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Is Oscar Pistorius really Africa's 'biggest' story?

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Africa’s worst woes – conflict, poverty, and poor governance – are receiving greater and greater attention from foreign governments, especially in aid and intervention. And yet, among voters in those giving countries, Africa receives little attention – except for sensational news such as the Pistorius murder trial. The severity of Africa’s basic needs are not at all equal to the exposure of those needs to the world.

The US military, for example, is considering a 15-fold increase in its troop levels in Africa, now about 5,000. But few Americans know about or understand the specific security concerns or other issues on the continent in recent years compared with past crises such as famines or the war in Darfur. And few take meaningful action to address them. The one big exception was the brief popularity last year of a viral video, “Kony 2012,” about the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The West has intervened again and again in Africa recently – Somalia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Libya, as well as in the hunt for Joseph Kony’s rebels – while also trying to build up the military forces of African nations and to coax them to intervene in regional conflicts to establish security. Often these efforts succeed or contain a problem. The West’s assistance, however, depends on the humanitarian mood in Europe, the US, and Canada. At a time of budget austerity in those countries and with fewer foreign news bureaus in Africa, Western governments have a difficult time finding a political constituency at home for their actions. In the US, the most popular item for spending cuts is foreign aid, which takes less than 1 percent of the budget.

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