Genocide in Africa: When Will it Stop?

By Victoria Clarizio
Staff Writer

On Sunday, March 7 more than 200 Christians were killed in the country of Nigeria as part of ongoing religious violence between Muslims and Christians.  Traditionally Muslims have resided in the North of Nigeria, and Christians in the South.  There have been genocidal killings happening since 1952, yet the majority of the world is just hearing about the latest attacks.  According to United Press International, in November of 2009 the tension between the Northern Muslims and Southern Christians finally exploded into violence due to the absence of President Yar’Adua, a northerner who left the capital because of heart problems.  Christian Goodluck Jonathan was appointed to take his place as head of state when it became clear Yar’Adua was in no shape to rule.  Previous to this there had been an unwritten law that a northerner should serve for ten years, followed by a southerner for ten years and that pattern would continue.  The fact that a Christian was named acting president broke this rule and threw the country into political turmoil. The most recent outbreak of violence as a result of this was the incident in Jos, the nation’s capital, in March.   It has gotten so bad that some have suggested the official separation of Nigeria into separate Muslim and Christian countries.  This fighting between two groups, which is essentially genocide, has been a constant in Africa’s long and bloody history.  The events taking place in Nigeria are simply the most recent in a long line of horrific bloodshed.

Genocide is defined by as “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.”  Basically genocide involves one group’s attempt to wipe out another, based on race, religion or any other number of traits.  The Holocaust is the event that immediately comes to everyone’s mind at the word genocide.  However, many other cases of genocide have happened throughout history, while less well known, are just as horrific.  Just looking at the list; Rwanda, Nigeria, Darfur, South Africa, it becomes apparent that, for some reason, most cases of genocide have occurred in Africa.  This is not to discount the numerous other cases that have occurred in, Guatemala, Bosnia and Armenia.  The existence of such opposing religions and tribes have led to sectarian fighting across the continent.

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 involved a conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi people.  This conflict began with the colonization of Rwanda by Belgium in the 19th Century.  They put the Tutsi people in charge of the government because they looked more “European”.  In 1961 they granted Rwanda independence and in the resulting presidential election, Hutus were placed in power.  A civil war eventually broke out, culminating the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.  It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi and Hutu moderates that supported them, were killed in a matter of months.  The assassination of the Hutu president was the excuse the ruling body used to begin and perpetuate the massacre of at least one million people.  Eventually the Rwandan Patriotic Front (a Tutsi group) regained control of the government and the killings stopped.  However, the affects of this genocide are still being felt to this day.  Thousands of Hutu refugees fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo and eventually this led to the First and Second Congo War, which included many countries, including Uganda, Tanzania (Zaire at the time), and the Congo.

Darfur is another African genocide which has received press time and involves a conflict between two tribes of people.  It began in the Darfur region of Sudan between the Arab and African tribes living there.  High tension between these groups was caused by limited resources in the region.  The Sudanese government had been subtly oppressing African tribes for years and in 2003 rebel groups began fighting against this oppression.  The government used this as a catalyst for a major attack on these tribes.  This genocide resulted in the death of at least 400,000 people and the displacement of another 2.5 million.  An excellent account of the events in Darfur can be found in the book The Devil Came on Horseback,  by Brian Steidle and the movie based on it.

Darfur, Rwanda and Nigeria are just three examples of the horrors of genocide that have taken and are taking place on the continent of Africa.  Others, which are less well known, include Namibia and  South Africa.  The causes of these massacres include, corrupt governments, racial tension, power struggles, poverty, interference from other countries, and countless other factors.  History has also shown that powerful countries, like our own, who had the resources and ability to step in and stop these tragedies, often waited too long.  The question remains: Why Africa?  Why is this vast continent cursed by so much bloodshed? More importantly, what can be done to prevent genocide from happening in the future?