News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: America! Out of Africa?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–President Bush’s recent trip to sub-Saharan Africa has brought renewed interest to the region. Bush’s trip to the continent shows leadership and humanity for his commitment to fight the AIDS pandemic in that region.

A writer for the Canadian Press on July 14 reported that former South African President Nelson Mandela praised President Bush’s leadership in fighting AIDS, saying the earlier pledge of $15 billion of American money was a “quantum leap” in the funding of the battle against HIV and AIDS.

However, AIDS is, famously, only one of many problems currently facing the African continent.

Over the past decade, inter-tribal fighting among groups in poor countries throughout Africa has resulted in as many as 3 million deaths in the Congo, thousands of deaths in Uganda and Sudan, and in the recent outbreak of violence in Liberia, scores more have lost their lives.

A CNN.com writer reported July 15 that a spokesman for Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) said: “We would like to see an overwhelming presence of American troops on the ground. Whatever it takes to help us.”

Many argue that America’s historical tie to Liberia makes it unique to that of other African countries: Liberia was founded 150 years ago by freed American slaves. Yet, Liberia, a sovereign country in Africa, has never moved toward democracy, nor has it ever reflected the democratic ideas of America. Particularly under the leadership of President Charles Taylor, the country has experienced egregious human rights abuses. Taylor now has stepped down and is in exile in Nigeria.

The new ongoing debate to send American peacekeeping troops to Liberia presents a problem. Clearly the humanitarian concerns meet the test for some form of American intervention; however, it is also clear that the humanitarian need is more suited for a United Nations-led response, not an American led response.

Due to ingrained and widespread corruption on both sides of these warring factions in Liberia, the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force, a clear goal and exit strategy means, naturally, that U.S. troops cannot go in without a long-term commitment to nation building. President Bush is wise to be cautious in assessing the situation in Liberia before committing American troops to this, yet another war-ravaged country.

Guns, bullets and boots on the ground cannot solve all the world’s problems. Like many other regions of the world where America has gone to war to free peoples from corrupt dictators, it seems that somewhere in the mix of negotiations, someone has to begin to lay aside politics, power and greed, and simply begin the process of negotiating integrity: Respect for human individuality. Respect for human liberty. Respect for a strong work ethic. Respect for a mutually beneficial and viable market economy. And above all, respect for the sacredness of the unrepeatable experience of human life.

Post-colonial Africa must come to grips with its own beauty and uniqueness not based on any artificial connection historically to America or its former colonizers, but because of the richness of its people’s culture and land.

While America should support the efforts of the U.N. and the Economic Council of West Africa (ECOWAS), Liberia does not need a war layered upon the one it is already experiencing. It is ultimately incumbent upon African nations themselves to settle their own scores by eradicating the corrupt governments that continuously plague its nations.

Only a united peaceful Africa can find success in addressing the social and economic problems that have stifled it for centuries. Until Africans themselves work to bring democracy to theses unstable countries, financial and military assistance from other countries will never address the systemic problems of Africa’s corrupt governments and leaders.
Terriel R. Byrd, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion and director of urban ministries studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Fla.

    About the Author

  • Terriel Byrd