Africa’s endless bush wars have a way of turning out badly for the reporters who cover them, for the policy-makers who seek to guide or extinguish them, most of all for the innocent and not-so-innocent Africans caught in the middle of the maelstrom.
No war is pretty for those condemned to fight it. But all African wars since the wave of independence rolled over the continent in 1960 have been particularly savage, bloody and seemingly senseless, leaving in their wakes millions of dead, maimed and starving people.
Liberia, Chad, Sierra Leone, Biafra, Congo, Katanga, Angola, Rhodesia, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Uganda. You name it: Each has had its bloodbath, seemingly more horrible than the last. The fortunate have died early and quickly.
Scott Peterson, a young Nairobi-based American reporter for London’s Daily Telegraph (he is now in Amman, Jordan, for the Christian Science Monitor), has been witness to much of the African genocide of the past decade. In “Me Against My Brother,” he reports from the killing fields of Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda. It is gripping stuff.
Of this dreadful trinity, Somalia is the best known to the American people and had the greatest impact on U.S. policy, leading Washington to ignore the greater slaughter that was to take place in Sudan and Rwanda. While there was blame enough to go around in the Somalia debacle, Mr. Peterson makes a convincing case that the lion’s share belongs to the Clinton administration, including the president, Secretary of State (then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) Madeleine Albright and their top advisers career and political, uniformed and civilian in Washington and Mogadishu.
The American attempt to blame the whole bloody fiasco on the United Nations simply won’t wash. The U.N.’s Somalia policy was made in the United States and American-driven. The top field leaders were Americans who took their orders as much from Washington as from New York.
The United States intervened in Somalia because the Pentagon did not want to get embroiled in Bosnia, and because Washington policy-makers, in their ignorance, thought Somalia was doable. Once there, the Americans masquerading as “blue berets” had not the slightest idea what to do. Much of what they did, such as the criminalization of warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, frequently was wrong, poorly organized or too late. In the end, 44 Americans and at least 2,000 Somalis were killed and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent, all to no avail.
As for the decades-old civil war in Sudan, which has ethnic and religious overtones, the United States (and most of the rest of the world) stands convicted of allowing the fighting to drag on. In recent years, according to Mr. Peterson, perhaps 1.5 million Sudanese died in the fighting, or perished in the famine and disease that followed. Most of the casualties have been civilians, many of them women and children. Mr. Peterson makes the brutal point that, by feeding the millions of homeless who have lost everything, the West may be prolonging Sudan’s agony.
The reason is that both the Arabized government troops and the Christian and pagan rebel fighters seize much of the food intended for refugees. Refugees kept alive by Western food may be drafted into one or the other army, and food is used to buy arms. Meanwhile, each side remains too weak to claim victory, too strong to face final defeat.
In Rwanda in 1994, the United States and the West stood by while the Hutu government systematically and brutally engaged in the genocidal slaughter of its 9 percent Tutsi minority. The Clinton administration, fresh from the Somali crucible, had no intention of allowing itself to be drawn deep into the interior of Africa. Nor, according to Mr. Peterson, did it intend to allow others to do so. As a consequence, tens of thousands of Tutsis were hacked to death.
One group that could not and would not stand by was the Tutsi refugee community in neighboring Uganda, which had supported that government in its civil war against the followers of Idi Amin. The Uganda-supported Tutsis smashed across the border, killing thousands of Hutus and driving hundreds of thousands into exile in the Congo. Perhaps 800,000 died on both sides.
This is a disturbing book. It should be required reading for all those charged with crafting America’s African policy.