Don't Panic! June 26 2003

Your war questions answered

What are some conflicts around the world that we should be hearing more about?

Immediately after 9-11, many Americans swore that they'd finally start paying attention to world affairs. Books with titles like Militant Islam: What Happened While You Devoted All Of Your Mental Energy To Clinton's Penis, O.J., Condit and the Sharks, started selling by the bucket load as we decided that understanding the world was crucial to our national security.

Two years and two wars later though, we've pretty much quit our soul searching and have gone right back to navel gazing. For example, how often do you hear about Hamid Karzai in the news compared to how much you hear about Scott Peterson? We're once again ignoring an international issue that matters to us, in this case the fate of Afghanistan, to obsess over what's essentially a National Enquirer story. Hello, Sept. 10!

The continent we seem to ignore the most is Africa. Below is a primer on some of Africa's major crises — all of which we hear too little about, but that we might one day wish we paid more attention to. Sorry Scott, it's nothing personal.

Our first stop is the West African nation Liberia (so named because it was founded by liberated U.S. slaves in 1821). Many prominent Liberians are begging us to send peacekeepers there to enforce a recently signed ceasefire agreement because it's already showing signs of not holding. Making matters worse, President Charles "Sneaker" Taylor, who the agreement says must go, doesn't look like he's leaving. Taylor, a man who once dismissed critics of his savagery by declaring that "Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time," was recently indicted as a war criminal by the U.N.

In East Africa, the U.N. estimates that 12.6 million Ethiopians are at risk of starving to death this summer unless there's a big increase in international humanitarian aid. International relief workers are already there, but in the "squeaky wheel gets the grease" fight for limited aid resources, Ethiopia hasn't been able to squeak nearly as loudly as Iraq or Afghanistan. Even if they are squeaking loud, it's not as though our cameras or microphones are even pointed at them anyway. More money and manpower are needed if Ethiopia is going to avoid a famine that would dwarf the one from the mid-'80s (the one that inspired Band Aid, We Are The World, etc.).

If ever a country needed our attention and intervention (sorry about the rhyme, it was not my intention), it's Congo. Genocide, tyranny, crushing poverty (despite Congo's immense mineral wealth) and starvation — they've got it all. Frankly, I think we owe it to them to help. If not for the people of Congo (then called Zaire) rooting so hard for Muhammed Ali during his legendary 1974 "Rumble In The Jungle" fight against George Foreman, Ali might not have won. And if Ali didn't win, we might not have the George Foreman grill. Think about it.

Perhaps Congo's most pressing problem at the moment is the interethnic conflict between the Lendus and Hemas of Eastern Congo. Lendus are farmers. Hemas raise livestock. Anyone who has seen Oklahoma! knows that the farmers and the ranchers don't get along. Without Rodgers and Hammerstein around to help them vent their anger through song, the feud has turned genocidal.

Congo's government is useless in this, and most other matters. The surrounding countries have mostly just egged on Congo's ethnic divisions for their own domestic political reasons and to steal Congo's mineral wealth. Congo is six times the size of California, but there are only about 4,000 U.N. peacekeepers there. Experts fear a Rwanda-style genocide if someone from the outside doesn't step in to help.


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