May 17, 2007

Department of Tragically Unintended Consequences

Researchers have long puzzled over why AIDS began in Africa, and why so recently. The monkey-to-human link was fairly well-established, but Africans had been killing and eating monkeys for tens of thousands of years -- why did AIDS only arise in a noticeable sense around the 60s?

According to some theorists, including Helen Epstein, it was medical technology. The massive vaccination campaigns of the era reused needles, sparking the pandemic. So the elimination of diseases like smallpox literally gave rise to the genocidal toll of AIDS. The universe doesn't laugh at us, it cackles.

May 17, 2007 in Africa | Permalink | Comments (11)

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 | Comments (9) | TrackBack

May 03, 2005

More AU?

I've been meaning to comment on the expansion of the AU's peacekeeper force in Sudan for quite awhile, so here goes. Blogosphere commentary has broken along two lines: the Justin Logan pitch which says, basically, that this is much better handled as an intra-African matter, we should offer logistical support but not involve ourselves militarily, and thus the infusion of cash and increase in size of the AU's forces is the best of all possible worlds. In the blue trunks, however, is Brad "whiny little humanitarian" Plumer, who thinks the AU is reluctant to seriously involve themselves, unwilling to put forth the necessary numbers, and should be supported by a NATO deployment.

Well color me a whiny little humanitarian. The AU's forces are almost comically inept, and I say only almost only because they often veer towards criminally inept instead. Their past failures are legion and their total unwillingness to act until long into the atrocities is woven into the fabric of any recent African disaster you care to look into. Remember that the AU has been hanging out in Sudan during this whole process, seeing and hearing no evil, but allowing plenty to be done in their presence. And while I'm pleased that their hands-off mandate is being scrapped and replaced with a license to protect civilians, that they're only heading in that direction now should tell you all you need to know.

As Brad rightly points out, Sudan is a big place. A France-sized place, in fact. Since no one's talking regime change, we're not looking at an invasion here, so the success of any intervention is going to be contingent on the belief among the Janjawid and Sudanese government that it will succeed and can't be safely ignored. A 7,000 man AU force isn't going to perform that function. A NATO deployment, even if it was just a small, supplementary force, probably would (much like Britain's 1,000 person deployment to Sierra Leone essentially ended the chaos there). And for that reason, I can't get too excited over this development. It's a halting, stumbling step in the right direction, but we need more than that. As we wait, and as we cheer the international community's slightly better response, the genocide continues. So I'd caution against a wait-and-see attitude to the AU's too-small deployment, and I wouldn't let up on the outrage. Much more is still needed, and while outright NATO invasion isn't the only path forward, it's a hell of a lot better than this one.

Update: Tom Malinowski has a must-read op-ed on the subject in today's WaPo. Pay close attention to his argument that the small, positive steps we're taking are allowing us to claim fulfillment of our moral responsibilities without actually doing anything to end the genocide. Also watch his run-down of why NATO support will be hard to round-up. I don't know about you, but all I could think when reading the piece was "Coalition of the Willing"...

May 3, 2005 in Africa | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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.


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 | Comments (7) | TrackBack