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May 11, 2005

Where's Sam Brownback When You Need Him?

The U.N. Relief Director has hit the newspapers in an effort to drum up some political pressure for American help on African crises. Apparently, our compassionate conservatism is not quite being compassionate enough. I've excerpted a portion of his interview after the jump, you really need to read it to understand how bad things are getting (not to mention why putting the Ten Commandments in schools won't save us, and may in fact bring about some of the worst horrors on memory). Unfortunately, his interview also shows his problem. From what he's saying, there's currently an urgent humanitarian crisis in Sudan, Chad, the Congo, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Togo, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Uganda, among others. Think about that -- a pressing crisis in at least 14 countries. The world is remarkably slow, inept, and reluctant to deliver aid and avert catastrophes, so what do you think our chances are of responding effectively 14 times over?

It's possible that some of the unwillingness to help Africa is racism, but I doubt it. Much of it, I fear, comes from a sense of hopelessness. A feeling that problems there are entirely intractable, trying to solve one will have no greater impact than nailing the first brown flash in a game of whack-a-mole. To some degree, that's our fault. A close relative of racism does cause us to see the African continent as a whole, rather than a collection of distinct countries whose problems need to be viewed individually. And to some degree, it's simply the truth of a region that seems intent on winning the prize for world's largest, longest, most creative parade of modern horrors.

What do we do? Damned if I know, try and deal with Sudan, I guess. I remain of the belief that a swift, sure, and powerful attack against one or two genocidal forces would cause future incarnations to think twice, particularly if it became clear that Western strike forces would intervene as soon as the body bags proved serious and systemic. But, as Justin Logan will surely point out, that stance has its own set of problems, and may not fix anything either. So I've got no good solutions for you, but do read the interview after the jump. Doing that, at least, is easy.

He said that of the 14 fund appeals the United Nations had made for Africa, eight had attracted less than 20 percent of the requested amounts.

"In the Central African Republic, which is one of the poorest places on earth, we have 6 percent of what we asked for," he said. "And in Somalia, which has in some areas worse mortality rates than Darfur, we have 8 percent."

In Chad, he said, more than 200,000 refugees from neighboring Darfur were overtaxing the resources of an already impoverished country. In Togo, unrest after a disputed election has generated "overnight" a refugee problem in Benin and Ghana.

He said there were desperate food shortages in the south, in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique, and in the north, in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

He warned of a "triple threat" menace to southern Africa - a combination of H.I.V./AIDS, which he said had taken 250,000 lives in the region since January; drought brought on by catastrophically low rainfall, and weak government.

Mr. Egeland appealed in particular for urgent attention to northern Uganda, where several recent attempts to sign truces and open peace talks have faltered, and fighting has intensified in an 18-year-old conflict between rebel fighters and the government that has left 500,000 people dead and 2 million displaced.

The rebellion has been led since 1988 by a brutal force called the Lord's Resistance Army, which, in the name of forming a government based on the Ten Commandments, has slaughtered peasants and kidnapped children, turning them into what Mr. Egeland called mindless "killing machines."

Relief groups have estimated that 28,000 children have been abducted and forced to become soldiers and sex slaves in northern Uganda. "It goes beyond anything I have ever seen in my years of humanitarian work in terms of trauma and suffering and incomprehensible cruelty, where people are mutilated, humiliated and destroyed as human beings," Mr. Egeland said.

In Uganda, he said, only 34 percent of the $54 million sought in a United Nations appeal in November had been received. "We are in danger of losing an historic opportunity to put an end to one of the worst set of atrocities in our generation," he said. "If we don't act, the window will close, and we will always regret what we did not do in 2005."

May 11, 2005 in Africa | Permalink

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Comments

According to Jeffrey Sachs, the first thing the developed nations should do to is provide medical supplies like mosquito nets and vaccinations that would eliminate the threats of polic, measles, and malaria. These diseases are destablizing forces in Africa.

Posted by: Chagz | May 11, 2005 1:14:14 PM

How is it not racism? At approximately the same time in the mid-1990s, there were two major genocides going on that were widely publicized: the genocide in Bosnia, and the genocide in Rwanda. After a little hemming and hawing, the United States sent troops to help stop the civil war and genocide in Bosnia, while withdrawing resources from Rwanda. Result: there is relative peace in Bosnia and the rest of the Baltic region for the first time in decades, while at least 800,000 Rwandans died at the hands of the Hutus. Not only that, but after the Tutsi rebels drove the Hutus from power, the Hutus simply moved across the border to what was then Zaire and helped start a civil war there. It's very probable that what you mention--the view that Africa is one large entity instead of many many states--was a factor, but it seems to me that if the Rwandans had been white instead of black, many fewer people would died.

Posted by: randomliberal | May 11, 2005 1:18:30 PM

"It's possible that some of the unwillingness to help Africa is racism, but I doubt it."

Like hell it isn't. Randomliberal is right, but doesn't go far enough. What if this was happening in Spain? Poland? Latinos and Poles would be leading the charge for humanitarian relief, but we'd all be following, because it would be people who look like us who were starving.

Time and again, U.S. foreign policy makes very conscious decisions about which lives are worth what. African lives are always the cheapest. It ain't a "sense of hopelessness" - it's not giving a goddamn about these people dying, 'cause they don't look like us.

Posted by: jkd | May 11, 2005 1:30:45 PM

I don't think it is racism.

Unfortunately, we can't intervene everywhere, those who cautioned on overreach and the difficulties of invading Iraq should be very clear about that.

If we can't intervene everywhere then we have to choose, and by almost any metric, African nations tend to come up short in the sometimes brutal calculus this involves.

We have to look at, amoung other things, probability of success, national interest, historic regional responsibilities, and the interests of important political and economic allies.

By any of these measures African nations tend to be lower on the scale than other nations. I don't like this, but I don't know what to do about it.

I do think we can, and should, make an example of Sudan though. Establishing a no fly zone over Darfur is within our power and would go a long way toward ending the Genocide there.

Posted by: Dave Justus | May 11, 2005 3:34:52 PM

Right guys, but that's not necessarily racism. it has to do with the whack-a-mole mindset I mentioned above. In modern Europe, genocides just don't happen, so when one does, the world can mobilize around the sheer insanity of the event. Same thing in Latin America. So too would a mass starvation in France, or Argentina be met with similarly impressive amount of humanitarian aid. But the constant drip of genocides, slaughter, hunger and so on in Africa inures much of the world to their plight (because the problems seem so intractable, and so quick to to be reborn after one crisis is quelled), and thus allows them to ignore it.

Posted by: Ezra | May 11, 2005 3:38:47 PM

But having that Ten Commandments monument out front of our buildings for us to bow down and worship sure would make us all feel better about ourselves.

Posted by: Bulworth | May 11, 2005 5:13:57 PM

it may not be racism ezra, but is definitely discrimination. some would consider that a distinction without a difference, but it still does not excuse the neglect and indifference shown towards african crises in general.


to me it seems that it should be "the constant drip of genocides..." schtick that drives us to actually find stable solutions to these recurring problems

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 2:33:37 PM

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