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.