Wednesday, October 13, 2004

When genocide hits, a commission of inquiry will save the day! -- At least pay the guys with the guns

The situation in Darfur isn't getting any better. Last week, the UN's special envoy said Sudan's government has failed to keep its promise to end violence in its western Darfur region... Jan Pronk told the UN Security Council that attacks on civilians continued and that both pro-government forces and rebel groups had broken a truce... Mr Pronk said the Sudanese government had not stopped militia atrocities against civilians or brought the killers to justice. Mr Pronk said the army had continued its attacks, sometimes with helicopter gunships and neither the government nor the rebels had respected the ceasefire signed on 8 April.

So one might think: ok, the Security Council gave the Sudanese government a (probably undeserved) month to make strides toward improving the situation in Darfur, described by the US as genocide and by the European Parliament as tantamount to genocide" (whatever that distinction is). The regime clearly didn't rein in the militias they are almost universally believed to be arming and controlling. So it's time to slap long overdue sanctions on the Khartoum, right?

Not quite. That would be too harsh on a genocidal regime.

Instead, the preferred option is the choice of bureaucrats the world round: form a committee and study it further. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has appointed a 5-member panel to figure out whether genocide is taking place in Darfur. The commission has been given three months to report its verdict about events in the western Sudanese region.

In three months time, the genocide will probably be over because there will be no one left to kill.

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On the up side, technology from Ronald Reagan's Star Wars program is being used to help find water supplies, in Darfur and eastern Chad, where many of the Darfur reguees have fled.

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The most important rule of being a tinpot dictator is this: if you pay no one else, pay the guys with the guns.

This seemingly obvious advice has been ignored by African strongmen around the continent. Most recently in Guinea-Bissau. Ironic, since Gen. Lansana Conté, the strongman of neighboring Guinea (Conakry), made the same blunder in 1996.

Last year, the armed forces chief Gen. Verissimo Correia Seabre overthrew the elected president Kumba Yala and installed a replacement. Except the authorities installed by the military, in their infinite wisdom, neglected to pay the men who made up the military. So they had themselves a little mutiny and killed Gen. Seabre. The mutinous soldiers are demanding pay they are owed for taking part in the United Nations' mission in Liberia... They say they have only received their first three months of service and accuse army chiefs of pocketing their salaries.

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A Kenyan became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The 64 year old ecologist won, according to the Nobel Committee, for being in the "front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa." Not exactly the most traditional definition of 'peace,' but seemingly admirable work nonetheless.

However, she courted controversy with the absurd claim that the HIV virus "is created by a scientist for biological warfare."

"AIDS (is) not a curse from God to Africans or the black people," she said, according to the paper's account of the meeting published a day later.

Adding that AIDS "is a tool to control them designed by some evil-minded scientists, but we may not know who particularly did."

"Why is the rest of the world just watching, doing nothing while Africans are being wiped out? The rest of the world has abandoned us."

Her rant hardly squares with the reality that the fight against AIDS probably gets as much, if not more, attention in the West than every other developing world issue put together.

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Finally, there is the shocking revelation that Africans feel let down by their governments. I wonder why.

The UN study surveyed a little more than half of the continent's 53 countries.

The most common complaints were the ones you'd expect: corruption, poor tax systems, run-down and unaccountable public services, weak parliaments and unreformed courts.

Yet results varied widely in different countries. In Ghana 75% trusted their authorities compared to 25% in Nigeria.

Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya and Swaziland were four of the poorest performing countries surveyed.


"These findings underpin the need for a capable, democratic state with strong institutions promoting the public interest," said UN Economic Commission for Africa head Kingsley Amoako, before sounding an optimistic note, "The political environment is being liberalised, human rights are better respected and women are playing a greater role in shaping the continent."

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