Academic journal article Parameters

A Prayer for Marie: Creating an Effective African Standby Force

Academic journal article Parameters

A Prayer for Marie: Creating an Effective African Standby Force

Article excerpt

On 16 April 1994 in Cyahinda, Rwanda, 3,500 unarmed Tutsi men, women, and children packed into a small Catholic church, and 4,000 more crowded into surrounding church buildings, to escape from the Rwandan army and its death squads. Discovering their whereabouts, the death squads came with guns, machetes, and clubs, surrounded the parish buildings, and attacked the helpless families within. In a methodical and almost leisurely manner, they systematically murdered one day's quota, only to return the following three days to complete the killing. At the end of four days, 5,500 unarmed men, women, and children lay dead. Among them was Marie, a six-year-old girl who had been tortured and raped. She had bled to death after having her legs cut through above the knees with a machete. (1)

There were nearly 100,000 "Maries" in 1994 Rwanda--children who faced an unimaginable death. This horror was repeated time and time again over the course of 13 weeks, when approximately 800,000 people were massacred in Rwanda's genocide. By August 1994, three million Rwandans had been internally displaced, and more than two million had fled to neighboring countries--out of a total pre-war population of approximately seven million. Women and children suffered most from the aftermath of the genocide, with an estimated 47,000 children orphaned, and up to 500,000 women raped. (2) Unimaginably, this occurred as the international community watched with a fixed, if not disinterested eye. After the Rwanda genocide, the United Nations released a report which concluded that a small outside force--perhaps as few as 5,000 soldiers--could have intervened and stopped the slaughter in its early stages. The failure of the United States and the international community to act is one of the most shocking instances of indifference in history.

While the Rwanda tragedy is unparalleled with regard to the killers' speed and "efficiency," there is nothing new about violence on the African continent. In fact, no region of the world has seen a greater number of foreign or US military interventions in the past decade than Sub-Saharan Africa. Since 1991, US forces have conducted 31 contingency operations in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. (3) In terms of almost every meaningful measurement--the number of countries with internal disputes, the number of UN peacekeeping missions, the number of civilian casualties, the number of displaced civilians, or the monetary cost to the international community--Africa has been the most likely location for the requirement for armed humanitarian intervention over the past ten years. (4)

Why Africa Matters to the United States

The current US National Security Strategy (NSS) addresses the African paradox. The strategy describes Africa as a land of "promise and opportunity," but also as a land beset with "disease, war, and desperate poverty." The NSS goes on to say that the current situation in Africa poses a threat to a core value of the United States--preserving human dignity--and to a strategic priority--combating global terror. As a result, the National Security Strategy makes a bold commitment: The United States "will work with others for an African continent that lives in liberty, peace, and growing prosperity." That said, Africa remains at the bottom of any list of America's vital interests. Does the evidence justify this low priority?

Africa matters far more today to US interests than it did before 11 September 2001, and America's gaze needs to include this vast continent in its present national security landscape. As the campaign against global terrorism unfolds, we find Sub-Saharan Africa clearly among the terrorists' playing fields. Just as the failed state of Afghanistan spawned terrorist camps in the 1990s, so has Africa's plight led to increased terrorist activity. Consider:

* Dr. Jakkie Cilliers writes in African Security Review that 2,800 Algerians were trained in Afghanistan, "making Algeria the third biggest contributor of foot soldiers to international terrorism after Saudi Arabia and Yemen. …

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