GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo — In this bustling lakeside town I spent a wonderful Christmas evening baking pizza in an outdoor oven, sipping a cold bottle of the local Primus brew. Earlier in the day, I was at a lakeside café reading a good book, watching families dressed in their Sunday best, as they strolled toward the adjoining restaurant for their holiday meal. Little children in their miniature suits and gowns paused to take photos with the Santa Claus cut-out propped next to the entrance.
This American Jew had a lovely Congolese Christmas–a perk I was able to enjoy as a UBC student studying abroad in South Africa, where my holiday trip began. And yet I felt guilty.
I felt guilty because I neglected to heed the call of my university’s new president, Arvind Gupta, and ask the locals celebrating here on December 25 whether they knew it was Christmas.
Perhaps the several thousand cases of Ebola, currently solely concentrated in the adjacent West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, had gotten these folks so mixed up that they weren’t actually sure what all those small, colorful orbs were doing decorating their restaurant. And why, they might have wondered, were faux fir trees scattered around the lakeside?
If that sounds a bit absurd, that’s because it is. Even in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country routinely ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world, the Christian population sure as heck knew it was a day of celebration.
Maybe if I could have reassured President Gupta that the Congolese, residents of what the West has variously termed the “Heart of Darkness”, the “Bleeding Heart of Africa,” and otherwise written off as one more “War-Torn Region in Africa,” were happily celebrating Christmas despite a public health crisis ongoing thousands of miles away – for perspective, the epicentre of the outbreak, Sierra Leone, is closer to Berlin than Cape Town – he would not have felt the need to “challenge” UBC’s 300,000 students and alumni to join a campaign led by an aging British musician to generate pity for supposedly sickly Africa and donate around $20 to an opaque foundation seeking to “fight ebola.”
“Tonight, we’re reaching out and touching you,” Gupta crooned in the grainy webcam video, posted on UBC’s official Facebook page, singing lyrics from “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” before the clip fades to black.
Creepy. But not nearly as creepy as what a closer examination of Gupta’s participation in the Band Aid 30 challenge, as well as what an assortment of his public statements tell us about the type of university he intends to run. Read More…