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  • Christine Chumbler
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 2, 1999
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      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
      Mills.

      ''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
      care.

      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
      becoming irrelevant.

      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
      one billion.

      ''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.
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