Starved for Safety

New York Times
March 31 2004

Starved for Safety

DRÉ, Chad – So why is Africa such a mess?

To answer that question, let me tell you about a 34-year-old man who
limped over to me at this oasis in eastern Chad. “My name is Moussa
Tamadji Yodi,” he said in elegant French, “and I’m a teacher. . . . I
just crossed the border yesterday from Sudan. I was beaten up and
lost everything.”

Mr. Yodi, a college graduate, speaks French, Arabic, English and two
African languages. During the decades of Chad’s civil war, he fled
across the border into the Darfur region of Sudan to seek refuge.

Now Darfur has erupted into its own civil war and genocide. Mr. Yodi
told how a government-backed Arab militia had stopped his truck – the
equivalent of a public bus – and forced everyone off. The troops let
some people go, robbed and beat others, and shot one young man in the
head, probably because he was from the Zaghawa tribe, which the Arab
militias are trying to wipe out.

“Nobody reacted,” Mr. Yodi said. “We were all afraid.”

So now Mr. Yodi is a refugee for a second time, fleeing another civil
war. And that is a window into Africa’s central problem: insecurity.

There is no formula for economic development. But three factors seem
crucial: security, market-oriented policies and good governance.
Botswana is the only African country that has enjoyed all three in
the last 40 years, and it has been one of the fastest-growing
economies in the world. And when these conditions applied, Uganda,
Ghana, Mozambique and Rwanda boomed.

But the African leaders who cared the most about their people, like
Julius Nyerere of Tanzania or Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, tended to adopt
quasi-socialist policies that hurt their people. In recent decades,
Africans did much better ruled with capitalism than with compassion.

These days, African economic policies are more market-oriented, and
governance is improving. The big civil wars are winding down. All
this leaves me guardedly optimistic.

Yet Africa’s biggest problem is still security. The end of the cold
war has seen a surge in civil conflict, partly because great powers
no longer stabilize client states. One-fifth of Africans live in
nations shaken by recent wars. My Times colleague Howard French
forcefully scolds the West in his new book, “A Continent for the
Taking,” for deliberately looking away from eruptions of unspeakable

One lesson of the last dozen years is that instead of being purely
reactive, helpfully bulldozing mass graves after massacres, African
and Western leaders should try much harder to stop civil wars as they
start. The world is now facing a critical test of that principle in
the Darfur region of Sudan, where Arab militias are killing and
driving out darker-skinned African tribespeople. While the world now
marks the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and solemnly
asserts that this must never happen again, it is.

Some 1,000 people are dying each week in Sudan, and 110,000 refugees,
like Mr. Yodi, have poured into Chad. Worse off are the 600,000
refugees within Sudan, who face hunger and disease after being driven
away from their villages by the Arab militias.

“They come with camels, with guns, and they ask for the men,” Mr.
Yodi said. “Then they kill the men and rape the women and steal
everything.” One of their objectives, he added, “is to wipe out

This is not a case when we can claim, as the world did after the
Armenian, Jewish and Cambodian genocides, that we didn’t know how bad
it was. Sudan’s refugees tell of mass killings and rapes, of women
branded, of children killed, of villages burned – yet Sudan’s
government just stiffed new peace talks that began last night in

So far the U.N. Security Council hasn’t even gotten around to
discussing the genocide. And while President Bush, to his credit,
raised the issue privately in a telephone conversation last week with
the president of Sudan, he has not said a peep about it publicly.
It’s time for Mr. Bush to speak out forcefully against the slaughter.

This is not just a moral test of whether the world will tolerate
another genocide. It’s also a practical test of the ability of
African and Western governments alike to respond to incipient civil
wars while they can still be suppressed. Africa’s future depends on
the outcome, and for now it’s a test we’re all failing.