Africa's conflicts have long challenged the UN in deciding when to intervene. The 1994 Rwanda genocide was one big challenge it lost. Now come two examples that reveal the UN is only inching slowly along that long learning curve.
On Tuesday, United Nations peacekeepers, backed up by an attack helicopter and armored vehicles, took the offensive in Congo and killed about 60 members of an ethnic militia that had killed nine peacekeepers. The Security Council then voted to support this aggressive action as necessary for peace in Congo, where a decade of war has left millions dead.
Strangely, the Council isn't nearly so bold in Africa's other giant country, Sudan, where millions have been displaced and tens of thousands killed since 2003 in the province of Darfur.
The Council's hot debating point over Darfur is whether the US should approve a proposal to let the International Criminal Court try some of Darfur's aggressors for "crimes against humanity." Meanwhile, only about 1,800 lightly armed troops from African nations are in Darfur, where they are obliged just to monitor a much-violated cease-fire.
To his credit, UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan points out that the killing in Darfur is "little short of hell on earth" and says that the international community "must be prepared to take swift action, which may include military action." And to be fair, the Council is trying to round up peacekeepers for Sudan's other conflict in the south, where a recent peace pact has quelled a long war there.
But the striking contradiction between the UN's relative inaction in saving Darfur and its military boldness in Congo cannot go unnoticed. Perhaps Darfur needs action by NATO or the European Union's new force. Britain and France, on their own, have used force to solve recent conflicts in their former colonies in West Africa.
At any rate, Africa deserves consistency in knowing the world won't stand by when mass slaughter goes unchecked.