Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I Would Never Say "I Told You So" . . .

It should come as a shock to no one, but reports indicate that al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are beginning to operate in southern Africa. Africa provides some of the most fertile ground anywhere for jihadists. Enormous instability, a huge and growing Muslim population, and western inattention and indifference make sub-Saharan Africa potentially the next great battle ground in the fight against violent extremists.

Back in November 2003, when History News Network still had its fastball, I published an article in which I tried to convey why we needed to pay more attention to Africa. The gist of it probably can be summed up in the following paragraphs:

Curtailing future acts of terrorism. Expanding our access to available oil. Protecting human rights. These are goals that cross the ideological spectrum. And there is one continent where we can do all of these things. That continent is Africa, perhaps the part of the globe that Americans most overlook, except to catch a glimpse of the latest disaster coming from its shores, like rubberneckers straining to see the gore after a highway accident.

The time is ripe for Americans to start getting to know Africa as more than the sum of its grisly events. Many experts believe that the United States will get 15-20 percent of its oil exports from West Africa in the next decade. Large parts of the continent are vulnerable to exploitation by radical fundamentalist terrorists, some of which already have a foothold on the continent. Whether we like it or not, American attention will focus increasingly on what many still patronizingly see as the Dark Continent, a seemingly mysterious and dangerous land of poverty and violence and malarial infestations. But America must act now. We cannot afford to sit aside and wait for Africa to open its doors to us, nor can we assume that those doors will open simply because we are the United States.

Unfortunately, we still have not done the work to create partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa. To his credit, President Bush has tried to do more than his predecessors, but that is an appallingly low standard when one considers that the previous leader in the clubhouse was Bill Clinton, who held the lead despite having turned his back on genocide in Rwanda. And now our lack of serious engagement in Africa has helped to allow the spread of al Qaeda and other radical fundamentalist Islamists. There is an old cliche about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure, but this is advice we never heed when it comes to Africa.

No comments: