Opening Editorial: Africa


‘The immensity of the problem is a good excuse sometimes for doing nothing’, said Jean-Marie Guehenno, the United Nations undersecretary general for peacekeeping, on a visit to Eastern Congo in 2003.

One might have added, and still add, that the absence of ‘genocide’ provides an etymological excuse for inaction by developed nations, which, paradoxically, allows this much-debated term to come perilously close to life, or, in the case of the people of Darfur, the Congo, Zimbabwe or the Southern Christians and Dinka tribes of Sudan, death. How many thousands have to be killed? Does there have to be majority and minority victims or oppressors? Such equivocation threatened to condemn thousands more of those surrounding Guehenno in Eastern Congo in 2003.

In Orwellian terms, what they desperately needed was a spot of genocide to prevent even greater death. Thus, in the words of Somini Sengupta, ‘as though by the intervention of a malicious deity, the latest massacre here unfolded before the eyes of the world’.[1] Over several days earlier in May 2003, Hema and Lendu militias went around hacking humans to death. This was the same province where 50,000 people had been killed in the previous five years. Back in New York Mr. Guehenno said enough is enough. Rwanda was just a short journey away from the region he had just returned from. Luckily for Guehenno, a precedent for action- rather than equivocation- had been set a few years earlier.

Thanks to British military intervention in Sierra Leone, and a coordinated United Nations presence, the leg-amputating Revolutionary United Front stood in 2003 (and still does) as an impotent minority in this previously troubled corner of Africa. Here was (and still is) a good African example of UN soft power, married to the hard power, temporarily deployed, of a foreign national armed force. Recent research supports this observation: Where several options for dealing with African civil unrest are considered, including the use of aid as both a preventative and post-conflict measure, by far the most successful (and cost effective) is the use of external military intervention under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to enforce and maintain peace for as long as a decade.[2] This lesson was surely learned by Guehenno in Congo: Where in Sierra Leone the overwhelming military force had years earlier come from Britain, the Congo EU affair was largely French led, and the scale of death in the region has since abated.

Particularly as a departure from ‘realist’ French policy in the area, Britain’s example provided a mould for this change to take place. Free political structures are vital to maintain peace in Africa. They are vital to prevent starvation, and they are vital for regional prosperity. It is in all our interests in the West to show that intervention, and democracy building in Africa, is a profoundly moral affair. In an area like Congo, rich in minerals, riddled with political corruption, and stained by death caused by the link between the two, this notion is even stronger. The same applies to Sudan, and it is similar ‘realist’ oil interests held by France, Russia and China, that have supported anti-democratic elements in the region, stoking the fires of conflict.

It is only through a marriage of hard and soft power, often through Western intervention, that the latter can be prevented. It is the hope of this section, as we face these same questions in 2005 and beyond, in Sudan, Zimbabwe, northern Uganda or the Moroccan-occupied Sahara, that a similar pattern may be reported, where Jacksonian hope-as reflected in Sierra Leone and tentatively in Eastern Congo- may triumph over realism. Let it triumph over agonized definitions of just what genocide is or may be, so that the question we are analyzing does not become what genocide was, or has been in Africa.


[1] Somini Sengupta, ‘In Africa, Pricking the West’s Conscience’, The New York Time, June 1, 2003

[2] See Hoeffler, A and Collier, P, ‘Conflicts’, in, Lomborg, B. (ed) Global Crises, Global Solutions, Cambridge University Press, 2004; See also Hoeffler, A and Collier, P, ‘Aid, Policy and Growth in Post-Conflict Countries’,The European Economic Review, 48: 1125-1145, 2004


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