U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power is on a mission to save Africans from African savagery. She wants you to call 1-800-GENOCIDE so she can pressure the president to send in the Marines or US Special Forces. Her entire career is based on a historically inaccurate, decontextualized, and grossly over simplified account of the 1994 Rwandan massacres, during which the U.S. “stood by.” From now on, she moralizes, US citizens must be “upstanders,” not bystanders. “Never again” can we fail in our moral duty to stop the world’s dark-skinned, backward peoples from massacring one another over ethnic difference. She wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book calling this The Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, which was based on her 2001 Atlantic Monthly essay “Bystanders to Genocide.”
Power fails to note that the US “stood by” intentionally, not indifferently, in Rwanda, until Pentagon protegé General Paul Kagame won a war of aggression begun four years earlier. She blames U.S. officials who successfully pushed for reducing the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda to a skeletal staff as Rwanda descended into hell, but says, in “Bystanders to Genocide,” that this was “not a story of willful complicity with evil.”
She fails to mention that General Paul Kagame threatened to fire on UN troops if they came between his troops and those of the Rwandan army, as Reuters reportedon May 18, 1994.
Now, having successfully advocated for US-led NATO wars in Libya and Syria “to stop the next Rwanda,” Power has her sights set on the tiny, impoverished East African nation of Burundi. Burundi shares the Hutu/Tutsi/Twa ethnic divisions with neighboring Rwanda and a highly geostrategic border with the resource rich Democratic Republic of the Congo.
US troops typically appear only as “advisors” south of the Sahara Desert, although the Pentagon/Harvard collaboration Mass Atrocity Response Operations; A Military Planning Handbook, which Power helped to produce, describes the swift, surgical deployment of U.S. Special Forces as a blueprint at the ready. For now there are plenty of African troops serving under U.S. military command and grateful to receive the salaries that boost their class status in Africa, though they’d be considered poverty wages in the U.S. All but a few African nations now have soldiers serving under AFRICOM, the US Africa Command, and Burundi’s belligerent neighbor Rwanda is one of the greatest troop contributors. One complication of the Burundian situation is that Burundian troops serve alongside Ugandans in AMISON, the Pentagon-led UN Mission to Somalia.
Fighting and casualties have already taken place on Burundi’s tense border with Rwanda, and recently five of Burundi’s ruling party leaders, including the Burundian security and intelligence chief, were assassinated. This makes it clear that President Nkurunziza, who is hugely popular with the country’s rural Hutu peasant majority, could be the next target. And, it alarms all those who remember the assassination of three Hutu presidents within two years, 1993-1994, which precipitated the Rwandan and Burundian bloodbaths of the 1990s.
Samantha Power has decried assassinations on both sides and threatened sanctions, but she lays all the blame for the Burundian crisis on President Pierre Nkurunziza. Why? Because he claimed the constitutional right to be elected twice by universal suffrage, then won by 69%. However, she spoke not a word of protest in 2010, when Rwandan President Paul Kagame claimed the same right and won by a thoroughly implausible 93% majority. Or in 2011, when President Kabila claimed the same right, then claimed a victory that “delegitimized all Congolese institutions,” according to the Carter Center’s election observer mission.
The regional and ethnic tensions in Burundi are now the subject of more Western press coverage and hand wringing than those of any other nation south of the Sahara. The danger of mass violence is no doubt great, but Africa is so resource rich that the resource interests of the world’s industrial, military, and political power elites are always in play behind the news and Samantha Power’s latest African anxieties.
This article previously appeared in Black Agenda Report.