Earlier today, I posted an article titled “Why Libya But Not Rwanda?” to my Twitter page. The question it begs is both simple and familiar: why has the West – which is so fond of the term “responsibility to protect” – intervened in Libya and not Sub-Saharan Africa?
The author lists several African conflicts that have been raging since the inception of the so-called “Arab Spring”: the election violence in Côte d’Ivoire, continuing civil unrest in Zimbabwe and Darfur, mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo… Why have these countries not merited the same level of interest from the international community?
Interestingly, of the dozen-some articles that I post on a daily basis, this one received the quickest response – from a Finland-based Libyan (whose Twitter name I’ll keep anonymous):
@carlconradi – Why Libya and not Rwanda? VERY good question.
@anonymous – I can answer that question easily.
@carlconradi – I think I can, too, but what are your thoughts?
@anonymous – I don’t like the fact that she wants more Libyans to be killed just because she is jealous.
@carlconradi – God. If that’s what she meant, that’s horrific. Libyans deserve the world’s attention, no question. Rwandans too, though… I really don’t think that’s what she wants, though. That would be monstrous. She just wants less Western hypocrisy…
@anonymous – Of course! Rwandans too! But I think we should really prevent new Rwandas. There wasn’t Internet then and information didn’t spread fast.
@carlconradi – Very good point re: the role of the Internet. I also disagree with her statement that “preventing another Rwanda” isn’t a good enough reason to intervene in a country like Libya. It’s the most IMPORTANT reason!
@anonymous – Well, the West won’t change easily. Policies of the West are well-known since the Cold War. I don’t think people can use that argument anymore. And remember the geographical conditions of the two nations. Rwanda is mostly mountains and jungle.
@carlconradi – …and a country that doesn’t pose any threat to European countries in terms of refugee migration… Terrible.
@anonymous – I don’t like it when people compare the situation of Libya with Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, etc. It is not comparable.
@carlconradi – Totally fair comment. It is incomparable in terms of politics and history. But in terms of unacceptable loss of human life?
@anonymous – I am against the Iraq War and against Afghanistan and I hate it when I see people dying there. So I don’t like people dying at all.
@carlconradi – Well, I’m 100% with you re: the 100,000s lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meantime, I’ll keep cheering the revolution in Benghazi…
@anonymous – That’s good! 😀 I agree with you.
@carlconradi – 🙂
I found several aspects of this exchange to be deeply interesting.
First, I was surprised by how my Libyan friend interpreted the article. What I had thought was a fairly unambiguous and uncontroversial argument turned out to be highly contentious (and I take for granted, on the basis of previous posts he’s made, that my friend’s differing opinion is not the product of poor English). When an older victim compares their suffering to that of a younger victim, how is the younger victim made to feel?
Second, it highlighted the role that the Internet has played in rallying the world’s attention to Libya. But why have countries like Zimbabwe, Sudan or Côte d’Ivoire – which have comparable, if not superior levels of Internet penetration to Libya – managed to articulate their suffering as effectively?
Third, it saddened me to hear how complacent my friend was regarding the immutability of Western strategy. It is true that unrest in Libya has a more obvious effect on the West, with respect to both oil production and refugee migration. It’s therefore no surprise that the West is reacting with such comparable vigour (this is why I’d initially assumed the article to be so uncontroversial; this much is obvious, no?). But how much more efficient and effective could the trade in rare Congolese minerals be if the DRC were at peace? How many Rwandan, Congolese and Ivorian refugees have flooded the rest of the Francophonie, causing strain in other French countries?
Fourth (and this is just for clarification): Rwanda’s geography is NOT primarily mountainous and forested. To be sure, it is very hilly, but we’re not talking about an impenetrable landscape on the scale of Afghanistan. Moreover, one of Rwanda’s biggest problems is that it’s been deforested and farmed to the point of unsustainability… The topography would NOT have inhibited the West from launching an effective anti-genocide campaign.
Finally, it was interesting to see how jealously my friend guarded his country’s sense of “difference”. I’ve met other people around the world who were similarly affronted when I compared their conflicts to those occurring elsewhere. Rightly so: no two conflicts are exactly alike, and so suggest otherwise is both insulting and dangerous. But I’ve often wondered whether this is what people have in mind when they balk at being the subject of comparison. Yemenis, for example, hate having their tribal system compared to Somali’s clan system, simply because they don’t like being put on the same level as that “basket case”. The language almost strikes me as being racist. But what is more racist: making gross generalizations about two countries at war, or refusing to be compared because of a latent sense of pride and superiority?
I know I’ve asked more questions here than I’ve answered, but isn’t that what a good (Twitter) conversation is all about?
The bottom line, however, is that my friend’s country is in the midst of a titanic war between a community of young, idealistic revolutionaries and a mentally unstable tyrant. As such, the aforementioned article’s title is entirely apt. It’s VITAL that the international community assist Libya in any way possible (short of killing innocent civilians like Qaddafi’s grandchildren, who – if they were indeed murdered by NATO bombs – were far too young to pay for the crimes of their grandfather). But why Libya and not Rwanda?
Conradi is a Canadian citizen who is the co-founder and CEO of Detente Consultancy International. He holds an MA in Conflict, Security and Development at King’s College London. His primary field of interest is conflict management and he has done related work in Northern Uganda, the United States, Somaliland (Northern Somalia), the Netherlands, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon and Yemen. He has also lived in Egypt and has traveled extensively throughout the Arabian Gulf. He is currently based in Sana’a, Yemen. If you wish to contact Carl, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.