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© 2004 The Beast

Business as Usual

Dragging our Feet Again in Africa

by Allan Uthman


The hellish situation in the Sudan is finally getting some press, though it comes too late for thousands of dead, wounded, and displaced Sudanese. The government-endorsed systematic campaign of genocide there has been going on in earnest for a year and a half, but hasn’t even registered as a blip on our media until now—and even now, while the print media has lifted its sluggish head to glance at the Sudan, TV, the all-important portal to the minds of the great unwashed, is still asleep (If your only news source last week was CNN, I imagine that you’d think the only two stories of significance to occur were Saddam’s new “business casual” look and the pictures of Saturn’s rings).

Perhaps the saddest part is that stories about the rampant atrocities in the Sudan did not precipitate the new diplomatic focus on the nation by the State Department and the UN; rather, it was the other way around—only when Colin Powell and Kofi Annan decided to turn up the heat, however belatedly, on the Sudanese leadership’s obvious complicity in the rape, pillage and murder of it’s black population by Arabic janjaweed horseback militias, did these stories make their way outside of marginalized alternative news sources and the foreign press.

It’s a pathetic satement on our media when they are prodded into action by our leaders and not vice versa. Even now, when the AP reports that a UN delegation was “stunned” to find that Sudanese officials had forcibly removed thousands of refugees from a camp just hours before they arrived on a last-minute visit, it still doesn’t reverberate. The story gradually fades away, having failed to garner the popular scrutiny it so richly deserves. The implications were obvious, of course: that what the refugees had to say was the most damning evidence of all, enough to scare the heedless oppressors into committing a major diplomatic faux pas, and tipping their hand rather clumsily.

Of course, there is no real need for any further gathering of evidence—there has been little doubt regarding the situation for some time. The ruthless massacres have raged on, and the lessons of Rwanda have gone unheeded.

Some would argue that we have acted slowly in the Sudan because there is little self-interest for America in the region. But our nation’s inaction indicates, rather,  that we are invested in the blood-soaked (and oil-soaked) ground there. Only, as usual, we’re working with the wrong side.

Yes, there is oil in the Sudan. And where there is oil, there are large oil companies, attempting to extract it. And our nation in particular has a huge vested interest in the success of these endeavors. To this end, we tend to favor governments who are willing to trample their citizens in order to facilitate this process. That, in a nutshell, is the mechanism behind many conflicts around the globe—in Columbia, Venezuela, and of couse, Iraq, just toname three. It really is that simple. Dead people don’t amount to much in the face of a huge fossil fuel industry, supported by the most powerful governments in the world. So the Sudanese are obstacles, and must be removed—in this case, it’s by Lawrence of Arabia-style horse-riding, sword-wielding, torch-bearing armies of darkness. The cultural animosity between these two groups has always been at issue—the Arab Muslim North has waged war on the African Christian South for twenty years, killing 2 million and displacing 4 million in the process.

And yet we continue to drag our feet, still avoiding the word“genocide,” the official use of which would require us to act swiftly. The closest Powell has come is this: "People are dying and the death rate is going to go up significantly ... we see indicators and elements that would start to move you toward a genocidal conclusion, but we're not there yet."

“Not there yet?’ So what—we have to wait until these people are all dead before we can go and save them? The atrocities committed against these people make Saddam look like a kitten—and the White House’s lame retroactive “liberation” justification for the war in Iraq is called ever more clearly into question by our lackadaisical response to this horrendous genocide. Yes, genocide; that’s what this is—and if there is a law requiring us to act upon it, then we need to respect that law, and the basic human decency behnd it.

But what can we do in a world of poorly drawm borders, which lump enemy peoples together in an eternal and pointless death struggle, to achieve any lasting peace, the kind that stays on after the international inspectors leave? Partition was the only reasonable solution in Yugoslavia, and it is certainly not to be disregarded in this and other similarly intractable conflicts around the globe. We have the power to redraw the borders that the English bungled so badly almost a century ago. Iraq, for example: why not just draw the lines where they really should be? Disregarding for a moment Turkey’s near-maniacal desire to prevent the Kurds from achieving autonomy, a free Kurdistan would be America’s best ally in the region; a non-fundamentalist nation where we could put all the military bases we wanted—they’d probably build the damn things for us. 

Oil is the worst thing that ever happened to these countries. As long as there is any left, they will remain the prey of the more powerful. And there will be rebels. And there will be war. It’s just business as usual.

 

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