opinionBy Elias Biryabarema
Kampala — For 15 Months now, ruthless militiamen have wrought devastation in western Sudan, butchering an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 black African people and uprooting another one million.
The one million have been forced into the barren patches of sun-scorched Darfur and right across the desolate border into neighboring Chad. The shocking images of what is happening in Darfur, brought to us on TV, through the internet, graphic newspaper descriptions and eyewitness accounts, reveal a land stalked by genocidaires. .
Powell meets President Museveni on May, 27 2001. He has shown more concern for the suffering people in Sudan's Darfur region than African leaders.
So far, language in the diplomatic quarters is conservatively using the word "ethnic cleansing". It does not make any difference though. Ethnic Cleansing or genocide, outside the legal interpretations, all point to an attempt to wipe out a group of people of a common identity.
In Darfur, Arabs are killing black Africans very much like the Hutus savaged the Tutsis in Rwanda. To our consternation eminent men congregated in Addis Ababa on July 7, gorged themselves on food and drink and declared: No Genocide in Darfur.
For the bleeding, dying and agonising in Durfur, it did not make a whole lot of difference on whether their crisis was a genocide, liberation war, ethnic cleansing or whatever you might want to name it. The people of Darfur did not wake up on July 7 to await what definition African Union (AU) presidents assembled in Addis would assign to their suffering.
Instead they longed to hear what was to be done to the Janjaweed genocidaires to still their guns and stop the massacres, they longed to hear the AU's voice on what would be done to Khartoum's recalcitrant leadership that is bombing villages to soften the resistance to Janjaweed offensives. Darfurians woke up hoping to hear the AU announcing that tonnes of relief food and other essential items would be dispatched to them.
These dying Darfurians did not hear any of these; they were to be told instead that theirs had been determined by AU's distinguished men not to be genocide!
We could ask ourselves why these men were so eager to denounce genocide claims than taking much needed bold steps to stem the bloodletting in woebegone Durfur. I have seen pictures of children and women with bodies so starved to look like wire gauzes.
But with all these gory images swirling in our faces why did these African leaders who pride themselves on having turned a new chapter in the African leadership dither? It is quite easy to understand the ambivalence of the Sudanese Arab brothers; Egypt, Libya, Algeria or Tunisia. Yet it remains baffling for continental powers like Nigeria and South Africa to sit on their hands.
What is somebody supposed to interpret from AU's - but most particularly these two nation's - disheartening indifference to a situation of gang rape, poisoning of water sources, burning entire villages and crop fields, random shooting of civilians? It is the same SA and Nigeria championing Nepad, pontificating to the West of how we are ready to solve our internal strife and police our own leadership.
What AU did in Addis was a bold message of our readiness to police ourselves. So much for the African peer review initiative. For long we lampooned US, UK and the West generally for ignoring our internecine wars while carnage mounted to unspeakable levels; in DR. Congo where an estimated 2 million died, in Liberia, in northern Uganda and other numerous death spots dotting the continent. With South Africa and Nigeria's sharpening military muscle and AU's assertive posturing, that excuse is now all but absurd.
I have always harboured intense dislike for US's hypocrisy and slant approach in responding to the agony of humanity, for instance rushing to the Balkans to save Europeans but refusing to intervene in Congo, Angola or Sudan or any of our interminable conflicts. Yet I feel humbled by US's inspiring standing against Sudan regarding the Darfur genocide.
As the African presidents wined and dined in Addis, US Secretary of State Collin Powell who had just visited Darfur was telling the UN and Americans that the Arabised regime of Khartoum must act to stop its insane alliance with the crazy Janjaweed men or else be compelled to do so.
That was a noble act from a world leader. He had refused to be drawn into silly semantics that delay action while life losses pile up. It does not matter what you call it Powell said. All he knew, he said, was barbarous acts were going on; killing and rape of Black Africans, burning of villages and mass displacement of people; all of which had to be stopped.
My deepest gratitude goes out to Powell for standing with the suffering.
Just early this year a few AU heads of state stood in Kigali, Rwanda, bearing witness to the world's worst atrocity and brazenly declaring never again. But even as they were talking, Darfur was burning. Now a its all too clear flames of genocide are blazing in our faces and we ignominiously avert ours eyes and deny it's happening.
What a continent we live in! There come instances when even those who virulently spite Afropessimists fall utterly disarmed and vulnerable to attack. Such times are not infrequent. And here it is again; Darfur.
Let us face it: Darfur is the face of Africa, and it is the harbinger of the sort of Africa that we will be living in, in 20 or 50 years from now. Once upon a time I disbelieved such cynical prophesies; not anymore. 50 years from now it will be the same Africa of: gun violence, rape, arson, refugees, crises, atrocities and impunity.
What AU did in Addis was shore up the morale of the Sudanese butchers; it was criminal omission that shames us all collectively. As Darfurians bury their dead and flee the knavish Janjaweed, and as we commiserate with them, let us not forget the crimnal nature of our indifference of failing to stand up to evil when doing so would save a life or two.
On the day of reckoning we will be brought alongside the Janjaweed and the difference in culpability will seem less and less obvious.
Mr Biryabarema writes for The Monitor.