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Africa In Crisis

Africa is unraveling. In Sierra Leone, babies' arms have been hacked off by teenage rebels, with the civil war death toll now estimated at 50,000. Six different countries are fighting in the Congo. Nearly 2 million dead. Ethiopia and Eritrea fight a senseless war that takes 100,000 lives. Not to mention Angola, Zimbabwe, the Sudan, and Somalia: all nations in crisis.
Despite the crises, it's sometimes hard to spark the interest of some Americans in events on the African continent.

"The agenda of crises has become overwhelming," says Stephen Morrison, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an interview with CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather. "It's stretched our human capacities."

Rather reports Africa-watchers fear that if the U.S. ignores Africa, there could be a repeat of the kind of genocidal violence that saw the massacre of half a million people in Rwanda in 1994.

Those same observers fear that too much U.S. involvement could bring about another situation such as that seen when U.S. soldiers were sent to Somalia. 18 American soldiers lost their lives; the charred bodies of some of the soldiers were dragged through the streets.

Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., says Americans should care about what happens in Africa.

"Africa matters. The U.S. cannot say 'Hey, this continent doesn't matter, the rest of the world does,'" says Holbrooke, emphatic in pointing out the underlying assumption of such a statement is false and furthermore "carries a very nasty subliminal message which I'd rather not state…But we all understand what it is."

In his term as ambassador to the U.N., Holbrooke has pushed hard for the U.S. to provide both political and financial support for U.N. peacekeeping forces in Africa.

Holbrooke, a veteran diplomat who was the chief negotiator of the 1995 Bosnian peace agreement, is asked whether he would ever support any future deployment of U.S. troops to any part of Africa.

"We've made it very clear that our support of U.N. peacekeeping does not involve U.S. troops on the ground," responded Holbrooke, without getting into specifics.

Holbrooke and others have asked Congress to increase funding for UN peacekeeping operations, which currently stands at $1 billion. But sub-committees in both the House and Senate said no, for now.
But without western troops, the results can be disastrous. In Sierra Leone, 500 ill-equipped U.N. peacekeepers were taken hostage by rebels led by Foday Sankoh, who was actually a partner to the peace deal which was supposed to end the bloodshed.

Pauline Baker, of The Fund for Peace, tells CBS News that "Sierra Leone is a classic case of how not to make peace. What we did is, and when I say we, I mean the U.S., here, is to support a deeply flawed peace agreement."

Citing Sierra Leone as an example, some foreign affairs experts say the U.S. has been ineffective in Afrca because too often, we wait until the 11th hour to address crises there.

Civil war is not the only crisis affecting Africa, which loses even more lives to the AIDS virus.

AIDS, according to Morrison of the Center for Strategic Studies, "now threatens to leave 25 percent of the continent's population dead of AIDS by 2020. 25 percent of 700 million people."

Africa has its success stories, too, and nations confronting the current crises can look to those for hope. Particularly inspiring to many is South Africa's journey as a nation in the past decade and the personal triumphs of Nelson Mandela, who went from being sentenced to life imprisonment to becoming president in an era finally free of apartheid.

"No one," recalls Holbrooke, ever thought they would live to see that day.

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