why the US does not become involved in african conflicts

The title of this entry is a question that very often crosses my mind as I continue to read the news and stay up to date on the various African conflicts across the continent. How can the country with the most power sit idly as conflicts that tear nations and governments apart worsen? How can the country with the most power get involved in its own political war games and ignore the dying?

“If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

Mother Teresa spoke these words and they can possibly lend us an answer to why there is inaction with mass conflict. I found this quote used on the Foreign Policy news page with an article called Numbed by Numbers. The argument of the article is that “people don’t ignore mass killings because they lack compassion. Rather, it’s the horrific statistics of genocide and mass murder that may paralyze us into inaction. Those hoping that grim numbers alone will spur us to action in places like Darfur have no hope at all.” The article says that it is our own human psychology that hinders our action. We are unable to comprehend the numbers and put them into terms of massive human tragedy. The article also notes a study where aid to a young child, when accompanied by large statistics, declined sharply. We cannot comprehend mass human tragedy and apply our actions. Now there are worries that just one more major security incident could create a ‘humanitarian collapse’ in Darfur. I suggest reading the full article on Foreign Policy.

Another possibility of an answer lies in the blog of an American who has just returned from living in Uganda. The conflict, or civil war some say, that is being revealed in Northern Uganda is another conflict in the scope of mass human tragedy. Peace talks were started and stalled last month in Uganda, but are set to re-start in April. The blog entry on March 19th from ‘In an African Minute’ says, “The United States, with very little effort, could drastically increase the possibility of a permanent resolution of the conflict in northern Uganda. Why Washington hasn’t made an effort has been a matter of speculation in policy and development circles since the peace talks began in August 2006.” There is much speculation, especially since the US has been so involved in the continent with ‘anti-terrorism’ measures by giving support to key African countries. ‘Fighting terrorism’ has replaced communism as the US’s new objective in Africa. Ending divisive and destabilizing conflicts in the region is not on the top of the US agenda, if at all.

There are roughly eight conflicts in the African continent affecting nearly 16 million people. Why are these not on the US agenda? We can’t handle numbers, we are blinded by the fight against terrorism, or maybe we just don’t have the Administration with the resolve to act on others behalf when there is no obvious gain for the country or government?

a shifting policy?

Denying that genocide is occurring in Western Sudan, canceling debt in Liberia, supporting Ethiopian military forces, and taking actions in Somalia, it seems that the US is shifting its policy in Africa towards a role acting as a military and development aide rather than a imperialist imposer.

The US Special Envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, recently claimed that the crisis in Darfur no longer constitutes a genocide. He is claiming that the facts do not support the <a href=”http://www.africaaction.org/newsroom/release.php?op=read&documentid=2287&type=2&issues=1024
“>claim of genocide. However, from numerous accounts of people on the ground, the reality is much different. Is this the US’s way of re-framing the crisis and making it out to be not as prominent an issue? The fact that the US has no strategy for the Darfur crisis is perpetuated by this denial and absence of a US position on the growing crisis, as it spills into Chad and the Central African Republic. Africa Action has strongly criticized Natsios along with numerous activist organizations. “Activists across the country are outraged by Natsios’ denial of genocide in Darfur and by the continued absence of a U.S. strategy to address this worsening crisis. Threats of “Plan B” from the Bush Administration have left Khartoum unfazed. The death toll is mounting, and the U.S. must act now to stop the escalating violence by the Sudanese government and to provide protection to civilians and humanitarian operations in Darfur.” (Africa Action)

Last week, Condolezza Rice traveled to Liberia to announce the cancellation of Liberia’s debt. To help Liberia recover from conflict $391 million will be dropped. The President has also asked that Congress approve $200 million in additional aid. The current debt was called by Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, to be unacceptable. I see this as yet another step by the US to come up to par with China’s investments in Liberia and Africa. The US is attempting to build strongholds of US influence across the African continent in order to gain influence. Definitely the cancellation of debt for Liberia is key to development as they recover from conflict, but what might be the US motives behind the cancellation.

Now there are reports that <a href=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6395033.stm
“>US warships are headed to the Somalia coast to engage rebels who have commandeered an aid ship bringing in food supplies. The cargo ship was a UN chartered vessel and was taken over by Somali pirates yesterday. They are unsure if the crew of 12 has been injured. The cargo ship, The Rozen, has delivered over 1,800 tons of food aid and was attacked last year by Somali pirates, but dodged the pirates. The current US military involvement in the Ethiopian and Somali conflict has raised some interesting issues. Is the US working towards pushing anti-terrorism measures in Africa? Is the US pushing for more military aid to developing countries or are they looking to just win over the leaders of countries for economic and political gain?

Another item to note is that, although Natsios has denied genocide, prominently displayed on the White House Africa Policy page is President Bush’s address to UN General Assembly, in which he strongly called the crisis in Darfur a genocide (the site has also received a revamp since the last time I visited):

“To the people of Darfur: You have suffered unspeakable violence, and my nation has called these atrocities what they are — genocide. For the last two years, America joined with the international community to provide emergency food aid and support for an African Union peacekeeping force. Yet your suffering continues. The world must step forward to provide additional humanitarian aid — and we must strengthen the African Union force that has done good work, but is not strong enough to protect you. The Security Council has approved a resolution that would transform the African Union force into a blue-helmeted force that is larger and more robust. To increase its strength and effectiveness, NATO nations should provide logistics and other support. The regime in Khartoum is stopping the deployment of this force. If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act. Your lives and the credibility of the United Nations is at stake. So today I’m announcing that I’m naming a Presidential Special Envoy — former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios — to lead America’s efforts to resolve the outstanding disputes and help bring peace to your land.”

— President George W. Bush, September 19, 2006

zimbabwe, sudan, and the drc – enter ban ki-moon

As the new Secretary General of the UN completes his very <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6304043.stm
“>first official Africa tour, crises loom across the continent. Ban Ki-moon called on the DRC to make a pact for democracy and the AU to be unified on the conflict in Darfur. With the DRC still working to emerge from its long civil war, Ki-moon noted the successful elections last year. The DRC currently holds the largest deployment of UN troops anywhere in the world and the UN says it is committed to creating greater security of the region.

Ki-moon also spoke to the AU about keeping unified in the face of the Darfur crisis. With the potential of Sudan becoming chair of the AU there is worry for the conflict to fall from the priority list. Ki-moon condemned the recent bombings of villages in Darfur and called on Africa’s leaders to join together for peace as they did before to bring peace to Burundi and Sierra Leone. Ki-moon met with President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan at the AU summit and urged him to commit to a joint UN-AU peacekeeping force for Darfur. “I… am deeply concerned about the continuing violence and the suffering of the civilians there. This time we need action and to make real progress,” Ki-moon said. Four years of violence and genocide has killed over 400,000 people and has displaced over 2 million people. “Together, we must work to end the violence and scorched-earth policies adopted by various parties, including militias, as well as the bombings which are still a terrifying feature of life in Darfur,” he told the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ki-moon also announced that he planned to convene in March a working group on Africa and the MDGs, “a coalition of the willing” of African stakeholders and international organizations and donors, to accelerate progress on the goals, which also seek to reduce maternal and infant mortality and provide access to health care and education. He noted that many African countries have made remarkable progress, but there remains a lot to be done.

As the well-publicized conflicts in Africa continue to recieve support, a mostly unheard of crisis grows. The name of this crisis is Zimbabwe or more specifically Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe since 1980 and recently his term was extended for years. Mugabe has mis-managed economic policy and thrown out human rights. Hyperinflation and negative growth are a few of the problems which he attributes to Western sanctions and the legacy of white minoritiey rule. Reported in the news Zimbabwe is facing a massive food crisis. The government has refused aid agencies support and again combats calls of mis-management with the idea of an international plot to remove him from power.

The effects of the food crisis among many Zimbabwean issues is yet to be seen, however maybe we will not witness such tragedy. This July the popular band, Dispatch, will be reuniting for a cause. That cause is Zimbabwe. Their benefit concert has been sold out, a new date added, and again sold out. The proceeds are to be used to fight disease, famine, and social injustice. After reading that I inquired as to where exactly donations will be made, since funds in the government’s hands will not necessarily be used for good. “We are in the process of figuring out some existing NGO’s that are doing great work there–and some other projects we’d like to support. Once identified, we will make a post about them to the public!,” was the response I recieved. I was very pleased to get such a response from a well-known band working to make a difference in Africa. Supporting existing programs and projects that are working effectively will creat the most good. Check out the Dispatch Zimbabwe Team site, I think there are some remaining tickets for the concert this summer at Madison Square Garden.

Here at Michigan State University there is a push within the Student Assembly to revoke an honorary doctorate degree in law, which was presented to Mugabe when he spoke at MSU. The bill written in the Student Assembly will be voted on next week and after that will be referred on to the Administration. The international plot to overthrow continues. All jokes aside, the efforts of Dispatch should be commended and the pressure on Mugabe intensified as his people face certain death from his inactions.

iraq, a humanitarian crisis as much as darfur?

Is the Iraq conflict now seen as a humanitarian crisis as much as the more well-known Darfur genocide? How can the two be compared. For starters we can look at US commitments to both conflicts. Back in 2000 when Bush was handed a press release about the Rwandan genocide, he wrote, “not on my watch” in the margin. In 2003 we became involved in Iraq to fight terrorism? The polls now tell us taht Americans would rather be involved in Darfur than Iraq. Why? Maybe because we would rather save lives than assist in their destruction. David Bosco of the LA Times writes of the ugly truths in his blog on the Foreign Policy website. Recent UN findings have totaled over 34,000 Iraqi deaths in just 2006. “The death toll for Darfur has become a political football, but the U.S. State Department’s most recent estimate is that 200,000 people have been killed by the violence since it began in 2003, and over 2 million people have been displaced,” writes Bosco. However the estimates vary and many state that over 400,000 have been murdered in Darfur. Bosco wants is trying to make us think of the possibilities of our actions in both Iraq and Darfur. Is it too late in either case? Is one life more valuable than another? His closing statement sums it all up, “Yet, while it’s not clear to me that the U.S. military is doing “no good” in Iraq, absent a more realistic regional strategy from the White House, what little it is accomplishing by staying is probably not worth the costs.”

Accompanying the cry for US military action in Darfur is a push to divestment from Sudan, much like what was done during apartheid South Africa. The US congress has called for sanctions and divestment, yet has ‘suprisingly’ taken no action to move divestment along. Yet again the US policy on Africa entails the action of a pen to paper. There have been numerous campaigns and petitions within the government and also outside the government to pressure the US government to drop interests in Sudan. Check out the full report by Africa Action (here).

More recently the insecurity of the region is driving out aid to millions as aid agencies leave to ensure their own safety. This will only intensify the humanitarian crisis already pushed beyond the tipping point. This crisis has met the drowning victim under the sinking boat level. We need to be the skilled rescue divers who can turn turn this conflict around through actions on the ground in the US and Darfur. There have also been reports that the Sudanese government continues to bomb the people of Darfur without holding back.

Yesterday I attended an amazing Hip Hop concert sponsored by the Spartans Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) chapter at Michigan State University. MSU was just one stop on the national Save Darfur Tour. It was a great show with a fair attendance. The artists such as Alexipharmic and Freestyle spoke to the real issue at hand and our potential to make a difference. Besides being the best performers of the night, in my opinion, they also understood the complexity of the Darfur genocide. Freestyle of the Arsonists was an amazing performer. He had great beats with great lyrics and knew how to really involve the crowd of mostly stiff white college kids who had no idea what hip-hop was all about. I am not going to lie I was standing there in my shirt and tie (after coming from meetings all day) putting my hand in the air and feeling the beats. That made me think – what is the color of hip-hop? I concluded that hip-hop obeys no set rules so therefore it is not an only-black, or only-white thing. Freestyle also spoke to the myth that hip-hop is dying. Let me tell you hip-hop is alive and well, check out the artists of underground hip-hop and learn the history and ideal behind the movement. Hip-hop is not dead, I have seen it alive and well, knocking on the front door of my consciousness and directing my compass of compassion to empower the world!

africa’s long to-do list?

In a recent article posted on the BBC By Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, a National Public Radio reporter in Accra, the issues of Africa and challenges to face in the new year are highlighted. However I would say that it is nothing new or exciting to a person who follows the news of Africa daily. The article notes the conflicts across the continent from Niger Delta, to Somalia, to Darfur, to Northern Uganda. Quist-Arcton notes the coming elections in many countries and the worries of violence at the polls. The reporter does well to examine the challenges in the future and the causes of problems in the past. However, this African reporter seems to have very little hope for the new year, except for a few lines near the end hope is finally noted – the country of Ghana turns 50 and the 2010 South African World Cup is on its way. Is that the only hope for the continent? I think not. I hope that I have noted some positives for Africa in 2007. I do not wish to hide the realities and so the positives are accompanied with the negatives, but there is always hope. Check them out here:

finally, something good happens in that country

something new for the new year

interesting things to note in the new year for africa

a promise fulfilled, land rights deferred, the new UN, and spreading violence

what, are you serious?

I was going to be done for the year with the annual report, but recent events do not allow me to leave this year with something unsaid.

Today I had a dentist appointment. My teeth were first checked out and cleaned by the dentist’s assistant and as you all know, while they have those metal tools and the nifty little mirror in your mouth, they ask you questions and try to hold a conversation with you. You, the one with everything in your mouth. It started out normally – I was wearing my Michigan State University sweatshirt so I was first asked about college, how it was going, and then my major – International Relations and Global Area Studies: Africa specializing in International Development. Well now that changes the conversation to Africa. “Wow Africa, so what do you plan to do with that degree after college?” I said I was planning on doing the Peace Corps for two years and then whatever comes after. (most likely the Master International Program with the Peace Corps)

The assistant then told me some very interesting stories about people she knew who did related work in Africa. She talked about a co-worker who was a photographer and was about to go on safari in Africa to take pictures of wildlife, ‘wouldn’t that be fun?’ Then she noted with a degree of disdain in her voice that she would never go to such a dirty, sticky, tropical place with a bunch of mosquitoes and stuff. All I could think was ‘you have got to be kidding me!’ Is this still how most people think of Africa? I could not say much because of the tools occupying my mouth. Then she said something to the effect of ‘well whatever you want to do.’ To be honest I could not believe it and I was slightly taken aback by her perceptions of Africa. Thanks so much American mass media! That is a topic for another time, but this event has given me a sense that more people need to travel to Africa and see first hand the wonder and beauty and people. More people need to understand that actual people like you and me live in Africa everyday – they may not have as much ‘stuff’ as we do, but nevertheless they live incredible lives in that dirty, sticky, mosquito filled tropical wonder land that I have come to love.

On a more up-beat note, UN personnel arrived in the Darfur region of Sudan to support the African Union force, which is attempting to keep the peace as government backed militias spread destruction and terror with ‘rebel’ groups battling to keep the people safe. This is a large step towards a much debated hybrid UN force, backed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, being sent to the region to keep the peace. The African Union troops are under equipped and understaffed in this conflict. With the UN personnel also came equipment, including night vision goggles and armored personnel carriers. The goal is to eventually move to a hybrid UN-AU force of roughly 20,000 personnel. I believe that a positive step has been made here and it gives me hope for a future resolution of the Darfur conflict and the lives of those affected.

Have a Happy New Year everyone!

today in africa

As you may have heard Sudan has accepted a ‘hybrid’ UN peacekeeping force to help in the conflict torn Darfur region. Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, is awaiting a letter from Sudan and his top aide is warning of an ‘abyss’ of suffering if something doesn’t happen soon. Currently there is a mini-summit of African leaders happening in Libya to discuss Darfur. Also in the Eastern/ Central region, Uganda has taken great steps closer to peace. More is needed to make this peace successful. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has signed an agreement with the Ugandan Government to cease hostilities and release non-combatants, but more is needed to encourage regular face to face talks because the rebel leadership is still cautious. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the election has been finished and Joseph Kabila, son of Laurent Kabila, has been declared winner with a majority of votes coming from the Eastern region of the DRC. The opposition party has not taken the lose very well and there has been rioting and clashes with police in the DRC capitol of Kinshasa. Kabila has set an ultimatum for when UN peacekeeping forces can remove the rival soldiers from Kinshasa. The droughts in the Horn of Africa (namely Somalia, Ethiopia) and Kenya have ended, but now there has been flooding. It is estimated over 100 have died in the flooding. In France, arrest warrants were issued for nine aides to Rwandan President Kagame. They are accused of involvement in shooting down the plane of the former Rwandan president, one of the events leading to the genocide. Illegal immigration into Europe is worrying many EU leaders as the issue grows with the numbers of Africans seeking a better life in Europe. The HIV/ AIDS epidemic “is getting worse” and African baby deaths are “preventable.”

I know all this news may be a lot to take all at once, but this is what some people live with everyday, every single day of their lives is full of turmoil and strife. However, it is imperative to note that even as crisises grow and troubles spark – Africans love life and enjoying sharing their love with everyone. I can tell you first hand from my experience in Africa never had I seen such poverty and pain, never had I seen such joy and happiness. This news may seem all ‘bad’ news, but what I see is progress. African organizations are working to build stronger relationships, peace is closer than ever in many areas, drought is ending, and people are being held accountable for terrible pasts. I encourage you all to read the news from around the world from many sources and develop a global perspective.

those who are seen without a blur and those who remain invisible

As you may have figured, the previous story is about myself. I can safely say that this story and the events, experiences, and following actions have defined my life. Yes, defined my life. Traveling to Africa four summers ago after conducting a project that allowed me to meet so many incredible people and truly believe that I, and many others, have been able to make a difference in the world, has created the most indelible impression on who I am and what I do.

Therefore this blog will be my expressions of thought set down in text as I continue developing and searching for my path in this great world. I could say that my life is well mapped out, but that would be a lie. All I have are ideas of what I would like to happen, but no one knows for sure what I will do, or where I will go.

This blog has been named ‘When not in Africa…’ because, although I have only been to once, one of the ideas I have for my future is that I will return to Africa very soon (hopefully Ghana, summer 2007) and I do plan to live the majority of my life on the continent of Africa or working for the people that inhabit its lands.

As I write there is one thing that has been on my mind for a long while. About a week ago my grandfather passed away. I was very close to him and although he had been gradually getting more sick and it was not a sudden death, it has still been very hard. I believe that grandparents make up a significant section of the core of our being; a section that parents, friends, role models, and leaders cannot touch; a section where no matter what happens you always know your grandparents’ touch will be with you forever. However, even with all that, I cannot help but think about the countless number of lives lost in the countries of Africa. Every day in Africa, 6,600 people die from and another 8,500 contract the HIV virus – 1,400 of whom are newborn babies infected during childbirth or by their mothers’ milk. Africa is home to 25 million people with HIV – 64% of global infections. There are more than 13 million children in Africa have lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS; this total will reach 18 million by 2010. (UNAIDS) Every week, it is estimated, in Uganda over 1000 people die in a conflict that has claimed over 100,000 lives in its now 20 year span. In Darfur, with over 400,000 already murdered by their own government, tensions rise over a UN peace-keeping force. Tensions are still fresh in the Congo where countless, thousands of lives are lost unknown to the world. Due to the intensity of the wars and diseases and just plain poverty, children are lucky to make it past their fifth birthdays. (Sorry I do not have the links to all of the relevant news articles.)

Preventable diseases – preventable conflicts – and preventable circumstances end the lives of so many invisible people on the African continent. Invisible people who it seems have no pull in the worldly system of quest for success and competition at any cost. People are people. Whether in Africa or Asia or the Americas, people share the same pain, the same loss, the same wants and fears, people everywhere want to have the ability to live without fear of avertable worries. And as I think of how my grandfather died; surrounded by friends and family, without pain, after living a long and happy and productive life – I cannot help but think about the countless others in the world who do not have such a luxury. At his funeral service I played TAPS, on the bugle which he gave me when I was 10 years old. After playing the solemn tune I could not contain myself and broke down, because as I played I could not help but think of all those others who passed with my grandfather, I thought of how supportive my grandfather was of my work and how he loved every person he met, how he shared something with everyone. As the tears for my grandfather streamed down my cheek, my body shaking with loss, those tears messed with the tears for the world’s invisible people.