Africans believe world community shuns their conflicts

NATO action reinforces view of `double standard'

April 15, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

NAIROBI, Kenya -- NATO's decision to use military force in Kosovo has reinforced the view among many Africans that the world community is less inclined to intervene to halt conflicts in Africa than it is in many other regions.

Coming as East Africa marks the fifth anniversary of a three-month ethnic rampage in Rwanda that killed an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, the intervention in Yugoslavia has sparked a debate about when and for whom world powers are willing to take action.

"We continue seeing double standards applied, and that is not good for the global village as a whole," said Ngande Mwanajiti, executive director of the International Inter-African Network for Human Rights, AFRONET, based in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.

Civil war in Sudan -- geographically Africa's largest country -- has dragged on for 15 years, pitting rebels from the predominantly black African, animist and Christian south against the government forces of the Muslim and ethnic Arab north. At least 1.5 million people have starved to death because of war and crop failures. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced. Negotiations have made little progress.

In Angola, the fighting has been going on for more than 20 years. About 10 percent of the country's 12 million people have been forced from their homes, and more than 500,000 killed. A U.N. peace deal has fallen apart in recent months.

Rebels in Sierra Leone have been battling the government since 1991. Conservative estimates put the death toll there at about 20,000.

A conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has drawn in at least seven other African nations.

There have been many reports that the United States, Belgium, France and the U.N. Security Council received dozens of warnings about plans for the slaughter in Rwanda, but -- despite having a U.N. contingent in place -- failed to act.

After decades of colonial domination by Europeans and the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, Western ambivalence toward Africa is nothing new.

When Western countries have intervened, matters often have ended badly. The ill-fated U.S. action in Somalia in 1993, the slaying of Belgian U.N. troops in Rwanda in April 1994 as the genocide began, and the 1997 loss of French troops in the Central African Republic all but sounded the death knell for Western military intervention in Africa.

Some Africans acknowledge that a lack of credible political leadership in many of the continent's countries makes it difficult for Western intervention to solve the problems that lie behind Africa's humanitarian disasters.

And while the United States and its allies argue that they have a strategic interest in preventing war from spreading from Kosovo across Europe, few people argue that those same countries have a strategic interest in Africa.

In recent years, calls have increased for African solutions to African problems. Western nations have been encouraging regional bodies, such as the Organization for African Unity and the Southern African Development Community, to resolve conflicts.

The United States also has been promoting the concept of Africans assisting Africans by helping to train troops for an African Crisis Response Force. West Africa, at least, has a contingent of peacekeepers under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States.

The Nigerian-led force, known as the Economic Monitoring Group, or ECOMOG, helped resolve an eight-year conflict in Liberia, which ended in 1997, and is struggling to bring peace to Sierra Leone.

While praising ECOMOG, analysts acknowledge that there are problems associated with using African troops to settle disputes in neighboring countries.

Ethnic ties, the risk of being co-opted or manipulated because soldiers are poorly paid and a lack of a respect from civilians often erode their impartiality. Add to this the lack of funds, weaponry and equipment essential for peacekeeping, and the ability to be an effective mediator is lost, said Benedict Sannoh, executive director of the Center for Law and Human Rights in Monrovia, Liberia.

But, Africans argue, leaving Africans to solve their problems simply allows Westerners to evade their responsibility.

Abdul Oroh, executive director of the Lagos, Nigeria-based Civil Liberties Organization, said the United States and Europe have a particular responsibility to help end conflicts in Africa, because many of them resulted from colonial-era border tampering and Cold War politics.

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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