more money can make. The result is that sub-Saharan Africa is better fed, better equipped and better informed than at any time in its history.
LRB 6 June 2002 | PDF Download