An interesting piece
- The bigger wars the world doesn't notice
As the world watches the war in Yugoslavia, a number of much bigger wars
have gone largely unnoticed ... because they're in Africa.
GUMISAI MUTUME reports
AS western bombs rained in on Yugoslavia, dozens of wars of a greater
magnitude have been simmering for decades in Africa with little interest
being shown in a unipolar world.
Oppressed minorities, millions of refugees, and those enduring dictatorships,
warlords and striking poverty in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of
Congo, Angola and other countries would be elated to receive some attention
from the international community.
Since the dawn of the 1990s, the absence of a second superpower has meant
bloody conflicts and enormous human tragedies in Africa are being watched by
global powers from a comfortable distance.
The global media guns have long stopped pointing at Africa and have been fully
focused on death in Kosovo, the unending shuttles by Western diplomats and the
plight of Europe's largest refugee crisis in decades.
''This is a time when the international community appears intent in trying to wash
its hands of large-scale multilateral involvement in Africa's seemingly unending
conflicts,'' notes South African Institute of International Affairs director, Greg
''A policy trend quaintly termed the promotion of African solutions and capacity
to solve African problems,'' he said.
But the tragedy of Kosovo still looks pale compared to some African countries:
the present resurgence of fighting in Angola, for example, has brought the total
number of internally displaced people in the country to 1.5 million out of a
population of 11.5 million.
In Sierra Leone a 1991 civil war which resumed in 1997 has ravaged the
infrastructure and living conditions have deteriorated dramatically. As a result only
10-15 per cent of Sierra Leone's 4.5 million people have access to basic health
The war, along with an embargo imposed by Economic Community of West
African States has brought Sierra Leone's economy to a standstill.
During the May 1997 coup d'etat in Sierra Leone, all commercial banks were
closed, agriculture, fishing and mining activities had already been disrupted since
the start of rebel hostilities in 1991 and government revenues had fallen by 90
percent. All foreign aid (30 per cent of the budget) had been stopped.
Some 30 wars have been fought in Africa since 1970, the majority of them
intra-state. In 1996 alone 14 of Africa's 53 countries were in a state of war --
accounting for more than half of all war-related deaths worldwide and creating
more than eight million refugees.
The civil war in Mozambique saw the country's GDP decline by an average rate
of 3.5 percent annually from 1981 to 1986. Some 50 percent of the country's
roads are only usable by 4x4 vehicles.
While one year of violence in Kosovo cost 2,000 people their lives, in 1994
alone Angola lost 200,000.
In Africa, as a rule, the infrastructure lost in civil conflicts remain there,
unrepaired, as a statement of what happened and in some cases, entire countries
virtually disappear from the map, as is the case of Somalia.
Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic
has been painted in the media as the
new Hitler, but the developing world
has been riddled with dictators such as
Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, who were
allies of the west, never held a real
election, and were never seriously
challenged, much less bombed.
African regional analysts say a special
attitude has developed towards the
continent since the end of the cold war.
The lack of strategic Western interests
on the continent means Africa is expected to provide for itself. But this self-help
attitude has occurred at a time of immense humanitarian crises in the region.
''The United States and its NATO allies are trying to present this latest action as
being inspired by a concern for 'minority rights'. In fact, it has nothing to do with
minority rights and everything to do with big power politics,'' noted the influential
South African Communist Party (SACP).
''It stands in marked contrast to the indifference of NATO to other minority rights
issues in the region -- the plight of the Kurds, for instance, subjected to decades
of genocide by a NATO member, Turkey,'' the SACP said.
This year, the United Nations pulled out of Angola leaving a vacuum in the
negotiations between the warring parties -- government and the Union for the
Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA), reinforcing the idea that the UN is
UN peacekeeping operations peaked in 1994 when 17 operations involving
85,000 members with a budget of 3.4 billion dollars. That year, 70 percent of the
deployment was in Africa.
Currently, there are 15 UN operations involving 24,000 personnel on a budget of
''The attack on Belgrade further undermines the authority of the UN Security
Council,'' says Jackie Cilliers of the non- governmental Institute of Security
Studies in Johannesburg.
''And it furthers the need for the creation of rules-based international system
where clear-cut criteria are applied on all nations, not simply the interpretation of
the Security Council,'' he said.
-- IPS/Misa, March 31, 1999.