I Don't See Dead People


Occasional Reasonoid Brendan O'Neill harrumphs at the "pimping" of the term "genocide" to describe (and drum up pity for) every third world conflict.

Consider how easily the genocide tag is attached to conflicts in Africa. Virtually every recent major African war has been labelled a genocide by outside observers. The Rwandan war of 1994 is now widely recognised as a genocide; many refer to the ongoing violence in Uganda as a genocide. In 2004 then US secretary of state Colin Powell declared, on the basis of a report by an American/British fact-finding expedition to Darfur: 'We conclude that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility.' (4) (The UN, however, has not described Darfur as genocide.) Even smaller-scale African wars are discussed as potential genocides. So the spread of instability from Darfur into eastern Chad has led to UN handwringing about 'genocide in Chad'. During the conflict in Liberia in 2003, commentators warned that 'Liberia could be plunged into a Rwanda-style genocide' (5).

The discussion of every war in Africa as a genocide or potential genocide shows that today's genocide-mongering bears little relation to what is happening in conflict zones on the ground. There are great differences, not least in scale, between the wars in Rwanda, Darfur and Liberia; each of these conflicts has been driven by complex local grievances, very often exacerbated by Western intervention. That Western declarations of 'genocide!' are most often made in relation to Africa suggests that behind today's genocide-mongering there lurks some nasty chauvinistic sentiments. At a time when it is unfashionable to talk about 'the dark continent' or 'savage Africans', the more acceptable 'genocide' tag gives the impression that Africa is peculiarly and sickly violent, and that it needs to be saved from itself by more enlightened forces from elsewhere. Importantly, if the UN judges that a genocide is occurring, then that can be used to justify military intervention into said genocide zone.

I think it's interesting to observe precisely who worries about which "genocide." White liberals tremble over the bloodletting in Africa, and not in Iraq; neoconservatives warn of the killings to come in Iraq if the U.S. leaves "before the job is done" (i.e., before your kids are drawing Social Security).