As a vulture patiently waits, a young Sudanese boy drags himself toward a refugee camp a kilometer away. Kevin Carter, recipient of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize, took a photo of this scene three months before killing himself. Such is the grief of practicing journalism in a world of horror. The tragedy is that the photo is timeless. Ten years later, Sudan is still on fire.
With this photo in mind, I write with the intention of highlighting a grave insincerity in international affairs of late: The diplomatic fallout surrounding Iraq has made the issue of saving Sudan purely political.
Let me make clear that I did not support the war in Iraq. There were flaws in both the U.S. and U.N. approaches to the whole mess. But to all the nations that whined and shuffled their feet in the buildup to war in Iraq, shame on you for holding a grudge when it comes to Darfur. Irrespective of the sickly green distaste we share for America’s unilateral foreign policy, the bottom line is that you are hypocrites.
For fairness’ sake, let me specify exactly to whom I refer when I make such admittedly rash generalizations: France.
I am a Francophile from way back; my appreciation for the culture and language is well-documented. However, it is unacceptable to me that a supposed global power (whose status as such is imminently debatable) has been allowed to play the childish contrarian in matters of real human suffering.
I stood in the French capital the day war was declared in Iraq and shook my fist among the protesters at Concorde. I opposed the WMD argument and cast my vote as an American against the administration that forced this terrible situation down our throats. But France and other nations have not moved beyond high-school politics in their world outlook. Post-Iraq pouting on the global stage is causing loss of life on a massive scale. Abroad, these nations have picked their battles on the flimsiest of policies, really just one: No matter what, let’s not do anything.
I realize this is overly simplistic. But why is France, by all accounts very much unengaged in military action worldwide, not in Darfur right now? It’s not doing much else. Could it be that it is the most subversively uncooperative powerful nation in the world? Even a seat on the U.N. Security Council has not made this state sit up straighter, or take the world and its responsibilities a bit more seriously. Diplomats are more concerned with not offending the fragile left-leaning sensibilities of its somewhat anti-Semitic, somewhat anti-Arab closed society. Better to please the haughty, reactive masses with such diplomatic coups as welcoming failed leader Yasser Arafat with open arms than to take a risk to change the fates of two million wretched Africans who dared to defy their Islamic government.
The headlines concur. French forces in Cote d’Ivoire turned tail as soon as a few shots whizzed by them. The prospect of French coffins returning draped with the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge proved too unpopular to be worth establishing stability in a nation dealing with France’s particular brand of post-colonial dysfunction.
In a recent move brokered by Nigerian diplomats, the Sudanese government agreed to enact a no-fly zone and offer the thousands of refugees renewed access to U.N. aid. But the storm continues. Troops to beat back the janjaweed — the government-backed Arab militia — and assist in rebuilding the crushed lives of survivors are still necessary. But rest assured that you will not see a European peacekeeping force anywhere near the region.
This hearkens back to a fundamental illogic in the U.S.-European rapport: To Europe, American military power stinks more than the most pungent French cheese — that is, until the alternative is for European troops to take action themselves. Nations like France are fully equipped with troops who are almost never called to duty. The United Nations stagnates on the issue, while blacks die every day.
Yes, America has made the world a less stable, less unified place with our actions in the past two years, but irrespective of this, the world still relies upon American might to solve crises most nations lack the technological prowess and diplomatic clout to even dream of combating.
Today, knowing that American forces are spread thin — a disaster and vulnerability that has its source in the U.S. administration, and there alone — these nations are making a statement with the lives of helpless Africans. This is despicable, all the more so when European diplomats tiptoe around the word “genocide” to avoid action.
Both China and France have stakes in Sudanese oil and are therefore pro-government; Russia sells them planes. Pakistan, the Arab League and other nations not in the Security Council don’t want to infringe on sovereignty. But the common thread is also a resentment of the perceived neo-imperialism of the United States, specifically on Iraq.
My lament is this: The statement-making and proselytizing about the dangers of unilateral action are abstractions. There is nothing practical, nothing concrete or lifesaving about complaining. This administration will come and go, but that concept will never change.
So, to France, et al, I have one message. As one who fully empathizes with the fear and worry over which direction our international community is heading, and with all the sincerity of an African and a global citizen, I ask in the name of the voiceless and dying in Sudan: Get over yourselves.
Dayo Olopade is a sophomore in Berkeley College.