One April morning during the nearly five years I was Counselor for Public Affairs at the American Embassy in Kenya, horrifying stories of mass killing in the neighboring country of Rwanda began to filter in via the missionary radio network that links various religious schools and hospitals all over east Africa. Not long after we heard those first reports our embassy was able to confirm widespread massacres taking place all over the country. Minority Tutsis were being systematically hunted and killed by Hutus, and eventually one-third of the population of Rwanda — a nation of three million — was either dead or were refugees.
Susan Rice was then a senior official in Bill Clinton’s National Security Council. Despite the fact 800,000 Rwandans were reportedly killed, Rice is reported to have said “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election?”
Republicans won big in the 1994 mid-term election even though Rice suppressed that word, but four years later President Clinton stopped in Rwanda and apologized for his earlier policy — which anyone who follows Africa knows to have been terribly wrong.
Rice is now Obama’s director of National Security and a senior adviser and we are seeing our president ignoring another example of genocide. This terrorism is once again in Africa, specifically in Nigeria. And like ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the Islamist movement Boko Haram is committed to imposing Muslim rule first in the north of Africa’s most populous nation and eventually all over that continent. Boko Haram is part of a longer name meaning “western education is forbidden.”
This jihadist movement wants an Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria’s Borno State. They operated under the radar until they kidnapped 200 young girls from a government school last April and demanded the girls convert to Islam. They oppose the education of girls, and have tried to turn their captives into kitchen slaves and wives for their fighters. The public response from the U.S. Government was a photo of the State Department Spokesman holding a cardboard sign that said “#Return our girls.” As a former State Department employee, I found this “#a pathetic response.”
But the more important issue is our President and his administration continue to ignore or deny jihadist terror as a growing threat to us and our friends all over the world. Since Obama came to office any mention of Islam has increasingly disappeared from public dialogue. And while I would not propose to brand all Muslims with the terrorist label I think we as a nation need to acknowledge terrorists acting under the flag of Islamic jihad are increasingly attacking people who do not follow their version of Islam in America, Paris, Yemen and Nigeria, where just last week they killed as many as 2,000. Have you heard of last week’s massacre?
It troubles me Susan Rice has Obama’s ear as this tragedy unfolds in Nigeria. While the Rwandan genocide had nothing to do with Islam, it;s noteworthy Rice was willing to deny a humanitarian tragedy because of political calculation. She;s doing so again, and the seeds of her advice have fallen on fertile soil as this president — like his predecessor — appears constitutionally incapable of using the words “Islamic” and “terrorism” in the same sentence.
We might not be interested in Africa. But we must not ignore terrorism that’s interested in us.
Fred LaSor served 20 years in Africa with the U.S. Foreign Service. He continues to follow African affairs closely.