Mass Murder by Complacency:

Africa Forgotten

by Kim Petersen

Dissident Voice

April 11, 2003


The world’s attention is riveted on the unfolding events in Iraq. Indeed it has been held captive since the lead up to the aggression. Inspections for weapons of mass destruction, political posturing, military movements, and high stakes diplomacy have become the cynosure of the media.


So much concern about mass destruction while it was happening under the world’s watch. Since civil war broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1998 until November 2002, 3.3 million people are reported to have perished according to the International Rescue Committee. Most of the deaths are attributable to sickness and famine. The DRC economy is in shambles and the healthcare system has broken-down. (1)


Neighboring countries entered into the DRC war zone and devastation has been wreaked on the people. The interim government is in a precarious position.


As recently as 1994 Africa had fallen under the US radar. Despite repeated warnings predating the bloodbath by three months, the Canadian General Roméo Dallaire of a small UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda was hamstrung by the unwillingness of western powers, which scuppered UN involvement to prevent the genocide. (2) The US ignored its responsibility in the Rwandan genocide of up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus at the hands of Hutu extremists. (3) In 1998 President Clinton apologized for the “most intensive slaughter in this blood-filled century.” Coming on the coattails of Mr. Clinton’s oleaginous mea culpa was a body count in the DRC to dwarf that in Rwanda.


Africa is beset by misfortune. Currently in AIDS-wracked southern Africa 16 million are faced with starvation. This is nothing new. In June 2001, CBC TV host Brian Stewart queried Canadian UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis: “Is this the most daunting crisis of all…?” Mr. Lewis’s response was that “this dwarfs everything.” (4) He spoke to the 13 million orphans and the 40 million orphans projected for 2010. He also spoke of the never-ending struggle to raise money to combat this pandemic in Africa.


Yet a year later Mr. Lewis was still fighting for money to tackle the pandemic. He mused on why it was so difficult to raise money when dollars were flowing for the War on Terrorism. "’Explain to me, if you will, why we have to grovel to extract a few billion dollars to prevent the deaths of more than two million people every year,’ he said.” (5) Mr. Lewis saw the outcome of the G8 meeting in Kananaskis, Canada as crucial for Africa. Professor Ekwe-Ekwe described the result of the G8 summit as summing up “the West's contempt for the African leaders … who left with nothing concrete to show from their hosts except promises of a modest increase in the overall Western ‘aid budget’ to Africa.” (6)


Mr. Lewis lamented later in 2003: "We know there is a lot of money out there but something must be profoundly wrong somewhere. Something is morally wrong." (7)


But the US and UK are fighting what UK Prime Minister Blair calls a moral war. It indicates quite a lot about where the priorities of the US ‘national interest’ lie when one considers the $75 billion request President Bush presented to Congress. Then add the billions to fight Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and take the $400 billion US defense budget and juxtapose this with the few billion dollars to spare the lives of some dark-skinned people in Africa.


There is little oil to exploit in southern Africa. Jim Valette, director of research at the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network was blunt in his opinion about the importance of oil in the national interest. Oil is “the driving force behind national security policy… it's a no-holds-barred battle for oil globally, and … it's just a tragedy that the people of Iraq and our own sons and daughters and brothers and sisters are paying the price.” (8) The price is also ignorance of the misery now in parts of Africa.


The violence unleashed on Iraq was certainly not about any threat to the US. If anything the rapid demise of the government of President Hussein has exposed how absurd the oft-stated threat to the US was.


Humanitarian concerns are ostensibly of minimal importance to the US. The US administration of Mr. Bush dismissed warnings of the risks of humanitarian catastrophes in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan has been left hanging, for the most part, waiting for promised billions to arrive to reconstruct their war-ravaged country. Now there will be a demand for more money to reconstruct Iraq.


Meanwhile Africa languishes under a pandemic. The lifeblood of the country is dying. The lack of funding was decried by Mr. Lewis as a "mass murder by complacency." He derided the "pathological equanimity" of bystander nations that must be held to account. “There may yet come a day, when we have peacetime tribunals to deal with this particular version of crimes against humanity." (9)


Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. He can be contacted at: kotto2001@hotmail.com




(1) Paul Harris, “News From the Front: Congo Death Toll Rises,” Yellow Times.org, 9 April 2003: http://yellowtimes.org/article.php?sid=1224&mode=thread&order=0


(2) Ted Koppel, “A Good Man in Hell: General Roméro Dallaire and the Rwanda genocide,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Interview, 12 June 2002: http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/events/dallaire/dallaire.php


(3) Maxim Kniazkov, “US 'Ran from Rwanda Responsibility,'” Agence France Presse, 22 August 2001: http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/rwanda/2001/0822us.htm


(4) Brian Stewart, The National Transcripts, CBC-TV: The National, 1 June 2001: http://tv.cbc.ca/national/trans/T010601.html  


(5) CBC Online Staff, “African aid that ignores AIDS won't work – Lewis,” CBC News, 22 Jun 2002: http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2002/06/22/g8_aids020622


(6) Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe “Why Nigeria and Africa's leaders are leading them to nowhere,” US Africa Online, 2002: http://www.usafricaonline.com/ekweekwe.nepad.html


(7) Stephane Barbier, “Year-Africa-famine: Southern Africa facing unprecedented famine as year ends,” Agence France-Presse, 17 December 2002: http://www.aegis.com/news/afp/2002/AF0212B3.html


(8) David Lindorff, “Secret Bechtel Documents Reveal: Yes, It is About Oil. CounterPunch, 9 April 2003: http://counterpunch.org/lindorff04092003.html


(9) John Nyamu, “Famine and AIDS batter Southern Africa: Action needed to avert collapse, Stephen Lewis warns,” Africa Recovery, 9 April 2003: http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/newrels/lewis.htm



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