Africa and the Moral Lacuna:
Below the Radar
by Kim Petersen
May 31, 2003
While US President George W. Bush and his loyal UK Prime Minister Tony Blair were chomping at the bit to unleash Shock and Awe on Iraq, they are something far less than enthusiastic to become involved in the massive killing ongoing in the Democratic Republic of Congo where over three million have been killed. It stands in stark contradiction to Mr. Blair’s Labour Party Conference Speech in October 2001, when he said, “And I tell you if Rwanda happened again today as it did in 1993, when a million people were slaughtered in cold blood, we would have a moral duty to act there also.”
Well it has been happening since 1998 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The International Red Cross calls it “the most deadly war ever documented in Africa, indeed the highest war death toll documented anywhere in the world during the last half century.” That is a pretty damning assessment. It certainly fell below the radar in the US and UK, and fair enough, most of the rest of the world.
But while all this was happening Mr. Blair declaimed: “The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world. But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it. And if we don't, it will become deeper and angrier.” Aside from the fact that a scar can't heal, the words gave a glimmer of hope for Africa.
Mr. Bush at least had the gumption to state: “We should not send our troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide outside our strategic interests. . . . I would not send the United States troops into Rwanda.” But it was in fact more sinister, both the US and UK had conspired to keep the UN from sending enough troops to Rwanda to prevent the genocide.
A report in The Guardian quotes Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Vollot, the French commander of UN forces in the DRC: “Does the world care what happens to Congo? No,” he said. “We've been sending messages every day to [the UN headquarters in] New York [saying] this was going to happen, that we need more troops. Nothing was done.”
This is eerily reminiscent of the appeals sent by Canadian General Roméo Dallaire, then head of the UN peacekeepers in Rwanda, that met stony silence back at UN headquarters. What happened afterwards is a dark page in history.
As in Rwanda, the UN observers in the DRC are undermanned without authorization to take action to halt the bloodletting. There is a call for a UN intervention force now in the DRC. France is keen to stabilize a region it has geostrategic interests in and Mr. Blair has made it known that the UK might partake. This is not recent news, however, France has been battling UN Security Council intransigence for almost one month to give approval for such a force. The Security Council so far hasn’t viewed the situation as urgent enough to take concrete action.
Meanwhile UN Special Envoy for Africa Stephen Lewis’ has warned of a crisis that “dwarfs everything”: a massive HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa coupled with famine that has failed to rouse the world to sufficient action. Mr. Lewis termed it a “mass murder by complacency.” It doesn’t take long before history in all its goriness repeats itself. However, it may take some time before the wounded conscience of the world heals.
Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org