Washington, DC — Violence in the Sudanese region of Darfur continues to be "a situation that the world has not fully faced," former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday night as he was presented an award for "distinguished humanitarian service" at the annual Africare dinner in Washington, DC.
"Last year, I called it what it was - genocide - and that was the correct term for what was going on," he said. "It is time now for the rebels and the government to end this tragedy and negotiate the peace." It is estimated that between 70,000 and 400,000 people have died due to violence, starvation and disease in Darfur, and more than 2.5 million people have been displaced. He called the peace accord that ended decades of civil war between the north and south in Sudan "one of the proudest moments of my career," and said the Darfur situation should not be allowed to unravel that accomplishment.
The dinner, which is the largest Africa-related fund raising event held in the United States, this year celebrated the 35th anniversary of Africare, a private aid and development organization active in 26 nations in sub-Saharan Africa.
Past recipients of the humanitarian award, which is named for the late Bishop John T. Walker, the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington who chaired the Africare board for 15 years, include Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, James Wolfensohn, Graca Machel, Dorothy I. Height, Harry Belafonte and Bill and Melinda Gates. Last year, Africare honored Richard Lugar, Republican Senator from Indiana, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, and Donald Payne from New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Africa and International Human Rights and point person on Africa for the Congressional Black Caucus.
The citation accompanying the Humanitarian Service Award praised Powell for "outstanding contributions in the arena of international relations, his exhaustive efforts to facilitate world peace and his commitment to alleviating human suffering throughout the globe". Powell, who served as Secretary of State during President Bush's first term, was cited for demonstrating concern for the oppressed in Africa, including those suffering from HIV/Aids and for making Africa a U.S. foreign policy priority.
In his speech, Powell said he was proud that U.S. aid to the rest of the world more than doubled between 2001 and 2005, when he was Secretary of State. He however pointed out "that the United States can do better and must do better". He congratulated Liberia for the recently held elections, comparing a violent, war-torn Monrovia of two years ago to today with "people marching peacefully to vote, no child soldiers, no guns". He expressed his satisfaction with the United States role in ousting former President Charles Taylor.
The former Secretary of State, who is also a retired four-star general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, said African leaders "should speak out against injustice when they see it", saying that "bad policy is bad policy" and condemning the "failed leadership" of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. "Africa needs the rule of law," he said. "It needs aid. It needs trade. It needs investment. Africa needs our help in order for it to help itself."
To take full advantage of development assistance initiatives like the Millennium Challenge Account, debt relief, and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, he said: "The countries of Africa must face reality, must open up. They must end conflict, they must respect the rights of their citizens, they must practice democracy, they must believe in the rule of law. They are the countries that will prosper. Countries that don't will find themselves increasingly left behind."
Paying tribute to Africare's achievements in promoting African development, Powell said: "We have our work cut out for us to make sure that the kinds of transformations that have taken place around the world take place in Africa, and at the forefront of this effort, as it has been for the past 35 years, will be Africare."