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April 17, 2005

Downer Sunday

Brad Plumer's post on Sudan reminded me of a point I've wanted to make. Despite the Bush administration's criminal negligence of the issue, they've actually been among the most attentive to genocide in memory. Save Clinton's eventual intervention in Kosovo -- and that was different because it was in Europe -- the level of indifference and cynicism American politicians exhibit towards African atrocities is stomach-turning. Bush, to his credit, has been willing to call it a genocide (a surprisingly large step), support various measures to stop it, and actually work to keep some degree of attention on the situation. Should we be doing more? Yes, much. But Bush's failures are nastily endemic to the American government, they're not specific to him.

The one Western leader who does care about Africa in a serious, sustained manner is Tony Blair. Indeed, he's actually sent troops to stop a genocide (Sierra Leone), and many observers think that he'd do the same in Sudan if his position in Britain wasn't so weak. With England set to chair a number of international coalitions in the coming years, Blair's single-minded focus on Africa is a primary reason I heavily, heavily support him.

But the point of this post isn't to defend Bush or rehabilitate Blair, it's to note that these two represent the best we've seen in attentiveness to African crises in years. This despite their oft-shown inattentiveness to African crises. Somewhere along the way, much of the world grew used to hearing about genocide and slaughter and murder and war on the African continent -- such reports became background noise, an expected feature of the area. Therefore they stopped shocking us, the political will to interfere in them evaporated (how often can you interfere?), and now the continent hosts shocking slaughters on a basically biyearly basis.

Africa, to its everlasting regret, lacks the natural resources to render its stability internationally important. Partially because of that, it also lacks the trade that'd make its continued stability economically important. And partially because of that, it lacks the stability that'd make its instability journalistically important, and so the continent repeatedly gets the shaft. It's a truly terrible situation and finding a light at the end of the tunnel is far, far beyond my powers of foresight. But the villains here aren't just Bush, or Blair, or anyone in particular (save Khartoum and the Janjaweed). They're a mix of corrupt African leaders, a pan-African ethos that discourages serious intra-continent policing, a total lack of development, and a developed world that's given up. Hopefully Blair can change some of that.

Hopefully.

Update: On rereading, I fear this post overstates the American response to genocide in other countries. I don't mean to paint us as, ahem, white knights everywhere save Africa -- it's not so. But our interest in turmoil is far, far greater when it roils Latin America, or Europe, or the Middle East. That's understandable from some perspectives -- trade, resources, neighbors and geography make those countries more important in a purely numerical calculus. But even in them we're often negligent and always far too late.

Africa is just our myopia and lack of moral will squared, and the reason, I believe, is a sort of geographical racism that simply assumes Africans will kill each other and nothing we do will make them stop for any period of time. Much of the problem comes from looking at Africa more as a continent and less as a collection of separate countries, so when similar problems pop up in various nations, it seems like a failure of the whole and not a situation emerging in individual places.

Also, read Kristof on Sudan today. Whatever other issues you have with the guy, he's done more than just about anyone in the country to raise the profile of the Darfur genocide.

April 17, 2005 in Africa | Permalink

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Ezra--are you sure that Bush has ever called what's happening in Darfur by the name "genocide?" I'm pretty sure he hasn't. I remember that last Nov or Dec Powell used the word in relation to Darfur, but even he, iirc, didn't use the "G" word to make an explicit designation, for to do so, goes the CW, would set a moral imperitive requiring US action. Thus, the US typically hides behind euphemisms like "ethnic cleansing" because, among other reasons, we're signatory to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, not the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Ethnic Cleansing.

Posted by: DHinMI | Apr 17, 2005 1:58:42 PM

There was a time, not all that long ago, when the continent of Africa had many natural resources. For all I know, it may still have them (like everyone else in the Western World, I know very little about Africa), but if it doesn't, it's because of the pilfering of Europe. Also, Bush has done nothing in the recent past to call attention to the fact that genocide is still occurring. I'm pretty sure he's said nothing significant about Sudan since last summer. He gets no credit from me.

Posted by: randomliberal | Apr 17, 2005 4:10:09 PM

I have been following Darfur for a long time now. While I certainly wish, and have advocated, our Government had done more we have been pretty much the strongest critics and loudest voices against what is going on in the Sudan.

Certainly we have done a better job than we did in Rwanda.

I don't blame Clinton for Rwanda, I blame all of us who were too busy to care. We are a little more sensitized now, but sadly not enough to intervene directly. I expect though that U.S. criticism has lessened the atrocities there as the Sudanese Government tries to keep on the side of the line that would provoke U.S. involvement. Not enough, but better than nothing I guess. Sadly, there are no easy solutions here.

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