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Our care will help Africa cast out its many demons

It is time to blow away the dust from so many myths about ‘progress’ being made in the Third World.

Today is Africa Day and while the continent is worthy of celebration for its people and their heroics in completing the daily miracle of survival, the story of Africa's relationship with the West is one of failure rather than success.

Here are three reminders why the champagne should remain uncorked a little longer: sub-Saharan Africa continues to account for half the deaths of children under five in the developing world; it still has 38 million children who are not in school; in Africa, a woman's risk of dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth is one in 22, compared with one in 7,300 in the developed world.

Bad government, conflict, institutionalised corruption and social injustice have all added to the misery. But there is another major reason why life is so hard for so many Africans: the readiness of the West to tolerate the intolerable as if universal standards of justice, fairness, and accountability have been suspended for many parts of the continent.

There have been more than nine million refugees and internally displaced people from conflicts in Africa. Countless people have been slaughtered from a number of wars. One thinks of the five million deaths in the Congo without any significant intervention from the West.

So today it is more important to focus on what has yet to be done rather than trumpeting ‘progress’. Change for the better must be led by the international community.

This may sound politically incorrect, but such are the challenges and obstacles to progress, only a whole-scale engagement by world leaders will be sufficient to achieve what is required.

Each year, £104bn in foreign aid is lost to corruption in the Third World. If governments have the courage to seize the initiative and harness the caring gene that sets us apart globally, we can become a powerful agent of positive change and give a voice to Africa's voiceless.

The missionary heritage of Ireland has made this island a ‘superpower’ in this regard and it is critical that we harness this influence and lead the charge for a fighting chance for Africa's poor.

A major step would be to press the international community to establish an apolitical army to deploy when an emergency response is required to protect civilians. It would be equipped to secure disaster sites during an emergency.

It would operate with logistical experts who would organise, co-ordinate and control strategic solutions delivering food and aid and oversee future development.

At present, there is lack of direction and it is facilitating Western governments to evade their responsibilities. Because there is no systematic response to emergencies, there is no one to account to when there are massive failures.

We saw the appaling consequences of global spinelessness in 1984 when millions starved in Ethiopia; the world stood back, each country waiting for the next guy to intervene. It was the same in Rwanda in 1994 when a million people were massacred in the genocide, but again no major political entity saw fit to intervene.

An emergency reaction force is vital to help the poor and this is a role that could be played by a revitalised UN were it given the mandate and resources.

Were we in Ireland to cry out in defence of the world's poor and become their tribune, such is the silence on Africa and its problems, that the cry could echo around the world.

We have the potential to be a fly in the ear of the world's most powerful, pestering and cajoling until they are stirred to respond to Africa's litany of crises.

What a signal it would give if we, in our own time of difficulty, proved capable of looking beyond our own current problems to embrace the needs of the continent so that Africa could truly have its day.

John O’Shea is chief executive of GOAL, the humanitarian charity

Belfast Telegraph