Ten years ago when nearly a million black Africans were butchered with machetes in just 100 days in Rwanda, the world looked askance and did almost nothing. The United States, led by the Clinton administration, did more than nothing. It actually used the United Nations to block rescue efforts, and then demanded $50 million from eight poor African countries who wanted to lease U.S. armored personnel carriers in order to stop the slaughter. Kofi Anan, then head of the United Nations peacekeeping forces, chose to deny permission to General Romeo Dallaire, head of the UN forces in Kigali, asking for permission to disarm the Hutu power zealots that would almost certainly have prevented the slaughter.
After the holocaust the Jewish motto became "Never again." Never again would the world Jewish community allow itself to be slaughtered by a barbarous enemy, a pledge which served as the principal impetus behind the creation of the State of Israel and a Jewish army to protect Jewish life. After Rwanda, the same cry must go out in relation to Africa. Never again must the world allow millions of poor blacks to be slaughtered without intervention.
One would hope that this point would be made primarily by African-American organizations. Thusfar, more than a million black Africans in the Sudan have been forced into desperate conditions in the barren desert that virtually guarantee their physical destruction. Tens of thousands, and perhaps more, have already died, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) estimates that 350,000 or more will die in the coming months. These innocent people have been murdered and subjected to serious bodily and mental harm, because of their ethnic and perceived racial identity as members of African, non-Arab tribes. The perpetrators are the Sudanese government and its Arab janjaweed militia allies.
Was there an outcry from the NAACP at their convention for so blatant a racial assault against innocent black Africans? No, because, in their opinion it is George W. Bush and the Republicans who are the real enemies that need to be opposed.
First, there was Julian Bond, the NAACP chairman, who in introducing a free screening of Michael Moore's anti-Bush documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," at the convention grotesquely compared its importance to Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
I have heard many people with prejudices against the black community belittle the evil of slavery. On my radio show when I identify slavery as the greatest crime ever perpetrated by the United States, I sometimes have white callers who accuse me of pandering. They are entitled to their opinion. But it is particularly shocking to hear the chairman of the most prestigious black civil rights organization in America so trivializing the evils of slavery that is prepared to equate a Hollywood propaganda film that seeks to make a monster out of President Bush with the seminal novel that brought the evils of slavery to the world's attention.
Perhaps this is why Mr. Bond has been all but silent on the gruesome fate of the Sudanese. As far as he is concerned, what the American troops are doing to the Iraqis--graphically portrayed in Mr. Moore's movie--is just as bad or worse as than what the Janjaweed are doing to the black Africans.
Then it was the turn of Kweisi Mfume, the NAACP President, to accuse black Republicans of being "ventriloquist's dummies, they sit there in the puppet master's voice, but we can see whose lips are moving, and we can hear his money talk." Think about the irony of the leader of the civil rights movement that risked so much and fought so hard to get America's black citizens the right to vote suddenly condemning those same citizens as dummies the moment they choose to vote for a party of which he doesn't approve.
To be sure, not all African-Americans have been idle. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, for one, has already been arrested outside the Sudanese embassy in an effort to highlight the tragedy in Sudan. But in the face of the NAACP's seeming indifference to the plight of Black Africans in Sudan, President Bush should step into the void and demonstrate the leadership he has become famous for by doing something dramatic to stop the genocide. He dare not make the mistake that Bill Clinton did in Rwanda. After all, this is the man who liberated 25 million Arabs in Iraq, even though Arab leaders were silent for decades to the slaughter they endured under Saddam Hussein.
I know that our troops are stretched very thin, and I am therefore not proposing immediate military intervention. But surely tough economic sanctions and unceasing diplomatic pressure can be brought to bear to show that the United States is serious about protecting human life in Africa.
Because, while we cannot bring back the innocent victims of Rwanda, we can lend their deaths meaning by ensuring that genocide in Africa--or anywhere else for that matter--is never repeated.