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Author Topic: Apathy toward African tragedy  (Read 7860 times)
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Posts: 634

Ayanna's Roots

« on: January 24, 2005, 07:23:42 AM »

Friday, January 21st 2005


More than three weeks have passed since a powerful tsunami destroyed much of the coastline of southern Asia and washed over more than 150,000 souls.

For several days after the disaster, I watched in horror as amateur video brought us right inside those swirling waves and listened as terrified vacationers told us stories of escape. It made for riveting and heartbreaking television. The news channels ratings shot up.

Then came a second tsunami -waves of aid, governmental and private, that began to swell up from all corners of the world. Within days we witnessed a veritable aid auction. Japan donated US$100 million. The Brits countered with US$150 million. The United States ultimately trumped that with US$300 million, then the Japanese upped the ante again.

Next came a flood of private donations; people of great heart and substantial wallet chipped in with seven-figure donations. Meanwhile, ships of many nations steamed toward devastated coastlines bringing emergency supplies and fleets of rescue helicopters. Former presidents Bush and Clinton appeared on television to plead for donations in a demonstration of bipartisan solidarity with the stricken people of Asia.

My mood changed. In the course of three short weeks I have gone from empathy to anger. Anger not at the devastated people of Asia, but at the hypocrisy of our leadership; Bush, Blair, Chirac, et al, who seem to find natural disasters so much easier to deal with than human disasters.

For several years I struggled to make a film called Hotel Rwanda. It tells the story of one man's heroism during the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which, in a mere 100 days, almost one million people were slaughtered. It was immediately followed by a savage war in Congo, where the death toll stands at more than three million people. Ten years on, that war still smoulders. What has been the West's response to this enormous humanitarian disaster? It can best be described as criminal. I do not use that word lightly.

There is a legal obligation under a United Nations convention that if a signatory nation recognises genocide taking place it must act. No country or army intervened in Rwanda until it was too late. And no Western power has intervened in the genocidal slaughter underway in Darfur, Sudan.

Today, I am not only angry but fearful that the tsunami of aid that surges toward Asia will suck up the pitifully inadequate aid we give to sub-Saharan and Central Africa. In reality, there is no substantial relief in Sudan or Central Africa. In Sudan, the West has tried to mask its indifference to the ongoing genocide by offering support for a peacekeeping force marshaled by a coalition of African countries called the African Union. Last fall, the African Union offered 3,000 troops to act as peacekeepers in Sudan. Three months later, only 1,000 of those soldiers have been deployed and they have not been mandated to protect civilians. Compare that with the mobilisation of aircraft carriers, air transportation and manpower in southern Asia. Are African soldiers so much more difficult to move than crates of milk and rice?

Let me be clear, the Asian tsunami relief effort needs the worldwide mobilisation we have witnessed. But Sudan, Congo, Burundi and Rwanda need the same mobilisation.

One aircraft carrier (it doesn't have to be American) deployed off the coast of Sudan would go a long way in convincing the Sudanese government that the world is serious about the demand to disband the genocidal "janjaweed" militia.

Ten years after its genocide, Rwanda is still in desperate need of aid. The country is dirt poor. It is ravaged by AIDS. There are massive numbers of orphans and widows living in abject poverty. And across the border in Congo, the very militia that slaughtered hundreds of thousands in 1994 has regrouped and is ready to kill again.

These African crises are the result of tidal waves of hate. Are they any less lethal because of that? Why did they fail to generate the same aid mobilisation and the same dollars? Are the people of Rwanda, Sudan and Congo less deserving of our dollars? Or is it that we consider human life in Africa of less value than elsewhere?

Of course our politicians will come up with any number of excuses as to why Sudan and Central Africa are different-political complexity, geographical remoteness, cultural complexities. Enough! The tsunami aid effort has clearly proved that when the great powers have the will they can respond rapidly and decisively. Have you ever heard those two words-''rapidly" and ''decisively"-used to describe intervention in, or aid for, Africa? Why not?

You can find my answer to all these questions in Hotel Rwanda, when Nick Nolte's character, Col. Oliver, explains why Rwanda is being abandoned by the West. ''You're dirt," he says. ''We think you're dirt, less than dirt, you're worthless. You're not even a nigger- you're an African."

Terry George is the director, producer and co-writer of the movie Hotel Rwanda. He and his partners have worked with the United Nations to establish the International Fund for Rwanda.

-LA Times/Washington Post

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