Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Rains Down in Africa

The murder of Vatican envoy to Burundi Archbishop Michael Courtney by unknown gunmen is still just a human tragedy. It has not yet become a political football. No one has yet laid the blame on the United Nations, which has decided to send, but has not yet sent Blue Helmets to that country, for either the death of the Archbishop or the 300,000 civilians who preceded him to an untimely grave. But whether as tragedy or the latest act in a farce it is unlikely to become what it should: a last straw. There are no last straws in Africa. There lives are broken, one by one, seriatim, and the world goes on.

Thomas Barnett pointed out that Africa, in common with dirt poor countries of the Third World, has been detached from the stream of civilization. It remains on the planet only by polite pretense; but in practice under another sun, with different laws of gravity. Even arithmetic is different there, and the starvation of a hundred thousand counts for less newspaper space than the sexual scandals of a Hollywood actor. Yet in that outer dark lies the future of mankind. Barnett convincingly argues that "the real battlegrounds in the global war on terrorism are still over there. If gated communities and rent-a-cops were enough, September 11 never would have happened."

The truly dangerous thing about President Bush is that he wants to bring these lost continents back onto the planet. "And we believe that freedom -- the freedom we prize -- is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind." Even at the cost of making them like Americans, free, crass and prosperous. That is a less comforting proposition to the capitals of Old Europe than maintaining the Third World as an ethnographic zoo which pays graft to the zookeepers.