The Other Iraq
February 11, 2007: What's going on in Iraq isn't unique. There's another place where democracy struggles to establish itself amidst corruption, religious strife, ethnic hatred and rampant terrorism. That other place is Africa, and it's generally ignored. Iraq gets the world's attention because over 100,000 foreign (mostly American) troops are trying to help out, and the battlefield sits atop over a trillion dollars worth of oil reserves.
There are over a dozen wars going on in Africa, and the daily death count far exceeds that of Iraq. Occasionally, the African violence gets into the news. Somalia gets mentioned, but only because of a failed UN intervention in the early 1990s. There are occasional references to the Congo, where millions have perished in recent years. Sudan gets mentioned from time to time because millions have been driven from their homes, and several hundred thousand killed by a few years of tribal and ethnic violence. But what of the wars in Chad (civil war), the Central African Republic (civil war), Ivory Coast (civil war), Guinea (rebellion against corrupt government), Senegal (civil war), Ethiopia (civil war), Eritrea (border dispute), Kenya (tribal wars), Nigeria (rebellion against corrupt government), Burundi (civil war), Rwanda (ethnic revenge), Uganda (civil war), Burkina Faso (border dispute), and Niger (border dispute)? And then there's the Islamic terrorism of northern Africa. Algeria is still dealing with the diehard remnants of a ten year rebellion by Islamic radicals. Lesser forms of that violence are showing up in all the other North African nations, and spreading to those to the south. Nigeria has had several deadly flare ups of Islamic violence. One rebel group even fancied them selves "African Taliban," had were put down with much bloodshed.
Let us not forget that Africa, even at peace, is not a peaceful place. The murder rate in South Africa is higher than in Iraq. The difference is the dead bodies are all over South Africa, while in Iraq they are concentrated in the central part of the country, and closely watched by hundreds of foreign journalists. The Iraqi dead amount to about twelve times the murder rate in the United States, and about two thirds the death rate in the United States during a year (1944) in World War II. The fighting is largely Iraqis versus Iraqis, with some 95 percent of the dead being Iraqi. A big deal is made about the deaths in Iraq, but what do you hear of the greater carnage in Africa? Mostly silence.
Non-Africans don't care about Africa, just as they don't care about foreigners in general. The world believes that the United States should not be in Iraq for that reason. So what if Islamic terrorists killed a few thousand Americans? You promptly went and took down the Islamic-supporting Taliban, so good for you. But Iraq had not been prominent in supporting Islamic terrorists. Oh, sure, Iraq gave refuge and some support to Islamic radicals and had weapons of mass destruction. But so do most Middle Eastern nations. Throughout the Cold War, Russia ran training programs for terrorists, and the U.S. didn't invade the Soviet Union over the matter. Same with Iran, even though Iran- supported suicide bombers killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon in 1983, and has large stocks of chemical weapons and a nuclear weapons program.
While most of the world supports democracy in general, they are not willing to die to help others achieve it. And the world's attitude towards African attempts at democracy are the unspoken reason why. Developing a functioning democracy takes time, and often gets ugly. In the 1990s, after half a century of socialism, communism and dictatorship, African countries concluded that the rule of law and democracy was the way to go. But the way was mined and covered with snipers and bandits. Making democracy works means overcoming a lot of people who are willing to kill you for your beliefs. Most of the world, and a lot of Americans, don't believe it's worth getting too involved in this process. It takes courage and self-sacrifice to aid others in building democracy. But courage and self-sacrifice are seen by most as spectator sports. The world sees Americans in Iraq as arrogant fools, for trying to practice what they preach. The U.S. is divided on this point. Do we fight for what is right, or be practical? No matter who rules Iraq, they will want to sell their oil. Terrorists will always be around, and will potentially have access to more powerful weapons. So what? Let the police take care of that. Building democracy and fighting the forces that oppose it is something you talk about, not something you send your soldiers to get mixed up in. That's what everyone does with Africa. Seems to work, for everyone but the Africans. For that reason, the world is hoping that the American effort in Iraq fails. Because if America succeeds in Iraq, ignoring Africa gets a lot harder.