Genocide: The Modern Religious War

When one hears of genocide, most often The Holocaust comes to mind first.  Some of us are old enough though to remember such atrocities in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda in the 1990s.  The latter marked 20-years just last week.  Each time that we hear of such things we always say, “Never again.”  But each time that it happens, we tend to turn a blind eye to it as if ignoring the situation will make it better or go away.

In Rwanda, it was the Hutus and Tutsis that were trying to eradicate the each other.  In Kosovo, it was ethnic Albanians versus ethnic Serbs.  And in Bosnia, there were Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosniaks all fighting each other. With history as hindsight, it was our first glimpse of the larger Christian vs. Muslim conflict that was playing out around the world… something we would be brought into more directly with the attacks on September 11, 2001.

With each of those instances we still stated, “Never again.”  And yet, even today we turn  a blind eye to the genocide of our world.  Now it’s happening in the Central African Republic (CAR) and has Christians (anti-balaka) and Muslims (Seleka) attempting to wipe out each other.  This conflict has been going on since December 2012 and has largely been skipped by western media outlets with the exception of a few scattered reports.

Courtesty: cia.gov

Courtesy: cia.gov

In December 2012, the mostly Muslim Seleka forces began a coup against the government which culminated in a seizure of power in March 2013.  They would remain in power for 10-months and during that time, according to Amnesty International, they “were responsible for massacres, extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, looting, and massive burning and destruction of Christian villages.”

The President of the new government, Michel Djotodia, declared the Seleka disbanded in September 2013 though most of the militias refused to disband.  But as such atrocities mounted, he resigned in January  2014 due in large part to regional pressure.  A new interim government was formed and a new interim president was elected on January 20th.  US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has flown to CAR to meet with the interim president who still has very little power or control of the situation.

With the Seleka forces now in retreat, the Christian forces (Anti-balaka) are now committing the same offenses against the Muslim communities as had been done to them.  And the Seleka forces are still committing the same attacks on Christian communities as they retreat.  It’s a slaughter running right down the religious divide of Muslim vs. Christian.

In February 2014, Amnesty International released a report that stated, “International peacekeepers have failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians int he western part of the Central African Republic.”  It went on to further criticize the tepid response from the international community to the situation.

My father, Soba Tibati, could hardly walk and could not run away when the anti-balaka attacked our village.  They decapitated him in front of my eyes as he sat on a straw mat under a tree outside our hut.  Twelve other members of my family were also massacred in the same attack.  The youngest was a baby girl who was just six months old.
Dairu Soba, survivor of an attack by anti-balaka fighters on January 8.
Courtesy: Amnesty International

On April 10, 2014, the United Nations passed Security Council resolution 2149 which authorized the deployment of a multidimensional United Nations peacekeeping operation (MINUSCA) with the protection of civilians as its top priority.  Other tasks include, “support for the transition process; facilitating humanitarian assistance; promotion and protection of human rights; support for justice and the rule of law; and disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation processes.”

Regardless, the world can no longer ignore and turn a blind eye to the ongoing situation in the Central African Republic.  Genocide is still genocide regardless of who is committing the atrocity.  We should never utter the words, “Never again” as we should put a stop to genocide at any moment that it arises.  Instead we should look to the motto, “Not now; not ever.

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The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela

A little over an hour ago, the news was released to the world that former South African President Nelson Madela had died at the age of 95.  In recent years, his health had been declining but that still does not diminish the impact of his passing.

Mandela was born in July 1918.  While living in Johannesburg later, he became involved in anti-colonial politics.  In 1948, the government began implementing the policy of apartheid, which he would be a voice against.  Although he was a man on non-violence, he co-founded the militant organization Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961.  He would be arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison.  An international coalition managed to get him released in 1990 while civil strife was escalating throughout the country over apartheid policies.  He led negotiations with then-South African President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994 to which he won the presidency.  He would serve as President of South Africa from 1994-1999, when we would step aside.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Toward the end of apartheid, he managed to be a unifying figure to a nation that was in desperate need.  Civil strife and violence were escalating.  South Africa was on the verge of becoming like any other African nation… ripped apart by constant civil war and revenge against enemies.  Mandela called for peace and worked with the current government to bring about the free elections.  Even once he had won the presidency, he sought about not violence or revenge, but working together to build South Africa up and to make it a world player.  To have it be a shining light of democracy on a continent that knows darkness.

It was through the leadership of Mandela that South Africa stabilized.  At a time when the nation could have gone one of two ways, he helped steer it the right way… a way to help end the divisions and hatred.  He unified South Africans and made them see each other as countrymen and as neighbors.

Even after stepping down as president, he continued to speak out for peace at home, throughout the continent of Africa, and in the rest of the world.  He showed us all what could be accomplished if we started working together.  He worked to fight poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

In the United States, we revere the father of our country, George Washington.  Though he led a war against a monarchical government, he still stepped aside when the task was complete.  At a time when the new nation was about to split apart at the seems, it was Washington who stepped in to bring us back together as a people.  And yet, when the time came, he voluntarily stepped aside and gave up power again.  He worked to keep us out of war and to unite us a people and a nation.  We see this type of person in the character of Nelson Mandela… characteristics in a national leader that come around once in a lifetime.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve this world.”

Though Mandela belonged to the people of South Africa, he was shared with the rest of the world.  The  life and legacy of Nelson Mandela will reach far beyond the borders of that nation as it will encompass all nations.  He has shown that we should not seek violence, revenge, or war.  We must step up and do better.  Through peace, we can achieve so much more and raise up humanity.

Mandela showed the rest of the world that Africa was not a lost cause.  It could be a global player under the right leadership.  Given a chance, the people there could step up and be a loud voice for change.  With his passing, the people of Africa (as well as all national leaders) should take note of the example that he set, and to set about doing what is right.

Today, the people of South Africa mourn the loss of the father of their modern nation.  Those of us around the world join with them in their time of mourning for we have all lost a great and just man.  But though we are saddened by his loss, we keep his legacy alive.  We must endure, as a people, to continue the message that he spoke… that he believed.  He set us up and pointed the way.  Now we must take the torch and carry it forward.

To the people of South Africa, I say thank you for sharing him with the rest of us.  He was an inspirational man… and one that we may never see again.

Nelson-MandelaNELSON MANDELA
1918-2013

And Carry A Big Stick

The Predicament Of US Foreign Policy

Just before the College of Cardinals locked themselves away in seclusion to elect a new Pope, several of them were talking to various media outlets.  They weren’t floating around names but rather the different sides of the Church.  Yes, even the Catholic Church has something close to political parties.  There is the more conservative side and the more progressive side.  One such individual being interviewed was on the progressive side and was asked about the chance of an American Pope.  It has been discussed in the news.  The answer that was given was that it was highly unlikely since it would be assumed that the Pope would then be under the guidance of the American government.  When I heard this answer, it got me to think.  It was only in 1960 that American voters were hesitate to even elect a President that was Catholic because it would be assumed that he would be under the guidance of the Pope.  It’s interesting how things can change.  But was the person being interviewed completely out of step with what he said?  Probably not since our government does have a way of intervening in affairs in other countries, and usually that intervention comes back to haunt us at some later date.

Let’s jump back to the early 1900s.  The American government, under President Theodore Roosevelt, wanted to build a canal across the isthmus of Panama.  At that time, it belonged to the country of Columbia whose government declined.  So in true Roosevelt fashion, the US began to ship arms to rebel groups in Panama, and the US Navy blockaded the coast so that Columbia couldn’t respond in force.  Within an hour of Panama declaring its independence, the US recognized the new nation.  In the end, Roosevelt got his canal much to the consternation of the Columbian government.  Today, as a result of a treaty with Panama, the canal has been returned to the control of the government of Panama and is currently being widened.  We might see this is a triumph for our nation, but it still didn’t help relations with countries in that part of the world.  Overall, though, this was fairly simple in relation to the messes we’ve gotten ourselves into by the end of the 20th century.

In 1980, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.  These were the declining years of the Cold War.  The United States could not, and would not, let the Soviets invade a nation.  The people in Afghanistan were putting up resistance, but could they really stop the invaders?  The US government decided to send weapons to help the resistance fighters who would, with the help of the weapons sent by the American government, defeated the Soviets.  These resistance fighters were the Taliban.  In the fall of 2001, the US would go to war in Afghanistan and fight the Taliban for harboring terrorist Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  US forces were able to overthrow the Taliban government, but the Taliban continued to fight to regain what they had lost.  What weapons are they using when fighting our troops… the very weapons we gave them in the 1980s to fight the Soviets.

mideast1aFor a better example, I turn to Iraq.  It seems like everything spins around that nation these days.  It was the US government that put Saddam Hussein in power.  He was to be the buffer against Iran (more on that in a bit) after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.  He was our puppet, so to speak.  And he kept Iran in check… even going to war with the country.  Who gave Saddam all the weapons he would need to stay in power and even go to war with Iran?  The United States did.  Saddam would even use these weapons against his own people when he started attacking the Kurdish population in the north.  Yet the United States still turned a blind eye to the massacre that was taking place.  In 1991, Saddam went rogue and invaded Kuwait.  This threatened US interests in the area.  So now the US had to go to war against the very person it put into power.  The US and its Allies had the upper hand.  The Iraqi army in Kuwait either surrendered or withdrew, and Saddam was on the verge of falling from power.  In the end, Saddam was allowed to stay.  However, all of this would change in 2003 when the US would again invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam’s regime.  The result was a power vacuum and sectarian violence that destabilized the country, threatened the weak democratic government, and cost the US plenty in terms of casualties and money.

The overthrow of Saddam would also have other consequences… our current problem with Iran.  But let’s backtrack just a bit.  In the 1950s, the US government overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran to install the Shah.  This is also the time when we gave nuclear technology to the Iranian government. (see: Persian Rug)  In 1979, the people revolted against the Shah and overthrew their government.  Even today, we still do not have official ties to the Iranian government.  Since the overthrow of Saddam in 2003, we have come across the conundrum of Iran having a nuclear weapon which we are trying to prevent.  The irony of the situation.  As we look at the cluster-bomb (no pun intended), we have failed to realize that we created it by deposing the buffer.  Though Saddam was bad and did need to go, overthrowing his government has directly led to Iran pursuing a nuclear weapon.  Saddam would never have let Iran have a nuclear weapon.  It would have threatened his country.  He would have handled the situation himself… probably with another war.  And more than likely, past transgressions would have been forgiven, and we would have supplied with him with the necessary weapons to ensure that he was successful.  The only thing we despised more than Saddam in the end is still Iran.

Early in his presidency, President George W. Bush referred to three countries as an “axis of evil.”  Those countries were Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.  One of those nations was soon invaded and had its government overthrown.  Since then, the other two countries have been working to obtain nuclear technology so that they may possess a nuclear weapon.  In the past week, North Korea, as a result of joint war games by the American and South Korean navies and new sanctions placed on them by the United Nations, has terminated the 1953 armistice and threatened to attack the US.  The sanctions came after North Korea supposedly tested a nuclear device.  Is there the possibility that the governments in these countries (though authoritarian) might be trying to defend their own borders from US involvement?  They were once declared an axis of evil and saw one of the other nations on the list invaded and overthrown.

bigstickThe US government does have a tendency to meddle in other nations’ affairs.  Though they seem like good ideas at the time, they usually come back to bite us later.  For nearly three decades, we supported the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt despite how he oppressed his people.  Though the US government officially sided with the revolutionaries to oust Mubarak, we didn’t receive any major props.  When the military began firing on protesters, the tear gas canisters had “Made in the USA” written on them as we were providing military weapons to the Egyptian military.  Even today, we are supplying military equipment to the country of Bahrain, and that nation’s government is currently working to stop its people from rebelling and overthrowing it.  In Libya, we helped ouster Gaddafi.  Though we only supplied operational support and didn’t directly supply the revolutionaries with weaponry, other nations did.  And somehow, this could work against us as other situations have.  There have been calls to intervene in Syria.  The US has been walking a very fine line though we are not fans of the Assad regime.  It still goes back to the same conundrum.  Today’s grand moment could be tomorrow’s downfall.  We’ve seen it happen so many times when we’ve meddled in other countries.  Sure, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion if the French government hadn’t given arms to a rebelling army in the British colonies, but the act did work against the French, too.  We still signed our own separate peace treaty with England and left France (and Spain) alone to continue the fight against England.  Sometimes, and more often that we’d care to admit, we need to step back and make sure we are doing the right thing… not just in terms of our interests today but in the bigger global interests that may come tomorrow.

The Congo Conundrum

In April 2012, ethnic Tutsi soldiers mutinied against the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Africa.  This ongoing conflict dates back to the Second Congo War, which also carries the name the “African world war” as it involved nine African nations and about 20-armed groups, that began in 1998.  Despite a treaty being signed in 2003, fighting has continued in the eastern part of the DRC.  There are stories that involve rape and other sexual violence that is being described as the worst in the world.  And since 1998, the conflict has killed more than 5.4-million people, thus giving it the distinction as the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.

In 2009, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) signed a peace treaty in which it agreed to become a political party in exchange for political prisoners.  When the Tutsi troops defected from the government earlier this year, they formed the rebel group M23 (March 23 Movement) with other former members of the CNDP claiming that the President of the DRC cheated in the recent election.  Most of the fighting has been around Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, resulting in its capture by rebel forces on November 20th.  For the year (as of November 21st), 350 rebels have been killed with another 250 wounded.  The government has reported that 40 have been killed with 93 wounded by the same date.  One UN peacekeeper has also been killed.  The US government has even threatened to cut off aid to neighboring Rwanda as it is rumored that that nation’s government is aiding the rebels forces.

The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world… with the second lowest GDP.  However, it is one of the richest in the world when it comes to natural resources.  It’s untapped deposits of raw minerals is estimated to be worth approximately $24-trillion.  These minerals include cobalt, copper, and 30% of the world’s diamond reserves.  It also contains coltan, a major source of tantalum which is used in making electronic components in computers and mobile phones.  Most of us have heard of blood diamonds before, but what about blood computers and blood phones?  There are certain laws in place where minerals such as diamonds are not supposed to be bought and/or sold from nations in conflict; however, those minerals are still generally smuggled out.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the North Kivu province highlighted.

So why is any of this important?  Let’s go back to the beginning…  5.4-million people have died since 1998 in this ongoing conflict.  If this conflict was happening between Israel and the Palestinians or if it was happening in Europe, we would be involved.  But because it is Africa, we have yet again turned a blind eye to the ordeal.  It’s not about picking one side over the other, it’s about making sure that genocide is not taking place… or any human rights violations.  We invade countries in order to get oil, but the DRC has no oil.  Maybe that explains our neglect of this issue, but it still does contain valuable minerals that we use without even realizing it.  Though it is rich in those minerals, it is severely underdeveloped… even moreso than when it gained its independence from Belgium in 1960.  Two-thirds of the population suffers from malnutrition.  Some of this is the result of the ongoing conflicts.  As a result, the DRC is not able to take advantage of its vast richness.  According to a UN report, the river system in the DRC could provide hydro-electric power to all of Africa.  And for those that want to blame the typical African corruption that we generally see taking place, the DRC is one of the twenty lowest ranked countries on the Corruption Perception Index.  This is a country that should be investing in itself and in democracy.  It could easily be a world player.  While making sure there is not any human rights violations (or genocide), we should be helping to bring about stability by bringing the various sides to the table to get an agreement they can agree on, and to make sure its implemented.  We talk about spreading democracy around the world, but why not do it through peaceful means instead of by bombs and guns?  We don’t need the military involved in such a situation unless we have to move in to stop atrocities.  In a recent development, though, Uganda’s Chief of Defense has said that the leader of the M23 rebel forces has agreed to let him mediate a truce.  Part of this agreement was that M23 forces would leave the provincial capital of Goma, but that has not happened yet.  Let us be diligent with our observations and not allow this to escalate into a bigger problem.  There is a vast opportunity for something good to come from this, but the world must not let it slip through its fingers.

SIDENOTE:
After capturing Goma, the M23 forces took the neighboring town of Sake.  They are now moving onward to take the capital of South Kivu.  Government forces did launch a counterattack to retake Sake on November 22.

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