The Soft Belly of Africa

In Foreign Policy, International Development on December 12, 2006 at 6:07 am

I wrote about this last summer – about the Darfur crisis in Sudan spreading instability throughout the region. The International Herald Tribune posted this article, with one of the most disturbing pictures I have seen in a long time – especially since my kids are this poor girls age…

What can be done in this region?

Central African Republic has basically been a failed state without an outrageous crisis, so it has languished in desperate obscurity for the last few decades. The only thing I really know about it is those in the know call it the C-A-R and their main 1970’s era “big-man” leader is rumored to have cannibalized his people. Sudan is what it is, in some ways a booming, successful country (see Glittering Towers in a War Zone) but in other ways a total hell for its people. Chad is teetering on the edge of being a true failed state, but seems to be holding itself together better than CAR or Sudan.

How can we find the political will to help get central Africa in order? I don’t mean in western or American order – not in an imperialist sense. I mean really helping the people out in a truly sustainable way.

This is so much more challenging than helping a country like Niger, which for all its statistics still has a functioning government and a country that is relatively easy to get around. What do you do for an even more foreign, inaccessible, and extremely complicated place like Central Africa? I wish I had the answer.

There’s just no international cavalry any more, if there ever was. I get sad thinking about the fact that – and I would bet anyone this is true – that there are probably millions of people in these regions who think, “If only Americans would notice, they would be able to fix this. Americans have so much, they can surely spare enough for us…” I really sincerely wish there was some kind of win-win scenario where a little extra effort on my country’s part would help untangle the region.

My guess is that a lot of people see only the problem and not the system that perpetuates the problems. The problems stem from ingrained corruption (so throw the bums out – hold a diplomatic effort to create elections in CAR & Chad), and especially from poverty and scarce resources (so spend just a few extra million in aid money in CAR and Chad especially to bolster institutions and infrastructure and America’s image.)

To paraphrase James Baker, we really do have a dog in this hunt.


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