This past Wednesday, chief of New York Times West Africa bureau Lydia Polgreen gave a talk entitled “Darfur, Congo, and the Aftermath of Genocide.” Polgreen explained that she intended to not only discuss genocide itself, but what happens to the remains of a country after genocide has torn through it. To do so, she compared the fates of the Congo after the Rwandan genocide and Darfur.
Polgreen explained that the end of the Rwandan genocide was only the beginning of more widespread destruction and death in the Congo. The end of the genocide sparked a civil war in the Congo when Rwandan militia leaders spilled into the country. The civil war there has killed twice as many people every year as the number who have died in the Darfur genocide.
But despite this staggering violence and destruction, Congo has remained outside of the public eye. Polgreen argued that Darfur held the world’s gaze because the genocide there held more moral clarity as opposed to the “free for all” that erupted in the Congo. While Rwandan leaders enriched themselves at the expense of Congo and devastated the country, the world has looked away.
The genocide in Darfur, however, retained a sense of the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” Polgreen argued that activists turned the conflict into a moral play with one group, the Arabs, slaughtering the other group, the Africans. This was a powerful message that compelled the rest of the world to act.
Yet despite the enormous press attention the conflict has received, Polgreen says that little has been done to end the suffering in Darfur. Despite attention by celebrities, humanitarian efforts continue to be underfunded, peacekeeping efforts are in constant attacks, and soldiers are consistently under-equipped and under-armed to do their jobs.
This is particularly dangerous because the longer the genocide goes on, Polgreen fears that the more likely it may become a prelude to even deeper tragedy. The conflict has taken on an “awful complexity” for which “the term genocide may be too simple.” Polgreen says that the non-Arab tribes have turned on each other with ferocity, and as the violence spills into Chad, she fears that it may become a regional conflict.
Polgreen said that the difficulties of a multipolar world highlighted new challenges in solving the conflict. No longer can a single superpower overwhelmingly influence a country. Hence, Sudan refuses to cooperate, and China continues to protect Sudan. Given the fact that U.S.’s military resources are tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little chance that it could send military help to Sudan. And though the crisis was in the headlines during the summer, as activists used the Olympics as a pressure point, this is no longer the case.
But despite these challenges, Polgreen remains optimistic. The heroism of humanitarian efforts she had personally witnessed along with the inspiring commitment and activism gives her faith in the ability of this generation to end the genocide.