Taking Responsibility for Your Own Continent

Both American Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan are now in the Darfur region of Sudan, in order to draw attention to what has been called one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises ever, the assaults on the black Sudanese people there by Arab “Janjaweed” militias has resulted in the deaths of 30,000 people since February, 2003, the displacement from their homes of one million, rape on a massive scale, and similar horrors. And the US government has introduced a UN Security Council resolution calling for international sanctions – an arms embargo, travel restrictions – against those militias.

If nothing else, this bringing-together in one out-of-the-way spot of two of the world’s most prominent and powerful figures is succeeding in attracting press attention to a conflict most of the world has up to now preferred to ignore. Strangely, that also includes countries in what you could call the immediate neighborhood; and in its coverage today (Ethnic Cleansing/Africa Ignores Sudan) the Dutch newspaper Trouw brings to light and examines this attitude.

That Africa would seem not to care so much about the disaster – indeed, as the title says, the ethnic cleansing – being inflicted on the black citizens of the Darfur reason is all the harder to understand in light of the clear racial element involved: those “Janjaweed” militias are composed of Arabs, put into action by the Sudanese government to viciously put down a (black) rebel uprising against it last year. On the other hand, the international community as a whole has also been slow to react to what has been happening. Granted, that was initially because the scene is an area of the world (like Rwanda) with no great reserves of vital natural resources (e.g. oil) and far away from any concentration of developed countries that could be bothered by a huge wage of refugees lapping against their border controls (unlike, say, the Balkans). But even when it became obvious what was happening, everyone remained stand-offish – i.e. refused to act in any way or give the Sudanese government the blame it deserves – so as not to jeopardize ongoing peace talks between the two sides.


It is supposedly this latter motivation that is still staying the hand of other African political leaders. The African Union (formerly Organization of African Unity, or OAU) has sent 120 observers to try to enforce some sort of cease-fire, and Kenya is directly involved in the peace talks between the Sudanese government and the rebel group, the SPLA. So far there’ s been no hint of criticism for that government from these organizations, nor of any concern from the people in other African countries who can read every day in their local media about what is happening to the black Sudanese. “People are tired of the many conflicts,” explains Kisemei Mutisya, a political scientist at the University of Nairobi. “In addition to that, most people have great trouble holding their own heads above water.” It’s true that the African Union has finally taken action of a sort just this week, but that has been limited so far to calling on the Sudanese government to call off their militias and allow the displaced to return home. Oh, and there is also soon to be a conference of AU heads-of-state in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa – to discuss not only Sudan, but other African trouble-spots like Somalia, the Congo, and the Ivory Coast.

If the joint visit by Annan and Powell and the proposed Security Council resolution can be taken as any indication, for the rest of the world outside of Africa the gloves are finally starting to come off – at least as much as they can come off, given that (as mentioned above) Sudan has no noteworthy natural resources and its refugees cannot wander anywhere to disturb anyone else’s Western suburban lifestyles. And it’s hardly true that any continent’s garbage necessarily always gets taken care of by the residents of that same continent – it was American airpower, remember, that finally stopped the murderous nationalist rampages of Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia. Still, it should be interesting to follow how much other Africans can be bothered in the near future over these horrible events in Africa.

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