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?

know the stories, know the issues

Along with knowing that there is a problem comes the equally important realization that something needs to be done. Along with understanding that YOU are the person to do something comes the actualization of what to do and how to do it. Along with that actualization comes the needs to know the facts, a need to know the stories and faces behind the issues.

Many people become overwhelmed by the multitude of problems and the sheer magnitude of the issues. But we all need to stop and look beyond the numbers and visit the places where the faces behind the numbers live. We need to meet the statistics face to face. Do not be overwhelmed. Here is a great story that my mom once told me. The story has many variations, but I will tell it as it was told to me:

On a beautiful evening with an incredible sunset and a brisk breeze coming from the ocean, an old man is walking along the beach. As he enjoys his walk along the seaside he comes across a little boy quickly and almost frantically running back and forth from beach to the water. The old man notices that each time he runs back and forth, the little boy picks up a sea star and flings it back into the ocean. The shore is littered with sea stars caught on the sand after the high tide has gone out. He stops and says, ” Little boy how can you possibly hope to save all those sea stars from dying? There is no way that you can help them all.” The little boy looks up at the old man, bends down, grabs another sea star, flings it into the ocean and says, “it mattered to that one.”

Do not be overwhelmed. No matter what you do, as long as you have influenced one life, then you have made a difference. There is a myriad of problems in the world, but we cannot be discouraged by them because we must remember what is at the root of those problems. At the root is people like you and me. I have met those people, I have seen the faces of people who are no longer here and so I tell you – and still I tell you don’t be discouraged. We need to remember why we are working to solve the world’s problems. My memory flashes to the faces that are gone. For the next few weeks I will be posting stories about people affected by various issues on the African continent and how you can get involved.