Monday, November 05, 2007


The classic real-life story of Zoe’s Ark, the French NGO which kidnapped 103 African children -- for the best of reasons, of course -- in order to transport them to France says as much about the international NGO mentality as it does about Africa. The high-minded kidnapping fell apart when their bluff was called.

The children’s convoy was stopped by the Chadian police in the dark of night as the white UN-style vehicles made their way to a makeshift landing strip in the bush where a chartered jet was waiting for immediate takeoff.

European politicians intervened to secure the kidnapper's release who claimed they were acting according to "international law". The Scotsman reports:

Six of the ten Europeans still in custody are members of Zoe's Ark, which has said it intended to place orphans from Darfur with European families for foster care and that it had the right to do so under international law.

But United Nations and Chadian officials say most of the 103 children, between one and ten years old, have at least one living parent and are from the violent Chad-Sudan border area.

Nidra Poller at Pajamas Media notes the kidnapping operation was going to take place with full media coverage. Poller writes:

When I heard that one of the detained journalists, Marc Garmarian of Capa TV agency, had been filming the operation since October 17th, I phoned the agency, and spoke to Patrick Manoukian. He told me they had been following the rescue operation from a distance and decided to send a reporter when it became clear that the evacuation was imminent. The agency was intrigued by the idea that an NGO would openly declare its intention to smuggle hundreds of African children into France at a time when all the talk was about restricting immigration.

But Garmarian’s doubts grew as he watched Breteau and his group in action. The documentary, said Manoukian, would be an exposé…if they could ever recover the images…and the cameraman. He did not tell me that the cameraman had already sent enough material to incriminate the pseudo-humanitarians. It has since been edited and was screened on M6 TV just as Garmarian was flying back to France.

Gamarian was arrested. The Scotsman's account describes the French news agency's "expose":

Mr Garmirian's employer, the French news agency CAPA, has released TV footage showing members of Zoe's Ark putting bandages on children and pouring dark liquid on them to make it seem as though they were injured.

Eric Breteau, the head of Zoe's Ark, said in the footage that he knew he might be arrested over the operation. "If I am thrown in prison for saving children from Darfur ... I think that, after all, I would be proud to go to prison for that," Mr Breteau said.

It's intriguing to speculate on whether CAPA would have blown the whistle on Zoe's Ark before takeoff, considering it was apparent from their own footage that a possible mass kidnapping was taking place. But then journalists are objective observers, mere bystanders who don't partake in any culpability for the actions they witness, even if the actions are staged partly for their benefit. In 2003, French journalists documented the attempted shootdown of a DHL cargo plane in Iraq while standing next to the missileers.

I suppose it could be argued that if the 103 African kids had been whisked to France public outrage would have forced their return. But in my more cynical moments, I have my doubts. The media circus that would have followed; the towering self-righteousness with which the event would have been justified. Could it have been undone? Who knows that perhaps even "international law" might have supervened to justify it all.

From a practical point of view many of those African children might have enjoyed a better material standard of living in France. Yet was that the primary motivation behind the operation? It hardly seems cost effective or rational to advocate the altruistic kidnapping of children as the best method of effecting their improvement. As a practical enterprise Noe's Ark made no sense. It was primarily about symbols. I think it was the compulsion to moral exhibitionism that consciously or unconciously drove the project forward. Where in ages past the pious were content wear sackcloth and ashes as tokens of their inner state, today's do-gooders are a little fancier. Today public piety consists of being seen at the right places, going with the best people and wearing the right symbols. The Peacemakers in Iraq in their orange uniforms running interference for terrorists and the Noe's Ark people with the white, UN-style vehicles saving the African children each wore the livery of their sacerdotal superiority. They might say it was about the children, but maybe it was really about them.


Blogger Starling said...

W, as you usual you hit the nail on the head. This is about moral exhibitionism, plain and simple. The motives of this modern day underground railroad are clear. They are not the saviors of the needy they make themselves out to be. They talk a (do-)good game but this is about them.

I have observed this modus operandi at work in the relationship between so-called do-gooders on the Left in relation to we African-Americans, particularly the less affluent of my brothers and sisters. And it was precisely this kind of behavior that pushed me rightward, for good.

11/05/2007 10:13:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Wretchard's Cat

11/06/2007 03:13:00 AM  
Blogger Smitten Eagle said...

It's this kind of thing that makes me think there's less to Thomas PM Barnett's Core-Gap dichotomy (from "The Pentagon's New Map", and "Blueprint for Action").

In Barnett's world, Core countries (US, the Europeans, BRIC, etc.) are the ones saving Darfur from the brigands, pirates, Janjaweed, and profiteers.

But what does it mean when the French are the ones who are the brigands, kidnappers, and propagandists, and the Chadians, of all people, are the ones supporting law and order?

Is Chad the Core? Is France the Gap?

11/06/2007 04:01:00 AM  
Blogger F said...


Like Starling said, "on the head." After spending 20 years in Africa (7 different countries, former British and French colonies) I can attest to a very strong need on the part of many foreigners to "help the natives," coupled with plain meddlers and a handful of profiteers who are there to feed their own appetite (financial, sexual, whatever). Of great interest to me was the stupefying capability on the part of many foreigners to "look through" the Africans all around them. My French landlord in Bangui had been there 40 years for the riches to be found, and bragged to me that he had "single-handedly" panned a kilo of gold from the ground every month "dans le temps". When I asked incredulously how he could have moved so much gravel he off-handedly acknowledged that it was not hard with "a thousand Africans" working for him. I see the public piety in part as a reaction to their presence in a place without being a part of that same place.

As interesting as the "colons" are the "petits-blancs," the not-quite whites (Lebanese, Portuguese, Pakistani, etc.) who live between the white and black worlds. They tend not to have the same "white man's burden" mentality -- they know they are there to pillage and leave, and don't bother themselves with "helping" the natives -- although they often marry and father metisse children.

Zoe's Ark is just a large example of what happens daily on an individual basis and is, in my estimation, bad for both parties to the bargain. F

11/06/2007 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...


(ch. VI, v. 1) "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven."

(ch. 6, v. 3-4) "But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly."

11/06/2007 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger AST said...

These are people who devoutly believe that violence never solved anything. They should be congratulated for attempting to demonstrates some other way than confrontation in dealing with the Janjaweed. Now we know one more ineffective alternative to sending in troops to stop the genocide. In another 10 years or so, they might realize that without bigger guns and more ammo, tanks and airplanes, saving the victims of genocide is a pretty fruitless task.

11/06/2007 10:35:00 PM  
Blogger 1389 said...

Moral exhibitionism: A wonderfully descriptive turn of phrase. Anybody happen to know who came up with it?

11/07/2007 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

What you're all overlooking here is that the Zoe's Ark people were in the right on this one. Sure, the kids weren't actually orphans, and there was no real need to remove them from the country, and in fact it was a gross violation of international law, but those are just facts. The narrative is the important thing, and in this case, the facts may be wrong, but the narrative is correct.

11/08/2007 06:27:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Powered by Blogger