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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The unseen crisis in Africa

Published: February 8, 2008
Section: Opinions

While the attention of the United States has been understandably centered on the recent developments in the economy and the election, two major news stories have been only briefly covered by the national media; the current crisis in Chad and the ongoing ethnic riots in Kenya. This is not particularly surprising, as there are several seemingly more pressing issues taking place here that may supersede the problems of two African countries that most people in the US could not place on a map. Despite this however, there exists within the current conflicts in these countries issues that we as a nation should examine before we are left with yet another period of genocide in Africa. This is part one of a two-part “primer” if you will, that will detail just a sample of the major problems facing the continent in the hopes that with a bit of information, actual tangible concern might arise amongst our readers.

In Chad the President barely held onto power this week as the Sudanese-supported “United Front for Democratic Change” (FUC) rebels advanced on the capital of N’djamena, sparking a massive exodus of refugees into Cameroon and Nigeria. Idriss Déby, the dictator since 1990, was able to repel the rebel attack and secure a promise from the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, for aid (including some form of military assistance) that would be provided in order to quell the conflict. Meanwhile the rebels have mostly retreated back into Sudan, where despite international law, they live in peace with the full support of the Sudanese Government, who are more then willing to fund their side of this ongoing and relentless proxy war (The Chadian Government for their part have probably been funding and sheltering the rebels fighting the Sudanese Government for the past 15 years).

While this current war may seem almost mundane, as our generation was born into a time when virtually every region of the continent of Africa had some major war-related humanitarian crisis occurring throughout the 1990s, there are several reasons for why we as individuals should care about what is going on in Chad.

The major issue in that country for the past decade or so has been the continuing instability caused by the war in the bordering Darfur region. Some 250,000 refugees from that conflict have been living inside Chad in the hopes of not only escaping the Janjaweed (who are also believed to be a possible ally with the FUC Rebel group) but of continually receiving international aid as well. This population has been coupled with the 20,000 persons from the Central African Republic who have also been residing in Chad, creating a massive refugee problem on the scale of the disasters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and their neighboring countries throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

The international issues associated with the War in Chad are also quite curious. This war is really two civil wars as rebels in both Chad and the Sudan have been attacking the governments within their own countries with weapons and support from the other rival nation. There is also a religious element to the war in Chad as both sides are using the predominate religion of Islam to justify their attacks, and the presence of the Janjaweed only exacerbates the fervor of those involved. France is once again supporting a ruthless dictator who has been surprising all forms of protest and legitimate opposition, and doing so publicly simply because it is ““its duty” according to Sarkozy (Idriss Déby has since arrested a leading member of the opposition, adding to the reputation of a man who in 2006 personally oversaw the slaughter of rebel forces from a helicopter). Chad being a former colony of France has an obvious impact on the decision for a European nation that has historically had issues with leaving their former “property” alone, but there is an economic complication within this cynical decision, one that China already knows about intimately.

China has been expanding their reach all over Africa as a whole for the past ten years in the hopes of garnering enough natural resources to power their growing economy. Chad has been fulfilling the voracious appetite of the Chinese government for Gold and Uranium, but it is the continuing development of Oil reserves in the country that have kept the Chinese eager to stay in the country and support the current government in any way possible. Right now competing interests of France and China are aggravating the poverty and human rights abuses in Chad, but tomorrow one of the other countries (more then likely China) could completely dominate the economy of the country, instituting an era of Neo Colonialism that would destroy any hopes of an independent and successful Central Africa.

This sort of international conflict should be of great concern to Americans. We are a people who have grown to be extraordinarily sympathetic to sufferings of others. We donate massive amounts of money to charities in the hopes that for a dollar a day we could possibly feed a whole family or provide medicine to a sick child, but sometimes we miss the big picture. Chad is an ethnically diverse nation that is still suffering from the “Balkanization” of Africa, where genocide and war have been pervasive due to the borders drawn up at the conference of Berlin. Most African Countries, including Chad, contain groups of people who have historically hated each other since one or the other group was supported by the colonial government (in this case the French) and allowed to dominate over the others. This ongoing problem has now been complicated by the influence of globalism, as new economic powerhouses like China have been more then willing to build new up the infrastructure and wealth of corrupt African leaders like Idriss Déby in exchange for unfettered access to their nation’s massive, yet underdeveloped, natural resources. It is this new dawn of colonialism that will not only harm our own economy in the US, but also continue the cycle of political and ethnic violence across the African continent. Why should you care about Chad? Because colonialism leads to only two things for those who are subjected to it: poverty and death.