Colonialism: Alive in actions and perspectives

 

The sexual abuse of starving children in the Central African Republic by French soldiers reveals the pervasive effects of peacekeeping missions and the lingering forms of colonial repression prevalent across Africa

 

CAR

Source: AFP

 

The world looked on disinterested when French President Francois Hollande announced the deployment of French troops to curb an escalating conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) in December 2013. After launching similar missions in Cote d’Ivoire and Mali, two former French colonies, the international community accepted France’s military presence in yet another one of its former dominions as a humanitarian necessity. However, the revelation of the sexual abuse of boys aged 9-13 by French troops has shed light on the continuing horrors perpetrated by Europeans in its former colonies. Along with its tanks and rifles, the French army also brought to the CAR ‘soldiers of peace’ willing to degrade innocent, miserable children.

Despite encompassing a territory almost twice the size of France and possessing a wealth of natural resources including diamonds, gold and uranium, the CAR is one of the poorest and most neglected nations on earth. In 2014, it was ranked 185th out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index. Still reeling from its colonial past and the ruthless stream of corrupt tyrants that followed European rule, the CAR became embroiled in a bitter sectarian conflict between its majority Christian population and Muslim militias in 2013. Claiming that the country was on the verge of genocide, President Hollande sent in the French army to supposedly prevent mass atrocities taking place.

France’s political, economic and military influence in the CAR facilitated troop deployment, and the international community was glad to turn the other way and let the French do as they pleased. Instead of being a pacifying force, the presence of French troops in the CAR served to exacerbate the already brutal conflict. A secret UN report dating from July 2014 revealed a multitude of cases of French soldiers sexually abusing boys aged 9-13 in exchange for food and money in a refugee camp in the capital city of Bangui. The boys, starving and homeless, had fled the war for the refugee camp believing to finally be safe. Instead, they were forced to perform sexual acts on ‘peacekeeping’ troops. Soldiers from Equatorial Guinea and Chad, sent by the African Union, were also accused of sodomizing children in the M’poko airport base in Bangui.

The abuse of the children occurred between December 2013-July 2014 and was public knowledge across the refugee camp. The UN report was concluded in July 2014 but was kept secret until Anders Kompass, a senior official in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, leaked it to French prosecutors. Disgusted by the UN’s lack of action to stop the abuse even with detailed knowledge of it, Kompass breached regulations in order to put an end to yet another instance of systemic exploitation that accompany most UN peacekeeping operations.

The Guardian leaked the report on May 6 of this year, causing the UN to suspend Kompass from his post. After intense criticism, they have since reinstated Kompass while also setting up an independent panel to review its treatment of the abuse scandal in the CAR. UN peacekeeping troops have also been involved in instances of sexual abuse in previous missions in Kosovo, Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Meanwhile, French prosecutors have been sent to the CAR to investigate, but no arrests have been made so far. As France prepares to cut its peacekeeping troops by half over the coming months, it is likely that the child molesters will continue to act with impunity. There is little inclination to prosecute the actions of soldiers fighting in foreign lands, particularly when they are merely replicating the institutionalized forms of abuse perpetrated by their colonial ancestors. The suffering voices of molested African children rarely reach the ears of the Western powers, the great policemen of the world.

Since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the Global North has been passively aware of the horrors occurring in the African continent. 24-hour cable news channels and social media outlets irregularly captivate our receding attention spans to atrocities committed by the likes of Boko Haram in Nigeria or Al-Shabaab in Somalia. For all our hash-tag activism and goodwill that encompass Western humanitarian sentiment, our collective moral conscience remains undaunted by anything that occurs in the African continent. Empathy towards victims and indignation towards perpetrators always have an expiration date. Nonetheless, the bloodshed and suffering continue to affect Africans long after the Western world is done being outraged.

The lingering racism that pervades across Western society is a legacy of colonialism that Western powers fail to acknowledge. We find it easy to feel outraged by atrocities after they have occurred without examining how and why they took place. The CAR’s current conflict can be traced back to sectarian categorization, created by France to keep local groups from rebelling against their colonial masters. It is a familiar story of repression that was replicated across Africa by European settlers and continues to play a role in the continent’s struggles.

Ultimately, Western society continues to perceive Africans as distant and different. We find it easy to evoke our humanism towards brief demonstrations of outrage. However, we cannot utilize that outrage towards effective opposition against our own governments, which contribute to mass inequality and chaos in the world’s poorest nations. Dissecting the destructive effects of colonialism in Western society, Jean-Paul Sartre claimed “there is nothing more consistent than a racist humanism since the European has only been able to become a man through creating slaves and monsters”. It is vital to recognize the relationship between the individual liberties achieved in Western countries over the last three centuries with the simultaneous perpetration of crimes committed by Western colonial forces in the Global South during that time. Reassessing our struggles and contradictions with human rights in our own society can only serve to create a more nuanced perspective towards humanitarian issues around the world.

Unfortunately, the revelations of sexual abuse of children in the CAR will soon be forgotten in the Global North. Nonetheless, such cases have to be remembered if we want to fully comprehend the significance of colonialism and imperialism and its contemporary effects in African countries. The ease with which we ignore these stories when they show up in our news feeds highlights our own hypocrisy.  While seeking to build a just world, we neglect blatant and systemic injustice occurring around the globe by those who claim to fight for our values.

We do not think twice when the UN, or France sends in peacekeeping troops to poor, unknown African countries. We do not pay attention when these civilized soldiers of peace commit acts of utter brutality, yet we become infuriated when an African warlord is the perpetrator of such acts. Colonialism is still alive and well in our modern, globalized world. We would do well to acknowledge its influence and strive to end its horrid reign over the brutalized citizens of the Global South.

Gabriel Funari

Gabriel Funari

Associate Editor, Latin America at InPRA
Gabriel Funari  is a Brazilian by birth and an internationalist by circumstance. He has lived in the Netherlands, South Africa, Germany and the UK prior to attaining an International Studies degree at American University in Washington, DC. Passionate about Brazilian politics, Latin American regional integration, New Left movements and post-colonialism, he aspires to challenge conventional narratives surrounding international politics and seeks to contribute to the crucial issues of our times through vibrant dialogue and debate.
Gabriel Funari

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