Preventing Conflict in Africa

US, UN must set up `early warning' mechanisms

IF the United States has intervened in Somalia to save lives and create order of anarchy, why not elsewhere in Africa?

One answer is pragmatic: The cost of being forcible peacemaker to Africa would be intolerable and open-ended. There would be telling domestic political consequences. Our military and political leadership hardly wants to be sucked into one after another of a myriad of local conflicts.

It makes sense, however, for us to act in Africa as a mediator, successfully in Namibia and, more recently but with less-immediate success, in Liberia and Angola. As some of those efforts fail, what then is our responsibility? And what is our national self-interest?

What of the Sudan, where two Christian/animist movements, one led by an American-educated economist, have long sought autonomy and basic human rights from the intolerant Muslim fundamentalist government? At what point does the denial of shipments of food to refugees from the Christian/animist south constitute ethnic cleansing? At what point does the repression by the north of whole populations and even rebels in the south become illegitimate?

Can we care any less for the Sudan, or Liberia, than for Somalia? In all three cases innocent civilians are being killed and denied the basic rudiments of human rights. Washington, alone or in concert with the United Nations, has an interest in containing violence so that Africans can develop themselves economically; so that they can produce their own food rather than relying on relief from abroad; so that they can make their own case for political participation and possibly for autonomy peacefully rathe r than with arms; and so that intolerance and oppression can be combatted successfully without war.

The civil war in the Sudan broke out in 1983 against a predecessor government to today's military junta. But the animosities between south and north are old, between Arab and Dinka, between white and black, and go back at least to the Arab slave raids in the south during the 19th century. Throughout the cold war, the US backed the regime of Gen. Jaafar Nimeiry, and thus refused to help Col. John Garang's Sudan People's Liberation Army. Now, after the cold war and after Somalia, the claims of some of Afri ca's most desperate freedom fighters are hard to deny.

High on our agenda and the agenda of the UN must be a resolution of the Sudanese conflict. Yet, unless the atrocities and the plight of refugees become more obvious, it will be hard to justify forceful intervention. During the last year only a handful of television programs have noticed the desperation of the Sudan. Moreover, our leverage on Khartoum is nil; only Iran may be able to persuade the northern Sudanese to use the bargaining table rather than guns to end the conflict.

In Liberia, if the Nigerian-led West African military force that occupies much of Monrovia and some of the hinterland were not in place, Charles Taylor's deathly attempt to play warlord would merit US intervention to save lives and end anarchy. We may even now want to help the West African force logistically; otherwise the Liberian imbroglio promises to drag on, despite high-level US mediation.

We have attempted to mediate in Angola. We care deeply about the oil production of Cabinda. We are impatient to finish the aborted electoral process in Angola so that the country may begin transforming itself from war to peaceful production.

As a signatory to the Angolan peace accords and as the only power with the available muscle to assist in Angola's transition to peace, Washington may well want to swallow hard and intervene long enough to remove Jonas Savimbi, our one-time client. But that intervention need not be military; Mr. Savimbi derives support from outside his country, and we work to shut off that backing.

Likewise Zaire. Mobutu Sese Seko was a noncommissioned officer in the nascent Army of Congo when we used him to stabilize the country and thwart Marxist-leaning Pierre Lumumba. In the decades since 1965, Mr. Mobutu has robbed Zaire systematically.

IF Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the US block his overseas bank accounts it will prove much harder for Mobutu to continue to prevent participatory government within his vast land. Already his government hardly exists in the provinces.

The Army terrorizes Kinshasha, but the remainder of the country is devoid of much government or official attention.

It is profoundly in the US national interest for Zaire once again to function as a state. It is therefore important to remove Mobutu so we and the UN can try to play a part in the reconstruction and, just possibly, the democratization of Zaire.

These conflicts, and others like that in Togo, indicate the importance of a steady policy for sub-Saharan Africa that contemplates the creation of an early warning system for the prevention of civil wars and other kinds of ethnic, racial, and religious conflicts.

Our policymakers need to prepare for the outbreak of conflict as a result of the impending succession crisis in Malawi, as a result of the post-Kolingba transition in the Central African Republic, and especially in preparation for the eruption of ethnic-based battles in Kenya.

In the post-cold-war world we need to develop limits to state aggression against minorities. We need to think through policies that will encourage mediation, UN assistance and periods of tutelage, and our own involvement, limited or otherwise. African conflicts will not vanish by themselves.

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