Biafra. Rwanda. Darfur.
A wide-eyed older man ran into my morning spelling class at Hillcrest School in Jos, Nigeria, one day in 1966. Sweating profusely, he asked for protection. Our teacher took him to the principal’s office. He was clubbed to death the next morning between the boy’s dorm and the softball field.
He was one of a host of Ibos massacred in our town and across the northern region of Nigeria, which was predominantly Hausa and Muslim.
Earlier that week, my father found a young boy, from who he purchased newspapers, dead on the steps of the post office. Seeing other bodies on the road, he called the Baptist children’s hostel, advising dorm parents to make the missionary children bend over in the van on the way to school in order not to see the mutilated bodies.
A few days later, I accompanied my mother to the police station to distribute food to the surviving Ibos. I overheard two men talking. One spoke of revenge. The other quoted the Bible, “‘Vengeance is mine; I shalt repay,’ saith the Lord.”
European and American governments sat on the sidelines and watched as many as 1 million people were killed before and during the Biafran War.
The movie “Hotel Rwanda” retells a similar story, only three decades later. In the East African nation of Rwanda, Hutus slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsis, a horror in which European and American governments looked the other way.
Genocide is being played out yet again. This time it takes place in Darfur, Sudan’s western region, where approximately 180,000 have died and 2 million people have been displaced. Some estimates of deaths and displacement run much higher.
The Janjaweed, the armed Arab militia with the support of the Sudanese government, are bombing, mutilating, raping and killing black Sudanese.
“The United States is appalled by the violence in Darfur,” said President Bush in September 2004. “We have concluded that genocide has taken place in Darfur. We urge the international community to work with us to prevent and suppress acts of genocide. We call on the United Nations to undertake a full investigation of the genocide and other crimes in Darfur.”
Almost 10 months after his forceful statement about genocide in Darfur, Bush has still not taken decisive action to end the genocide.
For months, the president, who reportedly criticized President Clinton for his inaction in Rwanda, avoided public comments about Darfur.
He finally broke his silence in early June, under growing public pressure, saying, “This is a serious situation.”
Bush said, “As you know, former secretary of state Colin Powell, with my concurrence declared the situation genocide.”
Now is a fullness of time moment for Baptists and other Christians to prove that we are not all hat and no cowboy. We need to let our elected officials know that moral rhetoric must be matched with the necessary action to end the genocide.
Contact President Bush. Contact your senators. Contact your representative. Urge them to act to end the genocide.
The director of “Hotel Rwanda,” Terry George, asked, “Is it that we consider human life in Africa of less value than elsewhere?”
From my observation, the answer to George’s question is a lamentable “yes.”
Isn’t it time to act for Africa?
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.