Blood stains the soil beneath Africa’s abundant acacia trees. As it seeps into the water table beneath, the bodies and souls of millions disappear. Throughout the continent there are endless wars. Some are over scarce resources, some are over abundant resources, and still others are born from the seeds of colonialism. Mediation may be applicable. However, constraints must be recognized. It cannot ignore local cultures, nor address the rampant malaria, nor eradicate sleeping sickness, nor can it prevent or cure HIV/AIDS.
Possibly, however, this effective method of dispute resolution can overcome the hopelessness, the poverty, and the callousness towards human life. Idealistic? Of course it is. But the alternative to a rule of law, to a strong middle class, and to a government dedicated to public service is perpetual mass death: genocide and displacement. America’s founding fathers in Virginia, in their Bill of Rights (§3, 1776) postured, “That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community.” Revolving dictators and the ensuing death will leave Africa empty.
On 24 July 2007, a survey was released expounding the hopefulness of sub-Saharan Africa. “Despite a thicket of troubles, from deadly illnesses like AIDS and malaria to corrupt politicians and deep-seated poverty, a plurality of Africans say they are better off today than they were five years ago and are optimistic about their future…” (New York Times, 25 July 2007, from a poll conducted in 10 Sub-Saharan countries by the New York Times and the Pew Global Attitudes Project) While these results may be supported, other evidence, including personal observations are to the contrary. Absent a middle class, the abject poverty is controlling. Further, corrupt politicians beget genocide, not merely a disagreement over Florida style ballot counting in 2000. When viewing the results of inquiry into sub-Saharan Africa, and the applicability of legal dispute resolution methods, an eye must be used far differently than is used in the West.
In the Darfur Region of Sudan (about the size of Texas) rape, death, and despair continue unabated, while the government in Khartoum gets bloated on oil revenues. China, the newest imperialist concern for Africa covets Africa’s oil. Since 2005, China has shielded President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for the violence perpetrated in Darfur. However, in early April, 2007, Zhai Jun, a senior Chinese official traveled to Sudan apparently to encourage the Sudanese government to accept UN blue berets into Darfur for peacekeeping. (NY Times, 13 April 2007 by Helene Cooper)
China yielded to Hollywood, that often maligned industry. Actress and UN Children’s Fund good will ambassador, Mia Farrow along with director Steven Spielberg, who serves as the artistic director to China for the Olympic Games, interceded. Darfur mandated that they institute a campaign to frame the 2008 Olympic Games as the “Genocide Olympics.” President Hu Jintao of China responded to the attacks on the precious Olympic Games by condemning the killings in Darfur and dispatching Mr. Zhai.
Suddenly, on 17 April 2007, Khartoum dropped its objections to UN peacekeepers supplanting the African Union peacekeeping force that has been largely ineffective. Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, Sudan’s ambassador to the UN sent a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council requesting a “heavy support package” to be dispatched with expeditiousness to Sudan. The mythology that Darfur is a minor civil war was overcome by the facts and individuals willing to risk their professional lives.
An elected dictator cuts off the lifeblood of a growing society in Zimbabwe by beating, imprisoning, and expelling those in opposition. Burundi continues to smolder as the government and the FNL (Forces Nationales de Liberation) have struggled since March, 2006, to decide which side has the right to institute peace talks. Reminiscent of the Viet Nam peace talks stalling over the size and shape of a peace table while soldiers and residents continued to die.
In Rwanda, the potential catalyst for the 1994 genocide occupies the presidency while the UN ICTR holds purposeless trials in Arusha, Tanzania, removing the reality of that genocide from the lives of everybody in Rwanda. With a mandate to conclude the trials by 2008, what possibly can be achieved by this inept attempt at jurisprudence? Can poor counsels and incapable judges create a policy that serves Rwanda so long as the UN interferes with investigations into the causation of the genocide? The mythology of change may be a destructive as the genocide.
The American Bar Association, in 2004-2005, in association with the Rwandan Ministry of Justice raised expedited mythology to an art form. They asserted that, in conjunction with the MOJ, they trained 18,500 mediators throughout the country. Their goal: to bring justice to the common person. A mediator must level the often unequal positions of parties on a playing field. How can this be done in a country where a murderer resides as president and where the common person is ignorant, powerless, and starving? As is sometimes the case with fund raising concerns, expedited mythology is employed long before facts. When the mediator serves more as an ill-informed, under-trained arbitrator, then the critical element of party self-enforcement is sacrificed.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen 4 million people die as a result of war, poverty, disease, and starvation since 1998. Might mediation intervene in this preventable catastrophe? Rwanda has exported killing via the Interahamwe, the very same maniacal Hutus who brutally called for the extermination of the Rwandan Tutsi minority in 1994. The Ivory Coast has been divided in two since the 2002 coup attempt leaving one to wonder when their civil war will begin in earnest.
Lest we ignore the two decade long war in northern Uganda where the Lord’s Resistance Army has yet to be wiped out. During the process, hundreds of thousands have lost their homes, fled to Kampala, the capital, and now live in a slum called Acholi Quarter. While the “Blood Diamond” days may be over in Sierra Leone, the shantytowns around Libreville persist, as does the poverty in Luanda, Angola. The mythology of peace in Africa allows the world community to proceed with indifference: the biggest killer of all.
“The school has always been the most important means of transferring the wealth of tradition from one generation to the next.” Albert Einstein’s admonishment reminds us that absent a middle class, there is no transferring of wealth in a society where there is little education. African public education is poor, where it exists at all. Church sponsored education, in existence during colonial days, has failed to ingrain education as a critical element of society because it is too costly, too selective, and too filled with proselytizing. Therefore, the only transferring of wealth comes at the end of a gun barrel, between dictators. Absent a rule of law there will be no education imperative and therefore no cooperative dispute resolution possible.
During two weeks at the end of March, 2007, a cargo jet and a helicopter were both shot down over Mogadishu, Somalia. As of 26 April 2007, the government reports that the insurrection is quelled. Impossible. The fire cannot be extinguished so long as the fuels of despair, starvation, and greed persist. Apartheid is gone from South Africa, but the ravages of HIV/AIDS is not. While wars continue, surviving children do so without parents, without education, without clean water, and without hope.NPR, 9 October 2006
Angola, Nigeria, and Sudan have oil. But they also have corruption, poverty, and no middle class. Therein lies a major problem rampant throughout Africa. The lack of a middle class reflects the worst remnants of colonialism mixed the modern destitution and a hopeless outlook. So long as the African wars continue, the world community will refuse to educate, invest, and build the continent. This is a tragic waste. There is a huge potential market for western companies providing services and goods, and from which westerners could buy, not pillage, many products including oil, foods, and culturally produced items.
When will the expedited mythology that encourages donations while simultaneously ignoring genocide end? Can mediation play a healing and significant role where legal systems are sparse to non-existent, where education is minimal, and where respect for life is constantly assailed. To sell neutrality for reconciliation is not aided by expedited mythology and may be unsaleable in any event. The alternative, though, is the clear cutting of humanity across the African landscape.
This article was first published in the ACR (Association for Conflict Resolution) Family Section Newsletter, Fall, 2001.Most conflicts are about circumstances or situations that happened in the past—a doctor’s errant...By Robert Benjamin